In this article, Steve Goldberg (HCM thought leader, former HR Tech Lead at 5 Fortune 500’s and Top 100 HR Tech Influencers) explores how the notion of an employee experience has evolved from the pre-Covid era to today, and how it will likely keep evolving in the coming years.
by Steve Goldberg — November 16th, 2022
While the Employee Experience (EX) topic has now become one of the most talked and written about in the history of the HR profession and Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions domain, it has not been with us all that long.
In 2017 the best-selling book by futurist author Jacob Morgan “The Employee Experience Advantage” outlined three major Employee Experience or “EX” building blocks: culture, technology, and the physical work environment. That book perhaps qualifies as the proverbial one thing that galvanized other HCM thought leaders and industry researchers to make the EX a centerpiece of their work as well.
A few years later in 2021 Microsoft commissioned The Josh Bersin Company to conduct research on EX trends, best practices and supporting technologies. The six-part report called “The Definitive Guide: Employee Experience” focused on new workforce challenges brought about by the Covid era (such as a hybrid workforce within a hybrid work model, employee mental health coming out of the shadows, etc.) and ways of mitigating surrounding challenges.
The report featured research findings from surveying HR and business leaders in 981 organizations. Key findings were highlighted in the Report’s accompanying infographic, which, for example, included the fact that organizations that did a great job of leveraging “EX strategy” (based on Bersin’s EX maturity model) were 2.2 times more likely to exceed financial targets, and 3.7 times more likely to adapt well to change. The significance of the latter distinction cannot be over-stated given the period of maximum fluidity we are living through.
Admittedly, my exploring of different aspects of a “superior EX” was somewhat triggered by Morgan’s point of view, which, as it turns out, I wasn’t totally aligned with. Morgan’s first two pillars or building blocks – culture and technology – made eminent sense to me, but the notion that physical environment was a difference-maker in delivering a high-quality EX did not.
My EX-related views are based on many years in corporate HR executive roles (U.S., Europe, Asia) principally within brokerage houses and investment banks, firms at which meetings were often held around the periphery of trading floors. In such setups, personal space and privacy were largely non-existent, yet despite this environmental reality, it didn’t necessarily follow that employee engagement or having a cohesive corporate culture were adversely impacted, particularly when other EX drivers were present.
Also delving further back then into what makes for a great employer brand, one where top talent wants to work, meaningfully contribute and stick around, convinced me from the start that a “superior EX” revolved around having employees feel like:
It also became clear to me that a more evolved and updated view of the employee experience involved so much more than “the experience using technology”, the sometimes-self-serving way HR technology and other enterprise software purveyors might talk about the EX.
This led me to further include other key considerations in the EX discussion such as the recognition that all employees have an intrinsic need to do meaningful work and be productive, that most want to work where they believe their total well-being is quite important to their employer as well, and that the systems and tools used at work are demonstrably enhancing vs. draining their engagement and job satisfaction.
Without question there has been a sea change in the workplace in recent years. Whether ushered in by the pandemic or accelerated by it is not the main point here. The sea change is the now-prevalent recognition that it’s simply good for business to try to balance the needs, interests and goals of both employer and employee.
Operationalizing this notion has prompted the personalization of various, traditionally enterprise-centric HR processes like learning and development, candidate recruitment and even total rewards. It’s also brought the word ‘empathy’ much more into the workplace conversation, reflected daily within the context of a target organizational culture, and in the behavior and attitudes of people managers – the true stewards of human capital management.
This clear progress is likely rooted in over ten years of research findings linking employee engagement, retention, and productivity to truly valuing each employee and recognizing they are the true heart of a business.
As early as 2012 a survey from the American Psychological Association found that feeling valued at work was linked to better physical and mental health, as well as higher levels of engagement, satisfaction, and motivation. Then the #1 NY Times bestseller of 2018, Brené’s Brown’s “Dare to Lead” empirically explored how demonstrating how much employees mean to your organization and consistently showing appreciation cultivates a culture of belonging, where employees consistently feel valued.
Valuing employees starts with understanding the myriad sources of value they deliver to the organization, many of which can be outside the confines of their role. Examples include referring great job candidates, suggesting operational improvements, funneling sales leads, mentoring early career colleagues or performing a function that’s critical but often not officially recognized – that of an organizational connector.
Recognizing there was still considerable room for more forward-thinking views of the EX, ones that facilitated the injection of empathy into what employees are thinking about, doing and feeling in their daily work lives, which of course is very changeable, I also published the Employee Journey (EJ) Framework below in 2019.
With respect to the ten stages outlined, it should be noted that not every employee goes through every one of the stages of course, although some of the stages at the top and bottom are close to universal. Aside from enabling greater empathy and the need to balance employer and employee agendas, there is another purpose this framework serves. It can shine a much needed – and highly appropriate – light on the range of possible informal and self-directed learning that can make traversing each stage easier and more successful.
This can be content in any form or format, using any suitable delivery medium or channel. As one example, Stage 9 in this framework, the Exploration Stage, is a crossroads almost all employees eventually experience. It is the sense that they need more clarity about career options, including continuing along the same trajectory or changing. Self-directed or informal learning clearly fits the bill here.
As the “EX-revolution” and adjacent perspectives and frameworks like the Employee Journey (EJ) proceed full speed ahead, use cases and attendant guidance will offer increasing applicability, actionability and specificity. Built for purpose EX tools and methodologies will proliferate across almost all industry sectors since workforces basically exist everywhere. As with many emerging business trends, the EX naturally lends itself to an abundance of helpful content, opinions, theories and advice… In other words, a plethora of informal learning channels.
Steve Goldberg‘s 30+ year career on all sides of HR process & technology includes HR exec roles on 3 continents, serving as HCM product strategy leader and spokesperson at PeopleSoft, and co-founding boutique Recruiting Tech and Change Management firms. Steve’s uniquely diverse perspectives have been leveraged by both HCM solution vendors and corporate HR teams, and in practice leader roles at Bersin and Ventana Research. He holds an MBA in HR, is widely published and is a feature speaker around the globe. He’s been recognized as a Top 100 HRTech Influencer. Steve can be reached at SGoldberg@HRTechAdvisorySvcs.com.
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