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The move from employee engagement to employee experience

Employee engagement

The move from employee engagement to employee experience

Jonathan Davies


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Fri, Aug 9, '19  

It’s all about the employee engagement, right? It’s about the good ol’ annual staff survey — that behemoth that occupies Internal Communications methods for months on end — and measuring intranet traffic and email opens.

These are the things that prove staff are engaged and therefore Internal Communications is doing its job and can get more money next year, please and thank you. 

Only, it’s not. Well, to be more precise, it used to be. But it’s not anymore.

That all-encompassing focus on employee engagement has been giving way to something new in the last couple of years, something more aligned with how companies approach their customers. Because as the concept of customer experience, or CX, takes over the marketing department, business leaders are realizing that employees must have an experience with the brand as well. And just like customers, they’re likely to talk about that experience with friends and family, or with total strangers via mediums like Glassdoor and various Best Places to Work indices. 

And as this realization dawns on companies far and wide, mere employee engagement is giving way to a more all-encompassing concept: that of the employee experience. Think of it as less poking the workers to make sure they’re happy, and more creating an environment where they are more likely to be happy in the first place. It’s that concept of focusing more on the reasons why employees want to work rather than why they need to work. Blame the millennials and their need for meaningful work. 

What is Employee Experience?

EX, as some buzzword-loving commentators are calling it, is literally the employee version of customer experience: it is the sum total of every interaction an employee has with the company they work for. Those interactions could be in the course of work — the IT kit you give them to work with, the kitchen (or lack thereof) for them to gather in, the color of the office walls and carpets, the aircon that is always too cold for some people — or they could be during the recruiting, on-boarding or exit processes. It goes above and beyond Internal Communications best practices, taking in every element and every department. 

What that experience means, though, and how it’s measured are totally arbitrary and handled differently depending on who you speak to. It can be impacted by your commute, the view from your desk, whether you’re in an open plan or private office. The availability of mentors, the relationship you have with your line manager and senior leaders, your ability to work flexibly, and even the technology you’re supplied (or not) can all impact on the employee experience. And all of that is far more in-depth than a simple engagement measure, though it can all add up to whether you want to be at work or not.  

The employee experience is the culmination of countless interactions across time, and it’s driving the modern company. For research firm McKinsey, EX happens when companies and their people work together “to create personalized, authentic experiences that ignite passion and tap into purpose to strengthen individual, team, and company performance.” And they believe the war for talent will be won or lost based on EX. They say: “EX even influences where companies locate their business, including a giant online retailer’s criteria for deciding where to situate its second headquarters. Its selection criteria included community, quality of life, cultural community fit and access to mass transit — all factors that help enhance EX.”

Essentially, employee experience is what’s happening as we shift to the future of work — one driven by remote working, digital workplaces and flexible practices. 

The difference between employee experience and employee engagement

So how does it differ to employee engagement, that thing we’ve been talking about for at least two decades? 

Engage For Success — the arbiters of engagement — say employee engagement is “a workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organization to give of their best each day, committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being.” It’s about how we “create the conditions in which employees offer more of their capability and potential.”

In one sense, employee engagement is actually focused on the employer, on how that employer can get the most out of the people it hires so that it can be more productive and ultimately more profitable. It’s an inherently selfish metric, even if you sugar-coat it in wellness and happiness measures.

Employee engagement, then, is just one aspect of the employee experience. When we talk about employee experience, “we are also talking about days where there are difficult performance reviews, or how well a manager supported an employee the day she learned her son had cancer? Or consider whether the company really did anything to address its employees’ concerns following its last employee engagement survey,” says DecisionWise.

Employee engagement measures tend to look at a particular moment in time; employee experience extends the approach to the whole employee lifecycle and takes it, importantly, from the employee’s perspective.

How employee experience impacts Internal Communications methods

Given the employee experience revolves around not just the culture of the company, but also the physical and technological environment in which work takes place, it’s fair to say Internal Communications best practices come into play in a big way. 

In his series of reports on the present and future of Internal Communications, IC guru Mike Klein looked closer at this move from employee engagement to employee experience, examining some of the Internal Communications methods and Internal Communications best practices emerging in this new world. He says employee experience is, at a minimum, “IC+IT+HR”. One consultant told him that “we need to integrate continuous listening to the employee and feed into thinking, planning and content”, while another said the “12-month cycle employee engagement survey approach has to stop; asking the same questions once a year is not good enough.”

The language around Internal Communications methods is encompassing the concepts of the digital workplace and the employee experience more and more, but there’s not enough consideration yet as to how Internal Communications best practices can be adapted for this new world. So, let’s take a quick look at how IC can help on just one of those fronts: the role of tech in Internal Communications methods.

  • Ensure employees have a place to digitally meet, collaborate and discuss their needs

  • Give employees a voice and let them know it is heard, valued and considered

  • Encourage open and honest dialogue company-wide, and encourage the senior management to lead by example online and in the real world

  • Consider turning the annual engagement survey into a more regular pulse check of the employee experience — and ensure any feedback is actioned

  • Enable line managers with both communication and listening skills, and give them their own place to meet and compare notes to ensure consistency across the board

  • And speaking of consistency, make sure the employee lifecycle — from recruitment to onboarding, growth and development to exit and alumni — is handled consistently across all locations and for all employees regardless of seniority

Much of this comes down to the Internal Communications methods employed in-house, but employee experience is a cross-team, whole-business operation. Break down the silos and get IC, IT and HR working closely together to lead on employee experience, and get buy-in from the top to make sure it’s given the right attention and resource from the outset. 

And finally, make sure the tech works in practice as well as in theory. The last thing you want for your Internal Communications methods is to wake up tomorrow and see reviews on Glassdoor lambasting your company for running software out-of-date or not fit for purpose. Get into the 21st century with Internal Communications technology that enables working from anywhere at any time, and make your employee experience a top priority.