There is no doubt that employee experience makes a significant difference to the performance of any business. MIT’s Centre for Information Systems Research shows that companies with the best employee experience have customer satisfaction levels which are double that of their competitors.
That leads to them also enjoying profits which are 25% higher, too. Companies that invest in employee experience are also 11.5 times more likely to be found in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work.
No wonder then that, according to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends survey, 80% of senior executives rate employee experience as important or very important to their businesses.
But just what is this vital business ingredient, employee experience? And how does it differ from employee engagement? We would define experience as follows: the perception people have of you as an employer from everything they see, hear, feel and participate in from the first day they start with your organisation until the day they leave.
As we can see from the above research, if that experience is positive, then employees will not only enjoy what they do and have a strong sense of purpose, but they’ll be far less likely to leave and be more likely to be ambassadors for your business.
And the difference between experience and engagement? Think of experience as the input and engagement as the intended output.
That all sounds simple, doesn’t it? But wait. Deloitte’s same survey showed that just 22% of senior executives reported that their business was excellent when it came to employee experience.
Not only that, but just short of 60% said they were not ready, or only somewhat ready, to address the challenges which employee experience created.
So we have a concept which can clearly bring significant business gains, but a reality check which suggests it’s not that easy to make it happen.
Why personalise employee experience?
This result is hardly a surprise. Employees – whatever their backgrounds – are individuals. In generational terms alone, we are now likely to find four distinctive age groups in most workplaces.
The motivations of each group are not just going to be different but, at times, even, potentially conflicting. What gets a new employee up in the morning is not going to be the same thing as a long-term employee looking towards their retirement.
For some, the excitement of being fast tracked towards a senior position would be a dream come true.
Others just want to get on with what they are best at – which might simply be the next challenge in their day - and they are perfectly happy to do just that and do it well. So just how can organisations begin to address these very different aspirations?
The best place to start is with first principles. Employee experience is generally agreed to be made up of three things: company culture, technology (the tools employees have to do their job), and the workplace itself (in the age of homeworking that’s become much harder to address). No matter what the employee is motivated by, their experience will be made up of the ways in which their working lives are impacted by each of these things.
So to create a better employee experience we need first to address these core elements and how they work together. We’ll start with a case study.
Knowing your employee aspirations
Airbnb is a company which clearly demonstrates the way a good employee experience works in practice. A magnet for top talent in its sector, it had the appeal of being part of a radical transformation in the way people booked holiday accommodation, and all the trappings of a Silicon Valley tech startup to boot.
But nothing demonstrates the strength of a company’s culture than how well it holds up when things go badly. It’s a moment of truth. So how would Airbnb’s culture stand up when faced with the need to rapidly restructure at the start of the pandemic?
COVID hit travel very hard and very quickly. By May 2020 Airbnb’s revenues had been cut in half and it had to borrow significantly to stay afloat. As a direct result, it had to make major changes to its workforce, with a cut of 25% in employee numbers. Just how could its culture survive in the face of such a catastrophe?
Founder and CEO, Brian Chesky was determined to follow through on its culture and values, especially now the news was bad. He wrote to all his employees with an open and honest assessment of just where things stood.
As well as avoiding well-worn clichés in this, he set out how the business would support those who were going to be made redundant.
This not only included face-to-face exit meetings with senior managers, extending healthcare insurance for a year for leavers and allowing them to keep their company laptops, but also setting up a Talent Directory via a public-facing website.
Randstand RiseSmart built this Talent Directory for them as part of the support they asked us to provide for departing employees. It showcased the CVs and work experience of employees the company reluctantly had to let go, and promoted them, and their skills, to would-be employers.
There was also restructuring for employees being retained. Again, communication about these new roles was delivered face-to-face.
This case study highlights a number of vital lessons around employee experience.
Above all the need for open and honest communication, but also knowing your employees. Nobody wants to face the decisions Brian Chesky had to make, but it’s equally vital when things are going well to know just what the career aspirations and goals of your employees are, especially if – and when – businesses have to restructure or, like Airbnb, change direction.
Nobody wants to see good employees leave. Knowing more about their individual motivations and career objectives not only allows you to improve their career options, but it brings that all important positive employee experience much closer to being a reality.
Even if they do leave, voluntarily or not, you want that exit, as it was with Airbnb, to be as positive an experience as possible. Because, as we’ve seen, how you handle that speaks volumes about your culture.
So knowing your individual employees’ career goals matters. Knowing just where they are on their journey through your organisation is a vital first step to creating the right kind of employee experience.
Provided they have the training, a face-to-face discussion with a line manager would be the ideal method.
However, there are also technologies available now to enable the employee to explore their options and review both their present skills and what they might need in the future.
A career pathing tool can show whether an employee wants to develop their present role, progress through the hierarchy, or even move to an altogether different area within the organisation.
By completing an assessment to show just how ready they are for their chosen path, then discuss with their line manager how they can close any gaps, they can prepare themselves to take the next steps.
This isn’t just about fast-tracking potential candidates for promotion, but also helping employees develop their existing skills. They might not want a new role right now, but the chance to use their existing skills on a more challenging project, or even gain more experience working in a different team, might be welcomed. Many of us have, after all, had to learn to be flexible during the pandemic.
There is no reason why this shouldn’t, in future, become the norm rather than the exception.
But won’t they just leave?
The biggest concern for many is that, having invested time and money in career pathing and up skilling of your employees, they will simply say ‘thanks very much’ and leave. Worse still, take those skills to a competitor.
But if the employee experience is a good one, why should they? If they are happy with the career path you’ve jointly mapped out, if they are finding their role fulfilling and enjoyable, why would they want to go anywhere else?
Attrition is far lower in companies with high levels of employee experience (it’s reduced by almost 50% according to a study by IBM). So yes, they will be more marketable, but as you helped them develop those skills, they are far more likely to see the benefits of staying with you than moving to an employer who might not be so willing to make the same investment.
That said, it is also important to consider the exit experience. As we’ve seen with Airbnb, the way you handle redundancy or significant structural change is vital to the way all employees – not least those who are still working for you – view the business.
Employee experience starts with the first day, and only ends with the last. People do leave.
If those transitions are well managed, not only does that create internal opportunities for others in the business, it also creates an opportunity to have a brand ambassador out in the marketplace, telling others about the experience you provided for them. Imagine how most former Airbnb employees talk about what the company did for them to help them move on.
Get it right and your investment pays off - even when they’ve left.
As we said at the outset of this article, employee experience really does matter. It not only delivers better business performance, but it also means a happier, more contented workforce, one less likely to seek new opportunities elsewhere. But making it a reality is never going to be easy.
Help is, of course, at hand. For our in-depth guide on how you can create a market leading employee experience that delivers for every one of your employees, click here.
Simon Lyle is managing director UK of Ranstad RiseSmart