In all the new business terms of recent years, few are more aspirational than “employee experience (EX).” Yet few are more liable to misinterpretation and disappointment.
Part of the issue is the all-encompassing nature of the term itself. The totality of EX spans people, the workplace environment, culture, and all the technology people use and all the processes.
Often, EX is equated with employee engagement, but the two are not the same. High levels of engagement flow form a superior EX which comprises a diversity of factors.
It includes training, professional education, health and wellness and benefits, collaboration tools and remote working and mobile technologies, which have been particularly important during the time of the COVID-19 disruptions as more people have worked from home.
Often, however, it rubs up against other initiatives, like implementing robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI), which are deployed for a variety of reasons but which also impact EX.
The argument is of course a no-brainer. Better EX means more engaged employees who are more loyal, productive and are better able to collaborate with each other. Organizations with better EX, in theory, are better able to attract and keep the best talent.
In the maelstrom of day-to-day business, however, these lofty goals can become complicated.
Take RPA, for example. If it is being introduced as a cost saving measure, then it may have a negative impact on EX. In other situations, well managed RPA implementations can free up employees for more meaningful work, and can make positive contributions to EX.
Digital transformation projects succeed largely because employees implement them, and — in theory — if EX is enhanced, then there is a greater chance of the transformation succeeding.
The risk though is that EX will be sacrificed for the sake of the transformation, which also runs the danger that any benefits will be short lived.
A Mercer survey found that while delivering on EX is the top priority of HR, only 27% of executives believe this will deliver any returns to the business — a result which undermines much of the rationale for EX.
Another key impediment is confusion over where responsibility lies. Because many initiatives which drive better EX come from new technology, it is often the IT department and the chief information officer which have responsibility.
Despite rebranding the HR departments as EX centers, HR professionals are often one step removed from implementing and managing the new EX solutions.
The Mercer research found that even though HR transformation toward better EX is high on organizational agendas, only 40% of HR leaders say they have an integrated people strategy.
After all these caveats, there are some key EX technologies and strategies which have emerged and are at the heart of digital transformation initiatives.
Many of these have converged into platforms, or beefed up portals, which deliver a variety of tools and services to employees and provide touch points for contact and feedback.
They can also include taxation and social security registration, payroll management, technical support and remote communication and system logistics.
As employees are also consumers in other parts of their lives, there are major expectations on the functionality of these solutions.
Much of the EX focus from employees is on digital tools: according to a survey by the Infosys Knowledge Institute, employees consider the impact of digital tools on the workplace experience greater than that of the physical environment.
Standards are high. People used to the best of consumer facing solutions are hardly impressed when the technology in the workplace doesn’t measure up.
This is the point at which they start using their own technology and while Bring Your Own Device has its merits, the devices can only distribute information and capabilities which come from organizational systems.
Benefits, healthcare services and financial advice are some add-on services which some organizations now include in the EX remit, and which they believe differentiate them as employers.
As the market for digital EX solutions ramps up, the leading vendors are those who are creating productive digital workplaces through a combination of real-time analytics, automation and employee feedback across all endpoints.
Using AI and data analytics, the interactions with employees are increasingly tailored and personalized and therefore more relevant.
Chatbots, for example, are dealing not only with external customers but employees. Particularly during the COVID-19 shutdown, with most workers at home, organizations have been sending out chatbots daily to check on employee wellbeing.
Responses are just not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but are sophisticated and employees can give feedback about being overwhelmed, anxious, lonely or depressed.
It points the way forward, in the post COVID-19 world, for the further development of digital solutions which can make the work experience fully transportable but consistent, no matter where the worker may be located.