As an increasing number of organisations prioritise the employee experience, yet leaders at all stages of implementation are still asking the same fundamental question, writes Jen Jackson
Over the course of 2019, I hosted, keynoted and ran sessions at employee experience summits around the world. Attendees comprised a broad cross-section of organisations, industries and regions, at various stages of implementing EX — from those who were curious about how to take the first step in bringing EX into their organisation, to leaders of established employee experience functions grappling with how to link their EX strategy to bottom-line business outcomes.
Yet despite significant differences in where organisations were focusing their EX efforts — especially between regions — there was one common conversation: People are still struggling to define what ‘employee experience’ actually means.
At every summit, I asked ‘what is employee experience?’. And while it seems like a simple question, the answers ranged from uncertainty to incredibly long-winded.
This isn’t surprising — EX is still in its infancy. And like any significant shift, be it technology or social, there tends to be an awkward period where we struggle to concisely articulate what this new ‘thing’ actually is. It takes time to collect the relevant data to support it.
“The employee experience is how an employee experiences, recalls and retells the story of their day, week, year and career”
For example, people have been practicing mindfulness and meditation for millennia with positive results, but it’s only recently that neuroscientists definitely proved the impact mindfulness has on our physiology. Similarly, most leaders know intuitively that the employee experience is the right approach, but most are still struggling to prove and articulate why.
This is where a shared definition is crucial, as it gives us a starting point for:
- Talking about the subject with credibility and influence; and
- Determining what we should be measuring.
We’ve spent years exploring the science of experiences then applying it to real-world applications. This has slowly distilled into the following definition:
The employee experience is how an employee experiences, recalls and retells the story of their day, week, year and career.
Within this definition, there are a number of elements to consider when incorporating EX into a strategic plan.
Experience: The process or fact of personally observing, encountering, or undergoing something. By nature, humans are experiential, living life as a continuous stream of moments and feelings. Work is no different.
“Life is a narrative stream we’re constantly remembering, retelling and revising, based on our experiences”
Remembers: We tend to remember things that defy our expectations, especially extreme deviations. When it comes to experiences, our recollection is an average of the peak and end moments. These two instances disproportionately shape our overall memory, however they don’t need to be monumental. They can easily be the everyday moments, interactions, connections and conversations.
Retells: Helping people talk about their experiences by providing the right language and artifacts gives them an opportunity to relive their experiences. This also plays a powerful role in defining the employer brand.
Story: Humans are driven and connected by narratives — whether it’s the stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions, beliefs and identity, or other’s stories that influence our emotions and behaviours. Life is a narrative stream we’re constantly remembering, retelling and revising, based on our experiences.
Day, week, year or career: A reminder that experiences can be massive, spanning years and careers, but they are also in the day-to-day. We need to consider both when designing the employee experience.
Numerous factors influence how EX is integrated into an organisation — the purpose, the strategy, the culture — ultimately, though, it’s about finding what matters to the people that make up your workforce. This is why there isn’t a single handbook or step-by-step approach to EX, rather a framework that helps leaders build great employee experiences.