What is Employee Experience?

There’s been an awful lot written about employee experience (EX) over the last few years. It started out as ‘what if we treated our employees as well as we treat our customers’. Then went to ‘mapping their journey and noting key touchpoints as we do with customers’.  This has now become something of popular science. So, how do we boil down all the jargon surrounding Employee Experience and get to the heart of what really matters?

Let’s start with what Employee Experience actually means. Just so we’re all at the same starting place. Employee Experience, or EX as its often called, is unsurprisingly a term to describe how an employee experiences their work. Originally, it was used to talk about all the touchpoints of a ‘career journey’.  That is primarily recruitment, development, opportunity, promotion and transitioning out (i.e., leaving).

Experiencing Work

Gradually though, as the work and thinking developed, it was clear that the experience of work included a whole bunch of other things. And I mean a WHOLE BIG BUNCH of other things. It included how your colleagues behaved, how your boss led, the actual workplace (the cool building, the desk, the airflow, natural light, plants), the amount of flexibility you had in how you work, a bunch of interesting benefits and leave options that are available, the purpose of the business, parking available, the commute, the hours expected, the level of stress you’re under, the rewards you receive, whether you get a cake or balloons on your birthday and a great host of other things – way too many to list. In fact, it started to include absolutely everything remotely related to work.

The problem with such a long list is exactly that – it is such a long list!

EX vs CX

When we talk Customer Experience, it is primarily a short journey around purchasing a product or service and maybe doing that on a few occasions in linear succession. The science of CX is about making that experience so good, that people do it over and over again, and perhaps, even tell their friends about it.

Employee Experience is quite different. To use an odd metaphor, to compare Customer Experience to Employee Experience is like comparing a coffee date to a long-term relationship. Getting a coffee date to go well, is a whole lot easier than getting a marriage to work.

So, how do we unravel a thousand touchpoints that are Employee Experience, and decide which of the thousand points matters most? We’ve spent the last few years unravelling this exact puzzle. While a million data points, a whole lot of detailed surveys, and lots of research don’t lead to a simple answer, we do think there are five really good places to start your thinking.

Here are the five big ideas:

  1. ‘Work’ matters.

Way back in 1967, Frederick Herzberg wrote what is still today, one of the top ten most downloaded HBR articles of all time – “One more time. How to motivate employees? It’s all about the work”. If you haven’t read it, do, but if you’ve ever met a person who really LOVES their work, you’ll already know what Herzberg has to say.

The work we do, the value it has to others, the purpose we turn up for – small or grand – is at the heart of why we love our work. It isn’t about lunchrooms or ‘HR Calendars’ or perfectly crafted Vision Statements. It’s about the work we do!

Start with making sure people have genuinely good work to do, and that it is appreciated.

  1. Ask! The answer is different for everyone.

With a thousand touchpoints in the Employee Experience, you cannot make all thousand exactly right for every person, on every single day. In the 2017 research on what matters, “the Happy Worker Report”, which mwah. partnered on with BCEC, got down to three things.  Purpose (‘the work’ – see 1. above), Relationships (yep, the bods next to you at work) and Agency (freedom). At the aggregate, these simple three topped every demographic – age, gender, location, industry, salary group, and education – so they’re a great place to start. The Happy Worker report still remains Australia’s biggest ever study of its kind to understand what matters at work.

Don’t bury people in a thousand question survey and create pages of ‘action plans’. Rather have their manager or colleague ask each person – one at a time – “what matters most to you?” and deliver just that. Most people like ping-pong tables and good coffee, but they might love working from home on Wednesdays more. Put the money from a ping-pong table into a decent laptop so Wednesdays work.

Ask what matters and deliver that! 

  1. ‘Unique’ doesn’t mean ‘complicated’

This is an interesting one which we’ve been diving into alongside our favourite clients for two years. Each and every company wants to do ‘something unique’ – something special – and we get that ambition. In fact, we share it. But we’ve also learned that ‘unique’ isn’t overpowering and overwhelming and packed with LinkedIn PR snippets. It’s just ‘unique’ that’s light and makes sense with the work to be done. As simple as you can possibly make those little people things, the better. People want them to be simple and easy. They want to feel confident and capable of doing their job well, and that includes the ‘people stuff’. An example – in one company, every single recruit in a retail company did their ‘retail audition’ with either the CEO or their Regional Manager. 15 minutes, and a few moments of feedback and coaching at the end, and they created a feeling of great connection and low hierarchy. Of course, they did other things to support it, but that start set the stage and expectations.

Don’t look for ‘best practice’ (i.e., copying someone else). Find your own practice that people love.

Keep the ‘people stuff’ uber simple. Make it human.  

  1. The Peak-End Rule

This is a cool idea from a customer that actually works for employees. Rather than trying to get everything on that long list right, just target one or two touchpoints that matter most, and that often includes the last part of the experience. If your crazy Talent process is complicated and opaque, how do you make sure that getting the promotion matters? Despite the ordeal of three interviews and an audition presentation, what if the celebration was light and breezy and made the person feel great? An example – on becoming a people leader, a person was given a ‘People Pod’ which gave them everything they needed to step into their new role. Bright green, handwritten note from the CEO, and a plan for the first year. Another example – on the day you start work, two grocery bags of the company’s products on your desk. On arrival home, from Day 1, your housemates ask, ‘how was it?’, and the answer is ‘Awesome – Look what we make!’, as you share your loot like a lolly bag.

Pick the endpoint, and make it memorable
(I highly recommend you listen to Dan Monheit’s Podcast on the Peak-End Rule“ we all love a lolly bag).

  1. Belonging is Everything

We think this one is the biggest of them all. If you want your Employee’s Experience to be wonderful, start with making sure they feel like they belong. Like they’ve found their tribe and can be themselves.

We’ve buried ourselves in understanding Belonging. We’ve gone right out to the complexity of it all, the deeply academic understanding, to find our way back to the pure simplicity of being included and breathing out.

Watch this space for more detail as we launch this work from ‘testing’ to ‘live’ in April 2019.

Belonging is the baseline.

As you dig in deep to get Employee Experience right, these five ideas are a really good place to start your thinking. The actual work, the individual preference, something unique, an end-point that matters, and creating Belonging. Together they drown out all that white noise and jargon, and take that long, long laundry list, down to those few things that matter most.

Go well!