Old wine in new bottles?

I’m increasingly finding myself interested in the idea of employee experience.

But I’m testing myself. Testing that I am not falling for old wine in a new bottle. Testing that I’m not about to jump on a new bandwagon, as the last one departs unlamented.

Many HR professionals now accept employee engagement isn’t that thing that we thought maybe it was, hoped maybe it was. We know now that the hard evidence isn’t there to support the ambitious assertions. That it is neither our ticket to a seat at the table (sorry) nor to the often fabled increase in financial performance. We know too, that there are lies, damned lies and employee engagement surveys.

The engagement rhetoric promised much but delivered less.

But we are familiar with the term. We refer to it more often than we do employee experience. Engagement, as we know, is an outcome. An outcome of many variables. Experience is somewhat different. It is those variables.

To me, it is what I call simply, the people stuff. It is each and every interaction that an employee has with the organisation they work for, throughout their own particular journey of employment. From the very first interaction as a candidate, to the final leaving experience. It is every element of the employment lifecycle.

I am a big believer that employee experience flows into customer experience. There’s evidence out there. But it is intuitive too. Who will provide your customers with a better experience? The employee who is having a great experience themselves, or the one who is pissed off about everything from the over enthusiastic office air-conditioning to a mistake in their pay packet.

The idea of employee experience seems to be spreading. As Doug Shaw highlighted recently in this blog post, Airbnb’s Chief HR Officer has now become their Chief Employee Experience Officer. As I tweeted to Doug at the time, I think this shift in language is positive. Maybe it is better for us to focus on our employees as people to whom we should be providing an experience, rather than considering them mere resources.  The labels we attach make meaning.

How else might thinking about the experience of our people change our approach? For me, the engagement debate was impersonal. Driven perhaps by a desire to prove we are commercial types after all, and not so pink and fluffy, we sought to demonstrate that if we could link engaging employees to financial performance we had made our business case for the people stuff.  Employee experience feels slightly different.

We don’t question for a moment the idea that we should, must, strive to provide the best possible experience to our customers. Such a question would barely need asking, but if it was, we would refer the need to retain them, work with them again in the future, ensure that they speak positively to others about us, not lose them to competitors…… The parallels are more than obvious.

Employee experience. Is it an idea that’s time has come, or simply more of the same? Only time, and maybe the bandwagon effect, will tell.

5 thoughts on “Old wine in new bottles?

  1. Gemma, we are using the word “experience” as part of our language as a new Talent Team in my new organisation. We are doing a lot of work around recruitment which is initially been driven by the need for a more effective process in terms of lead times and resource, but also about improving the candidate experience as we seek to recruit in a very competitive and challenging market.
    I think experience will serve us well as we discuss development too.
    It does feel more commercial than engagement and I do not notice I don’t wince when I use the word!!

  2. Which words you use is immaterial.

    Engagement isn’t working because companies have used it as a way to create more profit – not create a better employee experience. Focusing on employee experience will fall in to the same trap.

    Until we care about employees from a purely human perspective instead of a P&L one, nothing will change. If employee experience becomes the “new” thing – I predict it will follow the same trail as engagement did. It will have nice run-up, reports and studies will show the impact it has on company profits, companies will implement employee experience programs, there will be results consultants can crow about (does anyone remember Western Electric and Hawthorne) and those results will begin to fade and we will again, like clockwork see new terms and new ideas being spread about the next wave of getting more from employees. Anyone for “4D Employee Visioning” (work/life/today/tomorrow – BTW – I just made that up but I’m sure some consultant is working the pitch on it as we speak.)

    I’m afraid we’ve conditioned employees to scam the system. They know that as long as they respond with some sort of negative opinion on employee surveys they get better food and bit better benefit package.

    It’s about intent. Until employees feel a company is instituting changes because they care – they won’t care about the company.

    Engagement – experience – entitlement – A rose by any other name is simply a way to make more with less cost without anyone getting upset. That is what is killing engagement.

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