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What Makes a Great Employee Experience?

Greg de la Cruz works in the tech industry and is the author of two published titles on Amazon.

Enhancing employee experience translates to better business outcomes.

Enhancing employee experience translates to better business outcomes.

Turning your office into a great place to work is the best way to improve the employee experience. And synonymous with "great" in this context—according to those who decide what engagement activities should be done inside these money-making walls—are the words "fun," "exciting," "inspiring," or at the very least, bearable.

Office life is good for collaboration. It's terrific for productivity. It's perfect for employee control. Of course, please take these assumptions with a grain of salt. I can only imagine what they really say behind closed doors.

Do business leaders really know what it is that makes the employee experience great?

It's not all about office parties. Or more bonuses. Or even employee wellness. There are many things to consider, and it's likely not so simple. But it's also not very complicated.

Why Should You Care About Human Experience Management (HXM)?

Human capital management (HCM) is now considered outdated compared to human experience management (HXM) when approaching employee experience.

Laurie Ruettimann, who began her career “when the biggest buzzword in human resources was human capital management,” says that human experience management reflects the next evolution of human capital management solutions, “with the employee experience at the center.”

“Human Experience Management,” Ruettimann writes in a 2020 article, “is all about focusing on the people who power a business to success; providing them with tools and technology to enable meaningful, productive, and personal employee experiences that drive business results.”

From my perspective, based on Ruettimann’s definition, HXM is now the cutting-edge model that organizations rely upon to squeeze the most out of their people. And judging by her corporate-friendly wording, I can infer that with this new philosophy, companies are starting to believe that the key to translating workers into more money is by enhancing their employee experience (EX).

Long story short—the better the EX, the higher the USD.

7 Suggestions for Business Leaders to Enhance Employee Experience

There are elaborate ways and well-strategized systems to curate an employee experience that both attracts and retains workers. However, not to be overlooked are very simple things any organization can do (with or without ample resources) to enhance the employee experience:

  1. Fix undesirables before starting new perks.
  2. Empower an existing leader to champion employee experience.
  3. Create or maintain a culture of transparency.
  4. Open forums must be succeeded by quick action.
  5. Set clear expectations, and avoid ambiguity when talking about job demands.
  6. Cut the crap on "work family."
  7. Upper leadership must not be out of touch.

1. Fix Undesirables Before Starting New Perks

Take care of the undesirable stuff first before offering something new.

Company leaders make the wrong assumption that they can hide the nasty things or distract their workers well enough using fancy new perks that employees won’t care about the bad stuff anymore. Clearly, this is a misguided strategy. The rational worker may do a mental calculation to weigh the bad that comes with the good, but no amount of employee benefits will make the worker forget about what’s obviously bad.

For example, if your company monitors a worker’s time glued to his computer and penalizes too much time away from the keyboard (AFK) down to the last minute, then perks like "Pizza Fridays" or free gym memberships will not enhance the employee experience well enough.

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An organization that’s competent in HXM will know that they need to acknowledge and start addressing things in the company that are not helping improve the employee experience. Even if the leaders won’t be able to address these negative issues right away, sometimes knowing that these are on a path to being resolved or changed (although excruciatingly slow) is enough for a worker to know that he is in a great place to work.

2. Empower an Existing Leader to Champion Employee Experience

You don't need to create an employee experience manager position from scratch – just align and empower an existing leader.

Chief happiness officers and human experience managers are the new job openings crafted because of the focus on employee experience. As a company leader, you don't have to create this position from scratch and hire someone externally or internally. More often than not, there's already someone in the organization whose role already fits with being a so-called employee experience champion.

It might come across as if you were increasing the role taker's workload, so you will need to align with the person being tasked to take it on.

The advantage of simply aligning an existing employee to manage employee experience is that he or she already knows the organization quite well. You wouldn't entrust such an important role to someone who's yet to prove his or her reliability nor someone relatively new to the company—you'd want someone who understands the company's mission and is familiar with its unwritten rules.

The disadvantage of not carving out the position from scratch is that you might give the impression that you're not really being serious about employee experience, that you're just designating someone internally for the sake of having someone in charge of it. You can change this perception by taking more action and making sure the person you've chosen to manage employee experience puts in the work.

3. Create or Maintain a Culture of Transparency

Make transparency part of the organization’s standard operating procedure.

A company that isn’t open with its employees—at least to some extent—is a company that’s hard to trust. A culture of secrecy and hiding mistakes does not enhance the employee experience at all. Publicly listed companies are obligated to be financially transparent to their shareholders, and some even go the extra mile to extend the same benefit to their own employees.

When high leadership makes transparency part of the company’s DNA, then it will be easy for the downlines of the business to adopt the same mindset. Of course, some organizations have to consider the sensitivity of information and trade secrets that only authorized personnel are allowed to access—but access management nor information security isn’t the point here.

Instead, moral transparency is the key—acknowledging a mistake before someone finds out or points it out, encouraging workers to be open about their challenges and mishaps. People wouldn’t want to get fired over a mistake that they made, but it’s far worse to get fired for concealing damage that has been done.

Transparency among leaders and colleagues makes the employee experience great, and it doesn’t cost anything.

4. Open Forums Must Be Succeeded by Quick Action

Follow through on "listening" sessions by taking quick action and showing progress.

From what I've heard, open forums, town halls, and "culture talks" have become common. The narrative is that companies want their people to know that they are sensitive to how the times have changed and want to hear from them on what they can do better.

But at least that's how they want their workers to perceive it. Really, most of the time, the company just wants to give the impression that they are a company that "listens" and at the same time wants to do a temperature check on sentiment.

Company leaders make the mistake of not following through with their listening sessions—they conduct the town hall two or three times, collect feedback, sit on it, and that's it. Not much action afterward. And if there happens to be any action, it would likely be in the short-term or one that fizzles out.

Failing to follow through on these listening sessions will ruin the employee experience because it removes all sincerity from the leaders' approach. Instead, you must take quick action, communicate your actions to the employees, and make sure that those who provided feedback are either given the solution that they needed or, at the very least, are explained why their suggestion wasn't taken.

5. Set Clear Expectations, Avoid Ambiguity When Talking Job Demands

Ensure that managers and leaders set the correct expectations in terms of workload.

Burnout and overwork continue to plague the modern workplace, and it doesn’t matter what size the organization is, nor does how reputable it is in terms of employee experience management. The solution to either burnout or overwork can’t be contained in just one section nor even a whole article, but I know that there’s one thing employees detest: false, ambiguous expectations.

Employees hate or eventually resent the idea that their actual workload isn’t what they expected based on what their boss told them it would be. And much, much worse if their superior was too vague about their job demand.

Take, for example, someone who says, “Primarily, you’ll be in charge of managing X, and you’ll also need to assist in doing Y, especially when support is needed. But also in your spare time, if you could find the time to do Z—but it’s not really urgent, it’s just that your role kind of intersects with all the Z-ish stuff that our company has to deal with—that would be very helpful.”

The example I just mentioned happens more commonly than people think, and it’s just another way to ruin the employee experience—spreading someone too thin from the get-go.

6. Cut the Crap on "Work Family"

Stop selling the "work family" bullshit that has been perpetuated by many organizations.

Colleagues at work can be considered friends and even family—there’s nothing wrong with this at all. What’s wrong is the premise that companies will push this "work family" ideal to the extreme to serve their own purpose. Because the stickier the bonds are at your workplace, the harder it will be for you to find somewhere else to work—and worst of all, the harder it becomes for you to have an identity outside your job.

Company leaders need to cut the crap on the work family ideal. They need to let these relationships form organically. LinkedIn has become a platform where fellow colleagues can spread the word that their organization fosters a work family type of experience, but some leaders will pressure their own people to post fun activities for the sake of appearing like a fun place to work.

7. Upper Leadership Must Not Be Out of Touch

One of the worst things that can ruin employee experience is having senior managers who are clueless.

Most importantly, you as a company leader can only hope to improve your overall employee experience if your own leadership circle truly knows the goings-on. Empathy is underappreciated in the business world, and perhaps with the new focus on employee experience, business leaders will finally try to have some of it.

You’ll know that upper leadership is out of touch when employees become shocked by new policies or implementations as if these came out of thin air. Mature, empathetic leaders know well to roll out new rules in phases, and they know that transition is never an easy matter.

Making the Future of Work Not Suck

There are still many ways to enhance the employee experience, and I highly recommend listening to the Work-Life Podcast by Adam Grant and HBR IdeaCast by the Harvard Business Review. Each episode is filled with the cutting-edge ways to make the future of work not suck.

We have to face the changing times, because people know better now that there are jobs that can be done with or without a physical workplace present. Enhancing the employee experience has so far been the response by company leaders to keep their people happy, and it has either translated to more workers staying or backfired and resulted in getting a bad reputation.

Employee experience directly impacts a company’s reputation, whether leaders like it or not.

© 2022 Greg de la Cruz

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