Engagement vs. experience – advice for employers in a post-pandemic world

Employee engagement is old news. Refocusing your attention on the employee experience will yield better, more competitive results.

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Businesses everywhere are talking about the current challenges of recruitment and retention, and in the HR world we’re hearing a new buzzword: EX which stands for employee experience. In the coming months and years, it will replace what we’ve been calling employee engagement. The shift may be subtle, but more and more employees will be looking at their work choices like consumers shopping for the best deal.

The employee experience will be very different than it was prior to COVID. Team members will be less focused on traditional benefits and strategies and more focused on what they want from their work experience.

Tracy Maylett & Matthew Wride, authors of The Employee Experience: How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results, define EX as “The sum of the various perceptions employees have about their interactions with the organization in which they work.”

Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage says that every employee experience, no matter the size or scope of an organization, is influenced by three basic environmental factors: cultural, technological, and physical.

“All three of these aspects,” says Morgan, “should be focused on creating an environment where people want to show up!”

Here is a breakdown of these three areas:

Cultural environment: encompasses an established set of well-communicated values; employee alignment with those values, an environment where employees feel listened to, rewarded and recognized; and opportunities are present for good relationships at work and with their business leaders.

Technological environment: includes current, user-friendly software and tools to easily perform job functions with low frustration; team communication technology available to communicate with management and team members; and technology that facilitates the exchange of real-time feedback and opportunities to connect with remote workers.

Physical environment: provides open or closed office spaces; ergonomics, office temperature and lighting; and comfortable common spaces. For remote workers, equipment required to do their jobs is supplied and support is given to set up appropriate ergonomically supported workspaces in the home.

“In a world where money is no longer the primary motivating factor for employees,” says Morgan, “focusing on the employee experience is the most promising competitive advantage that organizations can create.”

This means that the EX is not simply about perks, and it’s not the primary responsibility of the HR department. All areas of the business, including operations, human resources and IT, have a role to play in the EX.

A Consumer-Style Approach to HR

The war for talent is a serious factor for future business sustainability. Now that employees have more choice, they have the luxury to question what they want out of a career and the organizations they work for. They want a place where they enjoy working, rather than a job that just pays the bills. They want a company whose values align with their own, that meets their desire for meaning and that demonstrates care for its workforce.

Employees are on the front lines, representing your brand to customers, and organizations are recognizing that their workforces require the same focused attention once reserved for developing customer relations. It’s becoming more evident, no matter how hard companies try to create engagement, that it is the employees who decide whether or not to engage with their work. The implications are that successful customer experiences begin and end with your people. The more powerful the employee experience, the more engagement, commitment, and passion they will bring to the customer experience.

Seeing employees as customers is the way companies will compete for talent. Not paying attention to the EX will create a disadvantage that impacts business viability in the future. Examine your employee experience to determine what steps you may need to take to stay competitive with new and existing team members.

5 Stages of the Employee Experience

  1. Recruitment: Attractive job ads that catch the attention (and hearts) of the best candidates, keeping them informed during the process. An engaging interview that reassures them they applied for the right role, so they quickly accept the job offer. Connections with all the people they encounter along the way. These are all part of the EX that creates a positive perception about your company. That perception will lead to engagement.
  2. Onboarding: It is ideal if a new hire gets up to speed quickly with the systems, tools and processes, and comes to grips with expectations of the role. The quicker they can do this, the more quickly they become integrated into your company. An effective onboarding process translates someone’s initial enthusiasm for their new job into a more meaningful, long-term connection to the brand and a commitment to doing great things while they’re there.
  3. Development: Employees develop at different rates across a variety of skill sets. Quantifying their productivity, personality, attitude, fit and promotion aspirations are as important as offering them the chance to expand their skill sets, as employees look toward developing a “portfolio career,” consisting of many different experiences.
  4. Retention: Fully oriented and integrated into the organization, the next step is keeping employees performing, developing, and contributing to the company’s success, as well as ensuring they’re inspired by and connected to the company’s core vision.
  5. Exit: Every employee will leave your company eventually. Finding out why is an opportunity to improve and develop the employee experience for current and future employees. Leavers may be more candid in exit interviews about why they’re going, as they may feel they have nothing to lose by being brutally honest.

Source: XM Institute.

Ingrid Vaughan, principal of Smart HR and founder of the Smart Leadership Academy, provides HR support and leadership coaching to small business owners and managers.

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