Which comes first: employee experience or employee engagement? And why do they matter? AQ takes a look at these two related – but distinct – areas.
Do you enjoy yourself at work? Do you really believe in what your company stands for? If the answer to both those questions is yes, you’re a positive example of both employee experience and employee engagement.
Employee engagement has been discussed for a while, but now there’s a growing focus on employee experience. It could be time to concentrate on employees’ actual experience of working rather than banging on about purpose, vision and values with little understanding of what those things really mean to people as they do their jobs. It seems we’ve been looking at it the wrong way round: employee engagement is the end result while employee experience is the means to getting there.
IT SEEMS WE’VE BEEN LOOKING AT IT THE WRONG WAY ROUND: EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT IS THE END RESULT WHILE EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE IS THE MEANS TO GETTING THERE.”
Think of employee experience like customer experience, which considers every aspect of your customers’ perception of your business from their first contact. Employee experience looks at employees in the same way, from walking in the door in the morning or logging on at home. What’s their real experience of working for your business – good and bad? Good employee experience ultimately means a better experience for customers and that leads to a more successful business.
Employee engagement is about how committed your staff are to your business, and how much they support its values and vision. If your employees are engaged with your business they’ll know where it’s going, and will be keen to play their part in getting there.
Some people downplay employee experience as a feel-good, nice-to-have extra. They think it’s about having fun, dress-down Fridays, free pizza… but no, it’s so much more than that.
IF YOU MAKE SURE YOUR EMPLOYEES’ EXPERIENCES ARE GOOD, ENGAGEMENT WILL FOLLOW.”
Your employees are not shallow. Yes, who doesn’t like a slice of free pizza now and then, but they’re much more interested in the kind of company they work for, the physical space they work in and having the right tools and technology to support them. Those are the things that make for good employee experience, and you can’t have employee engagement without getting those basics right first. If you make sure your employees’ experiences are good, engagement will follow.
“The employee experience may be broad in scope, but it starts by optimising every touchpoint that an employee comes in contact with, to create an integrated experience that feels holistic throughout every stage,” says Ryan Scott, CEO of Causecast. “Improving the landscape for employees comes from treating them as you would your customers, so consider the attention you put into the customer experience and replicate that effort with employee experience.”
So fostering a good employee experience involves taking a holistic approach to the workplace and work, looking at every aspect of what employees actually feel about where and how they do their jobs. It’s recognising that all the little niggles – and pleasures – of daily life at work matter, and add up to make a positive or negative experience for employees.
It could become part of the IC professional’s role to work with HR to explore employee experience, from the first time they hear about your business, through employment, welcome, training, and day-to-day work, to moving on to another employer.
Research shows that three areas have a real, long-lasting impact on employee experience: culture, technology, and the physical space they work in. Figures from the US suggest that companies that invest in all three have happier employees and better than average profits.
Fostering a positive employee experience
Surely your employees are as important as your customers, so why do more than 80 per cent of companies ask customers about their experiences, but fewer than 30 per cent do the same for their staff?
RESEARCH SHOWS THAT THREE AREAS HAVE A REAL, LONG-LASTING IMPACT ON EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE: CULTURE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE PHYSICAL SPACE THEY WORK IN.
So the first thing to do it to establish what your employees’ experience of working for your company is now and what changes they’d like to see. Then consider culture, work space and technology.
Fewer people expect to stay in one job for life these days and people move for more than mere money. Younger people in particular are more likely to be attracted to jobs that give them a sense of pride in where they work. Make sure everyone knows and understands your purpose, vision and values and show by your actions that they are important. Most people want to work for a ‘good’ company. That’s hard to define, but at the very least you can play an active part in your community and pay more than lip service to ethics and protecting the environment.
Your work space can be like your home – you overlook the flaws and dingy bits until someone new comes round and you see it with fresh eyes. Your employees spend many hours each week at work, so physical space has a real impact on their experience. Many jobs are easier if space is flexible: a desk for working at the computer, a quiet zone for phone calls and seating areas for cross-department collaboration, so it’s a good idea to establish what would really work for your business. Just because it’s always been one person, one desk doesn’t mean that’s the best way to work today.
It all adds up!
Positive employee experience makes your employees more engaged at work. Because they value their roles and enjoy their work, they give your customers a good experience. So happy employee + engaged employee = happy customer = better business.
Reconfiguring spaces – in collaboration with staff – can make for a work place everyone is happier with. We probably won’t all go as far as Google, whose offices include slides, aquarium relaxation rooms and vintage caravans, but spaces can be made more interesting and flexible.
It’s a bit sad but most employees have come to expect the technology they use in their personal lives to be better and more agile than the tech they use at work. Perhaps it should be part of the internal communicator’s role to change that. Working with IT, internal communicators really can help improve the experience of using technology at work. The IT team can provide the ’how’ and the IC professionals the ‘what’ – the content and which devices people want to use.
Your engaged employees can become real advocates for your brand and business. Increasingly, internal communication teams are helping employees share news and other company content on social media. It works because consumers are more likely to trust views that don’t come directly from the marketing department. But it can succeed only if your employees truly believe in your business and its goals.
For the best employee experience, the tech they use at work should be as good as that used by consumers. The right tech is vital so people can work collaboratively and share knowledge. But it shouldn’t all be about working: communication – as we know – is all important and people value social collaboration tools at work just as at home. You might also encourage personalisation for individuals or groups so people have the tools and platforms that are relevant for them.
IC people also need to maintain their close links with HR because both have roles to play in fostering employee experience and engagement. They may need to look at new ways of focusing on employees and what they feel, need and want. IT and – in larger businesses – Facilities have a role too, and in some organisations roles are becoming blurred with new teams to lead on employee experience.
One thing that will always be needed is communication with employees because you can’t know what they want or what annoys them unless you ask.
For IC, it makes sense to find out how your employees want to receive comms. ‘Oh they’re all on smart phones now’ you might think, but is that really how they want to receive news from their company? It may well be, but you need to be sure they wouldn’t rather sit down with a coffee and a printed magazine – or want both options. Give them the experience they want.
Encouraging and acting on feedback is as important as ever. Everyone has a few areas where their experience at work is less than stellar but if they are listened to and respected the experience remains positive.
Because, as always, it comes down to listening. Listen much more than you tell, ask more that you inform and you’ll help make every aspect of work a positive experience.
What makes the ideal office?
It varies depending on your business, but it appears that quirky ‘Silicon Valley’ novelties like slides and beanbags soon lose their appeal.
“They can relieve some of the tension of a high-pressure office but they are not sustainable in the medium to long term in improving productivity,” says Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Alliance Manchester Business School, in The Independent. “How people are managed is by far the most significant factor.”
It seems that people value simpler things like fresh air, outside space and a good location. As the line between personal and work life becomes blurred for many employees, they need an adaptable space where they can work comfortably, relax and be online 24/7.