What Employees Want You to Know About Employee Experience

9 min read

Every interaction at work matters, whether it’s with colleagues, supervisors, departments (including HR and IT), customers, or even with software and hardware. Each of these exchanges or moments contribute to our overall employee experience, a nuanced concept that impacts employee satisfaction, well-being, retention, productivity, and more.

Definitions of employee experience vary, but it’s clear many organizations want to improve theirs. Case in point: A 2021 employee experience survey found that more than nine out of 10 employers planned to prioritize employee experience enhancements over the next three years, up from 52 percent before the pandemic. If your company plans to invest in employee experience, but you’re not sure which step to take next, we’re here to help.

Continue reading to learn more about the importance of employee experience plus strategies you can implement to improve yours.

What Employee Experience Is and Isn’t

At its core, employee experience can be defined as the journey your employees take with your organization. According to Gallup, it includes the experiences related to an employee’s workspace, role, manager, and well-being.

Though the basics of employee experience can apply to different workplaces, experts define — and expand on — this emerging term in slightly different ways. For instance, according to PwC, employee experience is what makes employees want to come to work and what enables them to do their best work.

Employee Experience 101

MIT considers employee experience a combination of work complexity and behavioral norms that impact an employee’s ability to add value to the organization. MIT researchers define work complexity as how easy or challenging it is to complete your work and focus on three specific behavioral norms: collaboration, creativity, and empowerment.

Some organizations measure employee experience on specified components. For instance, IBM’s Employee Experience Index ranks working experience based on these five factors:

  • Belonging
  • Purpose
  • Achievement
  • Happiness
  • Vigor (the presence of energy and enthusiasm on the job)

Similarly, McKinsey breaks employee experience into three categories, each with three corresponding elements:

  • Social experience
    • People and relationships
    • Teamwork
    • Social climate
  • Work experience
    • Work organization
    • Work control and flexibility
    • Growth and rewards
  • Organization experience
    • Purpose
    • Technology
    • Physical environment

You can understand employee experience not just by what it is, but also how organizations develop it. For example, in order to create a positive experience — and enable everyone to do their best work — Deloitte says organizations should take a bottom-up, employee-led approach. To do so, they should design processes, places, and workflows around employees’ preexisting tendencies. In other words, successful employee experience focuses on the individual, not just the work.

So what isn’t employee experience? For starters, while employee well-being may be a component of employee experience, the two terms are not one and the same. Employee experience is also not synonymous with customer experience. Sure, there may be some crossover in needs and wants, but employees have more enduring relationships with their employers than customers do (and even loyal customers won’t ever have the same relationship as an employee). Employees also have a loftier set of needs; they don’t just want to be valued and treated well, they want a career and purpose.

Why Employee Experience Is Important

Employee experience has short- and long-term effects and impacts employees, employers, customers, and the entire organization.

According to IBM’s Employee Experience Index, employees that report a more positive employee experience put forth more effort, perform better, and are less likely to seek a job elsewhere. To see those outcomes in action, consider the following statistics from the Index:

  • When employee experience is positive, discretionary effort (efforts to benefit the organization that don’t necessarily have to fit within the scope of an employee’s role) nearly doubles compared to companies with negative employee experience.
  • Workers with employee experience scores in the top quartile reported 23 percent higher work performance over the last three months than workers in the bottom quartile.
  • Employees with positive experiences at work are 52 percent less likely to want to leave their job.

Additionally, researchers at MIT found that companies in the top quartile of employee experience — meaning they achieved low work complexity and high collaboration, creativity, and empowerment, in this case — were twice as innovative as companies at the bottom. The high-ranking companies also saw 25 percent greater profitability than their competitors, indicating that excellent employee experience can positively impact your company’s bottom line.

Employee Experience is Important

Similar to IBM, a recent survey from WTW, an insurance advisor company that examines people, risk, and capital, found that organizations with excellent employee experience programs were 90 percent more likely to report lower annual turnover and 2.7 times more likely to report significantly higher productivity than their industry peers. WTW also found that companies with a well-integrated employee experience strategy are 27 percent more likely to be better at helping employees develop to their full potential and 28 percent more likely to be able to help employees understand their company goals and objectives. Similar to IBM, a recent survey from WTW, an insurance advisor company that examines people, risk, and capital, found that organizations with excellent employee experience programs were 90 percent more likely to report lower annual turnover and 2.7 times more likely to report significantly higher productivity than their industry peers. WTW also found that companies with a well-integrated employee experience strategy are 27 percent more likely to be better at helping employees develop to their full potential and 28 percent more likely to be able to help employees understand their company goals and objectives.

How to Create a Better Employee Experience

Employee experience is clearly an important factor in building a successful business. These strategies can help your company improve it.

Focus on your employees and what they want

Remember the bottom-up, employee-led approach to employee experience outlined by Deloitte? When building or reassessing your employee experience strategy, focus first on what your employees want and need. For starters, you can do a little homework or work with consultants to better understand national and global trends.

For instance, according to a recent Bankrate survey, 56 percent of respondents name flexibility as their top workplace value. More than half (53 percent) place higher pay as the next most important value, followed by job security (47 percent), more paid time off (35 percent), and a better work culture (24 percent). Additionally, research from asset management firm Mercer found that no matter the industry or role, employees want an experience that’s enriching, efficient, empathetic, and embracing (meaning it engenders a feeling of belonging).

Survey employees about their workplace experiences

The best way to understand what your employees want is to ask them. Listen to and respect your employees’ voices by running regular surveys about your organization’s benefits, culture, work-life balance, role complexity, sense of purpose, career ambitions, and more.

Beyond specific surveys about certain workplace themes, you can also develop surveys for set milestones, such as hiring, onboarding, or leaving the company.

Act on your employees’ feedback

When you open the doors to ongoing feedback between employees and their managers — and employees and your organization’s decision makers — you can build the kind of trust that makes your talent want to stick around. But that’s just the first step.

Once you listen to your employees’ wants, needs, worries, fears, and aspirations, communicate that knowledge organization-wide so everyone feels seen and heard. Then leadership, human resources, and every other member of your organization can work together to prioritize changes and ideate solutions for areas that need improving.

Invite your employees to help design your strategy
After gathering input from your employees and taking steps to act on that feedback, consider how you can include your employees in the development of your employee experience strategy.

Take for example, insight from Diane Gherson, former head of HR at IBM. In a conversation with Harvard Business Review, she said IBM’s leadership shifted from a model that relied on expert input to one that actively brings employees into the design process. When you cocreate with your employees, you can more effectively meet their needs.

8 Ways to Improve Employee Experience

Build a robust onboarding program

According to Gallup, only 12 percent of employees strongly agree that their company does a great job when it comes to onboarding. Before redesigning your program, first consider two of Gallup’s key onboarding principles: Onboarding starts before the hiring process and lasts anywhere from 30 days to a year.

While many organizations limit onboarding to the first few weeks, your new hires’ experiences can depend heavily on a thoughtful, structured program that allows them to gradually understand more about the company (including its history, culture, and values) and their role (including expectations and markers for success) without overloading them with information or technology at any given time.

Offer career development and learning opportunities

Nearly half of employees expect their employer to support career growth, yet eight in 10 don’t believe their current employer provides growth opportunities, according to Monster’s Job Index.

Not only do employees want to grow and learn new skills, your organization can also benefit when you provide ample opportunity for learning and development. Investing in your organization’s education can encourage innovation, engagement, and productivity while reducing turnover.

Train your managers in interpersonal skills and giving feedback

Leadership plays an important role in shaping direct reports’ workplace experiences. Take the time to train managers on the factors that influence employee experience as well as effective ways to communicate feedback.

When it comes to the employee-manager relationship, direct reports typically desire a healthy relationship with their supervisor plus the autonomy to make certain work decisions and the authority to accomplish their job well.

Invest in your employees’ health and wellness

While we mentioned employee experience and employee wellness do not mean the same thing, the latter very much contributes to the former. In fact, Optum research suggests employee well-being is linked to high levels of employee loyalty and productivity.

With that said, Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report found that 80 percent of organizations believed worker well-being would be important or very important for their success over the next 12 to 18 months, yet only 12 percent felt ready to address it.

When looking to improve your health benefits, make sure to address not only physical health, but also mental, financial, social, and occupational health. As with all parts of your employee experience strategy, it’s a good idea to survey employees about the benefits they most want and invest in those. In addition to traditional health benefits, consider offering cutting-edge, evidence-based digital health solutions that make healthcare easy to access at home on a smartphone.

Kaia Believes: Self-Service Technologies Are the Future of Healthcare

Today’s employees are empowered and proactive, and they’ve embraced the power of digital tools to track and take charge of their health. Most people no longer want to wait months for care, navigate traffic, and fill out stacks of paperwork for a short appointment. They want health solutions when they need them, where they need them.

According to the 2021 Mercer Marsh Benefits Health on Demand survey, 80 percent of Americans planned to use digital solutions for their healthcare last year, either to help them manage a condition or to support their health goals. Companies that build digital infrastructure for employees to access state-of-the-art health technology will lead the way into the future and boost their efforts to recruit and retain the best employees.

The Equation for Exceptional Employee Experience

Another company’s model for a successful employee experience strategy may not perfectly apply to your organization. By considering which tactics other industry leaders have executed and how global workforce values can change over time, you’ll have helpful building blocks to build your own employee experience strategy. Remember to put the wants and needs of your employees at the forefront of your design and find ways to include your employees along the way.

Author: Nicole McDermott

Nicole McDermott has worked in the creative content space for the last decade as a writer, editor, and director. Her work has been featured on TIME Healthland, Prevention, Shape, USA Today, The Huffington Post, Refinery29, Lifehacker, Health, DailyBurn, Petco, The Daily Beast, Openfit, and Sleep Number, among others. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, son, and dog. She’s a big fan of wine, hiking, reality television, and crocheting.

Further Reading