Employee Engagement Vs. Employee Experience: Lessons From the Frontline

Many businesses have spent huge amounts of time and money trying to build a high level of engagement among staff. While its importance should not be underplayed (Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report found that employee engagement remains a top priority for businesses over the next year), companies are increasingly finding that this is just one step towards a greater goal to get the most out of their staff.

The Deloitte report found that 80% of executives believe that focusing on ‘employee experience’ is very important, or important. This new, more holistic approach will still include engagement at its core, but will also cover culture and performance management.

But how to put this more comprehensive strategy in place?

While employee engagement always seemed like an inconclusive ‘catch-all’, there is a growing consensus that the concept of employee experience is more honed and more useful

Giving staff what they want

Whether it’s surprising staff with the sight of a pot of Plasticine on their desks (complete with instructions about how to craft a model of themselves and put it up to share on the firm’s Instagram account), or ditching annual appraisals in favor of It’s You Time (managers having constant conversations with staff), it’s fair to say the experience of working at global digital agency Wunderman is very different from the norm.

In fact, anything that used to be a dull HR policy is now very much an activity. The deal for staff when they take training, for example, is that they promise to deliver on the firm’s 30:60 rule: applying what they learned within 30 days, then sharing what they learned with at least one other person within 60 days.

For CEO Pip Hulbert, far from this being HR gimmickry, she’s simply giving staff what they want – which is for work to be as much of an ‘experience’ as possible.

“Experience is a highly important term,” she says. “It’s a company philosophy. Work is such a big proportion of people’s lives; our view is that work has to be enjoyable. Work can no longer be somewhere people just ‘go’ to. It has to be something they feel.”

What sets employee experience apart?

For HR departments that have spent years convincing top leadership of the need to take staff engagement seriously, the arrival of this new e-initialed axiom might feel like a challenge. But while employee engagement always seemed like an inconclusive ‘catch-all’, there is a growing consensus that the concept of employee experience is more honed and more useful, and that 2018 will be the year when a greater number of firms should shift from one to the other.

“Experience is still a buzzword,” argues Yves Duhaldeborde, Director, Talent and Rewards, Willis Towers Watson, “but it also marks a point of evolution. Its new-found currency reflects the fact it’s become even harder to attract and retain talent, and that employers now need to offer ‘something else’ that’s distinctive and inspiring.”

He adds: “While experience has always been there, it was not always needed to be purposely thought of. Now it does.”

Experience arguably arrived in 2015 when, to great media fanfare, Airbnb announced it had appointed its own Global Head of Employee Experience. According to research by Charles Rogel, Senior Consultant, VP Product Development at DecisionWise, by November 2016, there were 1,850 people on LinkedIn with the phrase ‘employee experience’ in their job title, with a further 2,222 jobs advertised with the same term.

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