It’s no secret that most organizations need to boost retention. But why? Across industries, this relates directly to employee experience.

Just 13% of employees feel totally satisfied with their experience. Yet employees with a great experience are 16 times more engaged. They’re also eight times more likely to stay with their company. Clearly, improving employee experience (EX) must become a key priority for every organization.

“Companies are facing an exodus of employees who are exhausted and overwhelmed, questioning what work means, and thinking through their options. Organizations can offer an excellent employee experience (EX) by taking these needs and feelings seriously at such a crucial time,” says McKinsey.

Think of this as a moment of “Great Reflection” in terms of what employees want, as Gartner urges.

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1. What Is Employee Experience

2. How to Improve the EX

3. Employee Experience Mapping

4. Employee Experience Management

What Is Employee Experience

Seven employees working on employee experience strategy
Credit: Daria Shevtsova

The employee experience (EX) is how people feel about their daily work. A broad range of factors influences EX. Workplace culture, job engagement, and development opportunities are a few key ones. Employees want to work for a company where they feel supported and nurtured.

They want to know their work contributes to an important purpose. And they want to feel valued for what they do.

Also, the mindset about employee experience has changed dramatically over the years. Today, companies need to think of employees more as customers they’re serving. “Employers are consumers of the workplace,” as Gallup puts it. A great employee experience is no longer just “nice to have.” It’s essential to the bottom line.

But a great employee experience isn’t just an easy experience, Gallup adds:

  • True job fit beats an easy hiring process any day.
  • A great coach is better than a nice manager.
  • Knowing the mission isn’t enough. Employees must connect personally with that mission.

As these points show, a good employee experience nurtures growth. In addition, it challenges employees in appropriate ways. And it makes them more invested in the organization.

We’ve examined research pinpointing what job seekers are looking for today. Read on to learn how to give employees the experience they expect and deserve.

How to Improve the EX

Woman standing working enjoying employee experience
Credit: Christina Morillo/Pexels

Today, HR departments must spend time intentionally designing employee experience. We’ve broken this down into two segments:

  1. Design strategies for every workplace
  2. Design strategies specific to virtual work.

Chances are, these both apply to your team. They both focus strongly on social elements of work and the meaning employees get from their jobs.

“Workers are hungry for trust, social cohesion, and purpose. They want to feel that their contributions are recognized and that their team is truly collaborative. Employees desire clear responsibilities and opportunities to learn and grow,” says McKinsey.

“They expect their personal sense of purpose to align with that of their organization. And they want an appropriate physical and digital environment that gives them the flexibility to achieve that elusive work–life balance.”

EX Design Strategies

As mentioned, a number of factors influence employee experience. We explain how to address the most central ones here. At the end of this list, you’ll find the #1 factor. We’ll dive into it in more detail.

Enhance Social Experience

Social components of work play a big role in shaping employee experience. In particular, focus on these three elements.

Create a sense of belonging

Show that you see each individual as an important member. Work to build a sense of trust between everyone. Collaborate and play to everyone’s strengths. As McKinsey says, these factors all create great social experiences for employees.

Be inclusive

Recognize as many ideas and ways of thinking as possible. At least 42% of employees want to work for a company that prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), says Gallup. Make sure everyone receives the same mentoring, training, and growth opportunities.

Improve workplace culture

Employees want a work culture that celebrates success and forgives failure. Make gratitude a core element of your workplace. You can do this by sharing appreciation often. Keep your cool during tough times too. If others need help coping with stress, teach them.

Create a positive culture. It will greatly help EX.

Fully Leverage Their Strengths

Employees want an exciting future with their company. Equally importantly, they want an exciting experience now too. Focus on these four areas and deliver what they want.

Offer growth opportunities

Lack of career growth opportunities is the #1 reason people quit, says Gallup. Managers should regularly talk with employees about long-term goals. Then, they can design a plan for moving toward them. Every employee should be taking steps toward bigger opportunities.

Pursuing challenging work enhances positive stress. This is a good thing. So, make work dynamic and exciting. It keeps employees engaged and rewarded by their jobs. Set stretch goals. And move employees in the direction they want to go.

Use their main skills

According to Gallup, 58% of job seekers want the chance to use their skills more often. Give your employees the chance to do what they do best. They want to do work they truly enjoy while contributing at a high level. Convey the purpose and value they deliver by doing so, as Gartner urges.

Provide autonomy and flexibility

Employees need to have control over how they do their work, as McKinsey notes. Trust and respect their choices about how and when to work. Gallup cites “personal freedoms to work when, where and how best suits you” as important to wellbeing.

Enhance onboarding

Onboarding plays a major role in the employee experience. But just 12% of employees feel satisfied with their onboarding process, Gallup found. Make new hires feel like a big part of the team from day one. Draw them into the social fabric of the organization, assign mentors who help them understand cultural norms.

Make sure they have meaningful work and plenty of guidance too.

Nurture Wellbeing

Wellbeing has become a huge priority. Improve the employee experience by focusing on these aspects of wellbeing.

Improve work/life balance and wellbeing

Gallup found that 61% of job seekers want a workplace that focuses on wellbeing. They’re looking for better work/life balance and concern for their wellness. Make sure each employee has an appropriate workload. Review their task loads occasionally to make sure no one is carrying too much.

Help them create plans for when to leave work behind for the day. With flexible hours, this is critical. 

Offer benefits that truly enhance their lives

Evaluate your benefits package. Does it improve quality of life? Benefits should pertain to physical health, mental health and work/life balance, says SHRM. Plenty of time off, flexible working options, and paid family leave are three big ones. But creative financial rewards can support wellbeing too.

A company called Chegg decided to help pay off employees’ student loan debt, for instance. This made a measurable difference in their lives. One employee is preparing to buy a house as a result. But only 8% of companies offer this policy.

“Student loan repayment assistance can be tied to years of service, which makes it a good retention tool as well,” notes SHRM.

Meanwhile, employees want expanded health benefits. Health savings accounts are becoming a popular option. “Health benefits have been—and continue to be—the most important category of benefits employers feel they can offer to their employees,” writes Derrick Scheetz, an SHRM researcher.

Such benefits help provide the security employees are looking for today.

And finally, here’s our number-one tip. 

Strengthen the Employee-Manager Relationship

Several key considerations define the employee-manager relationship, Shane Green, CEO of SGEi, explains on Forbes:

  • How available is the manager when the employee has questions?
  • How approachable is the manager?
  • Does the manager understand what the employee cares about? 
  • Does the manager strive to understand the employee’s point of view?
  • Is the manager respectful to the employee?
  • Does the employee find the manager trustworthy?

Five key moments in the workday determine the answers to these questions, says Green. It’s vital for the manager to get them right. After all, moments like these may last just a few minutes each day. These moments are as follows:

  • How the manager responds when the employee wants to check in about something. If the manager can’t talk immediately, does she schedule a time to follow up?
  • Engaging in conversation about things that are meaningful to the employee (aside from work). Does the manager regularly ask about family, hobbies, or other priorities?
  • How closely the manager listens when the employee speaks. Does she listen to truly understand the employee’s perspective and show empathy?
  • Is the manager acknowledging the employee’s strengths and talents?
  • Can the manager maintain confidentiality and strive to uphold promises?

By excelling in these areas, a manager will build strong relationships with employees. These relationships play a pivotal role in enhancing employee experience. 

Digital Employee Experience

Corporate woman using headset at desk discussing employee experience
Credit: Antoni Shkraba/Pexels

All of the above advice applies 100% to remote employees. However, organizations can take several additional steps to improve the digital employee experience.

Today’s workplace must move from “looking digital” to “living digital,” says Deloitte. What does this mean? These six architectural elements characterize the design of a robust digital experience, says Deloitte:

  • Personalized and intuitive
  • People-focused
  • Continuous innovation
  • Connected
  • Proactive and intelligent
  • Workforce-centric service

Through the following steps, your company can embrace “living digital” and enhance EX.

Getting Work Environment Right

Do employees love where they work? Does their work environment foster productivity and focus? If not, consider concrete changes you can help them make. Perhaps a membership in a coworking space will improve their work environment. Or maybe you can help them purchase a more ergonomic desk setup.

Set up forums where employees compare their favourite places to work, too. (Think coffee shops and cafes). Employees in the same area might even meet up there. Get creative!

Staying Connected and Collaborative

Providing intuitive tools will ramp up collaboration. Use tools that enable both scheduled group meetings and informal one-on-ones. Assign an HR person to stay on top of the latest innovations. When a beneficial new tool emerges, you can be poised to leverage it. Schedule periodic social breaks within the workday as well.

For instance, employees might choose to eat lunch with coworkers and catch up.

Personalize Their Experience

A hyper-personalized experience plays a critical role in digital people management, says Deloitte. Find out how employees work and learn best. Determine how much interaction with others they prefer. Create a customized training program that reflects their unique interests. Do they want to build a cross-functional skill set?

Lay out a plan for doing so. Support them in colouring outside the lines, and they’ll know you’re investing in their personal dreams.

Check in on a daily basis for at least a few moments, too. During these check-ins, show that you remember their current projects. Ask about the nuances of a specific project, which conveys that their work matters. Help them understand the higher purpose of their work.

This is absolutely crucial to the human-centric approach needed for remote teams, says Gartner. And don’t forget to ask about challenges, as this will help them open up!

Now you know the key areas that affect EX. But which ones do you need to focus on? We explore that in the next section.

Employee Experience Mapping

To prepare to improve the employee experience, you first need to map it. This will show you which areas your employees view as priorities.

“Employee experience strategy means evaluating every stage of employees’ journey and identifying moments, events, and interactions that employees have throughout their employment journey,” writes SMARP. “These moments then need to be designed in a way that fits employees’ beliefs, preferences, needs, and motivations.” 

  1. Survey employees to learn how they feel. Include questions like the following:
  • Do the technologies you use improve your experience?
  • Does our company vision reflect your own values?
  • Describe your relationship with your manager.
  1. Hold focus groups Gather small groups of employees together for a virtual (or in-person) conversation. Here, you can ask follow-up questions to dig deeper. Hone in on areas for growth revealed by the surveys. 

Through these steps, you can enlist employees to co-create changes. Other companies have embraced that principle with great success. When IBM overhauled its performance management system, it enlisted employees’ assistance. While the company laid a few ground rules, they solicited input from everyone.

They shared a prototype and asked for honest feedback. Employees delivered. 

“That’s the power of engaging the whole workforce—people are much less likely to resist the change when they’ve had a hand in shaping it,” says Diane Gherson, head of HR at IBM. “It was cited as the top reason engagement improved. People are getting much more feedback out of this system, in much richer ways.” Cisco, GE, and Airbnb have all used a similar process, SMARP notes. 

Employee Experience Management

After you map employee experience and take steps to improve it, manage it. Managing EX requires continuous effort. Fortunately, the following tools can help.

  1. Employee Experience Surveys

Similar to the initial surveys mentioned above, experience surveys ask for employees’ input. Use them periodically to keep your finger on the pulse of EX. You can use the same survey software employed in the EX mapping stage. Alternate between surveys covering general and specific topics.

Some surveys can ask broad questions to pinpoint the most critical needs. Vary them with surveys that dig deeper into a specific area for growth.

  1. Employee Experience Platforms

An employee experience platform can map and monitor the employee journey. From onboarding onward, they’ll help you stay tuned into EX and employee needs. Advanced reporting systems can help you understand engagement, satisfaction, and more. They do this by analyzing patterns and synthesizing survey data.

As you map the employee experience, you’ll gain invaluable input directly from employees. As you take action based on this feedback, you’ll see measurable results. And as you manage it, you’ll observe continuous improvement. You’ll not only increase retention but will have a more engaged workforce.

This will show up in employees’ ability to push their own limits and a thriving workplace culture.

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