Employee Experience: The Definitive Guide
As organizations today seek to adapt and thrive in a tight labor market where employees are planning to leave their organizations, a positive employee experience has become everything.
So how can employers navigate the new expectations of talent today?
We created this guide to help HR leaders effectively cultivate the kind of experience that makes people want to get out of bed and go to work (whether that means reporting to a safe work environment or logging in from home).
Based on the cumulative knowledge we’ve gained through our work with clients and colleagues, we’ve gathered insights from in-house SMEs, colleagues, and industry thought leaders to bring you tips on the impact of a great employee experience, how to meet the shifting expectations of today's job seekers, and more.
Table of Contents
- What Is “Employee Experience”?
- How does your current employee experience stack up?
- How the employee experience impacts the entire talent lifecycle
- Why employee experience matters now more than ever
- What employee experience factors are most critical?
- The roles of engagement and culture in the employee experience
- How organizations can build a great employee experience
- How to leveraging technology in your employee experience
- How to measure the impact of your employee experience
- Key Takeaways
What Is “Employee Experience”?
The employee experience (EX) encompasses every interaction a worker has with your organization — from the moment they accept a job offer and beyond. It even stays alive well after the employee has exited and becomes an alumnus. Work environment, coworkers, benefits, career pathing opportunities, and more all have an impact on whether the experience is positive or negative.
Industry thought leader Josh Bersin provides a broad definition of the employee experience that can help frame the concept:
“It’s a company-wide initiative to help employees stay productive, healthy, engaged, and on track. It’s no longer an HR project. It’s now an enterprise-wide strategy, often led by the CHRO in partnership with the CIO. And it deals with all the day-to-day issues employees face at work.”
Bersin goes on to note that the scope of today’s employee experience has expanded beyond the typical HR strongholds of pay, leave, wellbeing, and benefits. It now includes things like workplace safety protocols, office scheduling considerations, and employee learning.
How does your current employee experience stack up?
At Phenom, we’ve spent nearly a decade collecting data from thousands of employers and millions of employees and candidates. As we’ve helped clients implement tools to drive better employee retention, we’ve identified some key questions TA and HR leaders can ask to capture employees’ perspectives on what it’s really like in the workplace:
- Do employees feel enriched and fulfilled on a day-to-day basis?
- Does the employer invest in employees’ growth and career development?
- Do employees feel valued?
- Do employees feel connected to their work and the overall organization?
- Are employees supported in realizing career goals? Is it easy for them to identify job progression and future roles – and then gain the skills required to get there?
How the employee experience impacts the entire talent lifecycle
The employee experience is integral to all key stakeholders in the talent lifecycle: candidates, recruiters, and managers. And a great experience depends on effortless, high-quality interactions during every point of the overall talent experience.
- Job search: Do candidates receive relevant, personalized job recommendations and information? Is the career site designed to seamlessly bring them through the application process? Does it include content that authentically portrays what it’s like to work at the company, such as employee stories, testimonials, and videos?
- Interviewing and onboarding process: Is interview scheduling stress-free? Are recruiters and hiring managers communicating clearly and thoroughly every step of the way? Are impactful moments woven into a new employee’s first week at work? Is accessing needed technology and resources effortless?
- Ongoing employer-employee relationship: Are managers empowered with data to make more informed hiring decisions? Are managers trained to nurture employees’ career aspirations?
- Employee growth and development: Are employees empowered to identify new career paths, develop skills, move to other roles within the company, and take on internal gigs? Can they easily refer their networks to open roles? Is there an alumni community to keep exiting employees connected with the organization?
Why employee experience matters now more than ever
If the experience an employee has within the company wasn’t already firmly entrenched in the consciousness of HR and business leaders, it is now. New realities created (or accelerated) by the Covid-19 pandemic and social disparities have resulted in long-term changes that are reshaping the way business leaders address the employee experience:
- Remote work creates new challenges in fostering a sense of unity and belonging.
- Reliance on the employer as a safety and social support net has grown. This refers to addressing the mental health and social needs of a remote workforce, for example, and supporting employees as they balance increased family needs with their workloads. “Mental health, purpose and social responsibility are now critical components of the value proposition,” Gartner reports in Top 5 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2021.
- Employee experience has become a broader initiative. It’s not only up to a single HR function to address these challenges — retention has become a company-wide initiative, encompassing a set of programs and strategies focused on employee safety, productivity, and unity.
Organizational resilience has emerged as a top priority
Resilience – the ability of an organization to successfully adapt and respond to sudden change – is now just as important as efficiency, according to Gartner.
Some organizations are working to preserve the employee experience as they adjust to ongoing hiring freezes and layoffs. Other companies are seeing skyrocketing growth and are speeding to hire new talent or reskill internal talent to keep up with demand.
With a strategy designed to nurture engagement and employee development, companies can attract, retain and reskill the right talent to ensure organizational resilience.
New generations of workers have different expectations
Millennials and Gen Z employees demand trust and want to feel that their employers are in alignment with their own goals and values. They want to work for a purpose — not just a paycheck — and expect a more personalized work experience where they feel valued as individuals.
A great experience positively impacts retention, productivity, and more
The EX impacts standard HR metrics like retention, time to productivity, and new-hire turnover rates. Plain and simple: Employees who feel valued, purpose-driven, and nurtured are more productive and less likely to leave the organization. (More on metrics later – see “How to Measure the Employee Experience.)
We live in an always-connected world.
Escalating use of social media platforms and employer rating websites like Glassdoor means that information about your company culture is available to anyone — including your talent pool, current employees, and competitors. In fact, one in three people have declined a job offer due to bad company reviews.
Happy employees = happy customers
For years now, we’ve known that happy employees translate to happy customers.
“Companies that invest in employee experience are 4x more profitable than those that do not,” says best-selling author and speaker Jacob Morgan. They’re also 1.5 times more engaged employees than companies with poor customer service records, reports industry group Future of Work.
What employee experience factors are most critical?
Especially for today’s workers, salary and benefits are no longer as tightly intertwined with employee engagement and retention.
It also doesn’t come down to providing a Silicon Valley-worthy office environment. (With many office workers relocated to their homes for extended periods of time, remote work has become the norm.)
According to Alex Her, Global Brand Manager at Informatica, employees desire to be valued as individuals. He also observed that employees now want to be able to “bring their whole selves to the table,” and believe that the employer is invested in their overall wellbeing.
Here are four key factors to focus on when it comes to employee experience:
- The ability to grow and learn. Industry studies increasingly find that opportunities for skill development and career growth are major factors in a job candidate’s decision to join an organization. Learning and career pathing programs are critical here.
- Leaders who listen, coach, and champion career growth. “Employees don’t leave jobs, they leave their bosses.” No doubt you’ve heard that one before. It’s a cliché that’s been around for a reason: Strong leaders are linked to deeper employee engagement, reduced turnover, and better financial performance. Effective leaders act as partners with their team members.
- Feeling valued as individuals. Employees need to feel free to express opinions, even when they differ from the status quo. Beyond that, they need to see their opinions considered in decision-making. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) programs tie in here, with an emphasis on DE&I as an ongoing initiative geared toward creating a culture of acceptance. (More on this later – see “How organizations build a great employee experience”)
- An environment that supports autonomy and flexibility. This is all about making it easy for employees to do their jobs. Beyond equipping employees with the right tools and training, employers should honor, when possible, individual preferences in terms of how, when, and where workers feel most productive. In the wake of the pandemic, many employers are re-evaluating traditional work schedules, in-office requirements, and ideas around productivity.
The roles of engagement and culture in the employee experience
Employee engagement is an important aspect of the employee experience. Engaged employees are happy with the work they’re doing and motivated to help meet company-wide goals. They feel valued and empowered to make decisions.
For many years, the conversation centered on employee engagement and how to measure and improve it. More recently, engagement is seen as just one component of the much broader employee experience.
Generally speaking, engaged employees are more likely to have a great overall experience with an organization. But this can only happen if the other pieces of the puzzle fall into place — including growth and development opportunities, processes and technology that support productivity, and supportive managers and leadership.
Company culture paves the way for employee connections, sense of purpose, and growth and learning.
Culture runs deeper than mission statements, organizational goals, and formal policies and guidelines, said Andrea Euenheim, CHRO & Labour Director for international wholesaler METRO AG.
To redefine EX at her organization, Euenheim undertook a major cultural shift, seeking to unify employees and bring context to their efforts. She shared tips for successfully creating a culture that fosters an authentic experience:
- Analyze current culture and dig deep. Gather perceptions, beliefs, unwritten rules, and informal networks.
- Understand that policies and procedures alone don’t form culture. Employees need guidance that addresses real needs and provides meaningful context.
- Create unity. Make sure that employees feel as though they’re making a difference for themselves, each other, the organization, and its customers.
How organizations can build a great employee experience
The employee journey is a top-down endeavor that requires commitment from executive leadership to managers to employees themselves. But HR leaders, of course, are in a unique position to drive the employee experience.
“It’s never been a more exciting time to be in HR,” said Beth Clutterbuck, CHRO of Relativity. “We can orchestrate a fabulous experience throughout the entire employee lifecycle. We have so many tools at our fingertips to do this.”
The hallmarks of employee experience at her agile organization include a collaborative environment and the ability to constantly grow and learn — which are some of the things top talent is now demanding, she said.
To stay competitive, organizations need to shift toward a talent-first mindset that places employee growth at the center.
Support career pathing and development
Employees need to envision their careers — and it can be powerful when this is done by the employer at the organization they work for. When employees feel like they have a career path, they stay longer. They become enthusiastic advocates for your employer brand.
Career pathing opportunities help employees identify job progression, future roles, and the skills needed to advance. Make it easy for employees to take advantage of career pathing opportunities like new roles within the organization, mentorships, networking, professional development, and learning programs.
Provide learning and opportunities to build skills
Recent research and industry developments point to employee learning and growth as perhaps the most essential driver of employee experience. In fact, career growth opportunity is the number-one reason people change jobs, according to Gallup. But a 2020 study by the HR Research Institute found that just 54% of HR professionals say their organization has a career development process in place.
Here’s how HR and TA leaders can weave learning and development into the employee experience and overall employee journey.
Encourage internal mobility and gig work
Internal mobility not only encourages employee development by empowering them to move to other roles within the company, it also helps organizations close skills gaps and stay competitive.
Workplace gigs are short-term projects within an organization that typically don’t involve a change in pay or job code. They may also be called projects or cross-functional team assignments. Matched to employee skills and interests, these engagements can be as little as a few hours worth of work or as long as a few months.
Implementing a gig program benefits both employees and organizations. Gigs help employees build knowledge, hone skills, and better understand the organization’s business goals. Gig projects can give employees a deeper sense of connection to the company’s overall purpose.
By gaining hands-on experience in new areas of the business, employees also become better positioned to move along their career path and move into new, permanent roles within the company. Creating gigs to fill temporary assignments with internal employees instead of hiring outside consultants can also help organizations save money and, moreover, increase agility and adaptability.
Strengthen employee referral programs
Beyond proven benefits like reduced hiring costs and better retention, employee referral programs have a symbiotic relationship with the employee experience.
Referred employees are more likely to be a better culture fit and thus more engaged. “Talent knows talent,” said Kayla Drady, Director of Talent Acquisition Strategy and Operations at Mercy, and employees who refer new hires feel valued when they’re recognized for contributing to hiring goals.
Educate leaders and managers
This is an especially important, but often overlooked element in employee experience. In many cases, managers aren’t natural-born leaders. Invest in leadership training that emphasizes the goals of listening to, developing, and supporting employees.
It’s also important to instill in managers the philosophy that internal talent mobility is good for employees and the organization. So many managers end up being roadblocks to career growth simply because they don’t want to let go of valued team members.
Champion Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
In addition to being a critical imperative, Diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) boosts engagement and inspires more creative ideas. In fact, 67% of job candidates said that a diverse workforce is an important factor in their job search, according to a Glassdoor survey.
To make meaningful change when it comes to DE&I, Anthony Prudente, former Sr. Specialist, Talent Marketing & Engagement, Brother USA, recommends taking the following steps:
- Secure buy-in and support from senior leadership
- Empower employees as stakeholders – start a conversation, gather opinions and stories, and listen closely to feedback
- Facilitate Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to build employee connection and understanding of cultural and social differences. In addition to benefiting employees, ERGs can help the organization as a whole to progress and maintain DE&I momentum.
- Communicate your efforts to employees and the public
Get the word out to employees
Having the water is just one part of the equation — you need to lead the horses to it, so to speak. Promoting awareness of career growth and learning opportunities is a critical part of the overall employee experience strategy.
Here are a few questions to ask you and your team to identify where there may be gaps — and opportunities to better communicate with internal talent:
- Are career pathing, gigs, and upskilling opportunities highly visible to employees?
- Are career pathing programs well-communicated to managers?
- Are employees leveraging learning and development opportunities matched to develop their skills?
- Is senior management and the executive staff aware of leadership training opportunities?
Employees need to own their career paths...
Keep in mind that employees need autonomy – while an employee’s career path should also align with the needs and goals of the organization, the process should be theirs to own. Rather than making learning mandatory by setting agendas and specific schedules, empower employees to learn in the flow of work.
This is where technology comes in.
The right tools and tech will increase the visibility of available resources and programs that enhance the employee experience. They serve to streamline access, making it possible to integrate learning and skill development into day-to-day work routines.
And using an AI-driven talent experience platform boosts employee engagement by delivering on-demand, personalized learning experiences, and career pathing guidance.
Want to know more about how technology can transform the experience for internal talent? You’re in luck – we cover that in-depth in the next section.
How to leverage technology in your employee experience
The right technology can help drive the behaviors that support your employee experience goals — from helping employees discover learning opportunities to building a career pathing program to instilling an inclusive culture. It also sends a positive message to employees that you’re invested in them and prioritize their growth.
Older talent experience technology tended to be a patchwork of various programs and systems, resulting in a disjointed user experience. Today, platforms are available that integrate user interactions on the front end for a seamless journey throughout the entire employee lifecycle – onboarding, learning, internal advancement right through moving on to the next internal opportunity.
Here are a few key technologies and considerations to keep in mind when selecting the right employee experience tech.
Downloadable Resource: The Definitive HR Guide to Artificial Intelligence
Use your employee experience portal as an Internal Talent Marketplace
Today’s most effective employee portals function as an internal talent marketplace – a hub linking employees to personalized experiences that help them develop skills, identify new career opportunities, forge connections, and refer their networks.
Within the talent marketplace, employees should be able to easily discover open roles within the company, career pathing programs, gigs, learning and development resources, and more to help them grow and evolve.
During the onboarding process, employees can set up a profile and enter information on skills, interests, goals, and work history. Once that’s created, they can immediately start receiving tailored recommendations on relevant learning, events, and employee resource groups.
Increasing transparency of existing internal opportunities through a talent marketplace is a strategy that has brought logistics leader Kuehne+Nagel considerable success. “Like this, we are able to build a strong talent pipeline, offer hiring managers the best available candidates, reduce time to hire, and create an all-around better — even unique — employee experience,” said Claudia Harms, Global Talent Acquisition Expert at Kuehne+Nagel.
Many organizations leverage internal career sites to help employees find open roles within the company. But today’s employees expect more than the average job search page. How does your internal job site stack up against your external career site? According to Shelia Gray, VP of Talent Acquisition at Quadient, chances are it’s not as “sexy.” Just as the best consumer-focused sites deliver on customized experiences and seamless interactions, look for technology that offers:
- Personalized job recommendations: Using AI and automation, career sites can mine data from employee profiles to suggest open internal positions that match skills and aspirations.
- Chatbots: Conversational chatbots help employees navigate the internal career site with ease and efficiency. They also can gather data insights to give HR leaders a pulse on employee needs and perceptions so they can take action, demonstrating to employees that their voices are being heard.
Career pathing helps employees evolve in their careers and with your organization. AI-driven career pathing tech can synthesize employee skills, interests and job experience with professional goals – and help employees chart their career progression.
Look for career pathing technology that generates fit scores and skills gap analysis. These tools help employees understand the skills they need to make their next career move.
Learning & development
Does your workforce know the depth of learning and development resources available, and how to quickly access what they’re looking for? Career pathing tech should identify relevant learning and upskilling opportunities that will help advance the employee closer to career goals.
Technology powered by AI matching capabilities can help employees develop a personalized course of learning and development that will help them gain the specific skills they need to advance and evolve.
There’s a lot of value in mentors and colleagues who have traveled a similar career path that reflects an employee’s goals. And it’s another area where career pathing technology can help. Using AI to analyze mentor experience and the goals of rising employees, career pathing tech can recommend internal mentors to employees who aspire to a similar role.
Gigs, or short-term projects and work, can boost the employee experience by:
- Helping employees learn about other areas of the company, strengthening skill development and sense of belonging.
- Allowing managers to upskill and reallocate existing talent to critical areas of the business.
- Clarifying the internal talent pool so that organizations can uncover and leverage hidden skills and expertise among employees.
With an internal talent marketplace platform that supports gig work, managers can create and post listings for short-term work experiences and projects.
Employees can create a profile, select their skills, and browse and apply to appropriate projects. HR team members and managers can then search for internal talent based on needed skills and more quickly identify best-fit candidates.
An AI-powered internal talent marketplace will automatically suggest gigs to employees that match their skills and competency level. And it works in the other direction, too, referring qualified employees to managers looking for internal talent to complete short-term tasks.
Just as Candidate Relationship Management (CRM) software tracks and manages the candidate experience, it can also track employee engagement such as time spent in the talent marketplace, jobs they’ve applied to and referrals they’ve made.
For example, the team at international retailer The Warehouse Group measured the success of their new employee experience platform by number of sign-ups, employee visits, apply clicks to internal positions, logins, and average time spent on the site.
Using the CRM can help recruiters, managers, and HR leaders nurture the sort of individualized relationship that’s become such a crucial aspect of today’s employee experience.
With data inputs such as employee skills, work history, career aspirations, and training preferences, talent management can recommend targeted career pathing resources to enhance engagement.
Employee Resource Groups
Technology can also drive an organization’s commitment to DE&I. With AI to suggest employee resource groups (ERGs) that match expressed interests, you can help employees discover connections with colleagues who share similar interests regarding background, culture, and lifestyle.
For construction management firm TRC’s diversity & inclusion strategy, having dedicated spaces for different groups of people to turn to for information, inspiration, and real-time communication is critical. “It’s endless when you think about what you can do,” shared TRC’s CHRO Laura Ramey.
With the right tech to support your referrals program, you can make it easy for employees to refer their professional networks to open roles. A good tool will let employees link right to open positions on your career site, and enable them to post to social media sites.
Tracking capabilities are essential to keep everyone in the loop regarding hiring status – and to recognize employees for their contribution to getting new talent in the door.
How to measure the impact of your employee experience
Gather feedback on KPIs
Tracking traditional HR key performance indicators like employee retention, productivity, and internal promotions all give insight into the general state of employee experience.
In addition to employee satisfaction surveys, pulse surveys and employee net promoter scores can help you measure employee engagement and morale.
A measurement framework for employee experience
A report from Forrester on measuring the employee experience suggests that companies should build a framework to measure the employee experience that encompasses metrics tied to the following three levels:
Gain insight on EX tech usage
Influencing tech adoption doesn’t stop after implementation. To help your employees take advantage of your internal talent marketplace, you’ll need visibility into usage trends.
Analytics capabilities will vary from platform to platform, but here are some metrics that we recommend clients track and optimize:
Overall employee usage
- How many employees logged in? (Our recommendation: 60% of employees)
- What percentage of employees completed the sign-up process? (Our recommendation: 60% of logged in employees)
- What percentage of users are return users? (Our recommendation: 60% of logged in employees)
- What are the top three most viewed pages?
- Which three pages have the highest bounce rate?
- Which three pages have the highest exit rate?
Internal apply actions
- What is your application conversion rate from job visits to apply clicks? (Our recommendation: 10%)
- What is your application conversion rate from apply clicks to applications started? (Our recommendation: 10%)
- How many applications did employees start? (Our recommendation: 40%)
- How many applications did employees complete? (Our recommendation: 80% of applications started)
Employee referral engagement
- How many employees submitted referrals?
- What are your average daily referrals?
- How many referrals were job-specific?
- How many referrals were category referrals?
Understand that employee experience impacts the entire talent lifecycle. It influences the candidate, recruitment, and management experience.
Focus on what matters most to employees. Today, that includes the ability to increase skills and discover new career opportunities, feel valued as individuals, and be unified in purpose.
Give employees a voice. Conduct interviews, take pulse surveys, and analyze data collected by AI-driven tools like chatbots. Gather information on employee needs and preferences, and then take action.
Adapt strategies to meet evolving goals. Rapid changes have redefined employee challenges, including building unity among remote workers and an increased emphasis on the employer as a support system.
Select technology that strengthens the experience. Champion technology platforms that support employee experience strategies. Features to look for include an AI-driven internal talent marketplace platform that drives personalized learning and career development, career pathing, internal gigs, DE&I, and referrals.
Employee experience is more than a buzzword – it’s a major pathway into the future for all industries. It impacts financial performance, the customer experience, and traditional HR metrics.
Keep in mind, it should not be viewed as a problem that needs a one-time solution. As Josh Bersin notes, “Employee experience is now an ‘active strategy.’ You should define and design it — not just monitor it … Done well, your employee experience strategy will drive your company culture, employer brand, productivity, engagement, retention, and customer success.”
Enhance the employee experience with Phenom
Empower your internal talent to identify new opportunities and career paths, develop their skills, connect with colleagues, and easily refer their networks with Phenom Employee Experience (EX):
- Internal Mobility
- Talent Marketplace
- Career Pathing
Interested in seeing Phenom EX in action?
Request a demo!