To put it as simply as possible, employee experience is commonly defined as “the sum of everything that an employee goes through during his or her connection with their employer.” So, it’s not necessarily just about the direction of your HR department, or your employee benefits package, or the steps you take to improve employee engagement or corporate culture. It’s all of these things and more, all at the same time, all feeding directly into a larger and more meaningful experience in every sense of the term.
What is Employee Experience and Why Does It Matter?
In a recent interview about employee experience that ran in Forbes, Mark Levy (formerly the head of EX at Airbnb) perhaps said it best when he said, “anything that sets employees up for success, or improves [a company’s] culture, should be a part of employee experience.” It truly doesn’t have to be much more complicated than that.
The answer to the question “why does employee experience matter so much at this particular moment?” is also a straightforward one: it has to do with the current skills gap that nearly every industry you can think of is experiencing. The skills gap is already costing most companies nearly $1 million a year according to most estimates. But the ramifications of a company having open positions for which they can’t find qualified candidates actually runs deeper than that.
One recent study estimates that the cost to replace a highly trained, valuable employee can often exceed about 200% of their annual salary. Simply put, the cost of investing in your quality employees and retaining the ones you already have will always be far, far lower than that of finding new ones. Employers not only need to battle to get the attention of top talent in the first place, but they also need to focus on doing whatever they can to retain them for the long haul. The only way to do that is to make employee experience a true priority moving forward.
Crafting a Better Employee Experience
The most important thing for you to understand about employee experience is the idea that this is less about any one particular strategic decision and more about a series of smaller ones. When taken together, those smaller moves add up to something much more powerful and meaningful than any one of them could have been on their own.
Furthermore, certain companies thrive on company culture and offer perks for the employees that are almost unprecedented. These companies have much higher retention rates than others, and for good reason too. Zappos, for example, offers life coaching services for their employees. This helps boost the employee’s confidence and builds a mutual trust between them and Zappos.
Think about things in terms of a similar idea: the user experience of a piece of software, also commonly referred to as UX. UX isn’t just about whether or not a particular app works. It’s about whether or not it meets the exact needs of the customer. It’s about not just being easy to use, but enjoyable to use. It’s about looking attractive and offering the necessary functionality at the same time. It’s about bringing together multiple disciplines like engineering, graphic design, interface design and more to create a true experience that users aren’t going to be able to replicate anywhere else.
Employee experience requires the same mentality; only instead of focusing it outward towards your customers, you focus it inward towards your workforce. According to a piece from Inc.com, the three major factors that influence the broader employee experience are as follows:
The physical environment that an employee is working in, both in terms of their office or personal space and the larger business itself.
The tools and technologies that an employer provides those employees with also count. Do they only have the tools they need to do their job or do they have the assets necessary to “work smarter, not harder”?
The ways in which an employer may show that it cares about its employees, particularly in terms of their health and ongoing career development.
In terms of the environment, is your physical location the type of place where people want to spend much of their time? Think about employee experience in terms of everything your workers will see, hear, smell, touch, or taste throughout the day. Are their desk chairs uncomfortable to sit in for long periods of time? Is the office lighting harsh and off-putting? Is the internal temperature always too hot or too cold because you’re trying to save as much money as possible on your utility bills each month? These are the types of questions you need to be asking yourself and if the answer to all of them was “yes,” you’re harming employee experience by neglecting their physical surroundings in ways you likely didn’t even realize.
In terms of technology, do you invest in software not necessarily because “you’re trying to take advantage of a trend you read about” or “because you’re trying to save money by going with Solution X versus Solution Y” but instead “because it makes the lives of my employees easier in some way?”
Giving employees the ability to work remotely or work from home at least part of the week, for example, has been proven to not only increase their overall satisfaction with their job but also their productivity and the quality of their work as well. If this is something that your employees are interested in, have you invested in the technology necessary to help make that happen? If the answer is “no,” whatever benefit you think you’re getting must outweigh what you’re entirely losing regarding employee experience.
It’s equally important to understand that there really is no “one size fits all” approach to creating a better employee experience. Every company (and every workforce) is a little bit different from the next, so there is no one specific set of steps to follow. Only by considering the three aforementioned areas within your unique context will you be able to properly gauge where you currently stand in terms of employee experience and, most importantly, what you need to do to improve things across the board.
But in the end, if you truly want to focus on creating a richer and more fulfilling employee experience, you need to go straight to the source: the employees themselves. Don’t assume that you know what is best for your employees – you wouldn’t do that with your customers so you shouldn’t do that to your workforce, either.
Solicit their input. Ask hard questions. Talk about what they feel like they need to better themselves and then do whatever you can to give it to them. Make sure that they’ve got a seat at the table, so to speak – make them a critical part of the decision-making process. Not only will this go a long way towards guaranteeing that you actually make the gains in terms of employee experience that you need, but it will also give them more of a sense of ownership in your organization – which itself will make them want to contribute even more than they already are.