Employee experience has become a key factor in defining your company’s overall success. Positive or negative, employee experience can significantly impact your company’s productivity, efficiency, and its ability to recruit and retain talent. It can even impact your brand’s reputation long after an employee has exited the company.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the future of work by normalizing remote work, placing a new emphasis on workplace flexibility, and introducing hybrid workforce environments. It has also seen drastic changes around employee expectations and engagement, and significant challenges to long-held workplace assumptions. Because of this, business leaders are making employee experience a top priority like never before.

In the past, employee experience was built around location, typically an office building, which served as a central point for all employees. Research firm Gartner argues that today a good employee experience is all about human-centered design, which “prioritizes the human as the core pillar of work design over location, requiring a new set of principles, norms, and thinking.” Without a human-centric approach, which includes integrating flexibility, intentionality, and empathy into work policies and practices, organizations will struggle to attract and retain talent in today’s talent marketplace, Gartner contends.

Employee experience definition

Employee experience encompasses everything your employees experience, from the moment they are recruited to their journeys onward as alumni of the company. While the steps and facets of the employee life cycle vary by company and industry, there are common milestones that define the employee experience across the board. These milestones include the recruitment process, onboarding, training, development, evaluation and promotion, exiting, and the alumni experience.

Why is employee experience important?

Employee experience has a significant influence on business success, especially around turnover and productivity. According to Gartner, when employees report a positive employee experience, they are 60% more likely to stay with the company, 69% more likely to be high performers, and 52% more likely to report “high discretionary effort,” which is work they do above and beyond their daily responsibilities. Embracing a human-centric approach to employee experience can also reduce work fatigue by 44%, increase “intent to stay” by 45%, and improve performance by 28%, according to Gartner.

Remote work has become more normalized since the COVID-19 pandemic, challenging long-held assumptions about when and where work is performed. Organizations can no longer rely on a top-down office culture alone to shape the employee experience. Instead, they must design workflows and business processes around human physical, cognitive, and emotional needs.

Employee experience strategy

A human-centric approach to the employee experience addresses the growing expectations of employees to have flexibility and empathy at work. That means acknowledging demands for hybrid work, accepting that the future of work has fundamentally changed, and embracing autonomy, visibility, and inclusion in the workplace.

While 14% of employees prefer to work from a corporate office exclusively, and 10% prefer to be fully remote, 76% want some type of flexibility between the two, according to Gartner data. Employees are also shown to be more productive when given the opportunity for flexibility and are more likely than their on-site peers to go above and beyond their job description, according to the research firm.

In addition to flexibility, employees want systems, tools, and software that make their jobs easier, without causing delays or impinging on productivity. It’s important to have a streamlined effort around technology in the company, ensuring everyone has access to the data or systems they need. All systems, networks, software, and hardware should also be as efficient as possible. Everyone needs to have the appropriate tools to effectively do their jobs, without running into headaches when using them.

But the most important facets of developing an employee experience strategy are ensuring that you know what employees want, have the means to measure challenges and progress, and put your employees at the center of every step of their employment journey.

Employee experience best practices

Organizations with “vision maturity,” the highest level of employee experience, according to Gartner, typically exhibit the following characteristics:

They take a holistic view of employees, seeing them as a “whole person,” including their personal and social experiences inside and outside of work.
They realize the overall contribution of employees outside of their job descriptions and time with the company.
They identify “moments that matter” in the employee experience and build objectives and goals that support all types of employees and personalities in the organization.
They have “clear cross-functional ownership and goal alignment” of the employee experience outside of just the HR department that’s aligned with the overall organizational goals and culture.
They implement an employee experience strategy that supports two-way communication and expectations with employees, allowing them to share their opinions and ideas openly.
They develop an architecture that enables IT, HR, and other leaders to plan and organize initiatives relevant to specific business roles, tasks, and other objectives.

Common employee experience mistakes

On the opposite end, organizations that rank on the lowest levels of employee experience have a limited focus, typically implementing one-off initiatives or relying too much on employee experience tools. According to Gartner, companies that have a lower-ranked employee experience typically struggle with:

A lack of understanding of the impact of employee experience and of the building blocks that go into employee experience
Having restrictive views on the overall employee journey, focusing only on “major career moments” rather than the more granular day-to-day responsibilities and work of employees
Being too depending on technology to improve the employee experience, and often having unrealistic expectations from the tools and software implemented
Fragmented and overlapping systems and processes, which introduce friction that impact employee satisfaction and productivity

Measuring employee experience

Employee experience platforms and tools help companies manage the employee experience while also getting feedback on what they’re doing right and what needs to change. These tools can also help enable employees to have a voice in the organization, giving them a platform to express how they feel about various initiatives or business processes.

You don’t want your employee experience data to be hidden away in a “black box,” says Tori Paulman, a senior director analyst at Gartner. It’s important that the information is accessible to all stakeholders and that it helps piece together a clear picture of what the employee experience is like within the organization.

Another way to measure the employee experience is through employee resource groups (ERGs). When it comes to ensuring technical resources are providing a positive experience, Paulman suggests that CIOs leverage ERGs to get broad feedback on “how the applications are being perceived and how effective they are for various groupings of employees that you might have in the workplace.”

Ultimately you need the tools that will supply the data to help identify all the pain points in the organization, initiatives that are working positively, and areas for improvement. There’s no one-size-fits-all to the employee experience, so it’s important to identify various departmental or even employee-specific needs within the organization. Employee experience platforms can help capture these.

IT’s role in the employee experience

Employee experience has historically fallen on the desks of HR staff, but as it grows increasingly digital, the CIO and IT department now have a bigger role than ever in the process, according Paulman.

Gartner states that by 2025, more than 50% of IT organizations will prioritize and measure the success of digital initiatives based off the digital employee experience — a significant jump from just 5% of companies who said the same in 2021. Similarly, by 2024, 60% of large global organizations will deploy no less than five human capital management and digital workplace technologies to address employee experience needs.

“The CIO and the leaders that report to them have to lean in and take ownership over employee experience. We see an imperative for the CIO to step into the circle and say, ‘I’m going to own the day-to-day employee experience and I’m going to support HR leaders and facilities leaders,’ because a huge part of [employee experience] is the connections and the collaboration of humans and the place in which it’s done. And it’s my position that the CIO has the greatest impact on that on a day-to-day basis,” says Paulman.

Technology is fundamental to the employee experience and it includes everything from what recruiting software you use, to the daily collaboration tools, to the software used to offboard employees can impact the digital employee experience. It’s even important to consider an employee’s lifelong experience with technology.

Paulman gives the example of an architect who started their career with pencils and paper and now works with fully digital programs and tools. Some employees may have a learning curve with technology used in the organization or may have used entirely different tools at their last company. It’s important to ensure that all considerations around technology are considered and made a central part of employee experience initiatives.

Aligning digital efforts so that they can support the overall employee experience strategy within the organization will allow digital leaders to effectively prioritize projects and resources. Whereas not aligning those efforts will only result in “siloed applications and unhappy employees,” according to Gartner. 

For more on what CIOs can do, see “How IT can improve the employee experience.”

Careers, IT Leadership, Staff Management