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PHOTO: herval

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of employee experiences. Although some common sense rules apply, such as ensuring workers are placed at the heart of the experience, it can be difficult to benchmark experiences in order to either improve or adjust them. However, several characteristics have emerged in recent years that many professionals agree are hallmarks of top experiences.

Follow Through on Initiatives That Matter

Christina Gray is a seasoned marketing strategist with more than 10 years of expertise in agency and corporate settings through her Milwaukee-based marketing firm Whitecloud. "Too often I see companies — decision-makers in influential positions — use personal opinion (what they think employees want) to create employee engagement programs that don't resonate with their people and ultimately, for this reason, fail," she said.

In another all too common scenario, she said, companies conduct surveys to solicit input from employees to, in turn, randomly select or cherry pick initiatives the company deems the easiest initiatives to proceed with, not the most important or top-of-mind among their people. 

Both approaches only further perpetuates negative feelings toward the organization and leaves employees feeling as if they don't have a voice and their needs don't matter.

If survey results indicate, for example, the number one concern among employees is lack of flexible schedules or remote options, companies should take small, incremental steps toward building an effective program they can roll out across the organization. "Managers should be doing this as opposed to selecting the 10th, more trivial concern, like stocking up on extra toilet paper in the bathrooms. It won't fix your morale issues," she said.

Related Article: What it Takes to Create Exceptional Employee Experiences

Common Denominators in Excellent Employee Experiences

Sarah Deane, founder of San Francisco-based EffectUX said while every company works to define and foster their own culture, common patterns indicate what contributes to employees feeling positively about their experience. Engagement and productivity, which are the two goals every company is trying to achieve, comes down to having a real understanding of what makes your people feel and perform their best.

In the years since Deane started working in the employee experience domain, she has seen several patterns emerge in those that excel. "Those that foster highly engaged, high performance cultures, bring together people, technology, space and processes to operate in the best way for their employees and their business. They create and nurture a culture of learning, experimentation and continuous delivery, where people strive to excel as a team, to deliver on the business outcomes and provide a meaningful customer experience," she said. 

Several benchmarks have emerged which prospective employees look for when judging whether to join a company or not. To assess if your company is providing the top experience, check if your workplace has:

Employee Enablement

Employee enablement allows people to get their work done in the best way possible, but this takes many forms. For example, are processes effective or are they overly long and complex? Are the technology and tools implemented meeting employee needs or a checkbox on someone’s “digital transformation strategy”? Do the workspaces look nice at the expense of being able to function well for the intended task? Using design thinking in all facets of employee experience from tools and process design, to space, can help ensure that employee journeys are optimized.

Related Article: Why You Need to Map the Employee Journey

Energized Employees

Creating a positively energized environment includes understanding what motivates each individual and what makes them feel good. When employees feel they are contributing clear value, it makes them feel like more than a number, an asset, or cog in the wheel. Managers who understand what brings each of their employees a sense of purpose and meaning can help them better align roles. Ensuring strengths, passion and purpose are injected into an employee’s experience will keep them feel engaged.

Corporate Well-Being

Corporate well-being is a multi-billion-dollar industry, with a reported over 160,000 health and wellness apps available. Yet stress, disengagement and burnout seem to be at all-time highs. A foundational element to employee experience is a genuine focus on their wellbeing. This goes beyond healthful options in the cafe and access to a gym (although this is a great start), it includes their emotional and mental wellbeing as well. This includes areas such as emotional intelligence, navigating challenging moments, response systems, stress management, and resiliency.

Related Article: Avoiding Employee Burn-Out in the Always-On Workplace

Growth Opportunities

Development is a well known positive in any employee experience. However, growth includes many facets. Companies with great employee experiences go beyond standard access to training and certifications: They ensure employees are challenged in their current roles and that development extends to both professional and personal skills. These companies make growth a part of daily life by focusing on the continuous development of knowledge. And, their employees see a future at the company that aligns with their desires and needs.

None of this is possible however without actionable measurements that expedite the pace of sustained change. Companies invest millions in measuring their employee satisfaction or experience. "Sadly, many times the data is not actionable or more time and effort must be spent trying to understand the root cause behind the numbers. Starting first with what success is, then defining what this means and how it materializes, helps companies better understand how their data ecosystem and data inputs can paint a clear picture of their employee experience," Deane said.

Related Article: 9 Tips for Putting People at the Heart of Employee Experience

Experience Is More Than Perks

The employee experience is no longer just about offering competitive wages or the next best perk, Arturo Bentin, senior vice president of strategic engagement at Chester, Pa.-based Optymyze, said. This is because millennials, who according to Deloitte research will make up nearly 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, want to have a sense of purpose in the work they are doing and admire companies with supportive work cultures and ethics.

The Deloitte research also noted millennials are ambitious, focused and have an entrepreneurial spirit.

Bentin said millennials respond well to choose-your-own-adventure-type compensation plans where employers allow them to weigh risk versus reward. They have the option to choose a safe, easy to achieve plan, but yields fewer benefits, or a more challenging plan that results in a higher upside that benefits both the individual and the company. This especially resonates as millennials value work-life balance, the ability to give back to their communities, control over their choices, and personal and professional growth. 

“To motivate millennials and keep engagement high, it's critical that leaders communicate compensation plan details, clearly explain their roles and how they fit into the big picture and their purpose beyond profit,” he said.

Related Article: Go Beyond Perks to Increase Employee Engagement

Are Companies All Talk, No Action on Employee Experience?

Eric Pinckert, co-founder and managing director at San Francisco-based BrandCulture is skeptical as to how seriously enterprise leaders are taking employee experience. He pointed to the example of employee engagement.

"Employee engagement has become a reflexive buzzword, but for all the talk, the data do not bear this out. Employee engagement is dismal both in the US and internationally. According to the most recent Gallup survey, 87 percent of employees worldwide are disengaged. And employee engagement is only one component of the totality of Employee Experience, which encompasses the complete employee journey from end to end," he said.

The relationship begins at the first moment the individual entertains the possibility of becoming an employee and continues even after they separate from service and join the alumni ranks. The employee experience at BrandCulture, for example, is broken down into five key phases: Recruitment, Selection, Orientation, Development and Sustainment.

“Establishing and articulating a Shared Purpose, a singular idea to engage employees and drive customer preference, provides a common foundation to measure and map the employee journey across phases and align the actual employee experience with the envisioned possibilities,” he added.

Related Article: What Does Employee Experience Really Mean?

Take a Holistic Approach to Employee Experience

To differentiate themselves as great places to work, companies are thinking further outside the box than ever. While always-full snack closets, company game rooms, and offices that double as doggy day care are attractive perks, do they — and other efforts — truly deliver the return on the employee experience companies are looking for? Paul Warner, vice president of customer and employee experience strategy at cloud-based customer experience platform InMoment doesn't think so. He said current research and working with some of the world’s leading companies has led him to the conclusion that creating a healthy and thriving culture relies on creating a holistic employee experience that allows individuals to put their best selves into work.

“Work is part of our individual identities. Just like brands try to connect to psyches of customers - employees also are evaluating their workplaces in the same way. Where someone works, the jobs they perform, and the people they call colleagues serve as identity cues to the rest of the world,” he said.

Understanding the underlying psychological mechanisms that motivate employees to choose, stay, and advocate for their employer is a critical endeavor in becoming an employer of choice. By moving beyond fulfilling employees’ basic, utilitarian needs and building an ecosystem where who the employee is—or wants to be—integrates with what the organization offers, companies can develop an identity that actualizes employees’ higher-order needs.