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Over the past decade, voluntary employee turnover levels have soared from 1.7 million to 3.5 million employees per month, leading to direct costs of $15,000 per employee, on average. And while some view the problem of turnover as an unavoidable sign of the times—Millennials are dubbed the “job-hopping generation”—research suggests that 75% of turnover is preventable, and that the key lies in investing in the Employee Experience (EX).
Prioritizing EX means more than keeping one’s employees happy. It’s a way to invest in one’s business. Thriving employees are 37% more likely to want to stay at their organization. They also display 28% higher productivity, 142% higher employer Net Promoter Score (willingness to recommend the company as an employer to others), 46% stronger organizational commitment, and 59% higher job satisfaction.
While myths abound about the modern workforce being driven by cold brew and onsite yoga, a deeper look reveals that what really drives employees are factors like sense of purpose, belonging, and opportunities to grow.
In my current role leading design and creation for developmentally-focused assessments at BetterUp, I’ve been able to dig deeper into the nuances of employee experience to determine not only what factors are important but to quantify what factors are most important, and in what order. Our latest findings debunk some long-held beliefs within HR and provide new insights on where businesses can best invest for impact.
To gain a more nuanced view of what matters most, we looked at the top factors driving the most variation in EX. Drawing on a sample of 17,481 working professionals across various levels, industries, and functions, we gathered information about their work experiences and outcomes spanning dozens of potential influences on EX. Looking across all influences on a person and their environment, we then looked at what contributed most to EX. The top five factors below are listed based on how much they contribute to the model we developed predicting EX (out of a total of 100%).
- Access to professional development - Access to L&D opportunities contributes 31% to the EX model. This may sound high until we consider the vast differences between organizations that invest in their employees’ growth versus those that don’t. The more recently employees had access to leadership development opportunities, the stronger their EX.
- Manager quality - The caliber of an individual’s direct manager contributes 24% to the EX model. Managers who inspire the highest EX are the ones viewed most positively by their team, and the ones with strong EX themselves. Though manager influence may seem surprisingly strong, it aligns with other research on the multitude of ways manager quality impacts employee and performance outcomes, such as levels of burnout and engagement.
- Experience with one-on-one coaching - Whether or not an employee has ever received one-on-one coaching sponsored by their employer contributes 10% to the EX model. Individuals who received coaching at any point in their tenure at the company demonstrate stronger EX.
- Managerial responsibilities - Whether or not someone has managerial responsibilities contributes 10% to the EX model. EX is positively correlated with level of leadership, meaning the higher one moves up the ladder, the higher their EX. This finding warrants further digging in as it may represent a troubling trend of lack of investment in the overall employee experience, regardless of rank; or an equally troubling sign that EX isn’t cascading down through the organization the way it should.
- Work environment - The extent to which an employee works remotely or within a company office contributes 6% to the EX model. Interestingly, employees who split their time equally across these work settings are 70% more likely to have high EX than those who work in only one setting. We infer this may be due to those being the employees granted the highest autonomy and flexibility.
It’s commonly assumed that the size of the company and the duration of employment must play a large role. But our analysis found these factors weren’t significant. Whether an employee has been with a company less than four years or over 34 years—explains less than 1% of the individual variation in EX. Although past findings suggest that employees at small companies are happier, our analysis found nearly identical levels of Employee Experience for companies < 100 and > 1000 employees.
One common thread across all the factors of significance shaping EX is the importance of hyper-personalized learning and development. Personalization relates to the top factors and finding ways to personalize L&D for all may bridge the gap between manager EX and individual employee EX.
We are not the first to make this recommendation. Top industry leaders, such as Josh Bersin, point out that leadership development in its current state feels broken and that more highly personalized approaches are essential to success. Our data from providing coaching, a highly personalized approach, to thousands of employees at hundreds of organizations shows that employees who have worked one-on-one with an employer-provided coach for professional development are 3.5 times more likely to report at a higher Employee Experience Index.
Even organizations with the healthiest L&D budgets need to be strategic about their investments. Choosing where to invest most heavily shouldn’t feel like randomly throwing a dart and hoping for the best. Instead, we can use science to help us determine which EX drivers are likely to yield the greatest impact per dollar invested. This is important because boosting the effectiveness of strategic initiatives further enables your people to thrive. It’s important to recognize that what matters most to employees is the opportunity to grow and to make an impact. To be supported by an effective leader and/or coach is an important step in making strategic investments in your people.
Head of Assessments