Today, people expect more of their employer than a paycheck. They want a people-centric workplace where they feel really and truly valued. In fact, a positive workforce experience is important to 78 percent of workers according to recent research conducted by Sage People (registration required), part of Sage Business Cloud, developer of a cloud-based human capital management solution.

The research, which was based on a survey conducted in August 2017 of 3,500 knowledge workers in the private sector across the U.S., Canada and U.K., found worker experience is key to driving a successful business, as it directly impacts productivity. The survey also reported a third of workers claimed they were productive for less than 30 hours per week.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents drew a direct line between positive experiences and productivity, a number that jumped to 92 percent for younger generations (those born after 1980). With millennials primed to make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2020, the need for positive employee experiences will only grow more urgent. 

Among the other interesting trends uncovered in the research, according to Paul Burrin, vice president of Sage Business Cloud People, was the fact that 50 percent of employees surveyed had never been asked what would improve their workplace experiences.

Despite the well-publicized workplace offerings of unconventional offices and superfluous perks from some tech companies, it seems gimmicks such as ping pong tables, office games or planned outings do not constitute great employee experiences. So what is a positive employee experience and how do you build one? 

1. Use Data-Driven Decision Making

Data-driven decision making can help inform great employee experiences in a large corporation. Using data to mine actionable insights to understand what drives your people, and what is important to them, is a vital step towards building experiences they truly want said Burrin. Companies that get this right use these insights to drive decisions on their people and their business.

2. Build Inclusive Environments

As millennials and Generation Z gain power in the workforce, businesses need to create multigenerational workplace experiences according to Burrin. This means providing equal opportunity for all employees and recognizing how needs differ according to where employees are in their careers, e.g. someone who just relocated versus someone nearing retirement. 

Only 12 percent of employees polled in the Sage report said they’d been regularly asked what would make a great workforce experience. Make it a habit to ask your employees what they want, understand these needs will differ across the organization, and tailor experiences for each and every employee as a result.

Related Article: Why Self-Actualized Companies Achieve Higher Employee Satisfaction

3. Give Recognition

Show employees you value and recognize them. According to Sage’s survey, 66 percent of the workforce said that being appreciated and valued was the most important factor driving their performance. They want their employer to say, "great job" and feel the company values the contribution they’re making to the business.

Sarah McVanel of St Catherine's, Ontario-based Greatness Magnified agreed. She said the single best strategy to fuel a healthy employee experience is recognition. She noted only 30 percent of North Americans are actually satisfied at work. “Suffice it to say their experience is less than ideal in many ways. Yet, when we look at the most satisfied individuals with recognition from the least there is a hugely statistically significant difference in intention to stay, trust in the organization, satisfaction with leadership, continuous improvement behaviors and overall engagement,” she said.

In other words, simple acts such as a thank-you (which 95 percent of people say they want), personalized specific words of acknowledgement and a written thank-you cost virtually nothing — but make a huge difference in the perceived experience as they demonstrate how valued individuals are.

4. Create a 'Vibrant' Workspace Environment

Steve Wang is a human resources specialist who has worked for over 15 years with Fortune 500 companies including Goldman Sachs. He said employee experience starts as soon as an employee walks through the door. How does the office look, how does it smell, what's on the walls, what floor tiles are used, how is it set up, is it ergonomically optimized, is there a gym, is there a cafeteria? All these attributes regarding the workspace affect employee experience. “Companies that invest in creating a conducive and vibrant work environment are likely to get happier and more productive employees in return,” he said.

Related Article: How to Beat the Employee Engagement Slump

Learning Opportunities

5. Offer the Right Tools

Wang added employee experience is heavily determined by the equipment and technology available for employees to do their jobs. This includes computers, mobile devices, software, internet speed and whatever software employees require. Though we might not think of it, equipment often plays the biggest factor in creating a good employee experience. Having an out-of-date computer that runs slowly or is unable to handle certain applications often hurts employee experience more than anything else.

6. Create a Healthy Enterprise Culture

Corporate culture is about feeling. It's an aura that can be felt the moment someone enters the office. Wang said creating a healthy work culture around the office can be approached in a number of ways and the effectiveness of these approaches have been debated to death.  “Some say you need management to set a good example from the top,” he said. “Others think it's more about how you set objectives and structure the company. Some believe it's simply about who you hire. The honest truth is that office culture is likely a product of all these things put together."

7. Offer Clear Expectations

Suz O'Donnell is president of Chicago-based Thrivatize and has been working in the human resources and people development for over 20 years, both as a manager and as a consultant. She said that, as a company, you need to have a positive culture where expectations are clear, and you invest in your people and their development. “Enhancing employee experience isn't something that happens overnight. You should do strategic evaluations of where you are, where you want to be, and what the gap is. Then determine both the potential results in terms of culture, productivity and overall business ROI,” she said.

8. Give Employees Something to Strive For

Individuals should have passion and motivation around their job. When you think about your employee experience, it is critical to start with leadership. Leaders need to walk the talk of supporting development, encouraging collaboration, and providing not just time and advice for those things, but also budget. Your company vision, mission, and rolling 5-year plan should always be front and center to both inspire employees and also to anchor them on what their priorities are on a daily basis.

Your company mission should excite employees. Be sure your managers motivate employees to achieve the mission, provide the right resources employees need to move forward, and create the environment for employees to grow.

Related Article: Digital Employee Experience Is Where the Action Will Be

9. Be Ready to Quantify Results 

O'Donnell added the team experience should be a collaborative and harmonious environment where employees feel appreciated. In building a strong employee experience, you'll immediately get support from human resources and people-driven managers, but will also be questioned by analytical people who want to know the hard facts about the benefits this will provide the company. For those people, lead with ROI-proving data and facts. 

Every successful employee experience transformation needs to have both an inspiring motivational message as well as a strong business value in order to gain organization-wide support for success. “Because great employee experiences drive great customer experience, the value should be readily evident. Just make sure you quantify it,” O'Donnell said.