Technology Will Only Take You So Far With the Employee Experience
Employee experience has inspired dozens of articles, blog posts, presentations and even books, all of which attempt to capture that somewhat amorphous, somewhat defined package of reactions workers and candidates have while they navigate the talent acquisition and work processes.
The concept is pretty simple: Every time a candidate “touches” an employer — whether through a phone call, an email, a chat or an interview — they have some kind of reaction. In the case of talent acquisition, when an employer is quick to acknowledge an application or set up an interview, the reaction is positive. When applications vanish into a black hole or managers keep a candidate waiting beyond the scheduled time for an interview, the reaction is sour. Taken individually, such incidents may not matter that much. But when added together, they can make the difference between a position that’s filled and one that remains open.
This was true even before COVID-19. But the last several years have put employee and candidate experience at the center of HR conversations. The thinking goes that employers have to compete for talent in a distressingly tight labor market by, among other things, making the hiring process simple and highly personalized. Once the hire is made, they must encourage retention by ensuring the work experience is as engaging as possible.
Technology to Support Candidate Experience
In response, HCM (human capital management) technology vendors have delivered faster, more efficient and easier to use products. Even time clocks — forever touted for their simplicity — have been lauded as a key part of the employee experience over the last several years.
All of this makes sense given the context today. According to research by Greenhouse, the tight labor market and continuing need to fill open roles have allowed candidates to become more selective — and more demanding — about the recruiting experiences they encounter.
Greenhouse’s Candidate Experience Report found that over 60% of job applicants aren’t impressed by traditional recruiting processes. So, they are pressuring employers to create a more modern experience. Candidates who run into delays, slow recruiter response times, inconsistent feedback or ghosting are quick to move on. Consider this: More than 70% of job seekers told Greenhouse they won’t submit a job application if it takes longer than 15 minutes to complete.
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What Technology Can't Fix
Experience isn’t the result of one element, but several. For many — if not most — of those tactics, technology merely serves as an enabler. For example, fast, easy-to-use apps satisfy workers’ demand for consumer-like technology even when they’re doing something as mundane as scheduling days off or watching instructional videos. But if a worker is overscheduled, or the video is dull and obtuse, the organization has a problem the app can’t address. If content is inaccurate or difficult to decipher, employees are likely to stay away from it, even if it’s delivered in the flow of work.
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According to Gallup, experience is “the sum of all interactions an employee has with an employer, from pre-recruitment to post-exit. It includes everything from major milestones and personal relationships to technology use and the physical work environment.”
The key here is “all interactions.” No matter what solutions or platforms a company implements, even the most cutting edge technology can go only so far in improving the employee or candidate experience. Starting meetings or Zoom calls on time or promptly answering emails and texts may require technology to a degree, but more important is the motivation and action of, say, the managers hosting the meeting. Technology may contribute to creating the experience, but its role is limited to facilitating the things that must happen in order for an experience to succeed.
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Everything Is Experience
Admittedly, “experience” itself is an overused word. Diners experience restaurants, drivers experience cars, passengers experience cruise ships, students have a college experience. What all of them have in common is the idea that how a person navigates a meal, a drive, a cruise or college add up to a kind of end-to-end reaction that leaves them satisfied, happy, disappointed or frustrated.
Again, from Gallup: “All of the individual moments of an employee's experience play a role in how a worker feels about an employer's purpose, brand and culture.” When candidates have an experience that’s respectful, quick and intelligent, they feel good about an organization, and are more likely to join it. When employees are overworked, facilities are dirty or schedules don’t accommodate their family’s needs, they’re more likely to quit and work for a different company, one that demonstrates its awareness of their wants and needs by treating them in a better way.
Although technology provides the information, distribution and capabilities to support the employee experience, it lacks the ability to develop a company’s vision and culture. It’s not surprising, then, that experience is fluid. What creates a strong experience for one employee may well seem weak to others. In that kind of environment, technology itself can neither develop nor be the solution. It’s up to people — in most cases executives and managers — to determine how employees interact with, and perceive, their organization.
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About the Author
Mark Feffer is a journalist who focuses on HR technology and workforce data.