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Employee Experience vs Employee Engagement: What’s the Difference?

24 Feb 2020 - Blog

What is employee experience? Is it just a human resources buzzword? What’s the difference between employee engagement and employee experience and how can you create a positive employee experience?

At People Insight, we live and breathe employee experience every day. We help organisations to measure and improve their employee experience, which leads to a whole host of benefits for both the company and its employees. 

For some people, though, there exists some confusion regarding terminology. Not everyone is entirely clear on the difference between employee experience and employee engagement. While both are important, there are certainly notable differences between the two and it’s necessary to address this distinction. 

In this article, we discuss:

Employee Engagement Definition

Employee Experience Definition

Employee Experience vs Employee Engagement: What’s the Difference?

What Is the Employee Experience Journey?

Why Are People Focusing on Employee Experience?

How Can You Assess the Employee Experience?

The PEARL™ Model (Click on the image for a larger version)

Tips for Delivering a Great Employee Experience

Employee Engagement Definition

Employee engagement is a topic that has captured the imagination of a lot of thought leaders in the HR and management worlds. There are a lot of takes on employee engagement. But we believe the definition below from Engage for Success sums up employee engagement well:

“Employee engagement is a workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organisation to give of their best each day, committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being.”

While the benefits of employee engagement are long-established, employee engagement measures tend to look at a particular moment in time —annually, monthly, or another time period. 

Employee Experience Definition

So what is employee experience?

The phrase “employee experience” rose in popularity in 2017. In contrast to employee engagement, employee experience (EX) extends the approach to consider engagement at all touchpoints throughout the employee lifecycle from the employee’s perspective. It encompasses the physical, technological and cultural environment of a business.

Josh Bersin says,

“Starting as potential hires and recruits, employees look at everything that happens at work as an integrated experience that impacts daily life in and outside the workplace, including overall physical, emotional, professional, and financial well-being. Candidates assess future employers from the very start of the talent acquisition experience and make quick judgments about what life will be like for them in the organization, based on how they interact with the enterprise during the recruiting cycle.”

In other words, employee experience is an employee-centric way of thinking about the organisation. When decisions are made with employee experience in mind, HR executives and business leaders ask “how will our people perceive this?” and “What impression are we giving our people if we act this way?”

Employee experience  takes into consideration how employees see, hear, believe and feel about all aspects of their employment. These aspects stretch from the recruitment process,  through to their last day at your company.

Employee Experience factors

For employee experience to be the best it can be, a company needs to adopt a culture where leaders and managers alike put themselves in their employees’ shoes. 

Our preferred employee experience definition comes from Olivier Dubuisson:

“Employee Experience is the sum of the various perceptions employees have about their interactions with each domain of the organisation in which they work.”

Now, an organisation just focussing inward on employees wouldn’t survive, so the employee experience and customer experience should be considered together. There shouldn’t be intended differences between how the customer and the employee perceive an organisation’s actions. (More on the relationship between CX and EX here and here.)

What Employee Experience Isn’t What Employee Experience Is
Just HR — HR might lead recruiting, on-boarding, performance reviews and other such activities, but this only covers part of EX. EX involves, for example, facilities (the physical workspace), corporate communications (how employees perceive what’s going on, transparency), and IT (the tools to facilitate the job).
Interchangeable with employee engagement. Employee engagement is what you get as a result of achieving a great experience for your employees. The input to achieving employee engagement.

For example, if an employee has a great experience of leaders showing integrity, good line manager support, consideration for their wellbeing and a facilitative environment, they are more likely to be engaged.

How engaged employees are at a fixed point in time. The sum of an employees’ perceptions throughout the employee lifecycle
Employer grand — the external image of the organisation The employees’ day-to-day, real-life experiences.
Just Perks — short-term, “feel good” initiatives A long-term, strategic approach that aligns culture, behaviour and processes.

Employee Experience vs Employee Engagement: What’s the Difference?

So what is the real difference between employee engagement and employee experience? Put simply, employee experience is the input — while employee engagement is the output you are aiming for.

By improving the employees’ experience of your organisation, you are going to achieve more engaged employees. Improved employee engagement levels can be seen as the end goal while improving EX is the means to that end.

Forbes has another interpretation of the difference between employee experience and employee engagement. They claim employee engagement is a top-down philosophy. The hope is employees will choose to engage with the workplace culture, purpose and work. Employee experience, conversely, is a bottom-up concept in that the work environment and processes are specifically designed around the employees.  

Another source suggests that while employee engagement generally focuses on the workplace and productivity, employee experience also encompasses the worker as a human being. All sources appear to agree that employee experience is a much wider and richer concept than employee experience. All definitions also agree that when discussing employee experience, an increased focus is on the employee — and less on the employer.

What Is the Employee Experience Journey?

To truly understand the meaning of “employee experience”, we need to look at the employee experience journey.

The employee experience journey looks at the employee lifecycle and thinks about the EX at each stage. The aim of considering the EX journey is to ensure employees are engaged all along the way, from candidacy through onboarding, performance, growth, and eventually exit. Disengagement at any stage leads to a worsening employee experience.

The Employee Experience Journey

There are several employee-centric questions we can ask at each stage of the employee experience journey.

For example, during candidacy, we might consider:

  • Does the candidate feel treated fairly and equally?
  • Have their contacts from the organisation “lived” the values?
  • Have they had a positive experience of the meeting places, technology and tools used through the process?

During onboarding, we can ask:

  • Does the employee know how to use the various technologies and tools your company relies on?
  • Has your new employee been made to feel part of the team?
  • Does your employee know where they can get the support and resources they need?
  • Does your new hire know what you expect of them?

During the performance stage, we might ask:

  • Does the employee feel they are getting enough feedback?
  • How often is the employee meeting for a one-to-one with their line manager?
  • Does the employee feel supported and encouraged by those around them?
  • Does the employee feel they are part of a well-functioning team?

 During “growth” we might think about some of the same aspects of EX differently:

  • Does the colleague feel they have fair and equal access to development opportunities?
  • During periods of stretch and learning, is their physical and mental wellbeing supported?
  • Do they have access to the technology and tools they need to develop?

Finally, at the final “exit” phase:

  • Does the employee feel valued for the work he or she has done for your business?
  • Does the employee feel that sufficient measures were put in place to ensure they had a good experience at your company?
  • Did the employee feel fairly treated throughout their employee journey?

Why Are People Focusing on Employee Experience?

There are many reasons for an increased focus on employee experience today. Companies are looking to combat the talent shortage and retain their talent, for example. Another important point to consider is social media’s role when it comes to recruitment and retention.

Employee experience at your company is not likely to remain a secret. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the efforts you have put in place for your employees. Your people will likely share their impressions of your organisation online. Blistering employer reviews on Glassdoor quickly catch a prospective employee’s attention, while glowing recommendations can attract top performers to your door.

Companies should not underestimate the damage caused by publicised poor employee experience. Amazon, Sports Direct and even “best place to work” Google have seen damage to their employer brand from widely reported stories.

What’s more, employees have a great deal of choice these days and are therefore more selective. They are actively seeking companies who care about their workforce. According to Gallup, employees want companies that give them opportunities to grow while providing meaning and purpose.

Internally, a poor employee experience at any point in the lifecycle can lead to disengagement. Other ensuing, proven problems include increased absence, lower productivity, increased accidents and employee turnover.

Employee Engagement Statistics

How Can You Assess the Employee Experience?

According to the 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, while 84% of employers acknowledge the importance of positive employee experience, as little as 9% of organisations feel ready to address this issue. At People Insight, we believe the first step to improving the employee experience is to measure your current employee experience accurately. This way, as time passes, you have the quantitative data at hand to demonstrate how the employee experience has improved. You can start assessing your employee experience with an employee experience survey.

The PEARL™ model used by People Insight as a basis for employee surveys comprehensively includes each aspect of EX. It can serve as an assessment tool through the employee experience lifecycle to help you understand, and adjust your employees’ experience accordingly.

The PEARL™ Employee Experience Model (Click on the image for a larger version)

There are several ways to tackle EX assessment, based on the model. For example:

  • Surveying all staff simultaneously and splitting results by stage of the life cycle. This way, you can compare EX at different stages to plan specific improvements.
  • Use the model and survey simultaneously, but tailor your questions specifically for employees at each stage. You won’t be able to compare stages as thoroughly, but you may get more in-depth feedback about each stage.
  • Run completely separate onboarding, engagement, wellbeing, culture, and exit surveys, to different schedules. This method may fit better with separate activities, e.g. induction programmes and individual exits. But it requires more admin and comparisons won’t be as clear.

However you design the process, it is critical that leaders from across the business buy into the importance of a good employee experience. Critically, they should also take action based on your survey findings.

Read our case studies to discover how People Insight have worked with organisations, large and small, to improve the employee experience.

Tips for Delivering a Great Employee Experience

Now you are aware of the importance of a great employee experience, how can you deliver a motivational EX? 

Below are a few tips for you to keep in mind:

  1. With every single internal decision you make at your organisation, take the time to question how this change will impact your employees. How will they perceive it? Have efforts been made to keep employees in-the-loop and engaged with the change? To find out more about how to get your employees excited about transformational change, read our Culture in the Financial Services report to see how industry leaders successfully take employees with them through change.
  2. Remember, employee experience begins before the employee’s first day. The first step is recruitment. Employees have more choice than ever and a good recruitment experience could sway a candidate away from a competitor and towards your company.
  3. Leadership is key to a great employee experience. Make sure they receive the training and support they need, so they know how to motivate and engage their employees.
  4. Encourage transparency throughout the employee experience and encourage open lines of communication. Operate an open-door policy and encourage employees to give feedback. Equally, leaders need to be open to answering difficult questions. 
  5. Keep up-to-date with employee experience trends. As time goes by and technology advances, employees will expect different things from their employee experience, including the opportunity to work remotely and decide their hours. Consider how you can adjust your company culture to accommodate these trends.

Employee Engagement vs Employee Experience — the Key Takeaways

  • Employee experience extends the approach to consider engagement at all touchpoints throughout the employee lifecycle.
  • Employee experience is an employee-centric way of thinking about the organisation where decisions made internally consider how employees feel about all aspects of their employment
  • Employee engagement is the end goal while employee experience is the means to that end.
  • It requires a culture where leaders and managers alike put themselves in the employees’ shoes.
  • A structured model, such as PEARL™, provides a good basis for assessing EX.

 As time goes by, employee experience management is a topic that will gain more and more interest. Organisations are likely to become increasingly aware of the impact that employee experience has on their business. They will also instigate both short-term engagement initiatives and longer-term strategies as they design a more meaningful EX lifecycle. Indeed, without employee engagement throughout the life cycle, the employee experience is likely to be poor and short-lived.

We have already seen larger organisations taking the employee experience seriously, such as when Airbnb’s CHRO became Chief Employee Experience Officer. The number of professionals on LinkedIn with “Employee Experience” in their job titles has increased from 838 to 1644, at a rate of 96%.

We expect this trend to continue in the future, resulting in happier, more productive and more engaged employees.

If you are looking to adapt your company culture and give your employees an inspirational, motivational employee experience, contact us for an employee survey today. We’ll work with you to create an employee engagement survey that will accurately measure your existing company culture, so we can help you get where you want to be.

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