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What is EX? Your ultimate guide to employee experience

21 min read
For an organisation to master employee experience (EX), it must listen to its people at each stage of the employee lifecycle and create personalised experiences. Dive deeper into EX with our ultimate guide.


What is employee experience?

From the moment someone looks at your job opening, to the moment they leave your company, everything that the worker learns, does, sees, and feels contributes to their employee experience. For your organisation to master employee experience management, you must listen to your people at each stage of the employee lifecycle, identify what matters most to them, and create personalised, bespoke experiences.

The employee experience is foundational to business performance. Sustaining customer experience efforts, improving products, and building a strong and reputable brand all require the help of your employees. Ultimately, it is their experiences – positive and negative – that will impact how hard they work, how much they collaborate, or whether they are invested in improving operational performance.

In a world where money is no longer the primary motivating factor for employees, focusing on the employee experience is the most promising competitive advantage that organisations can create.

Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage

Discover the fundamentals of employee experience as explained by the XM Institute


Employee experience stages

Employee experience equals everything a worker learns, does, sees and feels at each stage of the employee lifecycle.

The 5 stages of employee experience

The 5 stages of employee experience timeline

Recruitment This includes all the steps that lead to hiring a new employee. Considerations are how long it takes to hire, how much it costs to hire, the rate of offer acceptance, and the hire’s quality. Were your job ads attractive and clear enough to catch the attention and applications of the best candidates? Did your interview process engage and reassure great candidates so they quickly accepted your job offer? How was the entire candidate experience?
Onboarding A new hire gets up to speed with the systems, tools, and processes and comes to grips with the role’s expectations. Most new employees need “ramp time” to get up to speed and become productive in their job. Obviously, the quicker they can do this, the more profitable it is for your organisation. An effective onboarding process translates someone’s initial enthusiasm for their new job into a more meaningful, long-term connection to the brand and a commitment to doing great things while they’re there.
Development Employee development is an ongoing stage in the employee journey, with individuals developing at different rates across a variety of skills. As employees develop within their roles, you need to quantify their productivity, ability to be a team player, and promotion aspirations. You also want to offer them the chance to expand their skill sets, an increasingly important differentiator for many employees looking to have a “portfolio career” consisting of many different experiences.
Retention Employees are now fully ramped and integrated into the organisation. With a strong people retention strategy, you can keep them performing, developing, and contributing to the company’s success, as well as ensure they’re inspired by and connected to the company’s core vision. It makes economic sense for a company to do all it can to keep hold of existing employees. It can cost up to 50%-60% of an employee’s annual salary to replace them.
Exit Employees can leave for a whole host of reasons: They may retire, move to another employer, or make a life change. Every employee will leave your company at some point, and finding out why is an opportunity to improve and develop the employee experience for current and future employees. Leavers may be more candid in exit interviews about why they’re going as they may feel they have nothing to lose by being brutally honest.

The rise of employee experience

The shift from old-school employee engagement to a more holistic approach to employee experience has been driven by a number of factors – including social media, changing demographics, and more volatile economic conditions.

  • The millennial generation wants more opportunities to have their say and companies need to get a deeper understanding of a group who feel, think and behave differently to the generations before them.
  • The war for talent is fiercer than ever before – there are now more candidates for fewer jobs and experiences are one of the last ways to differentiate yourself as an employer.
  • Organisations are changing faster than ever – digitisation, disruption and other economic forces are causing companies to shrink and expand at a more rapid pace. Meaning there’s a need to really understand the impact this is having on people more regularly than once a year.
  • There’s an expectation for personalised employee experiences – employees now expect they’ll be treated as a unique person, just like they are when they interact with leading B2C brands as a consumer.
  • The explosion of social media and the potential for damaging reviews to go viral has meant workplaces have become more transparent to protect company and brand reputation.

By focusing on improving the employee experience, the world’s leading brands have discovered that there are knock-on effects: not just to traditional HR metrics like turnover and absentee rates, but also on customer experience and overall profitability.

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The business impact of employee experience

Good employees are your greatest investment, and they’re hard to find. When you’ve battled to attract and hire quality people, you don’t want to lose them. Employee churn eats into your HR team’s time and also your business’s bottom line. Investing in positive employee experience is crucial to creating an engaged workforce who wants to stay with you, and it’s an effective way of reducing staff turnover.

Companies that invest in employee experience are 4x more profitable than those that do not.

Jacob Morgan

The organizations that invest most heavily in EX are found:

  • 11.5x as often in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work
  • 4.4x as often in LinkedIn’s list of North America’s Most In-Demand Employers
  • 2.1x as often on the Forbes list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies
  • 2x as often in the American Customer Satisfaction Index

Source: Jacob Morgan

Employee Experience ROI Calculator


How to improve employee experience

If you only focus on employee engagement and company culture, you’re missing the trick of integrating all your workplace, HR, and management practices to focus on the employee experience.

As a new hire travels along their employee journey to their eventual exit from your organisation, there are a few things that will shape their employee experience. Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage, highlights three basic environments, no matter how large or small your organisation, that make up employee experience.

  1. Culture – Difficult to define as each one is different, a company’s culture may be what the C-suite tells you it is, what you understand of its mission, values, practices and attitudes, or even the shop-floor camaraderie when senior management isn’t in. It’s a mixture of leadership style and organisational structure, sense of purpose and the mixture of personalities who work with you. Corporate culture is the vibe that you feel when you come in to work – it can motivate or stifle, energise or drain, empower or discourage its employees.
  2. Technology environment – Imagine firing up a desktop computer on your first day and discovering you’ll be working on Windows XP. Forward-thinking organizations invest in suitable tools for employees to get their work done efficiently, with future developments in mind.  The technology landscape is so vast, that it’s easier than ever to give employees the tools they need to maximise their efficiency and make them feel more confident in their role.
  3. Physical workspace –Employees who work 9 to 5 in a windowless, air-conditioned basement will have a very different experience from those who work flex-time in an airy new glass building with an on-site gym, subsidised canteen, and chill-out lounges. Employees who are happy in their work environment will concentrate better, have improved well-being, and will be more productive. And the physical workspace is not necessarily always in the office: Autonomy to work from home or in multiple workspaces can also contribute to a positive employee experience.

As you set out to improve the employee experience and the three basic environments listed above, consider the following best practices:

Combine your O- and X-Data

You’ll gather an enormous amount of O-data (operational data) from an employee throughout their time with you – from basic personal details, to training they’ve received and their salary history. Combine that with X-data – what that employee tells you about their experience – and you will unlock greater insight into why things are happening in your company and what you can do better. For example: O-data tells you to spend money on employee perks; X-data tells you whether your employees like those perks and what they’d prefer instead.

Enlist C-suite and leadership support

Research shows the connection between EX and business outcomes. The executives of your organisation will want to see a direct link to business performance KPIs, such as increased productivity, lower staff turnover, company reputation, excellent scores, and a healthy return on investment. Excellent employee experience delivers all these. Capturing these results in easy-to-understand dashboards and reports gets your most important stakeholders on your side.

Designate ownership to a senior leader or team

Senior HR staff, such as learning and development directors and recruitment directors, are the natural choice to own your program and report its data and actions to the executive team. Work with them so they understand their responsibilities and the actions you intend to take when the data is in. However, keep in mind that every leader in your organisation will play a role in building exceptional employee experiences. Encourage stakeholders across the organisation to implement the Five I’s of Employee Engagement – inform, inspire, instruct, involve, and invent.

Listen to all your employees!

Learn about what your employees are doing every day. Trial new ways of simplifying work and improving productivity and performance, making every event along their lifecycle engaging, meaningful, and personal. Where your company is international, understand that different cultures will have different views and opinions.

Be prepared to invest in workplace environment

Redecorated, light premises; autonomy to work from home; fresh new furniture and tech; real coffee on tap; space and permission to take time out to be creative or make their own customer service decisions; even an office dog. Offer the things that make your employees want to come into work. When you make a habit of asking them what they want through surveys, they’ll tell you.

Measure it

Replace annual or biannual employee engagement surveys with regular pulse surveys and open feedback platforms. Include candidate interviews, engagement surveys, ongoing performance conversations, and exit interviews to gather real-time understanding of the issues your employees face.

Instead of chasing a metric, remember to keep the focus on EX improvements and resulting business outcomes. Always ask two questions whenever you’re reviewing results:

  1. What did we learn?
  2. What improvements are we making?

Our insights into the employee experience have moved on leaps and bounds – we can now give leaders the actions they need to focus on to have an impact on their teams.

Carl Tabisz, Senior Engagement Manager, Asda

How to design your employee experience strategy

When you consider that employee experience is ultimately about creating personalised experiences, developing an employee experience framework is a challenge – especially in the face of constant change. Yet if you embrace a growth, rather than fixed mindset. and break down your EX strategy into three basic elements, you’ll be able to design and shape a compelling employee experience for your workforce:

  1. Discover the moments that matter to your employees by collecting regular feedback from across the employee lifecycle
  2. Make company culture, technology and the physical workplace the best they can be
  3. Broaden your traditional HR functions to recognise the importance of customer experience and how employee experience impacts it

No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energised employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.

Jack Welch, former CEO of GE

Types of employee experience surveys

To deliver personalised experiences, it’s crucial you understand how employees feel at different stages of their employee lifecycle: when they join you, as they develop, and as they leave. What experiences have been positive, and where could you, as a company, make improvements?

An employee experience management program should incorporate different types of listening elements to measure employee engagement and experiences at key moments in the lifecycle. To gain a deeper understanding of how your employees feel, your listening program must generate feedback on a regular basis. For example, pulse surveys capture a regular, structured measurement of employee attitudes, and ad-hoc surveys collect just-in-time feedback on things like organisational changes, new programs or policies, or corporate initiatives.

Engagement surveys

Employee engagement is a measure of someone’s connection to their work and how they think, feel, and act toward helping their organisation meet its goals. These reviews – typically conducted annually – are particularly useful at the retention stage of the employee lifecycle, as they indicate how involved and engaged established employees feel in their work.

Employee engagement has an impact across the business:

  • Increased performance – Research shows that business unit-level engagement is predictive of future customer experience metrics, productivity, and financial performance
  • Lower attrition – Engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their organisation, which means reduced costs in having to recruit new staff, train them and wait for them to ramp up to full productivity
  • Increased revenue – According to Bain & Company, companies with highly engaged workers grew revenues 2.5x as much as those with low levels of engagement
  • A better customer experience – 70% of engaged employees indicate they have a good understanding of how to meet customer needs; only 17% of non-engaged employees say the same

Candidate reaction surveys

Candidate reaction surveys evaluate your company’s ad-to-hire process for new employees. A good survey will capture the experiences of both successful and unsuccessful candidates, making everyone feel that they matter and their voices are heard, whatever the outcome. It’ll reveal the effectiveness of your reach with advertising and marketing, brand, and recruitment processes. And treating unsuccessful candidates well enhances company reputation by creating advocates who had a positive experience with you.

Check out our free candidate experience survey template today.

Onboarding surveys

Onboarding introduces a new hire to their colleagues, their role, expectations, and available resources and embeds them into your company culture. It’s important to find out what your new hires think of their “ramp time” by using onboarding surveys. Gather first impressions from day one, then regularly perform surveys once new hires have had a chance to settle in and form their opinions. The onboarding experience sets the tone for the whole employee journey, and it’s strongly linked with important employee experience and engagement KPIs.

Training feedback surveys

Training sessions are crucial to a successful onboarding process, but they’re also important milestones during the development and retention stages. Gathering data before and after every training event during the lifecycle will map an individual’s growth and highlight where the organisation could enhance learning and development more efficiently.

Performance reviews

More regular reviews – pulse surveys every three to six months – and “performance conversations” with managers are becoming the new normal. Specific metrics could be included in performance review feedback, or the focus could be on developing “soft skills” like how an employee interacts with colleagues.

360 reviews

Manager and employee performance reviews can reveal only part of the picture of how an employee functions in your organisation. Also known as multi-rater feedback assessments, 360 reviews include appraisals by a senior, a junior, and a peer, as well as a self-assessment. Because they’re anonymous, 360 reviewers are more likely to say what they really think. That said, they are best used only for team development, not to rate and reward individual performance.

Exit surveys

You’ll probably get your most honest feedback at the exit interview. It’s an ideal opportunity to ask those questions that your organization most needs answers to, particularly where staff turnover is high. You’ll be able to understand your attrition rate better when you can link exit surveys with your other lifecycle surveys such as 360 reviews and employee engagement.

Pay and benefits optimisation surveys

In a Glassdoor survey, 60% of employees said that benefits were a major factor when weighing a new job offer. And 80% of employees would choose better perks over a pay raise. Using pay and benefits surveys, you can find out what your employees really want and analyse their responses to create a benefits package that helps you attract and retain talent, while optimising your overall spend.

Always on surveys

There’s a growing trend for daily surveys that include a handful of very simple questions about how employees are feeling. By providing an on-demand, anonymous channel for employees to provide feedback, offer insights, and raise issues, you can capture a real-time snapshot of company morale and employee satisfaction. For example, if morale seems low one day, this could mean a change in tone from leadership communications.

Get started with our employee engagement survey template

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Skills for employee experience professionals

Employee experience management is part of the larger discipline of Experience Management (XM) that aims to improve the fore core experiences of a business: customeremployeeproduct, and brand.

To master employee experience management, companies should adopt the XM Operating Framework, which is built on a combination of technology, culture, and six competencies. Within each competency are three to four skills that you must master to realise the value of XM.

Employee experience jobs

With companies realising that improved employee experience leads to increased customer loyalty, profitability, and revenues, there’s a new kid on many C-suite blocks along with the CEO, CFO, CMO, CIO, and COO – the CXO (Chief Experience Officer).

CXOs take ownership of all aspects of employee experience, and bring them to the executive table alongside finance, IT, operations, HR, and marketing. Reports to the CXO include EX managers who deliver on the strategy across the organisation. This role ensures that employee feedback is acted upon, and that any changes are communicated to employees effectively. This is fundamental to the whole thing, as demonstrating action creates a cycle whereby employees are more likely to be engaged and deliver feedback.

For us, the focus around employee experience is on creating a seamless experience around the things somebody needs to do as an employee while allowing them to focus on the business we hired them for—development, sales, leading new products [and so on]. We’ve actually created a VP level role to strictly focus on the employee experience.

Adam Khraling, VP of Global HRIS, American Express

Discover how you can run your entire EX program on the Qualtrics XM Platform