What is Employee Experience?

The employee experience is much more than an HR buzzword. Get it right, and your organization will enjoy sustainable, commercial success.

But get it wrong, and it could be really detrimental to your company and its team.

So, what can we learn from the companies doing it well today, and how can we – as HR managers and business leaders – improve EX for our own teams?

As a business leader or HR manager, you may have been tasked with improving your organization’s employee experience.

Indeed, in 2019 EX is a key business priority – a hot topic of discussion in C-Suite boardroom meetings across the globe.

But what exactly does it mean?

Before we can start to make waves in employee experience, we need to first understand what it’s all about.

Because it’s hard – if not impossible – to build something you can’t define.

So, let’s start at the beginning…

First things first: what is employee experience anyway?

In some ways, it’s easy to define employee experience.

EX is everything a team member encounters; big or small; good or bad; each and every day of their tenure. Starting from candidacy and recruitment to on-boarding, performance, growth and, finally, exit.

And herein lies the complexity of defining the employee experience, and why it can be so difficult to measure, monitor and improve.

It is not one single thing – rather, it’s something that emerges from the sum of your employees’ total experience with your organization. As a result, employee experience will also vary day by day.

When thinking about EX, it’s important to keep two things in mind:

One, it is the absolute totality of a person’s experience with an organization, going beyond even the end of an employee’s working contract and includes their experience as an alumni of an organization.

And two, it’s about an employee's observations and feelings – not just encounters or experiences.

But why is this important?

Well, it’s absolutely critical for HR and business leaders to understand that EX is in the mind of the employee. 

Consider for a moment, corporate branding – you spend time developing your company values, invest in a visual brand language and marketing campaign to support this, and then put it out to your audience. 

But, if your potential customers don’t perceive your business this way, no amount of clever branding and marketing will make it so.

And it’s important to consider that this can be applied to employee experience, too.  It’s not enough for the C-Suite to simply say: “This is how we do things here”. 

If that culture and experience isn’t felt at every level of the organization – well, then that’s simply not the EX you have.

A framework for understanding employee experience

It’s useful to break employee experience down into three environments or aspects: physical, cultural and technological.

By doing so, we can better examine the employee experience our organizations are delivering. So, what do we mean by physical, cultural and technological employee experience?


Our physical environment has a great deal of influence over our experience of work, just as it does in every other facet of our lives.

If you’ve ever worked from home – whether at your kitchen table, or in your living room – for an extended period, or have encountered the drab, draining set-up of monotonous office cubicles, you’ll know just how powerful the influence of the environment can be on your mindset and mood.

And that’s why companies like Airbnb and Facebook invest millions in designing and delivering a positive physical space in which their teams can work.

Mary Levy, former head of employee experience at Airbnb – yes, they’ve created a dedicated EX role – said this:

“Our Airbnb space has moved from open space floor plan to a ‘belong anywhere working environment,’ where an employee can work from any number of workspaces, including what we call the kitchen counter, the dining room table, or the living room. This allows employees to either work alone or congregate with the folks they are working with to create the sense of belonging, rather than working from a closed-in cube, office, or dedicated desk.”

Whether it’s open plan spaces, standing desks, creative break-out rooms, or gardens to walk through – interior design cannot be overlooked.

As Airbnb exemplifies, the physical environment helps to deliver a company’s cultural message.


Company culture doesn’t just happen overnight – it is created over time. 

And it’s the role of each and every employee within the organization to carry forward that cultural personality.

If we all know that company culture is about more than what’s written on the walls, that means it needs to be reinforced through the employee experience.

You’d quickly know if your desired culture jarred with your employee’s experience – because they’d tell you. Perhaps not verbally; and perhaps not even consciously.

But you’d know your culture needed work, if churn rate was high and productivity was low. 

Think again about Airbnb: if the business’s EX didn’t genuinely deliver on its “belong anywhere” company message… they wouldn’t be generating $93 million in profit.

The fact that they do, that’s what takes them from strength to strength.


How did you feel the first time you were handed a company phone or laptop?

Feels great, doesn’t it? To be trusted, welcomed and given the tools you need to perform.

These days, though, organizations need to be delivering more than mod cons – they need to use technology to respond to the latest employment trends, empowering their team members to have the EX they crave.

Fact is: 70% of people, globally, now work remotely at least once a week

And if an organization cannot support a team member’s wish to have the flexibility to work wherever – with instant messaging systems, video conferencing and centralized data access – they risk losing them to an organization who can.

So, where does employee engagement fit in?

Employee experience and engagement are, undoubtedly, interlinked.

But how?

Put simply: employee engagement is what you want to achieve, whilst employee experience is how you get there.

Managers and leaders have many opportunities to support, motivate, develop and reward their team throughout the day. 

This should all result in greater employee engagement – the outcome.

But it’s all the touch points which drive a boost in engagement – how you recruit, your office layout and location, any catering facilities, the design of your feedback processes, available PPD programs, how you celebrate the holidays, your CSR initiatives – that actually create and amount to employee experience.

And it's only in analyzing the details of these touch points, that we can better understand how employee experience can lead to greater employee engagement.

For example: how do you reward employees?

Historically, an employee’s reward for excellent performance would be financial – they could look forward to a nice cash payout, once a year.

But today, with EX in mind, systems are now in place to reward team members on a more continuous and frequent basis. 

Whether this is through wellbeing programs, feedback loops that encourage development, or simply through company events – employee experience is often prioritized, even regardless of an organization’s bottom line. 

Why? Because a company that invests in EX understands that a positive employee experience will lead to both greater productivity – and, as a result – higher commercial success, too. 

The impact positive employee experience has on an organization

Now, your C-Suite might be asking… “Is EX actually worth investing in?”

The short answer? Absolutely yes.

And that’s because EX equals productivity. And productivity equals profitability.

Most importantly, employee experience transfers to profitability in an authentic and sustainable way.

Employee experience design is much like design-thinking – it is user (or employee) centric. It empathizes with the wants and needs, thoughts and feelings of its audience.

An employee-centric organization will ask itself: “how will our people perceive this?”, “what impression are we giving our people if we act this way?”. It takes into consideration how employees see, hear, believe and feel about all aspects of their employment. 

By designing an EX which works for your team, you draw the best out of them – they are engaged and motivated; they want your company to succeed.

And part of that is knowing when your team should take a break.

In the US, staff members are taking fewer vacation days than ever before – only sixteen days in 2016, down from twenty in 2000. And at the same time, productivity is only up 1%.

So, do the math. If productivity is sluggish, even when employees are working more – something is wrong with the formula.

As Joe Cannella, former senior account manager at Google remembers:

"Basically, you end up spending the majority of your life eating Google food, with Google coworkers, wearing Google gear, talking in Google acronyms, sending Google emails on Google phones, and you eventually start to lose sight of what it's like to be independent of the big G”

So, EX isn’t about having an ‘always on’ mindset.

It’s also about knowing to turn off your email notifications, after a good day’s work.

And we aren’t calling Google out here in particular: many organizations are just finding their feet when it comes to positive employee experience.

According to Deloitte, nearly 80% of executives rated EX as either important or very important. Yet only 22% agreed that their organizations had succeeded in building a differentiated employee experience.

Does your organization have an EX strategy? If so, how well is it working? And how do you measure that?

How to measure and improve your organization’s EX strategy 

In 2019, employee experience is still somewhat of an emerging practice.

As a result, there may be many obstacles for your organization to overcome, before it can establish an effective EX strategy.

And many of these obstacles have their origins in the HR department itself. 

Either Human Resources is too siloed, making it difficult for necessary resources to reach the whole company, or – and this is all too common – the organization has created a specific ‘employee experience officer’ role to help drive the strategy forward.

In both cases here, it is only collaboration and connectivity that will allow for an EX strategy to improve the actual experiences of staff members – not one singular technique. 

And for this reason, it can often be quite difficult to identify what is working, and what is not. 

So, let’s take a step back and explore how to measure employee experience, and how to know when it needs improving. 

Put simply… you need to ask.

And we don’t mean through an annual employee satisfaction survey.

Measuring EX requires on-going dialogue and feedback loops – organizations need to understand what they are doing to empower their employees, how they can support them in their success, and what the business should do more and less of to help employees reach their full potential. 

To quote Deloitte’s study, ‘The employee experience: Culture, engagement, and beyond’:

“Creating a holistic approach to the employee experience demands better tools and programs to capture employee feedback continuously […] The neglect of regular employee feedback helps explain other challenges companies face today, including shortcomings in driving culture and purpose and providing a healthy work-life balance.”

So, how can your organization open up feedback loops?

Well, it starts with having a culture of communication – where feedback is welcomed up, down and across the team.

And then, it’s all about using the right tools to design an efficient feedback process.

It’s not enough to get employees to fill out lengthy, review forms – because, let’s face it, performance assessment forms are bad for business, in many ways.

Duuoo’s continuous performance review software makes it easy for team members to capture and share their feedback, as well as giving managers the platform and resources they need to design development tracks for each of their workers.

And if you’re looking to take active steps towards improving EX for your team – that's definitely a great place to start. 

So, get in touch today to take one step closer to perfecting the employee experience within your company. 

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