Employee experience... What is it and why does it matter to your business?

8th October 2018

Employee experience is poised to follow employee engagement as the next big thing in getting the most out of staff and that requires a more holistic view

Businesses are increasingly moving away from a focus on engagement to a more holistic model, known as employee experience. It’s an approach that still includes engagement at its core, but also covers culture and performance management.

Experience still is a buzzword, but it also marks a point of evolution. Its new-found currency reflects the fact it’s even harder to attract and retain talent, and that employers now need to offer ‘something else’ that’s distinctive and inspiring.

While experience has always been there, it was not always needed to be purposely thought of. Now it does.

MCG&Co spoke to several HR experts and shares the following advice on how this more comprehensive strategy can be put in place:

Focus on individuals first

Presenting a holistic experience, from the moment an employee arrives (or even before that) to the moment they leave, can be complex. “Experience is a sum of all interactions – but connected interactions, which means organisations have to be more thoughtful about how they set up their workplaces,” argues Ben Whitter, Founder of the World Employee Experience Institute. “The key is that experience has to start by firms focusing on the individual first, rather than them being the last port of call, but this is easier said than done.” The problem, he says, is that experience isn’t really something companies can dip their toes into. “It requires jumping in with both feet – even if that means some push-back from staff who may think their particular firm isn’t being authentic, or doing it from the heart,” he says.

Take a ‘vitality audit’

Companies really must start from scratch to redefine all their processes. “Most companies have policies that now seem very clunky. Given employees now demand greater personalisation – where employees expect companies to know about ‘them’ and what their skills path needs to be – it’s easy to see that an end-to-end approach is needed. To do this, companies need to take a ‘vitality audit’ – to understand all the things that affect the personality of a business. Then you need to be realistic about what you change to create what impact.

Offer an individual experience to each employee

HR can’t just pick a policy and think it’s got experience covered. Janelle Reiko Sasaki, Executive Director, Diversity & Inclusion Services, EY Advisory & Consulting says that in Japan a shrinking, aging population and a low birth rate means that focusing on employee experience is a must if they wish to attract and retain talent. She says that trying to offer a more individual experience to each employee is key. “One size doesn’t fit all in the employee experience. You can’t manage everybody the same, so it’s important to customise each experience to each person. Find out what motivates them and what challenges them. When you are clear about those two things you’ll have an engaged employee. They have to find that out themselves as well, but once you know, the sky is the limit.”

Ask staff what they want

Making everyone responsible allows for what Simon Fanshawe, co-founder, Diversity By Design, calls the ‘experience deficits’ in businesses to be addressed – everything from what people feel are blockers to advancement to how staff feel. The only way to do it, he says, is to directly ask staff what they want (something he says remarkably few businesses actually do). “Asking sounds basic, but how staff respond to this can reveal how processes often militate against the culture and experience a company is trying to create,” he argues.

Make all departments accountable for experience

Experience can’t solely be HR’s responsibility. HR is just one leader of experience, it’s not just HR’s thing. All departments and all managers must be held accountable to ensure a holistic vision for the business is consistent everywhere.”

Ultimately, the experts we spoke to appear to agree that what experience really means is a change of mind set – of a full-lifetime approach to employees’ careers.

The key, says Marianna Karagiannakis, Founder of boutique people and culture consultancy flowcultura, is not to ‘do’ experience. It has to be felt.

She says: “Lots of organisations try to ‘deploy’ experience, but it lands flat. Experience is really about how an organisation ensures people’s day-to-day lives reflect what they say it should be. In other words, does reality reflect what the brochures and posters on the wall say? It isn’t rocket science, but neither is it always done well, especially as traditional HR is still transactional in nature.”