The Employee Experience Defined: Shifting Away From Employee Engagement

Many people in what we’ll call the employee industry believe that we’re shifting from the days of employee engagement to employee experience. We believe that ourselves, and what’s more, fully endorse it as a positive development. It’s a pertinent topic, but we can discuss the hows and whys another day.

Rather, confess: Unless you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, doesn’t the term “employee experience” seem a little, you know, squishy? Edging a little toward the self-help section of the bookstore? How does it feel to have this experience?

Could be. Which suggests a clearer definition is in order, and such attempts are not in short supply. Thankfully, we’re not about to add another. Instead, we’ll talk about what the employee experience, for want of a better word, should sound like. Is yours hitting middle C? Or is it closer to the feedback at the beginning of “I Feel Fine”?

Paul McCartney and George Harrison Singing I Feel Fine

How’s everything tasting? Not infrequently, articles on the employee experience start with listing all the things it isn’t, rather than what it is. Let’s skip that, and ask:

What is employee experience?

Happily, it’s pretty much what it claims to be. It’s the experience of daily life, within the confines of a job. It’s you doing you things, during the hours when you’re also an employee. That may seem ridiculously obvious or simplistic. So be it, but there’s no need to complicate it any more than that.

Because your employees have experiences all the time, and it’s not tough to separate them into categories, or discern patterns.

For example.

Think of the employee experience the same way you’d think of a “dining experience.” Mention a restaurant that someone doesn’t happen to like and they might respond, “Well, we didn’t have a good experience there.” Often, that’s a polite way of saying, “Maybe you liked it, but we thought the food was bloody awful.” But just as likely, they’re talking about literally the whole experience.

Was it easy to park? Was the entry clean and spacious? Was the hostess polite? Did you wait long? Was the décor appealing? Were the chairs soft? Was the waiter friendly? Lastly, was it worth the time and money? And on and on. There’s a lot more to the dining experience than whatever meal was placed before you.

So it is with the employee experience. There’s a lot more to the thing than whatever work is placed before you. What’s it like to be there, from the time you were hired, until now? From the time you got to work this morning, until now? Is it worth the time and money? Does it all stack up, big things and small? Not 100 percent, not perfectly—few things do—but overall, is this work thing working out?

This is a question no employee should have to stop and think about.

Hummmmmmmm. What does that stacking up “sound” like? To be sure, many nuts and bolts go into the employee experience. Providing them is the job of HR, and the managers, and the leadership. Employees need opportunities for growth. They need to be taken seriously. They need benefits. They need a sense of purpose and mission and vision and teamwork and know that their efforts won’t be wasted by careless management and trust that they’ll have a job tomorrow because nobody’s going to run the business into the ground.

That all matters. Culture really matters. But a few themes run through all these things. They might be represented like this:

Does this place ring true to me?

If this office were a tuning fork, would it make that nice hum?

Can I have an honest experience here?

Can I believe what I see, or should I look for the man behind the curtain?

Can I hear the melody?

Does what we do here, and how we do it, make sense to me?

If work were a subscription, would I renew it?

Has this place made the sale?

“Comfort” comes to mind. A comfortable place to work. Not feet on the table comfortable, or I’m not asked to work hard comfortable, but for a place you’re required to go, this one feels right. And critically, one you trust is going to remain right.

When your employees feel secure they’re in the right place, when they feel that things are stacking up, they’re freed up to do things that make a difference and deliver value. Things like cheerfully giving their entire focus and effort, connecting with the organization and its mission, becoming solid teammates, leading and being led. That’s what the employee experience is for: allowing them to worry about the work, not the workplace.

The inevitable question.

As an HR professional, how can I shape my place into this type of place? That’s a long story and this is a short post, but a good point to start is…the parking lot.

When the whistle blows and your employees are heading for their cars, which of the following do you believe describes their employee experience?

  • 5:00. Great. Made it to the end of another one.
  • 5:00. A pretty good day, today. Got a fair chance at one tomorrow, too.

One is relief. The other is satisfaction.

If it’s the former, why? What do they need that you’re not providing?

Answer that question, and your journey towards offering a fulfilling employee experience is officially under way.

Maybe it’s an urban legend, but some regular gamblers at casino hotels claim that the rooms are intentionally made uncomfortable. The idea being to discourage guests from contentedly lounging about, instead of heading downstairs to spend money.

It’s a safe bet your company isn’t intentionally trying to make its employees want to get up and leave. But what steps is it taking to make them want to sit down and stay? What’s the sound of your employee experience?

So we now know what a complete employee experience can look like. Ready to learn how to motivate and engage your employees to improve your company's culture? Check out our ebook, Want Engaged Employees? Hire Them.