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The Ultimate Guide to Employee Experience

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You may have heard all the buzz about employee experience – or EX – in HR circles. It’s become well-known as the force behind employee retention, higher employee engagement, thriving productivity, and even boosts in profitability. 

There’s no question that prioritizing EX has the powerful potential to change things. But what exactly does “employee experience” mean?

That’s a great question. 


What is the employee experience?

So what exactly is the employee experience? Here’s our answer:

The strength and quality of a worker’s emotional connection to the organization they work for forged through interactions with people, policies, processes, and even technologies through the arc of an employee’s time at a company.

When you think about EX, envision the entire employee life-cycle: from recruiting to onboarding, performance management to career advancement, and eventually, off-boarding and beyond. 

The employee experience cycle -- beginning with recruiting, and cycling through the four pillars of the employee experience before offboarding

 

What is it like for an employee to go through that process at your company? 

The way an employee experiences each of those steps shapes the perception they have of their employer. Does the company care about them? Can managers be trusted to courageously tell the truth? Does leadership follow through on commitments? Is there room to grow here? Do they feel safe? Connected? Is diversity really welcomed? Does the company “rule with an iron fist,” or embrace flexibility? 

Every day, employees absorb the reality of what happens around them and to them. What they experience either builds — or erodes — the relationship to their workplace. 

So what’s involved in supporting a great employee experience?


Learn more about the employee experience in our
Employee Experience Manifesto

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The 4 pillars of employee experience

In a study of 600 workers, 93% said that the following 4 areas mattered to them more than anything else: 

Connection 

Employees are searching for a workplace in which they feel a sense of social connection and belonging with their co-workers, managers, and the organization as a whole. 

Performance

Employees need clear expectations and accountability for their performance at work, as well as visibility into the impact of their effort. Embracing a clear understanding of what excellence looks like in their role empowers workers to succeed (and to feel successful). 

Appreciation

When a worker knows their efforts are seen, met with gratitude, and critical to their company’s success, they get a boost of intrinsic motivation. People who feel recognized for their effort in meaningful ways are more likely to apply additional effort and produce higher quality work in the future.

Growth

High-performing employees want nothing more than to become the best version of themselves. They’re looking for a place that will offer them valuable professional development, effective performance management, and opportunities for advancement and skill acquisition.

We’ve barely scratched the surface of explaining what the employee experience is. Read our article to get more insight on the four pillars and how they can affect your workplace.


Read the article:

What is the Employee Experience?

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Why does employee experience matter?

In his 2017 book, The Employee Experience Advantage, Jacob Morgan explains that we’re currently watching “the next evolution of the workplace.” He’s talking specifically about the shift to prioritizing employee experience.

With five generations now active in the workplace, an always-on culture, and a hyper-competitive talent market, the working world is rapidly changing. We’ve evolved from a “get a paycheck” culture to one in which employees want more from their jobs than salary and benefits. 

In the former world of work, people were often viewed as units of productivity rather than whole people. They were expected to make deep personal sacrifices in exchange for a steady paycheck and a long-standing, stable position. Many stuck with the same employer for over twenty years.

But that world is fading fast. 

Today’s workforce is looking for purpose in their roles, emotional connection, flexibility in location and schedule, benefits that support whole-person care, opportunities for growth, and recognition for their contributions. They want to feel inspired and to see the greater impact of the work they’re doing.

And many are so serious about attaining this kind of an employee experience that they’re leaving their current jobs (by the millions) in pursuit of a workplace that measures up. 

Offering a great employee experience truly is a holistic endeavor – not just in terms of the approach it takes to achieve it, but in terms of the benefits it provides. 

A thriving employee experience is linked to:

  • 20% increases in profitability
  • 5-10% increases in attendance
  • 10-20% improvement in retention
  • 7-14% boosts in customer metrics

Graphic representing statistics related to employee engagement and the employee experience

 

One recent study even revealed that organizations scoring in the top quartile for employee experience saw nearly 3x the return on assets and 2x the return on sales as compared to organizations in the bottom 25%.

That’s why winning companies like Google, LinkedIn, Apple, and Adobe are recognizing the shift and moving away from sporadic employee engagement programs to a more holistic approach.


Save for later:
Employee Experience Manifesto

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The role of employee experience in talent retention

Over 35 million American workers resigned from their jobs in 2021. In fact, 95% say they’re actively thinking about it and 33% even say they want to leave behind the industry in which they’ve built their career.

Those numbers are shocking enough, but the situation escalates when you look at diverse workers. Forty percent of employees said that they would leave their current role in favor of one that was more inclusive and one-third of Black workers said they intend to find a new job in the next two years. Given that the most diverse organizations are 6X as likely to be innovative, and have 2.3x greater cash flow per employee than the least diverse companies – this is an enormous issue both for company culture and the bottom line. 

With 9.3 million American jobs currently open, talent retention is on the hot seat as the number one issue facing HR professionals in 2022.

What’s the answer? To put it simply, coming out on top of The Great Resignation is about strategically building an employee experience that people want. It’s about caring for employees as whole people – nurturing them through connection, prioritizing their personal and career growth, acknowledging their accomplishments and contributions, and supplying the kind of empathetic, flexible performance management that will draw them to be their very best. All of this has to take place in an environment and culture that’s attractive to employees. 


For next steps, check out

the Employee Experience that cuts quit rates in half

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How to assess your employee experience

So how do you get a feel for how employees experience your organization? Well…you ask them. And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to do it. We’ve provided a 21-question assessment called The Thrive Index that will help you determine the strength of the employee experience at your company. 

This survey asks workers how much they agree with statements like this: “Employees at my company feel excited to come to work (or, for remote workers, to begin the work day.)” 

The results will help you place your company in one of the following four categories.

The Thrive Index categories

When one of the four pillars (connection, appreciation, performance, and growth) is missing, it’s difficult for people to feel inspired by an organization’s vision, or aligned with its lofty goals. But the presence of all four pillars leads to the Holy Grail of employee experience: a workforce that is both inspired and aligned. 

  • Thriving: inspired and aligned
  • Off-course: inspired, but unaligned
  • Bare minimum: aligned, but uninspired
  • Surviving: unaligned and uninspired

 

 

A graph with four quadrants reading Surviving, Bare Minimum, Off Course, and Thriving

Thriving 

In a thriving company, employees clearly understand performance expectations and are supplied with plenty of growth opportunities. Because of this, they feel aligned with the trajectory of their employer. Employees in a thriving culture also feel connected to each other, their leaders, and the company as a whole. They know they’re appreciated, so they’re inspired to be their best. Employers reap the benefits in the form of reduced turnover, improved customer satisfaction scores, and increased revenue.

Off-course

In an off-course company, the employees often appear happy. They’re connected to peers and leaders. They’re sincerely appreciated for their contributions. They’re even engaged. The problem is that their day-to-day work isn’t clearly aligned with the mission and direction of the company. In an off-course company, employees spend time on the wrong things. The root of the issue is often a lack of leadership involvement, business-wide focus, or internal communication. When employees can’t see how their work moves the needle or can’t access growth opportunities, the company risks losing top talent. 

Bare minimum

Many bare minimum organizations may be functioning efficiently, but their employees often aren’t thrilled to be there. They’re aligned, but disconnected to the company’s mission or even its people. They may feel unappreciated, uninspired, and bored. Innovative thinking may be crushed by the fear of making mistakes. Often bare minimum culture arises when executives don’t see the business case for employee experience; so they cut corners, and pay the price.

Surviving

In companies with a surviving employee experience, workers are rarely aligned or inspired. They feel neither a sense of personal connection nor appreciation for their efforts. Performance expectations are unclear, and they don’t see a path for career growth. Often a lack of teamwork and internal communication leads to unmet goals and eventually high turnover. Leaders may feel fatigued or stuck. If this describes your company, know that there’s hope — and we can show you why.

Ready to find out how your company’s employee experience measures up? Take the assessment, get your results, and find actionable tips for how to get to thriving.


Take the assessment


How to improve your employee experience

So, how do companies move from merely surviving to fully thriving? It starts with offering meaning – and that comes through creating a strong company culture, demonstrating sincere leadership involvement, and offering meaningful perks and benefits. 

Let’s break that down a little bit further. Here’s a short list of tips based on insights we’ve drawn from over 2,000 employee experience surveys. Each of these aligns with one of the four pillars of EX. 

  Connect

  • Communicate core values early and often. Work your company’s values into everything from onboarding, to performance reviews, to social media posts. What gets repeated gets remembered.
  • Offer opportunities for colleagues to connect. Be creative: team lunches, onboarding buddies, Zoom happy hour for remote workers, etc. Encourage peer-to-peer feedback and cross-department connections.  
  • Listen: get feedback and put ideas into action. Use surveys, listening groups, and even exit interviews – then turn the insights into actionable next steps. Trust compounds when employees watch their boss take feedback seriously. 

     Perform

  • Show employees the impact of their work. Encourage a culture of recognition with gratitude flowing laterally as well as up and down the hierarchy of leadership. Train employees to offer specific praise for particular contributions. Encourage managers to help their reports see the effects of their work on team performance.
  • Encourage regular 1-on-1s with managers. 1-on-1s are the foundation of great performance management. They build continuity of relationships, keep feedback timely, and help address issues with projects, struggles with team dynamics, challenges with morale, and even burnout. 
  • Connect employee contributions to the company’s overall mission, values, and goals. Tie individual goals to company goals and recognize well-aligned employees. When workers see the impact of their work, they gain motivation. 

Appreciate

  • Make recognition specific. Be detailed – when an employee runs across a note or a recognition post from a previous year, they should still be able to recognize clearly what it was about. “When you did X, we benefited in Y, Z ways.” Name what they did, as well as the impact that behavior had.
  • Make it timely. Recognition that’s given in the moment means more than a general “thank you” that comes months later. A well-timed hand-written note, a shout-out on the recognition feed, points given in a reward software paired with a sincere “thank you for…” — these acknowledgments, given in the moment, communicate to employees that their work is seen. 

 Grow

  • Create clear paths for career advancement. Make sure employees know what it takes to get to the next level, and what advancement cycles occur. When workers know what it takes to succeed, it creates a sense of fairness and avoids frustration. 
  • Offer varied growth opportunities. Think creatively: lunch and learns, mentorships, meet-ups, structured learning opportunities, etc. 

For more tips, including the full “cheat sheet” for boosting EX read:
15 Data-Backed Ways to Improve Your Employee Experience

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What is an employee experience platform, and how does it help?

Did you know that HR departments typically utilize 22 different tools simultaneously to support all the facets of the employee experience? Yikes — that sounds exhausting! If your company is in that boat, it might be time to think about streamlining.  

But how do you consolidate? 

The answer is an employee experience platform. An EX platform is designed to help HR leaders manage all or most of the aspects of EX support in a single place (including goals, feedback, rewards, and recognition.) 

It should be simple, intuitive, fun(!), highly customizable, and able to supply the data and insights that drive employee engagement and productivity. Here’s a short sample of the ways that a platform helps boost the employee experience.

How an EX platform changes the game:

Simplicity 

Having everything in one place alleviates stress for workers and managers, reduces login fatigue, mitigates security risk (think about having to close every single account for an off-boarding employee), and boosts program adoption rates. 

Strategically interwoven information

Thirty-two percent of respondents to a recent Harvard Business Review survey reported that the disconnect between employee engagement and performance management systems was one of the biggest barriers to getting value from company investments in employee engagement. When data-driven insights are all in one place, the accuracy and ease of performance management improve. That’s good news for equity, transparency, and reduced burden on managers. 

Keep workers connected 

An employee experience platform allows workers to interact at any time and from any place – across teams and locations to give recognition and praise. This is huge for remote workers in particular, who might otherwise have felt like they were missing out. 

Boost culture

As the world of work changes, we have to find new spaces for creating valuable company culture. An EX platform allows employees to nominate co-workers for awards. It provides a way to offer incentives in support of all kinds of activities from professional development events, to social activities, to wellness initiatives, to all-hands meetings. You can rally your culture around recognition, and more — all in one space.

And that’s just the beginning! To get the full list of what using an employee experience platform can do for an organization, check out How an Employee Experience Platform Powers Your Company.


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How an Employee Experience Platform Powers Your Company

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The manager’s role in the employee experience

There is one person in an employee’s life that can account for up to a 70% variance in their engagement – and that person is their manager. 

It’s often been said that workers don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. We believe that the opposite is also true — that employees stay for great managers. To put it mildly, those in management have an enormous amount of influence over the employee experience. In fact, 81% of employees report that they’re motivated to work harder when their manager appreciates them.  

So, what exactly is a manager responsible for when it comes to employee experience? And what does it mean to do it well? 

A strong start

Managers are involved in every phase of an employee’s life cycle. From the very beginning, they’re there to make certain that employees are warmly welcomed and well-introduced to their teams. 

Companies routinely spend thousands of dollars on acquiring each new hire, so it’s imperative they get the kind of start that will make them want to stay. That means ensuring new hires build personal connections and that they’re quickly looped in on policies, processes, and technology. It means acquainting them with the physical space (if they work in person.) In a smaller company, a manager may do all this personally. In a larger organization, they might delegate. But either way, the ultimate responsibility falls to them for a strong first impression. 

Performance 

Through consistent, frequent one-on-one’s and performance management check-ins, managers can create an employee experience that supplies collaboratively set goals, challenging and meaningful assignments, and a thriving balance of autonomy and guidance. It’s a manager’s job to spot roadblocks of all kinds and to help remove them. 

Those who operate from a relational style of performance management are the most successful. When employees see their managers as partners or coaches, they’re happier and more engaged. Empathy, flexibility, and vulnerability are essential keys to healthy working relationships between managers and their reports. Great managers listen to feedback as often as they give it. They grow with their employees. 

Growth 

Top-performing workers want to become the best version of themselves — and they’re looking for an organization and a manager who will help them get there. 

It’s a manager’s job to take a sincere interest in their direct reports’ career goals, and to keep tabs on their desires for new challenges and skills. Great managers offer timely feedback that’s specific, tied to impact, and focused on behaviors rather than attributes. They also offer generous recognition (back to the reality that 81% of employees are motivated by appreciation from their manager!)

When managers collaborate with their workers to help them grow, it’s a win-win for everybody. 

Departure

When an employee is in the process of a voluntary exit, great managers make their farewell experience meaningful – they celebrate victories, say thank you, and encourage keeping in touch. In the event that a worker needs to be terminated, good managers handle the situation fairly and quickly. 

Through the entire employee life-cycle, managers are there. Eager to hear more about how managers can create a great employee experience? Kazoo’s got you covered.


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A Manager’s Role in the Employee Experience

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Employee experience vs. employee engagement

Finally, what’s the difference between “experience” and engagement?”

The term “employee engagement” refers to the intrinsic motivation and energy that employees bring into their roles every day. Great employee engagement is one of the results of offering a great employee experience. 

Think about it this way: when a worker is happy in their job, feeling challenged, connected to others, and appreciated, they naturally go the extra mile. That’s employee engagement. And it offers a strong competitive advantage.

According to Gallup, highly engaged organizations experience:

  • 21% higher profitability
  • 41% reduced absenteeism
  • 17% gains in productivity
  • 25-65% lower turnover
  • 10% higher customer engagement

How to boost employee engagement

Bersin Associates notes that companies have been spending more than $1 billion yearly on “engagement.” But the percentage of engaged employees has remained flat (about 30%) for over a decade. What that tells us is that most companies just aren’t getting to the root of the issue. 

Investing in personal connection, opportunities for growth, appreciation, and clearly stated performance expectations is the best way to see big gains in engagement. 


Curious about the nuts and bolts of boosting engagement? Check out our article What is Employee Engagement?


Kickstart your employee experience with Kazoo

The future state of your company’s performance — and the performance of all companies grappling with their employee experience — hinges on which side of the revolution you support.

So, will you defend decades-old attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that discount the emotional experience of employees? Or will you lead your company into the future by creating a culture where people feel they belong, their performance has meaning, their efforts are appreciated, and their opportunities for growth are unlimited?

And if you’re interested in the latter, let’s talk.

Because at Kazoo, we’re passionate about bringing together all the tools you need to make work work better for everyone. That’s why the Kazoo Employee Experience Platform brings performance management and recognition and rewards —including Goals, Feedback, Conversations, Recognition, Incentives, and more — into one simple, easy-to-use platform.

If you’re ready to align, connect, and engage your workplace, check out our Kazoo overview. Or, schedule a personalized demo today.

 

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