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.