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It’s time to redefine employee experience (EX) to include the human experience at work

By Stephen Young, Ph. D. and Adam Zuckerman | July 19, 2022

Expectations have changed – employees want to thrive both inside and outside of work – and they’re looking for employers who support this new reality. Has your definition of EX evolved with the times?
Employee Experience
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Workplace changes during COVID-19 forever altered the perspectives of both employees and employers. More universal recognition of the connection between our personal and work lives took shape, symbolized by the pandemic-era phenomenon of Zooming into our colleagues’ living rooms, seeing their pets, their children, their casual clothes, and their efforts to balance it all. The veil was lifted, and overnight we became full human beings at work. Now, whether employees continue remotely, transition to hybrid work, or get back to the office full time, employee expectations have changed. Employees want to thrive in both their work and non-work lives wherever their work takes place and they’re looking for employers who support that new reality.

What does a new definition of employee experience mean for employers?

For employers, this means that when we think about the employee experience, we must think more broadly about the human experience of our employees, going beyond traditional elements like the manager/employee relationship, employee views of leaders, opportunities for advancement, or connection with colleagues. This new era of work requires a broader focus that supports employees’ mental and physical health, financial wellbeing, and even family relationships too.

Caring for an elderly parent, struggling with a mental illness, or striving to pay for college: strictly speaking, none of these are part of the employee experience. But they’re all part of the human experience that impacts employees. They exist at the intersection of life and work, and for that reason, smart companies recognize how they can support employees through these challenges.

Let’s take caring for an elderly parent as an example. Caring for an elderly parent is a common challenge among mid-career professionals. There are a lot of things employers can do for their employees to help them care for their parents beyond formal programs, such as offering flexible schedules or even adjusting expectations, during what is often a limited period. Not only is this a good thing to do, but it also has a performance imperative. Being able to thrive and perform at your best at work is impacted not only by your experience at work but also by your experience outside of work.

Recent research by WTW helps illustrates this point. A 2022 study of nearly 10,000 employees showed the financial stress of living paycheck to paycheck is associated not only with increased feelings of loneliness and anxiety but lost productivity as well. Further, employees who evaluate their employer’s benefits programs more favorably are more productive and engaged.

The key to supporting a broader definition of employee experience starts with listening to employees

Like the traditional concept of the employee experience, the key to understanding and supporting a broader definition of EX starts with listening to employees. Unfortunately, most employee surveys today focus entirely on traditional workplace topics like engagement, leadership, and manager effectiveness, or lifecycle surveys focus on traditional workplace milestones like onboarding, promotion, and exit. When you consider a new definition of EX, one that includes the human experience at work, a much broader spectrum of employee listening is required. The ways we listen to employees, gathering their input and perspective, need to change too. Employee surveys need to pivot to also assess how your employees feel about their preparation for retirement, how they are managing life with a newborn, or in the U.S. how easily they are navigating the health care system to find the right specialist. They need to seek to better understand what your organization can do to help.

Extending this logic even further, you can make the connection that all employer activity has an employee experience component that should be understood and prioritized. To be an “employer of choice” in the future, employers cannot merely offer competitive rewards, development opportunities, and healthy company culture. They’ll need to provide a consistently positive employee experience as well. It will no longer be about attracting and retaining employees, but more about creating a positive joining, developing, and staying experience.

Successful leaders will support the whole human experience both inside and outside of work

Successful leaders will get this and look to maximize the employee experience factor in all they do. This appreciation and support for the whole human experience will not only improve the lives of their employees inside and outside of work but also enhance their organizational commitment and business performance.

Authors

Product Leader
Engage

Adam is the dynamic force behind Engage, WTW’s game-changing employee engagement platform. His goal is to create the world's greatest software for understanding and improving the whole employee experience, at work and in life, driving action, change and impact on organizations’ EX, company culture, and business performance. In his own life outside of work, Adam enjoys off-roading in his Jeep and spending time with his family. Follow Adam on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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