Reshaping the employee experience to attract and retain talent

Employee well-being and work-life balance have become important parts of an inclusive culture — and can serve as key differentiators for attracting and retaining talent.

A culture of inclusivity is critical to achieving a successful and thriving organization and the latest research shows getting there is closely tied to the employee experience. 

What do we mean by the employee experience?

Gallup defines the employee experience as: “The journey an employee takes with your organization. It includes every interaction that happens along the employee life cycle, plus the experiences that involve an employee’s role, workspace, manager and wellbeing.” 

Employee experience is not the same as employee engagement. Best-selling author and futurist, Jack Morgan, describes the difference as: “The same as the difference between updating a car by just painting the outside and replacing the entire engine. One method makes the car look nice, but the other actually improves its performance. Employee engagement is popular, but it’s a short-term fix. Employee experience is a long-term solution that addresses the core of major issues.” 

Morgan goes on to say, “…employee experience looks at the workplace with a long-term view. Employee experience improves core practices around people and involves truly knowing your employees and giving them what they care about to create an environment where they are empowered and valued.”

Entering an era of human-focused company culture

From the rigid male-dominated hierarchies in the 1950s, to the rise of women in the 1970s, the morale-crushing downsizings of the 1990s and the 2000s tech startup focus on in-office collaboration, we are now in the 2020s, the era of human-focused company culture. According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Trends Report, “workers are now re-evaluating what matters most to them in the wake of the COVID-19  pandemic, prompting employers to focus on the well-being and personal satisfaction of their employees.” 

How a focus on the employee experience attracts and retains talent

LinkedIn’s report states: “Companies are adjusting their policies to ensure that employees feel cared about as human beings, not just as workers, making flexible work arrangements permanent, investing in wellness programs, and boosting their diversity and inclusion efforts. Employers and employees are building a new, more dynamic relationship based on trust and empathy.” 

Mark Lobosco, VP of talent solutions at LinkedIn explains that “good work-life balance is the highest priority for job hunters, outweighing even excellent compensation and benefits.” LinkedIn research shows: “If employees feel cared for at work, they are 3.2 times more likely to be happy at work and 3.7 times more likely to recommend working for the company.” 

Job postings that reference well-being are resonating for prospective hires. LinkedIn discovered a 73 percent increase in company posts about well-being since 2019, a 147 percent increase in the share of job posts that mention well-being, along with 5 percent more engagements with posts that mention well-being (with 41 percent more likely for women to engage with well-being company posts, compared to the average post).

Creating an inclusive culture means rethinking the employee experience

So how does an increased focus on the employee experience affect a company’s ability to create an inclusive culture? It means companies need to work that much harder. Not only are employees looking for a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment that fosters a sense of belonging, they now want their personal experience – their life as a whole – to be a top priority. And organizations are heeding the call. Recent research from Gartner indicates that…

The relationship between employee and employer has changed. Progressive organizations are shifting from an employee-centered value proposition to a human-centered value proposition that treats employees as people, not workers. 

Progress in any area of the human deal can provide benefits that include: 

  • 28 percent increase in employees who are likely to recommend the organization by delivering deeper connections 
  • 40 percent increase in high performers by delivering radical flexibility 
  • 6 percent increase in intent to stay by delivering personal growth 
  • 7 percent increase in employees’ physical, financial and mental wellness by delivering holistic well-being
  • 9 percent increase in employees who are highly likely to accept the job again by delivering shared purpose

PWC further reinforces the case that the employee experience isn’t just for employees, it is a major benefit for companies as well: “This isn’t simply organizational theory. We’ve seen companies that focus on the employee experience have lower staff turnover rates and higher productivity. To be clear, the goal of providing a strong employee experience isn’t to make your people feel warm and fuzzy. It’s to enable them to do their best work.” 

8 steps to reshaping the employee experience

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for companies, we can unpack this call-to-action and identify what employers can do to improve the employee experience, while keeping a focus on creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment. 

  1. Map the employee journey as you would the customer journey

Employees know companies care about their customers and there’s no shortage of investment in understanding what customers want and need. Your employees, both prospective and current, want you to apply that same attention to them by mapping their journey through your organization. 

NetSuite describes it this way: “The employee experience is how the employee feels about workplace interactions and events, such as performance reviews during their employment. By building and analyzing a map of the employee journey, HR teams can identify potential areas for improvement.”

Action: Treat employees like your internal customers by taking steps, such as journey mapping, to understand their experience within your company.

  1. Make the well-being and psychological safety of your employees a top priority

Above all, to maintain a sense of well-being, employees need to feel physically and psychologically safe at work. Their experience in the workplace must be free not only of blatant harassment, but also of precursors to harassment such as microaggressions in the form of slights, barbs and other behavior that serves to demean others. Education and training can inform, enlighten and create connections to how our behavior can affect others.

Action: Provide employees with education to help them better understand how they can contribute to creating a healthier culture for themselves and those around them.

  1. Help employees understand and value differences

To create a more collaborative and inclusive work environment that offers an optimal experience for workers, employees must be able to better understand people who are different from themselves. To do that, they need to have moments when they can truly relate to the experiences of other people. One of the most effective methods for achieving this is through storytelling, where people hear firsthand how someone felt when they experienced a certain situation. First-person accounts are the single most powerful way to make connections and engender empathy in a way that can lead to transformational changes.

Action: Create opportunities for employees to hear personal experiences that can open their minds to different perspectives.

  1. Enable managers to support the well-being of their employees

Employees want to feel cared for at a personal level. They want their employers to be interested in their well-being by fostering a healthy work-life balance. Managers can play a critical role in supporting employees by modeling inclusive behavior, demonstrating their own work-life balance and intervening when necessary to protect the well-being of their employees. The company needs to ensure managers understand how to support employees in a way that contributes to a healthier environment.

Action: Provide educational opportunities that fortify managers with tools and strategies to support their employees’ experience at work.

  1. Foster ways for employees to help their peers cultivate a sense of belonging

Help employees support each other by showing examples of inclusionary and exclusionary behaviors. Provide learning opportunities to “test” behavior choices in a safe and judgement-free environment. This might take the form of watching dramatic scenes with interactive activities where they can choose how they might handle a situation that best supports others.

Action: Share examples of inclusionary and exclusionary behaviors and provide learning opportunities for employees to make choices that lead to a healthier work environment.

  1. Connect company values to employee experience

Beyond perks or even compensation, employees are looking for organizations with a strong sense of purpose that is directly connected to what is important to them. Research published in Corporate Compliance Insights shows millennial and Gen Z professionals are choosing ethical and sustainable employers over higher pay. The company values, as embodied by a “culture-based purpose” can be an effective way to engage, retain and attract employees. Specifically, if the company values their employees’ well-being, then all its processes, decisions and actions should reflect this. 

Action: Align company values and purpose, and the resulting decisions and processes, with what employees say is important to them. 

  1. Build in flexibility on an individual basis

The pandemic created a new relationship between the employer and employee, and what it means “to be at work.” Increasingly, the workplace has become wherever the work gets done, rather than a location. And work-life balance has become something else altogether. When once there was a clear delineation between work and home life, the two melded together. In the process, employees discovered new ways of thinking about how work fits into life. This has led to two outcomes: the proliferation of the remote/hybrid workplace and the desire for employees to have their employers look at what work-life and well-being means to them individually.

Action: Determine what flexibility means to your employees (ie., through surveys, focus groups and employee/manager communications). Can your work model allow remote work? What else can you do to build more flexibility into your employees’ experience?

  1. Reward employees based on value creation

Recognizing and rewarding employees based on the value they create levels out the playing field for promotions and advancement in the organization. A Great Places to Work survey found recognition was strongly tied to creating a positive company culture. They also found recognition is most meaningful when it is tied to a specific accomplishment or business objective (ie., the value they have created for the company). And timeliness is important. The longer it takes for managers to recognize employees, the less likely employees will see the affirmations as authentic.

Action: Ensure you have a timely process for recognizing and rewarding employees based on the value they create.

Reassessing the employee experience will nurture your employees’ well-being, foster greater trust and promote self-empowerment. You’ll be making some great strides toward supporting an inclusive culture where people feel valued and understood. And it’s that kind of inclusive culture that will attract new hires, retain valuable employees and lead to a more productive and innovative workplace.