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What Is Employee Experience? Lifecycle Stages, Benefits and Strategy

August 09, 2022 Employee Experience
Imogen Sharma
By Imogen Sharma

If you haven't yet built an employee experience strategy into your business model, now is the time to do it. In November 2021, almost one million more people quit their jobs than in November 2020. A staggering 4.5 million people decided it was time to move on in the lead-up to Christmas 2021. And this trend shows no signs of stopping. The recent Job Openings and Labor Turnover report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that 4.2 million workers quit in June 2022, despite economic headwinds starting to show signs of turning against them.

In what the media has dubbed the Great Resignation, company leaders must make changes or risk losing star workers in an evermore volatile workforce.

Improving employee experience won't just help retain staff and save on labor costs. Every stakeholder in the company reaps the benefits, particularly consumers. Staffers are on the front line, acting as direct ambassadors for the organization. The better employers treat them, the better they treat clients. When it comes to performance, there's no greater driver than engagement, which goes hand-in-hand with a great workplace culture.

But what is employee experience, and how do organizations implement it as a strategy? Keep reading to find out the answers to these questions and learn about the benefits and impact on customer experience.

What Is Employee Experience?

Employee experience comprises every component a worker encounters throughout the employee lifecycle. For traditional businesses, the two biggest expenses were real estate and labor. In today's digital landscape, labor has overtaken business rent as a company owner's biggest asset. With a savvier workforce and more access to job opportunities than ever, the onus has shifted. Where there was once urgency for an employee to retain their job, there's now more urgency placed upon companies to retain workers.

If companies don't intentionally design employee experiences, they're leaving it up to chaos. Some core components of employee experience include:

  • Alignment with mission, vision and core values.
  • Continual investment in learning and development.
  • Being treated fairly.
  • Having the right tools and tech to perform optimally.
  • Clearly defined job roles.
  • Being listened to, making meaningful contributions and feeling valued.
  • Prioritizing individual well-being.
  • Getting recognized and rewarded for going over and above.
  • Feeling like strong leaders are guiding the workforce.

What's more, modern consumers care deeply about inclusion, diversity and other pro-social values. They expect to see this paradigm shift reflected in the workplace. But it's not just about keeping staff happy. Improving employee experience has many benefits, including increased productivity and a better customer experience. Employees who feel cared about are more likely to engage and genuinely care about business outcomes.

Related Article: 3 Distinct Challenges for Frontline Worker Digital Employee Experience

Employee Engagement Vs. Employee Experience

While the terms employee engagement and employee experience are often used interchangeably, they have major differences. An exceptional employee experience leads to improved employee engagement. The latter refers to how easy an employee finds it to focus positively on their job role. An engaged employee is productive, committed to the job and finds genuine value in performing to the best of their ability.

Employee experience is in the company's hands, and it takes an array of factors into account. From the onboarding process to training and workflow management, it's an all-encompassing strategy to help maximize labor ROI. In other words, employee experience is the input (the company's responsibility), and employee engagement is the output (the employee's response to a positive EX).

In summary:

  • Employee experience is the path to employee engagement.
  • To improve employee experience, consider how you expect employees to engage at every step of the employee lifecycle.
  • Owners, leaders and managers must practice empathy as a part of company culture to optimize EX.

Engaged employees are happier and more productive, but many companies struggle to inspire their workforce. By implementing an employee experience strategy, you can increase engagement and improve core KPIs across the board.

Why Is Employee Experience So Important?

In case the urgency for better employee experiences hasn't been emphasized enough, let's take a look at why a strategy is non-negotiable:

  • Desirable work environment: The first reason to focus on staff experiences is to make the workplace more appealing. If people wake up in the morning feeling like going to work will be a pleasant, uplifting experience, their entire day is better. Stress and worry hamper performance, so make the environment as attractive as possible. Small touches such as flexible working schedules and state-of-the-art tech can have a big impact on engagement and productivity.
  • Higher productivity: When people don't have gripes and groans about their environment and feel heard and valued, they're more productive. Another factor to consider is the strength and slickness of your company procedures. If you don't streamline processes governing vacation requests, training or workflows, your team wastes valuable time. Simplify processes so employees are free to be productive.
  • Increased employee retention rates: Employee retention is one of the best ways to maximize profits as a business owner. If you have a clearly defined company culture that prioritizes people, you can break the mold and weather the challenges of the Great Resignation.

Related Article: Don't Forget Managers in Your Employee Experience Strategy

The Power of Feedback: Listen to Your Workforce

To improve employees' experiences in the company, go through a period of reflection and gathering feedback. In the past, a "boss" wouldn't be interested in what junior team members had to say. Their views would be seen as less valuable because they have less experience, influence or knowledge. However, this antiquated viewpoint neglects to see that every perspective is valuable and useful.

Each individual has a unique perspective. Seeing a company through as many eyes as possible offers the clearest view of reality. As managers gather more feedback, patterns start to emerge. Focus attention on these patterns and use feedback mining as an exercise in humility and resilience. People won't always say what you want to hear.

Feedback should be continual and reciprocal in nature. Make surveys a regular part of working for the company so you can continue to make improvements where necessary.

Related Article: Why Employee Listening Matters So Much Right Now

The 5 Employee Lifecycle Stages

Once you have a high level overview of employee experience, delve into the details. There are five crucial stages throughout the employment lifecycle: recruitment, onboarding, development, retention and exit. Below is a breakdown of the employee lifecycle stages and questions to ask at each touchpoint.

1. Recruitment

A prospective employee's first impression of a company will likely be your online presence. As such, make sure the quality of the corporate website, social media and job ads align with output and expectations. It's the first chance to differentiate from competitors and give candidates a taste of what they can expect working with the company.

In interviews, treat potential employees like clients as opposed to subordinates. Make sure the entire process is smooth and streamlined so it appeals to the most organized and efficient prospects.

There are a number of questions to ask when surveying candidates — both successful and unsuccessful. Examples could include:

  • Did you feel like you were treated with dignity and respect?
  • Was the process fair and balanced?
  • Do you think the interviewers represented the company values they explained to you?
  • Was your experience positive in relation to the following: technology, meeting place and company culture?

2. Onboarding

A strong onboarding process is crucial for any company looking to maximize employee experience. As the old saying goes, people should start as they mean to go on. This is the chance to immerse new starters in company culture and mold them into a way of working. Employees will carry the habits they learn at this crucial stage throughout their career at a company.

During this process, share the company's mission, vision and core value statements with new employees. Other necessary documents include a code of conduct, detailed job description, company hierarchy overview and onboarding training program. By letting employees know exactly what is expected from them, you set them up for success.

The more refined this process, the better a company will be at retaining excellent staff members. Survey questions for the onboarding stage could include:

  • Did you feel comfortable using the technology and tools provided during onboarding?
  • Do you know where you can get support if you need it?
  • Are you clear on what's expected from you in your job role?
  • Have you been made to feel welcome and part of the team?

Related Article: Take Your Onboarding Program Beyond Day One

3. Development

Development is an ongoing process, and it's one of the most highly valued processes by employees. Learning new skills and building on current strengths is one of the most rewarding elements of a person's work day. Staff can use what they've learned in their home life, hobbies or future career.

This might be why training is valued so highly. It's not just an investment in their tenure at a company but a personal investment that can benefit them in other ways. When staff feel like coming to work helps them improve on a personal level, there's a good chance you're delivering an excellent employee experience.

The benefits to a company from developing a team's knowledge and skills are evident. People who know more about their job perform better, work more efficiently and have more confidence and enthusiasm.

Survey questions for the development stage might include:

  • Do you feel like development opportunities are easy to access?
  • Do you have the same access level to learning and development as your colleagues?
  • Are the technology and toolkit provided sufficient for your development goals?

4. Retention

Although development is one of the most effective ways to retain top-performing employees, there's more to it. Retention and development should be highly customized to each employee's unique characteristics and preferences. By the time they're at this lifecycle stage, they've demonstrated commitment and dedication to a company.

Retaining employees is about making them feel seen, valued and understood. Companies might offer rewards for notable milestones, such as a gift or free lunch for every year of service. Another idea is increasing benefits by providing a stipend to long-serving staff members. Providing opportunities for growth within the company is another important aspect of retaining top workers.

Survey questions for this stage include:

  • What are the top three reasons you've stayed with us for [insert timeframe]?
  • How could we improve your workday?
  • Do you feel the technology and tools we provide are up to date?

Related Article: How to Keep the Great Resignation From Sinking Your Workforce

5. Exit

No matter how great you are as an employer, most employees will leave at some point. While it's a shame to lose people you've invested in, knowing that you've added value to their life is a huge reward. Plus, the exit stage is when you're likely to get the most brutal, honest assessment of your workplace. Instead of shying away from this, embrace it and use the feedback to improve future employee experiences.

Questions to ask on an exit survey could include:

  • Why did you decide to leave the organization?
  • Did you feel valued throughout your time at the company?
  • Did the company live and breathe its core values? If not, why?
  • Have you grown personally as a result of working with us?

Company Culture and Environment

In his book, The Employee Experience Advantage, author Jacob Morgan describes the three key players who establish and define workplace culture:

  • The company owner who creates the company's mission, values and goals.
  • The HR department that builds the above into workplace processes and procedures.
  • Managers and supervisors who enforce values by setting an example and supporting employees in learning and developing them.

As well as these key players, there are three core environments leaders must instill in company culture.

Mission

Many modern consumers want to align with companies whose values and beliefs align with theirs. This is also true of the modern workforce. What's more, if you learn to hire individuals who share the company's values, results will improve.

This is because values, mission and culture create an emotional attachment between an employee and their job. If they are personally invested in business outcomes, they'll work that much harder.

Workspace

The physical work environment for employees has a knock-on effect on experience and performance. Workspace impacts focus, inspiration and productivity. Ergonomic chairs and keyboards, the radio on a Friday afternoon and a free coffee machine are good additions. Even how you decorate the walls has a major impact on EX.

Tech

Technology's role in the workplace is ever-growing, and savvy leaders maximize productivity through tech. Millennials and Gen Z have grown up with the convenience and speed of tech and have high expectations. Therefore, if you expect workers to do a great job, provide them with the relevant tools.

Investing in tech and tools is a direct investment in performance. Communication should be intuitive and streamlined, and information should effortlessly trickle down. Plus, leaders should have a clear understanding of which departments require which tools and why.

Related Article: 5 Small Ways to Improve the Employee Experience

How to Create and Implement an Effective Employee Experience Strategy

According to findings from the Pew Research Center, the majority of US employees quit their job because they feel dissatisfied at work. Top reasons are low pay, lack of advancement opportunities and feeling disrespected.

Companies might not be able to offer everyone a pay raise after developing an EX strategy, but they should quickly see bottom line results. Eventually, this might translate to higher pay across the board. However, you can immediately focus on opportunities for development and ensuring staff feel respected. Building an employee experience strategy is the best way to do it.

1. Aim to Build EX Into Company Culture

Instead of adding EX as a footnote to a business model, build it into every element. Company culture and core values should be people-centric and encourage leaders to treat customers and clients interchangeably. By positioning employees as the biggest asset, you develop a foundation for excellent EX.

2. Analyze Current Employee-focused Processes and Strategies

Before implementing any changes, first mine for feedback and data. Use Morgan's model of workplace environments for employee experience to assess current practices and evaluate the experience at present.

Design surveys and arrange individual and group meetings to get honest answers about the company's mission, tech and tools, and physical environment. Use a mixture of tech and direct communication to ensure you reach every worker within the organization.

3. Establish Pain Points and Goals

Aim to gather feedback over three to six months for a realistic overview of where you are. Use the insights into what's negatively impacting employee experience to set goals for improvement.

Examples of objectives for improvement might include:

  • Communicating core values to workers at every level.
  • Eliminating cross-departmental silos.
  • Training managers to deliver praise and feedback effectively.
  • Giving opportunities for employees to provide feedback.
  • Implementing new learning and development initiatives.
  • Taking a more personalized approach to employee management.

4. Define Employee Personas

Business leaders probably understand the concept of buyer personas. The concept translates perfectly into the workforce. In today's multigenerational, multicultural world, you must understand different personas to deliver an excellent EX across the board.

To define personas, gather detailed feedback from a cross-section of the team. Be careful to choose people from different backgrounds, age groups and levels of seniority — and refresh personas every year. Use them to offer a more personalized employee experience.

5. Create an Employee Journey Map

Use design thinking to create an employee journey map through each stage of the employment lifecycle. Define touch points, develop a consistent process and design surveys for each step. Over time, you'll find ways to simplify processes and improve engagement, productivity and performance.

6. Learn What Matters Most

Never see feedback mining as a check-the-box exercise. Pay close attention to every answer from every employee and look out for patterns. Additionally, use surveys to find out which rewards employees' value most. You can't underestimate the power of delivering a customized employee experience based on actively listening to each team member's needs and preferences.

7. Personalize

People don't want to feel like an employee number. If there's one thing modern science has uncovered, it's the extreme amount of variation between people's minds. What drives one person might be totally off-putting to another. By learning about what makes each employee tick, you can deliver an experience to suit them specifically.

There's no better way to make workers feel seen and valued than knowing them on a deeper, more personal level.

8. Continually Request Feedback

Improving employee experience isn't a one and done process. The job market, technology and workplace best practices are evolving at a record rate. To continually deliver an exceptional EX, continually mine for feedback and implement what you've learned.

Related Article: The Problem With Employee Experience Today

Types of Employee Engagement Surveys

You should implement surveys strategically at every stage of the employee lifecycle. Employee experience management works best when you use a variety of survey styles and listening channels. Different surveys are better suited to different situations and workspaces. Some examples include:

  • Engagement surveys
  • Candidate reaction surveys
  • Training feedback surveys
  • Onboarding surveys
  • 360 reviews
  • Performance reviews
  • Benefits and pay optimization surveys
  • Pulse surveys
  • Exit surveys

Business Impact of an Excellent Employee Experience

Developing an employee experience strategy has benefits for the company, employees and society as a whole. Some direct business benefits include:

  • Improved employee engagement
  • Better performance
  • Lower absenteeism
  • Appeal to top talent
  • Retaining high-performers
  • Increased revenue
  • Better customer experience

The Connection Between Customer Experience and Employee Experience

The connection between EX and CX might be the biggest reason companies sing the praises of developing an employee experience strategy. Employees are consumers; they should reflect your target audience and be valued as your company's biggest asset.

What's more, employee satisfaction shines through in their performance, directly impacting customers. Fulfilled employees who feel sufficiently challenged and supported make a better impression on clients. As such, investing in employee experience is an investment in customer experience and future success.

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