Employee Experience vs Employee Engagement: Why they don’t need to compete

Employee engagement needs no introduction. It’s been a core HR objective for decades and, despite a growing feeling that it is reaching the end of its time, over 44% of organisations still viewed it as a top challenge this year. Popular for its assumed value to bottom line objectives, many CEOs are still grasping onto it as a top priority.

However, Employee Experience (EX) has been quietly gaining ground over the past few years, and is now rapidly evolving and expanding to involve every aspect of an employee’s lifecycle at the company. It’s becoming a key factor in talent retention and establishing a great brand and is now a top 5 objective for HR professionals.

Is EX just another name for Employee Engagement? Well, no; they have been treated as interchangeable terms for some years, but the two are very different things. Measuring Employee Engagement can be a vital part of your Employee Experience strategy, but both these concepts exist only to serve the end goal of retaining and motivating your employees.

What is Employee Experience?

Employee Experience is what an employee feels, observes and encounters during their entire time at a workplace. Rather than focusing on a single aspect of their job, it looks at the culmination of experiences over extended periods of time. It is a subjective measure – and necessarily so, because it is what an employee feels about their workplace that determines their contribution to it.

The best examples of EX strategies focus on all aspects of an employee’s time at work; environment, social life and professional development taking strong priority. For instance, many employees find the flexibility to work where and when they want to be a highlight of their experience. We looked at this a while ago when discussing how to build real motivation at work.

How is it different from Employee Engagement?

If an employee’s experience of work is positive, you can expect them to engage with work and be productive, so Employee Engagement is one measurement of the success of your EX strategy. High engagement is undoubtedly an outcome that every employer would want, as it correlates with good staff retention and productivity, and employee loyalty to the brand; a PwC study in 2017 found that loyal employees put 57% more effort into their work and are 87% less likely to resign.

So, Employee Experience is what you invest in, Employee Engagement is what comes out, and that means better results – which is the ultimate goal for the board. This may be why some companies are now starting to look directly at the relationship between EX and the bottom line.

Increased focus on Employee Experience in the workplace

A 2017 study by Deloitte found that 80% of executives rated Employee Experience as ‘very important’. The same study found that 59% of respondents either were not ready or only partially ready to address Employee Experience. A recent Access Group report also found that 23% of HR professionals viewed employee experience as a top trend for the year ahead. They also noted that:

“Efficiency, collaboration and the effective use of people data for decision making are all integral when it comes to creating and driving an exceptional employee experience.”  

How Employee Engagement can guide your Employee Experience strategy

The three objectives sit very well together: improved employee experience leads to employees engaging with their work, which leads to better productivity, retention and sickness rates. The level of Employee Engagement shows where the successes and opportunities in the Employee Experience lie, what is working for your employees and what you need to work on to improve the whole company culture.

Maintaining a high standard of Employee Experience

It’s easy enough to design an Employee Experience strategy, but it can be difficult to keep it going and growing. The key is to connect with your employees, be consistent in your delivery and review your actions frequently. Here are five points to consider:

  • Accountability: It’s always best to lead by example and model the behaviour you want to encourage, so get the senior executives involved in the EX strategy and activities. EX affects the overall brand of the company, so this is an aspect of the business that should be reported at board level in any case.
    Observation: Regularly review the outcomes from every EX-related activity, benefit or change in workplace processes that you create. How does it affect employees’ effort, morale and attitudes? How are your employees behaving after an exercise session, for example, and is flexible working creating better results?
  • Get an external view of progress: If you are devoting time and resources to an initiative you need valid data on its effects. People are more open and direct when responding to outsiders than to people they know in the HR team, which is one of the reasons why our products have helped so many companies increase their employee engagement and so their productivity, retention and sickness rates.
  • Review the EX strategy from the point of view of your entire workforce: When putting your strategy together, it’s important to understand the personal and professional differences between all of your employees. This helps you to ensure that any activities and benefits you implement are covering everyone. For instance, if you recognise that there are a number of people reading books in their lunch break when others are in a yoga class, explore the possibility of a book club.
  • Remember the most important benefits of working at your organisation may not be ‘benefits’ at all. That might sound odd, but remember people will work very willingly if the work itself is properly organised, communications work well, resources are available, the work is meaningful and they are acknowledged for doing it. It’s only when work is badly organised and people are frustrated that you have to buy loyalty, so do the first things first…

There is no single answer

Employee engagement and employee experience are both valid approaches and can produce very worthwhile results, but you have to understand what is working and what is missing, from the employees’ perspective, before you can be sure that any one initiative will be useful. As we said earlier this year, engagement is the final piece of a very complex puzzle and there is no one answer for every single employee to get them to that point.

So, unlocking the potential for improved employee engagement and a great employee experience starts with communicating with your staff, and supporting them with what they need to thrive. This is the only way to make progress, and whether your objective is experience or engagement, the result is the same: a happier workforce and better results.

Find out what kind of questions we ask employees on our WeListen page or read our blog about 5 ways to motivate employees without free beer.