A decade ago the term “employee experience” didn’t exist. You’d have heard leaders and HR departments talking about the need for “employee engagement” but, even then, not many CEOs would have seen it as important to the success of their business. Now, it feels like the term “employee experience” is everywhere and that, at last, it’s being taken seriously. In part, that’s because the pandemic focused minds on the importance of wellbeing, but it’s also due to the pioneering efforts of one man: Ben Whitter.
Dubbed “Mr Employee Experience,” he’s been recognised by Thinkers 50 as “the leading authority” on this subject. HR Magazine crowned him one of their top thirty Most Influential Thinkers in 2021 and he’s the author of two best-selling books which set out why and how a great employee experience should be at the top of every business’s agenda. He also happens to be one of the speakers at our Make Work Better conference this coming September.
But what exactly is a great employee experience? And why do we and Ben believe it is so integral to an organisation’s success?
Ben Whitter – Founder, HEX Organisation
What do we mean by the employee experience?
In the introduction to his book Human Experience at Work, Ben defines the employee experience like this: “People just know when they’re working for a great company because, from whatever angle you look at it, they are being supported. Across the entire human experience, you will see well-defined and well-designed programmes, policies and processes that are there to help people be as good as they possibly can be.”[i]
In other words, the employee experience looks at the big picture – how well an organisation is doing across the entire employee lifecycle. It encompasses things like what attracts potential recruits, the relationship an individual has with their boss and how the organisation as a whole supports their social, physical and psychological wellbeing at work.
When we assess an organisation’s wellbeing strategy, we look for the following as evidence of a good employee experience:
- Employees have control over their work and decision making.
- They believe there is a higher purpose to the organisation and have an understanding of how they can contribute to this.
- The organisation’s values reflect an inclusive, supportive and interesting work environment.
- There’s consistent and effective line management which actively supports the wellbeing of staff.
- People undertake the learning and development they need to achieve job satisfaction.
- There’s flexibility within the working environment and people have a sense of control over it, allowing them to improve their work-life balance.
- There’s a focus on minimising and managing stress as well as improving mental health at work, both of which are leading causes of sickness absence.
- People are encouraged to participate in wellbeing-related activities – and given the time to do it.
- There is leadership involvement – because for a wellbeing strategy to work, it’s vital all levels of the organisation are onboard.
While all of these are important factors in creating a supportive work environment, it’s that last point about leadership which makes the biggest difference. As Ben puts it: “In acknowledging a great employer, we are acknowledging great leadership – at least, what I define as world-class leadership anyway. Whatever reputation has been created, you only need to look at the people at the top of the company to find out exactly why an organisation’s culture is the way that it is.”[ii]
Why is a good employee experience so important?
Aside from looking after your people being simply the right thing to do, having a healthy, happy team reduces costs. Not only do rates of sickness, accidents and absenteeism go down but staff are more likely to stay with you, meaning you retain their skills and expertise and don’t have any of the associated extra costs which come with continually having to recruit new staff.
Having a culture where people feel able to be open and honest about things like their health also makes a real difference to productivity. According to research from the RAND Corporation, set out in detail in one of our webinars, one of the biggest drivers of productivity loss in the workforce is presenteeism – continuing to work when you’re ill because you feel you have to. They estimate that in 2019 presenteeism accounted for 13.4% of working days lost, compared to 1.2% for sickness absence. The most significant drivers of presenteeism are poor mental health, lack of sleep and financial concerns and there’s a strong link between what people experience at work, their mental health and productivity.
how can you lead the people experience to deliver sustainable performance outcomes over the long-term?
Ben Whitter positions the employee experience as the defining challenge and opportunity of our age and how a strong EX strategy is the foundation stone in building genuine and long-lasting business success.
How to improve your employee experience
If you don’t yet have an employee experience strategy in place, the obvious first step is to develop one and we have a number of articles and webinars on our website which can help you on that journey. But before you plunge headlong into making improvements, make sure you’ve taken the time to find out what the people who work for you want. Here’s Ben’s take on that:
“Human milestones matter, and they need to matter more to employers. Employee experience strategies fall down when they centre themselves on what the organisational leadership thinks is important rather than what employees & workers KNOW is important in their experience of work and life. A solution is to ask people about what matters most to them (and their families) and then co-create policies, products, and experiences that deliver on their unique human experience. Of course this is common sense management, I agree, but it is not commonly applied….yet. Get out there and meet the audience where they are.”[iii]
The second thing Ben thinks is important if you’re just setting out on this journey is “the ability to set an intention to disrupt your business model, to do things completely differently.”[iv]
Having spent years working with businesses who’ve transformed their employee experience, he says he’s found that, “if you go after those things that matter to employees first, then everything else flows from there. The respect, the admiration, the positive relationships, the well-being – all of those great outcomes that we seek come from a positive intention around disrupting what you’re doing as an organisation or as an HR team. It could be a policy that doesn’t work for people. It could be a procedure that is inhuman in the way that it’s applied. It could be all manner of different things. It could be an onboarding process that just isn’t welcoming enough. It could be an exit process that is not fit for purpose.”[v]
Those are just a few tips on how to start the process of improving your employees’ experience of work. It can be a challenging journey, but it’s also a highly rewarding one. If you’d like to hear more suggestions and inspiring examples from Ben, sign up to our Make Work Better conference. And remember, whatever stage you’re at, we’re always here if you have questions about where to go next.