Visit any review site and entire “experiences” are neatly summed up with quick comments and simple ratings. But getting a five-star review from your employees? That’s far more complex and multifaceted.
Your workforce might love the level of autonomy from a remote or hybrid policy, but be frustrated with their overwhelming workloads. They could find a great sense of meaning in their involvement in your diversity initiatives, but long for more defined growth opportunities.
See? There’s quite a bit of nuance to capture here. That makes the employee experience notoriously tough to understand—and even tougher to improve and actively manage.
In this guide, we’re demystifying the employee experience. We’ll break down what it is, why it matters, and how to actually understand the impact of your efforts so everyone in your organization can commit to the process and reap the benefits. This isn’t just an HR thing.
What exactly is the employee experience?
Let’s start with the basics. Employee experience is the term used to describe the interactions an employee has with your company throughout their entire journey—starting with the onboarding process and extending all the way through their tenure with the company.
While employee experience is traditionally oversimplified to mean grabby perks, it’s far more comprehensive than that. Every single part of an employee’s relationship with your organization—their dynamic with their manager, their professional development opportunities, their level of autonomy and support, their compensation and benefits, their excitement about their role, and the list goes on—plays a part in shaping the overall employee experience.
McKinsey research breaks down the breadth into three primary categories that create a positive or negative experience for employees:
- Social experience: Things like their relationships with colleagues, their level of teamwork, and the overall social climate of the organization.
- Work experience: Things like their responsibilities and resources, work control, flexibility, growth, and rewards.
- Organization experience: Things like an alignment in purpose and values, efficient and effective technology, and safe physical surroundings.
Though it’s easy to label the employee experience as an HR-driven initiative (and it’s true that HR does have a big role to play here), there also needs to be accountability and involvement from all managers and people leaders within the organization. Ultimately, they’re the ones that help shape and maintain all of the above factors.
Why does the employee experience matter?
The employee experience captures how your workforce feels about your organization as a whole. And, as you’d probably guess, that has a major impact on everything that employers care about, including turnover, engagement, and productivity.
A Gartner study found that employees at organizations that actively shape the employee experience are:
- 31% more likely to report a high intent to stay
- 35% more likely to report high discretionary effort
- 47% more likely to be high performers
The importance of employee experience is relatively simple: A positive experience leads to happier employees, and happier employees are far more likely to invest more effort, produce better results, and demonstrate loyalty to your organization.
Planning (actually effective) employee experience initiatives
Okay, so the benefits of a positive employee experience are straightforward. But getting there? That’s where a lot of companies lose the thread—in fact, according to that same Gartner research, only 13% of employees say they’re fully satisfied with their experience at their organization.
So what does it take to improve your employee experience in a way that’s meaningful and impactful? Here are three steps to go beyond guessing and actually get it right.
1. Understand where you’re falling short now
The employee experience is vast and saying, “We’re going to improve the employee experience!” is a lot like saying, “I’m going to live a better life!”
What does that actually mean? You need to drill down and understand the specifics—and that starts with identifying the areas where your organization is currently lacking.
The same Gartner study found that employee surveys are still the most common way to get these insights, but they have your shortcomings. They’re infrequent, easily biased, can be intimidating for employees, and often lead organizations to simply gather information without ever taking action.
From conversations with fellow leaders to reviewing data sources like turnover rate and exit interview responses, there are plenty of other ways to grasp the specific areas where your employee experience isn’t up to par.
However, this is one area where AI can provide a huge advantage. Erudit analyzes workplace communications to give you powerful workforce insights in real time. For example, you might uncover that employees aren’t satisfied with their professional growth and are hungry for more company-provided opportunities to expand their knowledge and learn new skills. You can also drill down to the manager level to understand which teams are struggling in that area and which are thriving.
Erudit gives you the data you need to determine which employee needs aren’t being met, so you can then develop action plans to impact those metrics. Erudit’s generative AI will even suggest steps to take to make the most meaningful difference.
2. Remember the basics of being a good employer
When it comes to the overall employee experience, it’s tempting to focus all of your attention on perks that look good on Instagram or on your careers page—like team retreats to exotic locations. But in reality, it’s the un-sexy stuff—compensation, benefits, reasonable workloads, adequate support from managers, and more—that serves as the real foundation for your employee experience.
Data proves that those basics need to be in place well before you can hope to see extras like gym stipends or free laptops make any sort of meaningful difference:
- Only 32% of employees think they’re paid fairly.
- 70% of employees say benefits that can be customized to meet their needs would increase loyalty to their companies.
- Unsustainable workloads are one of the top reasons people quit jobs.
HR will lead a lot of these efforts. They’re the ones that will need to confirm that salaries are at or above market rates and that benefits packages are enticing.
But the basics aren’t exclusive to HR. Leadership needs to be involved here too, particularly when it comes to appropriately balancing workloads, directly providing support and resources, and setting a positive tone on their own teams. All of that goes way further than on-site massages and catered lunches.
3. Ensure involvement and buy-in from company-wide leadership
Employee experience initiatives are often brewed in HR and handed down as directives to leadership. And while it might feel like an efficient and effective way to disseminate information, it transforms into a box-checking exercise for managers—the people who arguably have the most direct role to play in shaping the employee experience.
That’s likely why 45% of employees don’t believe their feedback leads to meaningful change within their organization. Leaders do what they need to do to meet the requirement, but it doesn’t create a sustained impact.
Leaders should be involved in shaping the employee experience from the outset by being included in early conversations about the areas where the company is falling short and what steps need to be taken. They should also be empowered to facilitate discussions with their own teams about what changes would be most meaningful for them.
Health benefits company, Sana, is a great example of empowering managers. The company created its Culture Book to define its employee experience. It’s a valuable resource for everybody, and it’s also supported by a manager resource hub where people leaders can access self-serve materials and training to better support their teams.
This seemingly simple act of involving everybody positively impacts the employee experience in two important ways:
- Employees get to help identify and implement real changes
- Employees feel heard, valued, and supported
And while leaders play a crucial role in identifying the problems with the employee experience, they should also feel supported in carrying out the solutions for their own teams. With Erudit’s action plans, you can assign collaborators so that managers can play a continuous and active part in boosting the experience of their own employees.
How to measure and manage the employee experience
With any strategic change, you need to be able to monitor your progress and understand the impact your efforts are making. But the employee experience can be tough to quantify and track—not to mention it’s something that’s constantly shifting and evolving.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to keep your finger on the pulse of the experiences of your workers. Let’s take a look at how to effectively measure the employee experience.
Strategies to understand the employee experience
Let’s start with the how—meaning, the different approaches you can use to actually gather intel from employees and understand how they feel about any employee experience initiatives you’ve implemented.
You might think that this level of candor is next-to-impossible to get your hands on, but there are a number of strategies you can use to collect the information you need, including:
- Conducting employee surveys
- Facilitating conversations with managers who have more direct insights into how their teams are feeling and performing
- Hosting employee focus groups
- Checking your Erudit dashboard to see how your metrics are changing
You likely won’t use just one approach. To get a complete and well-rounded understanding of how your initiatives are paying off, it’s best to collect information from numerous sources.
For example, imagine that employees indicated that they wanted a higher level of autonomy, so you implemented flexible work arrangements and want to understand if that step is moving the needle. You might:
- Conduct a survey specifically about your flexible work offerings
- Connect with managers to ask what feedback they’re hearing on their own teams
- Check your Erudit dashboard, paying particularly close attention to the dimensions related to autonomy
Using these methods to stay on top of how employees are feeling is always important, but even more so during times of upheaval and change—whether that’s a merger or acquisition, layoffs or a restructuring, or anything else that makes employees feel insecure off kilter.
Key employee experience metrics to track
Understanding how to measure employee experience is an important first step, but you also need to know what to measure. This is the piece that often feels the most murky, particularly when the elements of the employee experience are so connected and interdependent.
So which metrics are the most crucial to measure as you improve your own employee experience? Most of them can be captured by the following three risks we measure in Erudit’s main dashboard:
- Engagement: The degree to which an employee feels emotionally connected, committed, and involved with their job and organization.
- Burnout: The likelihood of an individual experiencing a state of chronic physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion from prolonged exposure to stress and excessive workloads.
- Turnover: The likelihood of an individual leaving their current job or organization.
Those three encompass a lot. But of course, there are plenty of other employee experience metrics (Erudit has 37 of them) that you can monitor.
Trying to keep an eye on all of them at once can be overwhelming. So, when you roll out a new employee experience initiative, focus on the ones that are most relevant. With the case of our autonomy example, you would monitor the autonomy metric, as well as sub-metrics like independence and execution.
HR can and should have a lot of oversight here, but people leaders should also frequently check these metrics to stay committed to the process and continue to make strategic improvements on their own teams.
Employee experience is enduring, not an event
You’ve probably seen this play out before: Whenever there’s a new program or initiative, there’s an initial burst of energy and enthusiasm around it—but it quickly fades as the days go by.
But your efforts to improve your employee experience can’t be a flash in the pan. This needs to be an ongoing activity, not a one-time strategic offering. It’s something you need to double down on, particularly during times of major organizational change, and it requires continuous commitment not just from HR, but from every people leader within the organization.
It’s that level of insight and involvement that will help you make the most meaningful changes to your employee experience—and, as a result, your organization as a whole.