Employee engagement is at the center of management concern at all levels these days – but in a different way than in the past. Much of the traditional employee experience used to rely on a shared physical space. Nowadays many people work remotely and it has become increasingly difficult to create a unique, yet unified common work experience for employees. As we attempt to redesign employee experience for the new reality we try to segment the employees, understand their needs, and create new processes and services that will be relevant for each segment. But that is not enough.
To create a consistent story for our employees in this new world of work, we need to understand that the way our employees experience the organization is defined not only at the macro – but also at the micro level; each work day and each stand-alone experience matters. The transformation of employee experience resembles the processes that took place in customer experience several years ago. The initial focus was on providing services but organizations then realized different customers required different experiences and began creating “customer personas”, which aided in understanding the journey that the various types of customer experienced.
Treat Your Employees Like Customers
In recent years, organizations discovered that the term “customer” goes beyond “end user” or “persona.” Customers are real human beings, with real needs: they have stories, families, and feelings. Which is why organizations now learn to connect to their customers in different ways. Customers expect organizations to provide solutions to their needs without having to waste time on pages of paperwork or approvals.
The same evolution is happening now with employees. Employees now want to experience the organization as real people, with real needs. We’ve also evolved. A few decades ago, employees were satisfied by just receiving the pure minimum to perform work: a table, a chair, and a computer. You might still remember when it was a big deal to get an ergonomic chair or swap a desktop for a laptop. These were significant employee experiences.
Later, experience shifted to focus on efficiency and optimization of internal processes that enabled workers to be more productive. As a result, organizations began creating internal service centers for employees with an intent to unify the employee experience across the entire organization and ensure that workers of every department know where to turn to get their questions answered. In recent years, the focus of employee experience shifted towards employee engagement and we saw the introduction of new tools such as organizational health surveys, purpose statements and an indulging work environment. These are also the reasons we are now facing a challenge – employees are no longer at that work environment to be indulged… Consequently, we need to rethink employee experience and question what it now includes to serve its purpose.
Accordingly, we start turning to the approaches we use with our clients. This approach for employees translates into the employee lifecycle – that sequence of stages beginning with sourcing and employee recruitment, through hiring, integration, training & development, promotions, internal transitions within the organization and eventually resignation, termination or retirement. This life cycle perspective sees the employee journey as a sequence of milestones that a worker goes through within an organization. It allows us to tailor the services that employees receive according to their place on this journey. The assumption here is that by focusing on the employee life cycle we can improve employee experience and better shape the way he or she experiences employment.
But there’s a catch. The same one companies discovered when they tried tailoring programs for customers by “personal”. By designing employee experience around employee life cycles we are assuming, similarly to the “personas” and “client journey” concepts, that they will work for all people going through that specific milestone. And we are missing the fact that the life cycle does not cover the entire daily experience for employees.
Focus on the Peak Experiences, not on the Valley Experiences
Every event in the lifecycle of an employee is built out of many small experiences. It helps to look at an example – the hiring process. This includes a job offer, any pre day-one communication and of course the first day at work with all the related logistics: receiving the equipment, getting familiar with the physical and digital work environments, meeting with the direct manager and teammates, first meeting with the organization, definition of goals, first tasks, as well as locating the cafeteria and even bathrooms… Just reading all these can make you feel overwhelmed, but all these elements of employee experience will define the employee’s first day on the job and will determine whether, at the end of that first day, the employee is happy or maybe even feels like he or she made a mistake by accepting the job offer.
The hiring life cycle event is relatively contained. Other life cycle events can span months, years or even decades – think of development, retention and career management. If you take the full list of experiences that go into a single first day and think about how many such experiences make up these longer life cycle stages, then multiply all that by the number of years, you will understand that what really defines employee experience is not about just one event in the life cycle of employee – it is really about many may moments made up of meetings, conversations, projects, challenges, successes, failures and everything in between.
Think about yourself: when you reflect on your experiences from work, you do not think about perks, programs or courses. And you do not think “how was my integration experience” or “how was my experience from this course?” These are questions from the perspective of an organization. Employees think of their personal experiences as a collection of interactions: conversations, emails, value posters, the feedback we received or didn’t receive, the attitude of managers, the ability to obtain necessary resources or information, even the quality of the food at the cafeteria or how fast the AC was fixed when broken. These are not life cycle events. They are moments.
Although we cannot really design every single moment for an employee in the organization, we can focus on the highs and lows. These peaks and valleys are the memorable experiences. Peaks are the positive experiences and can include something as simple as a good word, a meaningful conversation with a senior manager, or as significant as the successful completion of a big project. Valley experiences are created when we have difficult situations with managers or colleagues, or situations involving lack of support, challenges, failures, frustrations, stress or strain. All these experiences affect the way we feel about our workplace – and the way we will talk about it.
Oftentimes we invest a great deal of energy into fixing the valley experiences. But it turns out that the peak experiences have a much stronger impact. According to 2022 research done by O.C. Tanner, covering more than 37,000 employees of large organizations selected from across the world – positive experiences have a lasting effect of over four weeks, whereas valley experiences have their impact felt for 2 weeks only. Pity that peak experiences seem to also be more rare, according to the report, only 45% of employees reported that they experienced a high moment over the past month.