What is Employee Experience? The ultimate guide

person on mountain with a view

Employee experience has been a rising topic for the last couple of years. In its core, it is about putting the experiences of the employees in the focus of all your human resources actions to increase employee happiness and performance.

Your employee experience is formulated in all the touch points with the company, all the way from the job application to the exit of the employee. Developing a great employee experience means concentrating on creating a workplace where people want to show up, rather than having a workplace where they need to show up.

This guide helps you create a better understanding of what employee experience is about, what are its building blocks, give inspiration via giving great examples on it, and tell you how your company can benefit from this shift into a greater employee experience.

Defining the term “employee experience”

Definition of the employee experience varies. Josh Plaskoff defines it as “the employee’s holistic perception of the relationship with their employing organisation derived from all the encounters at touch points along the employee’s journey”. Basically, it is everything you learn, do, see and feel about the company during your whole employee journey.

Encapsulating the whole journey is the key in your employee experience strategy. You can think about all the touch points during the employment, but also pre- and post-employment. Randstad talks about a this on a deeper level, and the touch points are divided as follows:

  • Attraction and recruitment
  • Onboarding
  • Engagement
  • Development
  • Performing
  • Exit
  • Alumni and referencing

According to Jacob Morgan, an author and keynote speaker, employee experience is formulated from three categories of touch points: physical space, technology and culture

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Main elements in creating employee experience

Furthermore, these touch points can be found on three different levels of the whole experience, which are Technology, Culture and Physical space.

Let’s take a better look of each:

Technology

Technology in this context covers all the devices and other tools that your employees use to get their work done. This includes things like laptops, mobile phones and other equipment, but also all the software for working from home and communicating with the team. Technology can be seen as the central nervous system of the organisation and most concepts and themes related to the future of work are not possible without technology.

To be great companies need to ACE technology:

  • A = Available to everyone
  • C = Consumer grade technology, meaning technology that employees are used to interacting with outside the work environment.
  • E = Employee needs versus business requirements, supplying the needs of an individual rather than the company

Culture

Culture plays a big part in the employee experience, as the whole experience is based on your employees having a workplace that they want to be in, not where they need to be in, creating this kind of an environment is crucial, and needs to be initiated from the CEO and executive levels, and from there be dribbled down to the organisation as a whole.

For companies to excel in creating a employee experience, it’s culture needs to be CELEBRATED:

  • C = Company is viewed positively
  • E = Everyone feels valued
  • L = Legitimate sense of purpose
  • E = Employees feel like they’re part of the team
  • B = Believes in diversity and inclusion
  • R = Referrals come from employees
  • A = Ability to learn new things and employees are given resources to do so and advance
  • T = Treats employees fairly
  • E = Executives and managers are coaches and mentors
  • D = Dedicated to employee health and wellness

Physical space

Physical space is about the location where your employees are working. Nowadays this could be the company office or the home office where many workers choose to work from.

In order to create an appealing physical environment, the company needs to concentrate on it being COOL:

  • C = Chooses to bring in friends or visitors
  • O = Offering flexibility
  • O = Organisation’s values are reflected
  • L = Leverages multiple workspace options

Also, intelligent workspace planning and creating work zones suited for variety of tasks are key elements of having a great physical space for your employees to work in. You also shouldn’t forget about the employees working from home, but we’ll discuss this more in-depth further down this guide.

Man sitting in a smart office cubicle

What employee experience is not about?

In this field there are a lot of terms, often used concurrently with each other. Here are five misconceptions about employee experience and what it’s not about:

Improved HR function in your company

While the human resources department is responsible for the majority of tasks related to creating a better employee experience, it is not just about that. This also involves interactions within the domain of facilities, corporate communications and IT department.

Perks and parties

Employee experience can, and should include these perks. But it is not all about them, simply because these are short-term actions, and not long-term initiatives. Employee experience is a long-term strategic initiative, aligned with your company’s desired culture.

Employer or employment branding

Standing out from your competition in the war of talent is important, and that’s what employer branding is about. It is about the stakeholders who are not currently within the company, while employee experience initiative focuses on the experience the company provides to their existing employees on a day-to-day basis.

Treating employees as customers

While the employee experience initiative draws from the original idea of customer experience, the relationships between employer and employee versus brand and a customer are very different. Thinking about your employees as customers is an incomplete way of approaching the issues in hand.

Employee engagement

Employee experience should not be mixed up with employee engagement, as employee engagement is a part of the whole employee experience. Employee engagement focuses on the actions taken during the employment to retain a great workforce but does not take into consideration issues in recruitment for example.

Also, when done wrong, focusing on employee engagement can lead in using ways of temporarily boosting the workforce’s morale, which is not sustainable as in the long run as usually these “adrenaline shots” do not work in the long term.

Instead, putting effort into the holistic employee experience creates employee engagement as your workforce want to stay in a work environment where they feel needed and appreciated all the time. 

Our Content Marketing Manager Anniina Kaisanlahti discusses improving employee engagement and the secrets of success in the following article: 

improving employee engagement at Haltian office

Improving Employee Engagement – The Secrets to Success

Top tips to improve employee engagement in the workplace. The secrets to a successful company and putting company culture at the forefront of your business.

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History of employee experience

Employee experience theory has been evolving for quite some time. What started as giving out the bare-bone tools for the employees has transformed into a holistic HR approach over the years. The evolution can be explained in the following four phases:

  • First phase = Utility: At first, employees were given the basic tools that they needed to do their job.
  • Second phase = Productivity: On the second phase of this evolution better tools were given to employees to get them to work better and faster.
  • Third phase = Engagement: This phase is about companies going out of their way to make their employees feel happy so that they perform better.
  • Fourth and current phase = Experience: The fourth phase is about creating a culture in which people want to show up, and don’t just work for the paycheck.

The caveats of the first two are quite obvious. Employees were seen as resources; as pieces of a larger machine without caring about how they feel. In the engagement phase, they were given random bursts of happiness, for example, upgrading their tools if they voiced their unhappiness about their work environment.

However, this was not sufficient in the long-term, as the employees underlying dissatisfaction cannot be solved by short-term happiness bursts, but needs more of a fundamental reconstruction of the company’s way of working. Focusing on the whole employee experience increases engagement for the long term.

The most recent developments to employee experience are the Employee Experience Platforms, or EXPs in short. According to Microsoft’s Jared Spataro, Employee Experience Platforms are becoming more in demand, as global pandemic has forced us to shift into a remote working mode. These platforms, such as the recently announced Microsoft Vita, are the next steps in creating more empowering work-life solutions, as they bring together communications, knowledge, resources and insights allowing people and teams to perform at their best levels.

Why focus on it?

Investing in your employees is one of the best investments you can make. Good managers enable their employees to perform better by removing obstacles that prevent them from doing their jobs and employee experience thinking allows them to do that.

Organizations who invest the most in the whole experience, are finding great results, such as:

  • 5x more likely to appear in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work list
  • 4.4x more often listed as Most In-Demand Employers by LinkedIn
  • 5x more revenue compared to competitors who invest less in employee engagement

Employee experience is based on the idea of empathy, as is the design thinking which it is based on. It is all about understanding the root issues within the organization, straight from the source. Once these issues have been dealt with openly, it makes sense that the job performance of your employees increases, driving your bottom-line in the end.

Companies that invest heavily in employee experience are 4x more profitable than those that do not

Jacob Morgan, Author, keynote speaker

Read more about it in our article here:

Two men working in an office

Why focus on employee experience?

The best investment you can make is on your employees. In this article we discuss why you should focus on employee experience in your company.

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What are the benefits of Employee experience?

The benefits of employee experience for companies are vast. Employee experience will improve employee engagement, and engaged employees feel an emotional connection to their jobs, are willing to go the extra mile and will uphold and promote your company brand. Companies with good employee experience perform better, attract the best talents, offer higher possibilities for innovation and have better customer experiences.

Infographic on the benefits of good employee experience

Why employee experience matters in a work-from-home world?

The employee experience is not just formulated at the physical location you might work in. The shift into a remote working mode has forced a change in our working lives, as up to 88% of companies have encouraged or enforced working from home during the pandemic. This leads into that many of the great benefits and perks we were used to at the office are no longer valid. This is why companies have to innovate and create new ways of onboarding new employees, creating the feeling of belonging and enabling the employees with all the support they need remotely.

There are three main drawbacks in this current climate for the workforce: increased working hours, pandemic tiredness and the loss of emotional connections.

This is where creating a great employee experience helps, read more about it here:

Woman on computer, work from home

Why employee experience matters in a work from home world

Employee experience (EX) still matters in the work from home world. Read our article on how to improve EX even in the home office.

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How COVID-19 transforms the employee experience?

As the pandemic hit and we shifted into a remote working mode, short chats around the coffee machine and the spontaneous 1-to-1s decreased. The COVID-19 pandemic is a good time for your company to create more personal responses to workplace related issues, expanding on the goodwill and feeling of belonging in earlier phases. Building trust during challenging times is one way of helping your employees cope, and to feel them safe.

Read how the pandemic transforms the employee experience and what you can do to get best out of it:

How COVID-19 is changing the employee experience

How COVID-19 is changing the employee experience

Learn how COVID-19 is changing the employee experience. What are the disruptions and how you can improve employee experience.

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How to create a better workplace?

We have created a video on how to create a better workplace. In the video our Senior Marketing Manager Paulo Lopes gives some insights and tips on what you should consider when thinking about how to create a better workplace:

We have also written a supportive article to the video, which can be found here.

Designing a great employee experience

Creating a great employee experience starts from your company culture. As the employee experience is shown on all touch points with your company, it is important to consider all the factors from high-level company mission all the way to the daily communications. Read our article how to design a great employee experience here: 

team designing a great employee experience on a whiteboard

Designing a great employee experience

Learn from this article about what are the main things to consider in designing a great employee experience

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How to design an employee journey map?

Employee journey map helps you visualize the steps and action plans you might be struggling to take when starting your journey towards a greater employee experience. See our infographic and read how to design an employee journey map:

How to design an employee journey map

How to design an employee journey map [infographic]

Employee journey maps are a great way to visualize the different touch points of your employees, with clear action plans. With this infographic you’ll learn how to design an employee journey map.

Learn more

Examples of great employee experience

We have listed a few examples about great employee experiences. Get some inspiration and read how other companies have focused on creating great employee experiences and what benefits they have found with it:

employees in an office with a view, an example of great employee experience

Six examples of great employee experience

We all need inspiration from time to time, in this article we have listed six examples of great employee experience for you to get inspiration from!

Learn more

Final thoughts

Employee experience should be a main priority in your company if you want to be more successful. As we have mentioned, it is all about the company and its people working together to generate better working-life experiences, empowering people to find their purpose, and therefore strengthening the whole company. 

Start with small steps, on each touch point where your potential and current employees interact with your company.  Then you can expand from that thought of creating a place people really want to show up, and and surely you end up finding great benefits from this.