Measuring Employee Experience: why all the hype and why it matters now more than ever


Managing and improving employee experience (EX) has quickly become the cornerstone of today’s HR and business strategy.

Gartner recently identified EX as one of the top 5 HR priorities for 2020, while KPMG’s 2019 research has found that future-facing ‘pathfinding’ HR functions are focused on improving EX by design and transferring customer-centricity principles to employee journeys.

It’s easy to understand why — as a concept, EX stretches across the length and breadth of an organisation’s people strategy. As a means of measurement, it confirms how successful an organisation is at understanding and shaping experiences so that employees feel connected, motivated and able to perform. And in recent weeks, the importance of understanding employee experiences has heightened exponentially.

As global businesses stand on the precipice of an economic crisis, there is a greater need to listen to employee experiences than ever before. Offering direction, empathy and guidance on being productive could be the difference between workforces finding the strength to dig deep or having them feel detached, void of energy and direction.

So, what do effective EX programmes look like and why are they so important?

Putting EX in the spotlight

Despite the spotlight EX finds itself in, many HR professionals still grapple with how to measure it and can struggle to understand how it differs from more traditional methods for understanding employee engagement.

Although there is a universal understanding that EX spans more than an annual snapshot in time, the assumption that extra engagement ‘pulses’ and lifecycle surveys will offer the required insights for EX management is too simplistic. This is because the ‘moments that truly matter’ for people in your organisation can’t be fully understood by pre-packaged solutions and vanilla life-cycle surveys.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is a live and clear example of this. Right now, no-one cares about the engagement index or whether an exit survey is showing a reduction in employee advocacy. What really matters is that employees are mentally and physically well, that they’re getting the information they need, that every worker is able to be productive, whatever their location or situation.

Another way to think about EX and how it differs from employee engagement is using the analogy of daily conversations. Measuring employee engagement is like ‘small talk’ — it’s polite, it’s safe, and you ask the questions you’re expected to ask.

Small talk, however, can also feel like a lot of effort for everyone involved. Although we spend huge amounts of time analysing engagement data; the insights are often limited to high-level pointers for improvement; we don’t often get into rich detail or provide insights that really resonate with frontline managers and their teams.

EX, on the other hand, is very different to ‘small talk’: it’s a meaningful conversation that has depth and at scale. This means questions are asked within context, at the right time and by someone who understands who you are as an individual. These questions are relevant, specific, and personalised.

Unlike small talk, a meaningful conversation provides more understanding of people’s thoughts, feelings, opinions and the things that are most important to them at that particular moment in time.

This type of conversation is rich with insight that can quickly close experience gaps and “make things better”. For example, rather than asking a standard “How are you?”, EX is about going a level deeper, asking more specific and tailored questions such as “How are you finding your new role as a new manager?”“Do you need more information on facilitating 121s?” or “Is there any other support you need?”.

In this scenario, providing feedback is natural and interesting for the people involved. As such, there is little risk of survey fatigue.

Why EX needs it’s time to shine

This level of care and consideration into how you approach your employees is now more important than ever. As the workforce is shifting towards remote working there are a number of forces at play against both employees and their employers. Feelings of isolation, loss of team culture and lack of human interaction are very real issues that now face employees and have the potential to bleed over from their personal lives into their professional ones seeing as the lines between the two have become even more blurred.

Simply measuring engagement was never an accurate barometer for how your employees experienced the work they were doing, and it won’t provide answers into the problems that they are facing. Much like the ‘small talk’ analogy earlier, it’s a very surface level measurement.

As the needs of your employees change, you need to have insight rich data in order to best help them do the best work they can be amid difficult circumstances.

Developing EX programmes

When we consider the new world we’re stepping into and all the unknowns it will bring, it’s important to consider whether employees want ‘small talk’ or a more meaningful conversation with their employer. So, how can employers develop effective EX programmes in the current environment?

Firstly, leading companies need to be strategically mapping the experiences that matter most for their people, being sure to design an EX strategy that works at the right time and with the right content. Although typically associated with customer experience programmes, used properly, EX journey mapping can help build a road map to improve employee experience and help employers understand the impact of different drivers on engagement.

Secondly, businesses need to implement personalised surveys to ensure questions resonate and extra detail can be captured. This makes it possible for companies to understand how specific personal experiences are shaping key outcomes of the employee experience.

Lastly, effective EX programmes require companies to be connecting and bringing together employee, customer and strategy teams to ensure joined up experience management throughout the organisation. This means businesses can combine, analyse and understand regular ‘why’ insights along with ‘what’ KPIs, for example.

Keeping these in mind will allow companies to implement EX programmes that have your key asset at their heart: your employees.

Want to learn more about the role of employee experience during change? Why not sign-up to our virtual workshop here.

Post by Phil Pringle, EX Solutions Strategy, Qualtrics