November 06, 2019

In pursuit of the perfect employee experience: Why it doesn’t mean what you think it does

Work-life balance is a concept of the past. Employees no longer treat the workplace as a separate part of their existence, something to be forgotten promptly at five o’clock. The changing ethos calls for a focus on employee experience — an idea that deserves to be better understood. 

Employers tend to go down one of two extreme paths when it comes to employee experience. Either they live by the old notion that employees should just be grateful to have work and look elsewhere for that elusive “happiness,” or they jump on one trend after another, offering frivolous perks (beer on tap, anyone?) in the hope of earning employee loyalty. 

Of course, neither extreme leads to the retention and productivity People leaders seek to foster. So what does?

What is employee experience? 

Everything. The employee experience is everything, from recruitment to the exit interview. Onboarding gets a lot of attention and resources, but pivotal moments in the employee lifecycle happen every day.

“Employee experience” means taking a holistic approach. Gallup identified seven stages in an employee lifecycle and the role each plays in building an experience. From the moment someone applies until they exit, every conversation, tool, project, and person they come into contact with is part of their employee experience. It all adds up to how they feel about your team and your company — and whether they think they could have a better experience elsewhere. 

What it isn’t 

One size doesn’t fit all. Employees are human—they each have their own unique needs and journeys. What works for some employees won’t work for others. Craft an experience in which employees can individually self-select into the benefits and opportunities that best suit them.

Don’t add perks for perks’ sake. Perks are great, but they don’t provide substance. They sound appealing in your employer branding and might drive some applications, but if your nap pods and ping-pong table sit amidst a toxic culture, they won’t support retention.

“Fun” is not a panacea. Fun is subjective, and actively fostering a “fun” workplace can come at the expense of professional boundaries, leaving staff feeling vulnerable, offended, or just annoyed. When the employee experience is framed in terms of “happiness,” companies risk creating an uncomfortable environment of distraction and “mandatory” socialization.

Why improving the employee experience matters 

You want to keep them. You spend a lot on recruiting and onboarding staff. You provide costly benefits, cover ongoing training, and promote people as they grow. Replacing employees is expensive and time-consuming. Building a culture where employees feel valued encourages them to stick with you. 

You want them to succeed. New hires are expected to hit a home run within the first 90 days. Their knowledge and skills are a large part of this. You hired them because they can provide value to your organization. But they need a positive, encouraging environment where they have room to learn, grow, and achieve. 

From the moment someone applies until they exit, every conversation, tool, project, and person they come into contact with is part of their employee experience.

How to build an effective employee experience 

Believe you can do it 

59% of executives don’t feel equipped to improve their employee experience. That’s understandable; it’s a big endeavor. But some effort is better than no effort. Instead of giving in to feeling overwhelmed, focus on making small changes until you’ve created an experience that matches your company values and makes working there truly enjoyable. 

Start somewhere: Five employee experience tactics to try 

  1. Map the journey. Sit down and work through each milestone your employees hit, from applying to exiting. This exercise will help you identify opportunities for improvement and see what you’re doing well already.
  2. Recognize consistently. Employees want to know their hard work is noticed. Building in moments for intentional celebrations creates a positive office culture that encourages more people to excel at their jobs. 
  3. Invite feedback. Find venues for feedback that feel safe for your staff, including a mix of anonymous and public forums to suit different employee needs. When people feel safe, they’re more likely to be real. You’ll gain valuable insight and show your employees how much you respect their opinions. 
  4. Set expectations. Change takes time. Keeping your staff up-to-date on your plans creates a positive atmosphere even before you can implement the changes. 
  5. Be honest. Creating a company culture that works for everyone requires some trial-and-error. Speaking openly with your team shows your dedication to getting it right.

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