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Employee experience – Old wine in new bottles?

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

Employee experience is the current hot topic but is it anything more than a new buzzword? An employee's experience in the workplace seems to have been a consideration of employee attraction and engagement strategies for at least the last decade.

But was this really the case or is it something we all now need to sit up and pay more attention to if we are to successfully attract and retain good people in our organisations?

What is employee experience?

Employee experience is quite simply how an employee perceives an organisation based on their interactions with it in the context of employment. It begins before a person joins and is ongoing throughout their employment relationship. Therefore, employee experience encapsulates everything from attraction and recruitment to reward and recognition, but also culture, physical environment, tools and processes.

Why is it suddenly so important?

Employee experience seems to be the emerging trend of the past year, and certainly there is good justification for this. Whilst employee satisfaction and, latterly, engagement have remained crucial to any successful organisation, there is now a strong argument that they need to form part of a wider positive employee experience strategy if they are to be truly authentic, and therefore effective. Just as businesses have learnt to do with customer experience, engagement is not about a few key interactions, but about every interaction that must be consistent with the expectations created by the employer brand.

How close the expectation and experience align will most likely determine whether a person perceives the organisation positively or negatively.

A rose by any other name..

Like me, some of you may feel this all sounds very familiar. I would argue that ever since employee engagement has risen to prominence employee experience has been a consideration, albeit often referred to as ‘employee touchpoints’. These touchpoints were often cited as points in the employee’s employment lifecycle where there would be an opportunity to establish a dialogue, inform, include or involve them in the organisation’s aims and make them feel valued and motivated. This view became even more pertinent as organisations also began thinking more about their employer brand, and considering the consistency with the perceptions and promises they were establishing, and what employees actually experienced on a day-to-day basis.

The touchpoints of old have now multiplied considerably and an employee can encounter tens of touchpoints in a day, making it more holistic and strategic. Even more importantly though, is that today’s ‘experience’ seems to have more emphasis on influencing thoughts and actions by creating emotional responses, rather than developing a set of events where experience can be managed.

Eating an elephant

As an employee’s every interaction with an organisation is in scope, it can seem a daunting task for a communicator to understand their role and where to start. My advice would be to begin by focusing on the traditional area of responsibility for IC, ensuring there is clarity of message and that the messages are authentic, so that employees will recognise them as being based in a reality they are experiencing.

As employee experience now also focuses more on culture and physical environment, IC can also support the use of consistent messages and tone of voice throughout the organisation, not only in the usual channels, but in more informal channels of communication – process documents, signage, conversations. I am not suggesting that IC need directly manage all of these things, but it can provide guidance and support to ensure they are in line with the employer brand. Most importantly, communications needs to focus more on connecting at an emotional level, not just informing. The best practice for this lies in the already established approaches to customer experience, as the principles here can be used for an internal audience also.

The role of communications is also to ensure the internal and external worlds are connected by mapping a picture of the perceptions created externally and discovering how well these are being delivered, or not, internally. This is not just about the employer brand as part of the company’s attraction and recruitment strategies, but how the wider brand is communicated through all external channels that any potential and existing employees will also be exposed to. Internal communications has a critical role in using its feedback channels to identify the gaps between expectation and experience, and sharing the findings. By representing the voice of the employee, IC can help to engage all areas of the organisation to think about the role they play in improving employee experience. This, rightly, drives responsibility beyond the traditional remits of HR and IC to become a strategic priority for the whole organisation.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, and if you have any approaches you are willing to share. To receive alerts for when new blog posts are released, please provide your details below, or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.