Designing Employee Experiences

It’s no secret that society’s views on the nature of work have shifted over the last two decades. As technology has changed and new generations of workers have entered the economy, people now expect more than paychecks from their occupations. Work is now a place where people expect to find purpose, community, and a broader sense of meaning.

In response to this societal shift, organizations are realigning their operations to reflect this changing paradigm. This has given birth to a new cross-functional discipline called Employee Experience Design, a field specifically created to ensure that companies are providing a work experience that inspires a deeper sense of fulfillment in their employees.


What is Employee Experience?

At its core, Employee Experience (or EX) is the entire journey an employee embarks upon with an organization, from their very first interaction as a job applicant all the way through to their final departure. A comprehensive employee experience considers every aspect of an employee’s life at a company (also known as the Employee Journey or Employee Life-Cycle) and optimizes that broader experience so it provides a deep sense of purpose, fulfillment, and belonging.

While many people instinctually think of EX as an extension of human resources (which it can be), it’s reach is actually far more encompassing. In addition to optimizing traditional HR functions like recruiting, onboarding, and professional development, well-designed employee experiences go beyond that to include things like physical environment, culture, technology, marketing, and community involvement (among many others). On the surface, each of these categories might seem like independent functions handled by isolated departments. But when you really think about it, each plays a critical role in shaping an employee’s overall work experience. As a result, a truly holistic EX team incorporates multiple disciplines to transform the broader experience within an organization and unifies those areas under a cohesive vision which illustrates what it means to be an employee of that company.


Why Does EX Matter?

Recruiting the right people is hard, and keeping them is even harder. Currently, the US unemployment rate is holding steady at around 3.8%, which is the lowest it’s been since the 1960’s.[1] If you’re a hiring manager, this probably means that you have a job board full of open roles and a shrinking pool of qualified talent to draw from. Of the people that are available, you’re probably one of three or four companies they’re actively courting, so it’s up to you to convince them that your company can provide a unique experience that will contribute towards their deeper desire for meaning and belonging.

Executing on this is easier said than done. In a 2016 survey of Global CEO’s, “failure to attract top talent” was widely listed as the number-one challenge faced by companies. To make matters worse, 82% of companies don’t believe they’re able to attract top talent, and of those who do, only 7% believe they’re able to retain it.[2]

To complicate matters even more, according to a 2015 Gallup Survey, 67% of respondents described themselves as being “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work.[2]  These skyrocketing disengagement numbers are a broad sign that companies aren’t going far enough in designing employee experiences that are fulfilling for their employees. As a result, many of those employees are at risk of leaving their companies for more attractive workplaces.


Does EX Affect The Bottom Line?

Absolutely. Citing research by Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage, “experiential organizations had more than 4 times the average profit and more than 2 times the average revenue. They were also almost 25 percent smaller, which suggests higher levels of productivity and innovation.”[3] Put simply, hiring great employees and keeping them happy directly impacts your company’s financial success.

Conversely, the cost of losing top employees can be catastrophic. According to Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte, the cost of losing an employee can range anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to double that employee’s annual salary when you factor in things like the cost of recruiting a replacement, loss in productivity, and training time it will take to ramp up a new hire.[4]

Recognizing the strategic role EX plays in innovation and financial success, a number of major companies, including Airbnb, Adobe, Pixar, and Cisco (among many others), are either creating internal EX groups or are reorganizing their HR teams to adopt a more holistic, experience-centric approach. The numbers don’t lie: according to Jacob Morgan, companies that emphasize EX are 11.5 times more likely to be listed among Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work and 28 times more likely to be listed on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies list.[3] If your company neglects to place a similar emphasis on EX, odds are you’re losing talented employees to more experience-focused organizations.


How Can You Design A Unique Employee Experience?

What can your organization do to ensure you’re designing an employee experience that provides people with a deeper sense of purpose, belonging, and fulfillment? If you’re just beginning your journey in the world of EX design, here are five steps you can take right now to make it a cornerstone of your business strategy:

1. Think Of Your Employees As Users:

At its core, EX is very similar to user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX), specifically because all three disciplines approach problem-solving from a human-centered perspective which emphasizes the needs of the user (or customer). When you’re thinking about designing your EX, start by empathizing with your end users (in this case, your employees) before you even begin thinking about shaping a strategy or solutions. Go through the process of talking with employees across your company to understand what they value and what their pain points are. These insights will form the foundation of the employee experience you ultimately create.


2. Map Out Your Employee Journey:

A well-designed EX touches upon every aspect of an employee’s journey before, during, and after their time at your company. To begin the design process, you first need to have a comprehensive picture of every touchpoint they have with your company. Go through the process of understanding what your employees feel, who they interact with, where they find meaning, and what their pain points are during each phase of the employee life-cycle. Doing this will paint a holistic picture of what the employee journey is currently like at your company and will provide you with the insights needed to create a truly unique EX.


3. Create an Employee Value Proposition

Put simply, your Employee Value Proposition (or EVP) is a concrete framework for you to capture and communicate the unique value your company provides to your employees. Not only is it a magnet that will attract top talent to your company, but it’s also a tool you can (and should) reference internally as you design your EX.

According to Gartner [7], a well-crafted EVP captures the unique value your company provides in 5 key categories: Opportunity (career, development, growth), People (managers, coworkers, leadership, collaboration style), Organization (your product or service, company structure, mission), Work (job duties, the deeper meaning a role provides, work-life balance), and Rewards (compensation, benefits, PTO). As you craft your EVP, make sure to think about the benefits your company offers in each of these categories that differentiate your EX from your competitors.

Airbnb is a celebrated example of a company with a unique EX and a strong EVP. At Airbnb, Global Head of Employee Experience, Mark Levy, and his team work across departments like HR, marketing, communications, real estate, and social responsibility to cultivate an overarching vision that embodies the company’s slogan, “Belong Anywhere.”[3] Airbnb’s career page is a masterclass in capturing an EVP and conveying it to prospective employees. Scrolling through the site, you get a clear picture of the company’s values, the deeper meaning behind the work their employees do, the benefits they provide, the community they’ve built, and the unique physical spaces they work in. Each area is pulled together by an overarching brand that clearly ties each category back to the company’s mission. It’s a perfect example of how a well-defined EVP tells a story that attracts top talent.


4. Use Design Thinking

Like all great products, services, and experiences, your EX shouldn’t be a stagnant structure that you design once and forget about. Instead, it should be a flexible system that you can iterate on and change as your company grows and transforms. For this reason, utilizing a Design Thinking mindset as you craft your EX can be one of the best ways to create an overarching experience that is innovative, meaningful, and that solves the unique challenges your employees face.

Start by empathizing with your employees to understand their experiences with your company. Define the employee journey and create personas that capture the unique challenges and pain points they face. Ideate potential solutions that will solve those unique challenges. Create a prototype of the solution you’ve devised (whether it’s a new system, talent brand, tech tool, etc.). Finally, test that solution on a group of your employees, learn from the results, and begin the process again. If you apply the design thinking process in this way, you’ll not only craft an EX that is unique to your organization, but you’ll also understand your employees and their motivations on a deeper level.


5. Partner With A Design Consultancy

When you’re deeply ingrained in your company’s culture, it’s often challenging to pull back and conduct an impartial analysis of your existing employee experience. That’s why partnering with an outside consultancy or design firm can be a valuable way of gaining perspective. When you decide to partner with an outside firm, seek out agencies who are practiced in strategically designing experiences for a diverse range of products and services. Most importantly, find a partner who values a collaborative approach to design and who will work closely with you to understand the unique vision of your company and the diverse needs of your employees.



The question remains, “are your employees happy?” By now, you should realize that this relatively simple question is far more nuanced than you might suspect. There are countless factors that contribute towards keep employees fulfilled, and neglecting even one or two of them can have an adverse impact on morale and retention. Gone are the days when people were satisfied punching the clock and collecting a paycheck at the same routine job, with the same company, for their entire careers. As a company executive, a manager, or an HR professional, it is now your job to ensure that you’re creating a deeper experience for your employees, one that instills in them a true sense of purpose and belonging.













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