There was a time back in the early 2000s when a foosball table and a few beanbags in the office was enough to get you the crème de la crème as far as talent goes—but no more. Employee experience (EX) has moved well beyond perks and superficial incentives as companies start to realize that there are many underlying benefits to keeping their workers happy.
First, companies have begun to notice the positive correlation between employee experience and customer experience—so there’s a bottom-line incentive at play. Second, making your EX a top priority not only helps companies attract top talent, it also goes a long way toward employee retention and reduces the costs associated with high turnover.
As evidence stacks up in favor of improved EX, companies need to start taking note, so here are five tips on how to start building the best employee experience in your enterprise.
1. Create an EX plan and follow through
If you aren’t willing to take this first tip on board, then most of the others won’t work either, because employee experience is worthless unless it is genuinely thought through and implemented with veracity. This means being honest in your aims, delivering on promises, and ensuring that your EX plans aren’t empty-suit policies.
The first thing you need to do is sit down with the right teams and leadership to figure out the best EX plan for you and your company, then commit to those changes. Ask yourselves:
- Why is employee experience important for our company and what do we hope to achieve from it? (And actually make a list!)
- How does EX currently look at each step of the employee journey?
- Is our current EX good enough for the list we made in step 1?
- If not, how can we change our EX to make it good enough?
At this point, you’ll need to start looking for implementable policies to improve employee experience and achieve your company’s EX goals, which we’ll be getting to in just a moment. It’s also important to differentiate your new EX plan from your company’s mission statement, vision, and values. Many employees won’t take note of these less-tangible aims, whereas an EX plan must impact people on a day-to-day basis in order to be effective.
2. Communicate up, down, and across your enterprise
Like any relationship, employee engagement won’t work without communication, and that means openness and honesty, which should be at the core of your company culture.
Employees must feel empowered to talk— and talk honestly—to peers, as well as team members above or below them. Most importantly, this includes talking about EX itself, which is often a point of contention in workplaces. EX can sometimes go overlooked because even in open companies, it can be seen as outside of “what should be discussed.”
Policies that affect employee experience often come from the top down, with managers and company leaders wielding the power to make the decisions that drive good (or bad) EX. However, building a company culture that includes a more balanced power structure when it comes to communication about EX will go a long way toward solving many issues that may otherwise fester.
In order to facilitate this communication, you need to create both an environment in which employees feel comfortable, as well as practical channels for them to use. These channels could include monthly one-to-one meetings between employees and their direct managers, anonymous surveys to assess the firm as a whole, or digital channels, such as a dedicated email account, for serious issues that should be addressed immediately.
Let’s think about an example of a company with a transparent, “flatter,” more open culture of employee experience vs. one without.
A manager decides that people can no longer congregate in a shared space to work, because it creates too much noise in the adjacent conference room.
Company one: The employees resent this but say nothing, because they worry they’d be viewed as “complainers.” The result? Bad EX, a knock-on effect of less work at lower quality, and the manager left wondering why they were shunned by their team.
Company two: Several of the employees broach the subject in their monthly one-on-one meetings and explain the importance of the space to them, their work, and their customers. A new space is designated away from the conference room. The result? Good EX, better work, and a feeling of empowerment for both the employees and the manager, who no longer gets left out in the cold.
When put side by side, it’s obvious why part of your EX plan should be creating more open dialogue, specifically communication about employee experience—because employees may already feel empowered to talk openly about their work, but not about themselves. However, creating channels is pointless if employees don’t know about them. Make them an integral part of your onboarding process to improve EX at every stage of the employee journey.
3. Give employees the tools they need
Hand a carpenter a hammer and they can build a house. Why should your office be any different?
Employees need the right tools to do their jobs well, and in today’s world this often means up-to-date (or at least not out-of-date) technology. This includes both the physical hardware and the software that allow employees to be productive and collaborative.
This may seem like efficiency boosting on the surface (and it’ll almost certainly do that) but it also plays an integral part in good EX. Try to think about the last time you used a really slow computer, or even a really slow website—annoying, right? In fact, to put it in perspective, the probability of someone leaving a website without looking at it goes up 90% if that page takes one to five seconds to load. Why? Because people are easily frustrated and quickly stop engaging.
It’s no different for your employees. Not only does old tech slow down workflow on a very practical level, it also results in frustrated, unengaged employees—who then have to go out and deal with customers in this frame of mind. Sometimes, having the right tool doesn’t have to mean flashy upgrades. It can be as simple as ensuring employees have the basics, whether that means a working desk lamp or enough paper in the printer.
The best way to know what they need? Ask your employees directly; they know their jobs well. And don’t be scared to ask simple questions: Is it easy to find the right person when you need help? How do you connect with a colleague? How do you share documents? How do you review someone else’s document and provide feedback?
Beyond the physical tools employees need, also think about the skills we carry with us. Ensuring that every employee is equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to carry out their role is key. They should understand your company’s products, services, and customers to feel comfortable in what they’re doing and saying. This learning must start as soon as employees enter the company, because feeling lost on their first day is detrimental.
And as systems upgrade, so should your employees’ knowledge through ongoing professional development—don’t just put it in an email, schedule a set time during their day to build the skills they need. This ensures that whether an employee has been with you for 10 years or 10 minutes, they’ll feel comfortable in what they’re doing.
4. Provide alternative employee development
Employee experience isn’t just about developing work-related skills. People like to grow, as well, and there are many ways to do it. Many of these can be easily folded into EX to transform work, which is already a huge part of most people’s daily lives, into a place that helps foster employees as individuals.
We aren’t talking about professional development—that falls firmly under skills—but rather giving employees the means and opportunities to develop other aspects of themselves, whether running seminars on non-violent communication or sharing articles on mindfulness as part of a company-wide newsletter. This is most commonly done through the inclusion of “wellness” within a company’s EX plan, which focuses on giving employees the means to improve their physical and mental health through the use of gym memberships, cycle-to-work schemes, or similar company-subsidized offerings.
This, of course, has very practical implications, such as reducing the likelihood of people calling in sick, as well as improving employee attention and productivity. But, more importantly, it can help foster better general EX by creating a company that not only talks about caring for employees but delivers on that promise.
5. Create, adapt, and implement evolving EX
There’s nothing inherently wrong with team-building activities—shared experiences can often build better connections. But, you have to realize that EX is not a one-and-done fix. It’s an ongoing process. This can be obvious in areas like technology, which develop relatively quickly, but in areas where you might just leave a policy to run without review, such as communications channels, EX can be neglected after a time.
In order to truly foster the best employee experience, it has to be continually considered and addressed, otherwise it stagnates. This can be done through structures that force ongoing review, such as employee feedback, or as many companies are starting to do, the appointment of a manager whose role includes creating and following a clear employee experience plan.
Sometimes, allowing EX to evolve can be challenging, because it involves doing something that few of us are very good at—admitting fault. Perhaps having an all-employee meeting at the end of every work day was a bad idea. That’s OK. As companies pay more attention to EX, they’re going to try different things and make mistakes. This is all part of what should be the ongoing development of your company’s employee experience.Of course, there are far more than five ways to create the best employee experience possible. Most of the best things for your individual company are going to be created by you sitting down and thinking about it as a unique entity—or more importantly, everyone at your company sitting down and thinking about it. HR traditionally takes the lion’s share of responsibility for the employee journey—hiring, onboarding, professional development, and exiting—but EX goes way beyond this and everyone has a role to play to make employee experience as good as it can be. Learn more about improving your employee experience here, and what impact it can have on your customers.
Originally published Jul 30, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023