What Is Employee Experience? Improve Your EX Strategy

Employee experience has been a global business priority for several years, but its scope is constantly evolving. Learn the fundamentals of employee experience and how to develop a successful strategy.

This article was updated to reflect new information on May 26, 2023.

Understanding the term employee experience (EX) can be difficult by nature of its scope. It relates directly to customer experience, pushing organizations to consider if their employees receive the same attention as their customers. But it also refers to much more, covering every touchpoint each employee encounters at a company, from their onboarding process to their exit interview.

To complicate matters further, the employee experience is always evolving. Where it was once the sole responsibility of human resources, it now has the attention of the full C-suite. It’s integral that businesses ensure their people leaders are aligned when it comes to EX, but gaining buy-in can be difficult when employee data isn’t always linked to business performance. 

Our global survey, "Closing the Acceleration Gap: Toward Sustainable Digital Transformation," revealed that many companies are facing problems on that front. Nearly half of the 1,150 senior executives surveyed (49%) said that an inability to connect operational, people, and financial data to business outcomes impaired agility. 

In this article, we’ll first define employee experience and some surrounding terms. Then, we'll break down the benefits of a positive employee experience, and explain how you can improve your EX strategy. By the end, you'll have the resources you need to create a strong case to senior stakeholders. 

What Is Employee Experience?

Employee experience refers to the perception an employee has of their professional journey at each stage of the employee lifecycle. An accurate analysis requires a consideration of everything an employee experiences, from the company culture to their workload to their relationship with their manager.

The starting point for modern employee experience is simple: viewing employees as significant partners and stakeholders, regardless of their seniority, gender, race, religion, or any other factors. That mutual respect is essential to a productive working relationship.

It's also important to view it as cumulative. Every employee’s journey with your organization will have significant moments, but the smaller moments matter as well. From the second a new employee signs their job contract, their perception of your business is constantly changing. Ensuring that evolution is a positive one requires a sustained approach to EX with dedicated solutions.

Employee experience refers to the perception an employee has of their professional journey at each stage of the employee lifecycle.

The Difference Between Employee Experience and Employee Engagement

Businesses are increasingly putting more emphasis on employee experience and engagement, which are closely linked. However, it is important to distinguish between the two, as they have distinct focuses:

  • Employee experience covers the entire employee lifecycle. It focuses on the perception each employee has of your brand, your business practices, and how their work impacts their life. It’s a people-first way of viewing the employee journey and your employees’ needs.
  • Employee engagement is a reflection of the quality of that journey. When we measure engagement, we assess how connected an employee feels to their company. When adjustments are made to the overall experience, the best way to measure success is an employee engagement survey

Why Is Employee Experience Important?

Our global survey found that 50% of HR leaders are focusing on positive employee experiences to accelerate transformation across their business. But why is employee experience so top-of-mind for organizations? Here’s one example of the ways in which EX directly impacts business outcomes. 

One of the most significant HR topics for employees currently is work-life balance. The 2021 LinkedIn "Employee Well-Being Report" found that employees who were satisfied with their flexibility in hours or location were: 

  • 3.4 times more likely to successfully balance work and personal obligations.
  • 2.6 times more likely to be happy working for their employer.
  • 2.1 times more likely to recommend working for their employer. 

Despite this, LinkedIn further reports that 25% of employees weren’t satisfied with their current ability to dictate that flexibility. The businesses that succeed moving forward will be those that listen to their people and act on their needs.

Developing Your Employee Experience Strategy

Employee experience has moved beyond being a CHRO initiative. CFOs, CIOs, and other key business leaders are increasingly focused on providing employees a personalized omnichannel experience.

According to this Deloitte report, 68% of executives agreed future workforce strategies will be more customized to individual needs. So how can businesses ensure they meet each employee's long-term needs? Here are six factors every company should consider.

1. Guaranteeing Your Employees the Essentials

Any effort to improve employee experience has to start with the essentials. These are the base requirements that any employee should be guaranteed, regardless of their location, identity, or even their job performance. An employer is expected to provide an employee with the equipment and solutions necessary to do their work. In turn, an employee carries out their work as outlined in the contract. 

But guaranteeing the essentials doesn’t only refer to tools and pay. Employers need to consider how each person functions best when evaluating their onboarding processes, work environments, and remote work options. For such an evaluation to be successful, self-reporting is critical, since what’s considered essential often differs between people and cultures.

Employers also have to ensure that support is in place for employee burnout, stress, and wellbeing. A 2022 Mercer study found that 81% of the 13,384 respondents said that they were concerned about burning out. If you treat your people like cogs in a machine, the effects can be as damaging as they are widespread.

Our global survey found that 50% of HR leaders are focusing on positive employee experiences to accelerate transformation across their business.

2. Bridging Global and Remote Workforces

More than ever, work and the employees carrying it out are dispersed. Data taken from Workday Peakon Employee Voice between 2019 and 2020 showed a 125% increase in comment activity surrounding flexible working. From 2020 to 2021, that figure remained essentially unchanged. For employees considering who they work for, flexible working options have become a major priority.

Remote work has forced many organizations to reassess their company culture. Part of that is ensuring that an employee who onboards remotely has the same quality journey as someone joining in person. To truly bridge the global workforce, we need to meet each employee where they work, on their own terms.

That level of personalization requires a renewed focus on digital solutions. If a company’s HR systems are confusing to an employee on location, then they’ll actively hinder a remote employee. The power of IT is in providing employees with adaptable experiences. Companies who put their people first will face the next seismic shift in how we work from a far stronger position.

3. Providing User-Friendly Technology

In the new world of work, every company has to consider how their teams interact digitally. Our "2021 CFO Indicator Study" of 267 global CFOs found that 97% believed technology was critical to attracting and retaining talent. In addition, nearly half (48%) were actively looking to invest in such technology over the next five years.

In the past, working with clunky digital interfaces was commonplace. But today employees expect work applications to be of the same quality as the ones on their smartphones. That means companies have to employ intuitive user interfaces, strong integrations between applications, and smooth user experiences.

Not only does this shift necessitate user-friendly technology, it also increasingly demands solutions with artificial intelligence baked in. Machine learning is promoting major changes across the workplace, including automating employee experience surveys and delivering hyper-personalized employee journeys. With workforces becoming increasingly tech savvy, companies have to match the current pace of technological development.

4. Enabling Skills Development and Talent Performance

There's no glossing over employee needs when it comes to skills development and talent performance. Our "Employee Expectations Report 2022" found that scores surrounding professional growth are 13% higher with employees who stay over those who leave. Ensuring your employees are supported in their development is critical to employee retention.

While traditional career growth has been fixed to salary increases and promotions, workers now expect regular opportunities to develop. These might include learning new skills or finding “sprint projects” where they can contribute expertise outside of their existing position. Those small moments that matter are often essential to increasing employee sentiment around growth.

By working together, the offices of the CIO and CHRO can create a skills taxonomy and identify potential skills gaps, enabling employees to contribute skills that fall outside of their existing roles. Companies that provide their employees with internal opportunities promote a culture of growth that doesn’t rely solely on financial reward and employee migration. The resulting benefits to employee satisfaction and business performance will speak for themselves.

5. Cultivating Belonging and Diversity

Every individual in your company has unique aspects of their identity. Creating an inclusive work environment is about enabling those unique attributes to flourish together. If people lack the psychological safety to bring their best selves to work, there will be major negative consequences.

The Deloitte "Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey" analyzed sentiment toward employer progress in creating a diverse workplace. 52% of millennials who were “very satisfied” expected to stay beyond five years. Conversely, 52% of millennials who were “not satisfied at all” said they wanted to change companies within two years. To create sustainable change, it’s critical that businesses gather, assess, and act on their diversity metrics. 

It can be a humbling experience to acknowledge past and present shortcomings, but without proper diversity analytics you won’t be able to create an effective employee experience strategy. By forming a cross-functional partnership, HR can use the data acquired by IT to reduce bias in your hiring practices, create dedicated diversity roles, and cultivate a culture where everyone belongs.

Our "2021 CFO Indicator Study" of 267 global CFOs found that 97% believed technology was critical to attracting and retaining talent.

6. Empowering the Employee Voice

By measuring employee engagement through regular surveys, you give employees a chance to speak up on all of the above issues. Additionally, you enable employees to see how their opinions contribute to wider business initiatives. When you empower the employee voice, employee experience will always benefit. But what does empowering the employee voice actually entail?

The first step is committing to asking your employees questions regularly and reliably with pulse surveys. By asking employees the right question at the right time, you enable them to speak about issues as they happen. Consistent employee feedback is at the backbone of positive experiences and performance management.

Next, you need a platform that provides people leaders access to real-time employee sentiment data. In Workday Peakon Employee Voice, you can break down engagement scores by topic, team, and other influencing factors. Then you can also benchmark your scores against the market. By acting on what you learn, you create a culture where employees don't only feel listened to, they feel heard.  

The Value of a Positive Employee Experience

Ultimately, the insights your business needs to succeed aren’t online, they’re with your employees. To create a positive employee experience, every branch of your company, from the CFO to the CIO, needs to take a people-first approach to strategy. At each stage, your employees and their voice have to be the focus.

The best employee experience is one that’s scarcely noticed, where each employee feels that their needs are being met automatically. By freeing them of unnecessary frictions, each employee will have space to develop into their best selves. In turn, your business will flourish too.

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