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The Core Elements of Employee Experience That You Need to Know in 2021

A few years ago, the phrase “employee experience” wasn’t a part of the vernacular of very many professionals. It was a foreign concept to most.

Today, though, with unemployment rates at historic lows and a workforce flooded with younger employees, that “experience” should be a front-and-center focus of employers everywhere.

It’s no longer good enough to pay a salary in exchange for work done.

It’s no longer good enough to offer salary increases and bonuses. In fact, money isn’t even the top predictor of workplace satisfaction.

It’s no longer good enough to offer a benefits package consisting of health, medical, dental and vision insurance, paid time off, an employer-sponsored retirement plan and other perks.

What’s important to employees is that “experience,” the culture and values of an organization, the emotional satisfaction they get from being part of a team that works toward accomplishing a goal.

Why Should You Care About the Employee Experience?

As an employer, you might be questioning why focusing on the employee experience should be your top personnel priority of 2021. Sure, you want your employees to be happy, because when they’re happy, they perform better.

But why is it so important to take a fresh new look at your employee experience? Why not just replace employees who leave your company if they’re not happy?

There are a few reasons, actually. First, employee turnover is costly. A Center for American Progress study estimated turnover costs to be 100-300 percent of the base salary of the replaced employee, depending on that person’s role. Those figures include the cost of off-boarding the departed employee, the cost of hiring and then on-boarding the new employee and the cost of the lost productivity as the new employee gets up to speed.

Further, replacing employees is not an easy task nowadays. In January, the national unemployment rate clocked in at 4.0 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That tied 2000 as the lowest January unemployment rate since 1980. At times last year, the unemployment rate was less than 4 percent.

There are far more open jobs than there are people looking for work. That has forced the quit rate to rise to its highest point in recent history, as unhappy employees are able to find a greener pasture elsewhere with ease, which in turn makes it difficult for companies to fill open positions.

What Makes a Positive Employee Experience?

A good employee experience is playing a major role in determining companies’ ability to recruit and retain employees. So, how do you create a positive employee experience at your company?

Last fall, IBM’s Smarter Workforce Institute partnered with Globoforce’s WorkHuman Analytics and Research Institute to study just this topic. The Employee Experience Index report they produced found six human workplace practices that lead to nearly three times the return on a company’s assets and more than two times return on the company’s sales.

Those practices are:

  • Organizational trust

  • Work-life balance

  • Meaningful work

  • Feedback and growth

  • Empowerment and voice

  • Co-worker relationships

Each of these human workplace practices, as the study terms them, draw on one main theme: an employee’s emotional well-being.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Millennials are now the largest sector in the workforce, and this generation is hyper focused on emotional intelligence. Baby Boomers are on their way out of the workforce, as 80 percent of that generation is now in their early 50s, with retirement in sight.

Defined as 18- to 34-year-olds, millennials have an entrepreneurial spirit, which has always been defined as striving for success through means other than just financial wealth. They value those six human workplace practices defined above, which boil down to three basic values:

  • A sense of purpose

  • Flexibility

  • Trust

How Can You Create a Positive Employee Experience?

The companies that are most successful in creating a positive employee experience combine the six human workforce practices and the three basic values of today’s employees.

1) A sense of purpose

A positive employee experience is one in which employees feel the role they play in the company is important, and they are empowered to make a difference. This value encompasses the workplace practices of meaningful work as well as empowerment and voice.

Today’s workforce wants to feel the job they’re doing has meaning, wants to feel a sense of control over what they are doing, and wants to know they are able to make a difference.

To accomplish these feelings in your company, you need to clearly communicate the importance each person’s job has on the organization as a whole as well as the outside world, and then empower each person to accomplish their job without being told what to do each step of the way.

2) Flexibility

A positive employee experience is one in which employees are given flexibility to accomplish their duties. This value encompasses the workplace practices of both work-life balance and also co-worker relationships.

The standard 9-to-5 desk job isn’t seen as desirable anymore, and today’s technology makes it easy for companies to be flexible both in terms of the hours of work as well as the location where that work is done. Today’s employees desire this flexibility to work late at night, if they wish, or even on a weekend, in exchange for maybe a Wednesday afternoon free. They also desire the flexibility to work outside of the office, especially since there isn’t much that ties them down to the physical office space. They want to feel like work is integrated as a part of their lives but isn’t the sole focus of their lives.

Employers today can offer this flexibility easily and still be able to track employee productivity and working hours. You may not be able to offer flexible hours or remote work for all employees, but providing this flexibility in both time and space is key.

3) Trust

A positive employee experience is one in which employees are trusted to get the job done. This value encompasses the workplace practices of both organizational trust as well as feedback and growth.

To be offered flexibility and given a sense of purpose, employers must first trust their employees. It’s not that employees don’t want any oversight at all; it’s that they don’t want to feel as if they are micromanaged. They’re open to suggestion – and welcoming of critique and feedback to help them grow – but they don’t want a constant eye peering over their shoulder.

Complete trust is something that’s established over time, but employers should only hire people who they can trust from the get-go. Communicating the fact that they trust their employees from day one is important to establishing that sense of worthiness.

Recognizing the importance of a positive employee experience and pulling on the heartstrings of your employee base will go a long way in significantly improving your workplace culture, which in turn will improve your ability to recruit and retain top talent, which in turn will result in increased productivity in today’s competitive marketplace.


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