According to the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and Workhuman, Employee Experience (EX) is defined as “A set of perceptions that employees have about their experiences at work in response to their interactions with the organization.” Since we are talking about perceptions and experience, it is important to stipulate that we are dealing with the subjective: The feelings and opinions of employees.
To bring this concept into focus, consider a time when you recommended a certain restaurant to a friend. When you visited the establishment, you had excellent service and delicious food served in pleasing surroundings. The friend to whom you recommended the restaurant happened to go there when a large group was monopolizing the servers and the kitchen and making a good deal of noise in the process. Your friend’s food was cold, the loud environment made conversation difficult, and the service was slow.
If you later touted the high quality of the restaurant to a second friend, your first friend might say, “That was not my experience.” Neither you nor your friend is “right” about the restaurant; it was excellent for you and subpar for them. When you recommended the restaurant, you set the expectation that your friend would also get delicious food and excellent service in pleasing surroundings. The disparity between the expectation and the event itself is what produced the subpar experience for your friend. If you had said, “It’s noisy and service is slow, but the food is decent and the prices are low,” your friend might now say, “Yes, that was my experience, too.”
We can apply some of the same principles to EX as well. It will vary from person to person, there is no “right answer,” and a good deal of the variance depends on employees’ expectations. In the case of EX, how are those expectations set?
Your brand promise is relevant to employees as well as consumers
However, it is that prospective employees are finding you, they are seeing information about your brand. Whether through a LinkedIn post, an online ad, social media, or Glassdoor, people are learning about your organization and considering whether they might like working with you. If your social media posts are always serious—perhaps even a bit stodgy—they form one impression of you. If your posts are pointed, lively, and a bit cheeky, they form a different impression. Whichever is the case, their expectations are being set for the kind of business you are and how people interact internally as well as publicly.
If you advertise or post about how customer-centric you are but have an encyclopedia’s worth of policies aimed at restricting options for refunds or replacements, your prospective employee will expect that you “talk the talk” but don’t “walk the walk.” They’ll wonder what else you’re paying lip service to and they will probably expect an equal deluge of restrictive employee policies.
Where does Digital Transformation fit in?
As I’ve discussed in other posts, I consider Transformation to be the key concept, while the Digital technology is the enabler of becoming an organization adapted to new ways of working: More agile (small “a”), and better equipped to serve its stakeholders—both internal and external.
Because this enabling technology permeates every aspect of business now, it is one of the key ingredients in EX. Whether we are talking about contact center reps struggling to wade through six or eight different interfaces while trying to deal with customers, a candidate becoming frustrated with a failing remote interview process, or salespeople barely coping with an outdated and inefficient ordering system, the technology and tools your organization uses have a strong influence on employee perceptions.
And make no mistake: You want those perceptions to be positive. As far back as 2017, Accenture found that “companies with great EX outperform the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 by 122 percent.”
The same Accenture report highlights the high percentage of organizations—75% or more in every category—already using or piloting technologies aimed at improving EX, including predictive employee services, AI-powered tools to improve productivity, and tools that deliver better digital experiences. In other words, your competition has already invested in EX.
This does not mean you should start by creating RFPs for new tools; it means that you need to consider the importance of EX in your transformation strategy. The object of your transformation is to adapt to new ways of working and new business opportunities—or invent them.
In a 2019 report, Accenture said:
Today’s workers are equipped and empowered by technology, incorporating it to perform existing roles in new ways and to adapt for new roles that did not exist in the pre-digital era. With every company making major investments in technology, a renewed focus on the workforce will decide the winners from the losers in the post-digital age: across industries, it’s the workforce that will bring the promise of those investments to life.
Remembering that a good deal of what is measured with regard to EX is and should be subjective—employee satisfaction, for example—there is abundant data in almost every organization right now to help, and some of it may be hiding in plain sight.
- Time off: Are employees taking a lot of sick days when they aren’t sick? That’s a clear indicator that there are problems. But also consider whether employees are taking sick days when they are If they are not, it’s an indicator that they don’t believe the workplace can function without them, or that they will be left out. Likewise for vacation time.
- Productivity: Employees who feel good about their workplace are more productive.
- Safety: Organizations with engaged employees have much better safety records, according to Gallup.
- Internal promotion: These are concrete evidence of opportunities to grow and develop.
The straightforward employee satisfaction “pulse” survey should not be discounted, nor should employee rating sites like Glassdoor.
Like any other metrics or KPIs, however, the real key is whether the organization acts on the data it collects. Failure to act tends to depress EX.
As we roll through the second half of 2021, organizations need to be thinking seriously about what EX means to them, and how EX measures and metrics help feed their strategy. Here are a few key points to consider:
- AI is here and it will have a major impact on the way your employees think about and do their jobs
- EX means far more than Friday pizza or an onsite brew pub
- Digital Transformation is a people strategy, not a technology strategy
Roy Atkinson is one of the most recognized thought leaders in IT, service management, and customer experience. He is a prolific writer, speaker, webinar presenter, and podcaster as well as an industry analyst. His expertise has been featured by The Economist, BizTech Magazine, Social Media Today, Computerworld, Oracle Customer Experience, SAP Business Innovation, and others. He was described on CIO Insight as a “model for the future digital leader” and by Nextiva as one of the “Top 50 Customer Service Experts of the Decade 2010-2020.” He was HDI’s 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business.