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Orçun IrfanApr 4, 2023 1:31:36 PM19 min read

Introduction to EX: What is Employee Experience and Why is it Important?

What is Employee experience?

Time flies fast. In the course of time, the end of the month comes without realizing when the day, the week begins and ends. In the corporate calendars that we manage the year by dividing it into quarters, the meetings where we start to talk about the goals of the first quarter are replaced quickly by half-year performance talks and then we are surprised when we realize that the end of the year has already come. Employee experience is a guideline to provide a meaningful working experience for the employee in the powerful flow of time.

Time passes quickly. We make many big and small decisions in our usual daily pace, which we spend ignoring the cruel speed of time. Moreover, while making many of these decisions, we are like passengers who rely on the mercy of the autopilot, not at the wheel of our lives, but immersed in the scenery on the other side of the window while sitting in the backseat. Is it really so? 

A professor of psychology at Cornell University, Dr. Thomas Gilovich states that positive/negative experiences in previous choices have an undeniable effect on the decision-making process. Past experiences have such a huge impact on our lives that we all look at life through a filter made up of our experiences. Dr. Gilovich puts it briefly, “We are the sum of our experiences.” he sums up. But how do experiences that have such great importance on our lives come about? The events we experience bring with them emotions. Emotions trigger experiences. Experiences form memories. So in order to know what is employee experience, we need to know how to define experience? 

Experience is the transformation of the emotions we feel during an event into a memory, leaving an impact in a way that shapes our thoughts after the event. However, when we look closely at the biggest slice of this great cake of experience we have accumulated throughout our lives, you notice something interesting. Considering that an adult works an average of 90,000 hours in their lifetime and that the only major activity we spend more time on in our lives is sleeping, the vast majority of these experiences are related to work. 

From this point of view, each of us is like a walking memory box. With each positive / negative experience we have with any employer, our accumulation in the piggy bank is increasing day by day. 

Our reference point when making decisions about the employer we are affiliated with is this big piggy bank that we always carry in our hearts. 

  • “I wonder if I should take this business opportunity from that company?” 
  • “Should I resign and move to another company?” 
  • “My salary is not enough; should I object and ask for an increase?” 
  • “I don't think this person promoted as the manager of my team deserves this position, should I talk to HR?” 

While we are doing our internal reasoning in all these questions, the place we look back is always our piggy bank for this memory. When the day comes to make important decisions like these, if we see that there are such warm and heart-touching memories in our piggy bank we decide to continue our commitment to our employer. If there comes a day and we see that even though we turn the piggy bank upside down and hit the bottom, not a single positive moment falls and drops on the table, then we realize that it's time to leave. “Shoud I stay or should I go?” The answer to the question is answered by these mechanics within us. Experience is that important. So what happened that we were able to talk about such an important subject only in recent years? There are several reasons for this.

Generational Change in the Workforce

I think that the first factor is the difference in the perspectives, interests, needs, expectations and demands of the younger generations entering the business life compared to the previous generations. Baby Boomers born before 1970 and Generation X born before 1980 preferred to keep their experiences, good and bad, relatively to themselves, preferring not to talk too much with a somewhat secretive stance. 

The underlying reason behind the secretive stance of these two generations was either the great importance they attached to job security due to the socio-cultural dynamics of the period they grew up into or perhaps the simple fact that experience sharing was not as possible and easy as it is today. However, with the Generation Y, who entered the business life after 1980, and the Zs, also known as digital natives, who are the youngest generation in the business workforce market, that joined us after 1997 things have seriously changed. Because the perspective of these young generations were significantly different than the prior generations due to the impact of the enormous reaching power that came both with their upbringing and technological opportunities. 

So much so that the younger generations have replaced the importance given by the generations before them to job security, good salary and title with original, satisfying and personalized experiences. The candidate experience that occured starting from the recruitment processes and interviews and the employee experiences that happened between the onboarding to the final stages of the employment was generally kept behind closed doors until now. 

With the importance the younger generations attach to not only living but also sharing the experiences with wider audiences has led to the transparency of these experiences which remained untold before on social networking platforms with huge follower bases such as Glassdoor and Indeed. This was the first major factor that led to the transfer of the power of choice that had hitherto been in the hands of the employer. 

Digital Transformation and Revolution

The second major factor that triggered the change was technology. Thanks to the advantages of mobile technology especially with the introduction of smartphones into our lives work has turned from being a physical place to a concept that people take with them wherever they go. We have become able to conduct our meetings, presentations and interviews remotely. It was possible to include others digitally and collaborate remotely in the projects we worked on. 

Thanks to social media it has been made possible to share our thoughts and feelings with very large masses in a very short time. People whom we could directly address in terms of needs and wants over time transformed into followers which in turn extended our reach even further. The second factor that triggered change was realized when the more transparent and sharing attitudes of the younger generations, not only with what they do or their feelings and thoughts but also with their preferences and stances in their personal lives, met with the ease of sharing brought by technology.

Pandemic and Embracing the New Normal

The third and final element was the pandemic catalyst. The two long years were spent in the shadow of isolation. The pandemic has put children, young people, adults, elderly people and anyone else with a need to communicate for a variety of purposes behind smartphones and laptop screens. This led people from all walks of life to serious internal questioning about what the job meant and the place it held in their life. According to the State of the Global Workplace Report published by Gallup, the pandemic has turned the lives of 54% of workers upside down. Findings of the same report pointed that the most dominant emotions felt by employees in an average day during the pandemic were 40% anxiety, 45% stress, 32% anger, and 30% grief. 

Due to the largely hierarchical and fed from the command-and-control approach leadership styles that evolved according to the physical and on-site working model, the managers returned to their factory settings by giving a blue screen to the teams, all of whom were scattered in different cities, who were not in front of the eyes of the manager and thus could not be followed on what they were doing. In this period, employees had been subjected to tracking softwares that calculates working efficiency by tracking the screens, keyboard clicks and mouse movements of remote workers. The working days and hours, which were gradually disappearing due to the fact that the employee already spent the whole day at home, were sinking into a blurred water, bringing work / private life balance with them. The bond of the employee with the employee, the employee with the manager, the employee with the team and the organization gradually weakened and became meaningless. 

Great Resignation and Work Dynamics After the Pandemic 

According to the results of Gartner's research to understand the impact of the pandemic on employees with 20,000 employees worldwide between January 2020 and March 2021: 

  • The pandemic has negatively affected 55% of the global workforce. 
  • Due to the pandemic, 85% of employees felt severe burnout. 
  • 40% of the employees said that their work / private life balance was disrupted. 
  • 41% of the employees stated that their trust in their team and 37% in the management of the organization was shaken. 
  • 65% of employees stated that they questioned the place of work in their lives. 

This emotional entrapment triggered unprecedented mass movements on the employee front. For example, with the Great Resignation wave, 57 million employees resigned in the United States alone between January 2021 and February 2022. This meant roughly 4.4 million resignations per month. In pre-pandemic life, an employee used to go to a physical work location with hundreds and thousands of their colleagues on a daily basis, feel as a part of a larger whole in a strong group psychology and finish the day largely by focusing on the work that needs to be completed that day. 

In this spiral pandemic world, when the employees were sent home from the office and the remote working model was put into use, this socio-psychological work routine shattered irreversibly, destroying many different assumptions. In their pajamas at home, working in cluttered working hours, with a virtual manager and a team with whom they had difficulty in establishing a sincere and genuine bond felt detached from the organization and therefore the illusion of group psychology and felt a solid loneliness. This in turn lead to questioning the purpose of what they were doing. More importantly they began to question whether it was worth it. Thus, the employee noticed the layers of purpose and meaning that they did not think much of in the rush of the day, and saw that the bland vision and mission propositions of the organization such as profit, sales and turnover did in fact not really excited him at all. 

Particularly in a time like the pandemic, where we experienced moment by moment that how fragile and fleeting life actually was both for ourselves and our loved ones, commitment to work, team and organization naturally became stringent. As a social being, human, especially the employees who were fed by their relationships, were left alone with many negative emotions such as pessimism, loneliness and hopelessness as they gradually moved away from their networks. During this period, we saw that various terms such as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), FONO (Fear of Normal) and PPSD (Post Pandemic Stress Disorder) entered the medical literature.

Quiet Quitting: A New Paradigm in Business

According to Gallup, 21% (Turkey: 15%) of employees in the pandemic were reporting that they were happy with their present lives and only 33% (Turkey: 23%) were hopeful that life will get better in the next two years. This pessimism surrounding all workers in the world was so deep that the World Health Organization reported that depression increased by 15% worldwide due to stress and anxiety due to the pandemic. The pandemic did not let us use the physical office space. But the absence of the physical working space eliminated the possibility of physical spaces for socialization, rest and development too. With all these physical spaces that had an important place in the work experience casted away employees could not have accessed many social and corporate benefits normally available in the work / social environment and that made life easier and enjoyable. 

When the lid of the pressure cooker in which all these dynamics slowly boiled suddenly opened due to the increasing heat, the concept of quiet quitting, which was gained traction since the second half of 2021, would come out of the pot. This is how the business world would realize the gravity of what was really going on in the scenery. The business world was backed into a corner and had no choice but to finally start talking about the what is employee experience? However, the work needed to be done by the employee experience was way more than the expectations and needs of the younger generations, the technological developments and the pandemic factors bore. Because the global talent shortage had reached the peak of the last two decades, hitting and all high of 69% in the world and 83% in Turkey.

8 out of 10 employees, whom recruiters hopefully reached, said that they were closed to career opportunities and that they were not even interested in a working model as we know it. It was now very clear that the expiry date of the concept of a full-time job as we know it, based on a subordinate-superior relationship, that came with a standard job description, with specific working hours, was approaching. With this change in expectations that developed on the employee front with the pandemic, more than the standard benefit package consisting of salary, bonus, meal vouchers and health insurance would be needed to attract the attention of any given candidate let alone the niche segment that was called the talent. 

Chain of Devastating Events Affecting Daily Lives

On the other hand, the chain of events that started with March 2020 continued to develop like a chemical reaction. In this chemical reaction, the pandemic was followed by wars, wars by crises, and crises by hyperinflation. Employees struggling with the cost of living had their backs bent. The leaders and human resources teams, who have been trying to make life easier by encouraging their stakeholders on many different battlefronts for almost 3 years, were on the verge of suffocating. However, the troubles of the workforce which moved the wheels of the business world were still not over yet. The earthquake disaster that would hit Turkey and Syria in February 2023 would test all organizations in the most bitter way to stand by the people of the country, not just the employees. 

We were passing through a strange tunnel of fear, where life gathered the employee and the leader at the first step of the Maslow's pyramid of needs. Not only were the productivity and efficiency of the employees gone, but their commitment, happiness, and overall enjoyment of life evaporated. We had to find a way and elevate the working experience of this gigantic mechanism called the workforce moved the wheels of the business world. But was it even possible to gather all these dynamics of experience in working life under one roof? Yes. It was. In the light of all these factors we have mentioned, we can now start talking about the employee experience definition, which has been on the agenda of almost all of the organizations globally and has kept its place on the agenda for years. 

What is Employee Experience Then?

Employee Experience is the holistic perception that employees have as a result of their interactions with their organization. That is, if thought of as a customer, the employee will have a good or bad experience every time they interact with their employer to benefit from any product or service. Software or hardware requests, workplace shuttle, cafeteria, locker room, performance interview, goal setting meeting, weekend shift, payroll... In each such interaction, the employee gets an impression of their organization. These impressions, added end-to-end, eventually create the holistic employee experience that the organization offers. However, although it may seem easy to define what is employee experience terminologically, obviously more than a definition is required for an organization to provide the employees with an end-to-end positive, healthy and holistic experience. 

An employee-centered corporate culture and an employee-oriented leadership climate would be a good start as an example. Employee experience is primarily a promise of experience. This promise will never be fully realized unless it penetrates deeply into the values, principles and behaviors of the organization, in short, its DNA. In this sense, employee experience is an important channel through which the employer brand and the EVP (Employee Value Proposition) promised to the employee can be authentically and genuinely realized. Let's go back to the definition and continue with an important question. 

Where and How does an Employee Interact with the Organization?

Each of the interaction points that the organization comes into contact with its employees is called a touchpoint in experience terminology. Once experience designs come to life and start to flow, touchpoints are the only data driven control and intervention points where we can monitor and manage whether the experience is flowing parallel to the design. Touchpoints turn into gain points or pain points, depending on the quality of the experience flowing through them. Does what has been written up to this point sound familiar to you? 

If you're familiar with the term customer experience and have one way or another done even a little bit of work in this area you should already be making connections. Customer experience and employee experience are like two sides of a coin. When these two disciplines, which I like to call sisters domains, come together, they will create a magnificent synergy. This is exactly why organizations that want to provide an amazing customer experience must first provide an extraordinary employee experience. If the employee does not personally experience an extraordinary employee experience to begin with, how are they supposed to understand what the amazing customer experience expected of them would feel like? 

In today's job market, where all product-based developments and all kinds of innovations are rapidly copied, when institutions are looking for that unique differentiator that they can offer their customers to distinguish from the competition, customer experience has come to rescue and completely changed the previous methods and approaches used by organizations to manage their relations with their customers. Thanks to the customer experience perspective, all of the CRM-based customer management activities such as customer services and customer relations have been rewritten from an outside-in perspective and centered on the customer. As a result of all the factors that create the employee experience, which we mentioned a lot in the previous parts of the article, 41% of business executives globally think that the job, job description and workforce should be redefined from the very beginning. Even this expectation on its own points out that human resources, as the most prioritized stakeholder that defines and shapes the job, job description and workforce, should also be transformed with this wave of change. Yet, it is not just employees who take part in various roles in the business world today who are excited about the working models of the new world. 

Employees' Habits, Preferences and Opinions have Shifted

According to the research conducted by Universum with 63,747 students from 59 universities and 27,363 graduates from 59 universities between November 2021 and May 2022, 71% of students, 79% of young professionals and 77% of experienced professionals have a solid expectation of flexible working models. Those who are hesitant about the issue say that the reason they did not vote for the flexible working models was they are afraid of being isolated and not being able to connect with their teammates. If this concern would have been addressed the expectation had been one single note. In the extraordinary dynamism that the world has reached today, the agile working models of business units have already started to work by dividing their work schedules into 2-week sprints. The vast majority of human resources processes such as personnel planning, salary, performance, talent management, succession planning that spread over the annual calendar clearly struggle to respond to the flexibility and delivery times expected by business units operating in the agile working model. 

It is obvious that the role of the rule-maker and the gatekeeper of the regulation which human resources has assumed in line with its century-old job description needs to change. The most robust indicator supporting this argument is the abstention of employees, being the primary customers of human resources, towards human resources teams. In a world where 70% of employees do not trust human resources and 59% of managers think that human resources do not have a leading role in the organization, 86% of employees report that they will not share their feelings due to the death of a loved one, and 92% report that they will not share that they are going through a difficult divorce process with human resources. The same research shows the reason for all this secretiveness is that 69% of employees believe that human resources are the “man of the management” The chance that these signs are indeed correct means that we are watching the feedback bridge between human resources and employees collapse before our eyes.

It would not be unrealistic to expect that just as customer experience transformed the communication and relationship management model of corporations with their customers, employee experience will likewise change and transform human resources as an expertise and profession in the not too distant future. Now is the time for human resources to sincerely look in the mirror and see its wrinkles. I think human resources, which was once called personnel management, has already started to instinctively look for both its new role and the updated job description. I think that my colleagues, who updated their title on social media to start with People and Culture, have heeded this strong call. I hope that human resources teams that have changed as an experience center and human resources professionals who have transformed into experience professionals will also change the unrealistic beliefs that dream of getting different answers by asking the same questions for 40 years since the 1990s. 

What is the Next Step After Investing in Employee Experience?

Can dry vision and mission statements, written completely considering the point of view and interests of the organizations motivate and excite employees? Or that can the feelings of employees towards their organizations spread throughout the year be understood with the engagement surveys conducted once a year? With the age of experience, we will and must approach these half-century-old beliefs such as such as these from a completely different lens. 1 billion dollars are invested annually in engagement efforts in the United States.  Despite this, the employee engagement rate is 21% worldwide and 15% in Turkey. From an experience-focused perspective, it's not hard to see that engagement is an effect, not a cause. A healthy employee experience is a prerequisite for high engagement. 

According to the results of Jacob Morgan's research with 252 companies, organizations that invest in employee experience achieve a 40% decrease in turnover, x2 revenue and x4 profitability with 25% fewer employees. Employee experience is here to stay. And it has made a powerful entry into our lives to change everything about business life in a way that will never be the same again.

In this article from Pisano Academy, we answered a simple, yet crucial question: What is Employee Experience? We also went above and beyond than just providing an Employee Experience definition and discussed the importance of this holistic perception. Follow our series of articles to get to know this powerful discipline better, to understand its data-driven potential, methods, approaches and tools. 




Orçun Irfan

Orçun İrfan is the first and only EX Professional accredited by the leading EX Organizations in the USA and UK. He is the author of the first and only reference book written and published in Turkish and the Founding President of the Turkish Employee Experience Society. Orçun has over 20 years of HR experience and is currently working as the Employee Experience Director for Pisano.