Employee experience is a new-ish trend in the People and Culture field. Suddenly, companies are specifically looking to hire employee experience professionals (like me!).
In today’s competitive job market, an outstanding employee experience helps employers differentiate themselves and retain top talent. Start-ups have been a key driver in shifting the focus to employee experience, as they have had to get creative with limited resources while the workplace has become a larger part of employees’ lives. I’ve spent over six years at various start-up companies studying employee experience and how it impacts culture.
Culture vs. employee experience
Culture is a broad, semi-intangible concept that exists in every company. It encompasses how we communicate with one another, make decisions in the workplace, and reward behaviors. Employee experience is more tangible and can greatly influence a company’s culture. At a high level, employee experience is about strategically shaping key touch points and milestones in the employee lifecycle to align with company values, missions, goals, and culture.
Hierarchy of employee needs
I like to break down employee experience further by mapping it to a hierarchical pyramid of employee needs (Maslow anyone?). If all of your employees’ needs are met, from the most basic to the most complex, you will have an engaged and motivated workforce. This is my overall goal because it means good things for the health and success of the business.
- Base: Basic safety and environmental needs, like having a desk and computer, a safe office space, and healthcare benefits.
- Middle: Social belonging and esteem, like building relationships, feeling valued and appreciated, and learning and developing in a role to grow confidence.
- Top: Employee “actualization,” like belief in the mission and vision, alignment on working towards the greater purpose, and empowering others to do the same.
Start with feedback
Employee experience can feel a bit overwhelming and all-encompassing—there are so many things you could do and people love sharing their ideas with you! Creating feedback loops to give your coworkers a voice and make them feel heard is a great place to start. Employees have different comfort levels and preferences in how they share feedback, so having multiple options is ideal.
At theSkimm, I use a combination of surveys, councils and forums, and anonymous channels. This way I receive both quantitative feedback, which helps me identify top priorities, and qualitative feedback, which provides context and understanding around those priorities. From there, I can build a targeted employee experience plan. Collecting these insights can help you, your coworkers, and your leadership team understand the ‘why’ of everything you do, making it easier to get buy-in and investment from everyone.
Focus on top priorities
After collecting feedback, reference the pyramid to identify the most critical employee needs not being met. Select the top 2-3 priorities to focus on for the next six months to one year based on the feedback and insights you received. Keep in mind that it takes time to create real change. Start by developing a plan that includes overall strategies, quick wins, long-term initiatives, and measurable goals for each priority so you can track progress along the way. The plan should serve as the guiding light to keep you and your team focused, but know that it will change as you work through it and receive more feedback.
Let’s put this structure into practice and say that one of your company’s top priorities for the next six months is strengthening its employee recognition program. Here’s what a simple plan could look like:
- Overall strategy: Create a performance-driven culture
- Purpose: Our employees want more acknowledgement of achievements and performance
- Quick win: Create a #shoutouts Slack channel for all employees to celebrate achievements
- Mid-term initiative: Launch peer-nominated awards based on values
- Long-term initiative: Implement goal setting training for all employees
- Measurable goal: Increase % of employees who strongly agree with the statement “I receive appropriate recognition for good work”
By implementing the above initiatives, my hope is to steadily move the needle on the goal and our overall employee engagement. (I recommend using CultureAmp surveys to measure employee engagement.) Then, I’m able to decide whether those initiatives were successful or if they need adjustment. Again, learn as you go and experiment.
Employee experience is an evolution
Employee experience is a cyclical process—there is no real end or state of perfection. It’s constantly in flux along with your employees, company, and culture. What worked for 30 employees may not work for 100 employees. Or, a new health and wellness trend might mean adopting new workplace behavior norms. The best you can do as an employee experience professional is to always listen, focus on top priorities as best you can, and constantly evolve.