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Understand what employee experience is and why it matters

Last updated

26 June 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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In the age of employee empowerment, workers have many choices about the companies they work with and the roles they pursue. 

These days, employees aren’t afraid to quit and seek greener pastures. That means companies need to tune into how their employees are feeling to ensure they stick around.

In this article, we’ll discuss the employee experience, why it’s important, and some tips for improving it in your organization.

The employee experience

Employee experience is the sum of an employee's perceptions, interactions, and emotions throughout their employment with a company. 

As work is a huge part of someone’s life, nearly every facet of their life connects to their workplace experience. 

Companies who focus on positive employee experiences: 

  • Gain increased engagement and productivity

  • Attract and retain great talent

  • Have a strong workplace culture

  • Experience better employee well-being

  • Realize reduced employee turnover

Some of the most common areas when discussing employee experience include:

Work environment experience

During their day-to-day tasks, the employee will: 

  • Work with several coworkers

  • Deal with various tools and processes

  • Interact with leaders

  • Comply with company rules

These day-to-day experiences will heavily impact an employee’s decision to join a company, stay with a company, and refer others for employment with the company.

Things that negatively impact the employee experience include:

  • Difficult coworkers

  • Lack of career growth

  • Uninvolved or overly involved leaders

  • Lack of work-life balance

  • Ineffective tools

Career growth

Employees expect available resources and attention to growth when they join an organization. This includes the company offering learning and development opportunities so employees can further their careers. 

Many people will only consider joining a company if they see the potential for promotion and a long-term career. That’s why organizations should offer opportunities to learn new things and consider employees for larger responsibilities and promotions.

Work-life balance

Work-life balance refers to how well the employee can balance the responsibilities of their job with their life outside of it. 

There are two aspects to this: 

  • The portion the employee controls

  • The job aspects that may prevent the employee from achieving a desirable balance

Employers should regularly assess what they’re asking of employees and minimize requests to work outside of regular business hours.

Why? Because burnout decreases employee productivity and eventually leads to turnover, costing the company time, money, and efficiency. 

Leadership

Employees must deal with their bosses every day. This is a positive experience for some employees as their boss is caring and has strong leadership skills. For others, their boss is a source of constant frustration. 

Over-demanding and underappreciative bosses drag down morale, reduce the quality of the employee experience, and greatly increase turnover for the company.  

Companies that invest in quality leaders are focused on positive employee experiences. 

Tools, processes, and rules

Employees expect effective tools and processes to accomplish their work. Employees will become frustrated when tools are outdated, nonexistent, or require workarounds to complete their tasks. Many companies work with great tech, so doing things “the old-fashioned way” may push employees to other opportunities.  

While employees don’t generally expect the latest tools to do their job, they want to get their work done effectively.  

A lack of processes and structure can also be a demotivator for an employee and lead to poor performance. Workplace rules and bureaucracy can cause roadblocks and slow down progress.  

Empower employees to get the work done and remove unnecessary roadblocks to their success.

Employee engagement vs. employee experience

Employee engagement and employee experience are similar but distinct concepts. 

Employee engagement focuses on employees' emotional connection and commitment toward their work, colleagues, and organization. Those interested in employee engagement will examine job satisfaction, motivation, and company loyalty.

Employee experience is a much broader concept. It includes all employee interactions and perceptions during their time with the company. 

Because it includes work-life balance, some of these factors bleed into the employee's home and personal life. Those interested in employee experience must take a more holistic view of the employee's life at the organization.

A positive employee experience can drive employee engagement, increasing their satisfaction with the company and motivating them to do better. A poor experience can weaken morale and decrease productivity. 

Therefore, any efforts to improve engagement must also look at the overall experience.

The stages of employee experience

Employee experience can be positively or negatively affected at several stages. From early recruitment efforts to their last day on the job, employees will experience several unique situations. 

Looking at these stages individually enables companies to narrow down the areas where their employee experience needs improvement.

Pre-employment

At the pre-employment stage, the future employee makes their first contact with the company. This phase includes any recruitment activities and the interview process. 

During this phase, the employee forms their first fundamental perceptions of the company and develops the foundation for their employee experience.  

Here, employees get a sense of tools, processes, rules, and leader interactions.  

Onboarding

The onboarding process is when employees become acquainted with the job. They receive vital information about: 

  • The processes involved in their job

  • The duties they’ll be responsible for

  • The people they'll be working with and reporting to

This process can set the tone for the employee’s experience with the company.  

A poor onboarding experience can lead to a new hire regretting their decision to join the company, which can lead to demotivation and disengagement from the start.  

Ensure your onboarding processes are interactive and engaging for the new employee.

Employment

This is the core stage of an employee's experience, covering their entire time working at the company. Every way their employment impacts their life is part of that experience. 

This includes daily work experiences, relationships with coworkers and management, and more. 

During this phase, management has the most opportunity to ensure a positive experience.  

Following up regularly with the employee can ensure a healthy work-life balance. Make sure they feel well-equipped to do their job by providing the right tools.  

Focusing on these areas will lead to higher employee retention and engagement.

Development

Running parallel to the employment stage is the development stage. This covers all the opportunities employees have for developing skills and advancing their careers, like:

  • Training courses

  • Coaching

  • Actionable performance feedback

  • Help with career planning

Even the best day-to-day experiences can sour if an employee feels their career is stagnating or the company is not interested in their career growth.

Post-employment

The employee's experience ends when their time at the company does. 

However, their last few days impact how they perceive the organization. Exit interviews, offboarding, and the terms of their leaving all play a role. 

While there's only a small opportunity to influence employee experience at this point, companies have a great opportunity to gather feedback about their experience. They can apply what they learn to remaining employees and hopefully boost retention.  

How the company treats employees when they leave will likely impact how they speak of the organization to their friends and family. This can positively or negatively impact employee net promoter scores (eNPS) for the organization. 

Digital vs. physical employee experiences

We can think of the employee experience as split along a different axis than the chronology of their employment: Digital and physical. 

Like all other aspects of employee experience, these feed off each other. A poor experience in one area will have knock-on effects that reduce overall employee experience.

The impact of digital experiences

In an increasingly digital world, nearly every job requires interaction with technology. 

A positive experience with these tools can increase productivity, streamline workflows, and enable employees to work remotely. These factors make life easier for the employee and increase the overall employee experience. 

Companies that adopt lackluster tools or improperly train their employees will experience the opposite. Employees can feel overwhelmed or frustrated by the software, decreasing their overall employee experience.

The impact of physical experiences

In addition to software, every job also has a physical component. This doesn't necessarily refer to manual labor but rather the physical work environment. 

The layout of the workspace, available amenities, and overall atmosphere contribute to the physical employee experience. 

A well-designed workspace can reduce fatigue and increase the overall experience. Long commutes, limited space, noisy distractions, and inadequate supplies can decrease employee experience.

The importance of employee experience

Fostering a positive employee experience has benefits for the employee and the company. 

The employee's benefits are obvious: Those who are happier on the job will experience greater well-being than those who aren't. 

Benefits to the company may seem less obvious to some, but they are plentiful. 

Employees that are happy and fulfilled are valuable assets and strong advocates for the companies they work at. 

Some of the ways positive employee experience benefits companies include:

Employee engagement and productivity

Employees who feel valued and satisfied in their work environment maintain higher motivation and productivity levels.

Retention and talent attraction

Turnover can be a big problem in some companies. A positive experience reduces the likelihood of existing employees seeking other opportunities. Companies that focus on a positive employee experience are more likely to attract potential talent.

Organizational culture

Company culture has a significant impact on employee experience. 

The opposite is true as well. When most of a company’s employees are satisfied with their jobs, it fosters a strong culture and improves collaboration and productivity.

Customer satisfaction

Whether consciously or not, employees often project their mood onto their customers. The happier they are at work, the better service they'll provide customers.

Innovation and creativity

Many jobs require innovative, out-of-the-box thinking. 

Employees who have a negative experience might feel uncomfortable sharing their ideas or taking the risks required for that type of work.

How to improve employee experience as a manager

Management has nearly complete control over how positive an employee's workplace is.

Companies can better achieve the benefits of positive employee experiences by ensuring an employee's time at work is rewarding and satisfying.

Some of the ways companies approach this include:

Foster a positive, inclusive culture

Everyone who works at a company should feel comfortable there. 

Management can help everyone feel included by encouraging open communication and creating collaborative opportunities for employees. 

When people work together on a project, they get to know one another and look past superficial differences. Employees will work better together and feel more valued and appreciated.

Enhance two-way communication and feedback

Staff members need to be comfortable working around coworkers and find it easy to talk to management. 

Lines of communication should always be open. Regular opportunities for employees to discuss whatever is on their minds can get communication flowing. 

Allowing communication is only the first step, so ensure employees’ concerns are heard and taken seriously.

Provide opportunities for growth and development

No employee should feel as though their current position is their final one. Hope for the future drives productivity and creates a positive experience with a company. 

Employers can create an environment where their staff feels their career goals are taken seriously by implementing training programs and mentorship initiatives. 

Regular and actionable performance feedback can help employees better understand where they're at and how to get where they want to be.

Recognize and reward achievements

The phrase 'thankless job' is common among employees who are dissatisfied with their current employment. 

Staff members who come to work and make an effort to do a good job need to know that their work is appreciated. A few ways companies can thank their hardest workers include:

  • Celebrating success

  • Offering rewards and incentives for meeting goals

  • Ensuring promotions are merit-based

Prioritize work-life balance

A big part of a positive employee experience comes from the time the employee isn't on the job. With a good work-life balance, employees will feel energized and fulfilled. 

Implementing flexible work hours when possible and encouraging employees to take vacations can help them find a better balance.

Improve leadership and management skills

Because of the importance of the employee-manager relationship to the employee experience, developing good leadership skills is an excellent step for companies. 

As with all skill sets, training, feedback, and mentoring can improve leadership skills.

Companies can take this further by fostering a culture of servant leadership, where managers prioritize the success of their staff.

Enhance onboarding and offboarding processes

Onboarding and offboarding are the first and last experiences an employee will have while working at the company. 

Proper onboarding prepares the new staff member for their work. A thorough offboarding can identify issues that may have driven the employee away. 

Making these processes as effective as possible will go a long way toward improving employee experience.

Provide a positive physical work environment

A typical employee spends eight hours or more per day on the job. Uncomfortable conditions during that period can profoundly negatively influence the employee experience. 

Investing in comfortable workstations and well-designed common areas can make employees' time at work a more positive experience.

Encourage work autonomy and empowerment

Constantly needing to look over your shoulder or deal with micromanaging bosses can feel restrictive. 

Employees empowered to make decisions within the scope of their roles will feel more trusted and have less anxiety than those who frequently ask for permission. 

Setting clear goals and expectations around decisions will put ground rules in place. These provide the employee guidance and keep their decisions in line with company practices.

Using surveys to determine employee experience

Companies can proactively improve the employee experience by understanding workplace issues. Here are various surveys you can use to get insights into the employee experience:

Pulse surveys

Companies use these short surveys at regular, frequent intervals. They give a snapshot of employee experience over time, helping companies plan and track the progress of efforts to improve it. 

Annual surveys

These surveys are much more in-depth than the more frequent pulse surveys. Annual surveys should be highly detailed to get a complete picture of the employee experience.

Onboarding surveys

We've seen the importance of proper onboarding. Surveys conducted after employees complete the process can shed light on areas to improve, helping future employees have a more positive experience.

Exit surveys

Aside from retirement, most employees leave the company for a reason: Understanding why allows management to address the issues that cost them an employee. This can help companies reduce turnover in the future.

Department or team surveys

Employees need to work together at most jobs to accomplish a task. These surveys target specific departments and focus on team dynamics and how well they collaborate.

Employee experience technologies to consider

Software developers have created several categories of tools to help management foster a positive environment in their companies. 

Some software packages may have multiple features, so try to avoid paying for duplicate functionality where possible. 

Feedback survey tools

As above, companies can give employees surveys to learn more about their experience. 

Survey software provides a structured and efficient way to create, administer, and analyze surveys. 

The tools make it easy to measure employee sentiment and make data-driven decisions.

Performance management systems

The best way to provide employees with meaningful performance feedback is to keep a detailed record. 

Performance management systems can evaluate employee performance and make it easy to set goals and track progress. 

These tools also make it easier to identify the company's high performers, so it can give proper recognition.

Employee recognition platforms

Speaking of recognition, companies can streamline that process, too. 

Employee recognition platforms track which employees are eligible for an award and which they’ve officially recognized. 

They provide a centralized place for managers and peers to show appreciation for employees' work, fostering a more positive work environment.

Employee engagement and analytics platforms

An employee engagement and analytics platform is another tool for effectively managing employee experience. 

These combine some of the features we've discussed so far.

They include tools for conducting surveys and tracking employee progress. 

They often include a more complete suite of tools for analyzing employee performance data than the two options above.

Learning management systems

Helping employees develop the skills they need to advance in their careers doesn't have to be complicated. 

A learning management system (LMS) provides a centralized repository for e-learning courses and other resources. 

They also include tools for assessment, so employees and their managers will know exactly where they stand. 

The tools allow employees to complete training on their own time. 

They provide management with tools to: 

  • Track compliance

  • Monitor progress

  • Tailor learning experiences

Collaboration tools

Today's companies need collaboration tools more than ever. 

The rise of remote work has pushed these tools further into the limelight. 

They facilitate: 

  • Communication through instant messaging

  • Video conferencing 

  • Document sharing 

  • Meetings

  • Visual brainstorming sessions

  • A central repository of essential task files

Employee wellness apps

With an increasing focus on mental health, employee wellness apps can be a welcome tool. 

These apps often provide resources and support for physical and mental health. 

They include fitness challenges, mindfulness tools, and exercises for managing stress levels. 

Companies frequently overlook personal well-being in the work-life balance equation, and these apps can help fill that gap.

HR information systems

While HR information systems (HRIS) might seem like a small benefit to employees outside of HR, they have a few valuable resources. 

First, their ability to streamline administrative tasks makes it easier for HR staff to respond to employee concerns promptly. 

Second, they often provide self-service tools so employees can easily request time off or manage their benefits package without visiting HR.

In summary

Overall, an excellent employee experience is crucial for employers to retain quality employees and attract great talent.

Companies can use various tools to check in with their employees to monitor their workplace experience and keep an eye on their work-life balance. Surveys are easy to use and can provide excellent insights into the employee experience.

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