The terms employee engagement and employee experience are often interchanged but there are major differences between the two even if those differences are subtle. Employee experience is largely one way. It is about the company providing the employee with an environment and systems that meets their need for comfort and efficiency. Employee engagement, on the other hand, is an element of employee experience and is more focused on building a two-way communication between management and the employee.

To determine the role of employee experience in the recruitment, retention and productivity of workers Globoforce's WorkHuman Analytics and Research Institute and IBM's Smarter Workforce Institute carried out research to determine the impact of a positive employee experience on employee engagement and retention. The Employee Experience Index (Registration Required) surveyed more than 22,000 workers in 43 countries and from that identified the six workplace practices that are critical to creating a positive employee experience. Those practices include:

  •  Organizational Trust
  • Co-Worker Relationships
  •  Meaningful Work
  •  Feedback and Growth
  • Empowerment and Voice
  • Work-Life Balance

As we have seen, before, employee engagement is largely focused on the workplace, productivity and enabling workers to do their job and achieve business goals. Experience however, is wider and encompasses not just work, but the worker as a human being as well. Employee experience, the Globoforce study shows, is not just about feeling good at work its about creating holistic experiences in the workplace

It is important to get this right. The findings from the study reveal that organizations that deliver a positive employee experience through human workplace practices like recognition, empowerment, and feedback see a significant impact on return on assets and return on sales. To realize this superior productivity, it important that managers understand the difference between experience and engagement.

While the concept of employee experience is gaining mainstream popularity, it is clearly causing confusion. In the past five years, Google searches for the term “employee experience” have increased 130 percent while validated measures of employee experience have been in short supply.

Related Article: Tips for Improving Employee Engagement

What Does Employee Experience Mean?

The rise of the elusive term employee experience both revolutionized and confused the human resources sector in 2017, according to Amanda Ponzar, career advisor and hiring manager at Alexandria, Va.-based Community Health Charities. Many HR professionals scrambled to find a way to understand and quantify the important new industry measure. Conversely, other HR experts were quick to discredit the term, deeming it a dressed-up version of employee engagement created by millennials to justify more ping pong tables at their office. “Many HR professionals such as myself were left wondering if we should follow AirBnB’s lead and appoint a Global Head of Employee Experience or continue to focus our efforts on improving employee engagement. After further research, I understood that employee engagement is one of the naturally occurring benefits of creating a positive employee experience,” she said.

To begin, she said, employee experience refers to an employee’s personal perception of the company they work for. This perception is an aggregate of how an employee interprets their various interactions with the company — from business practices to work environment. The holistic measure takes each employee’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about their experience working for the company into consideration.

A company interested in enhancing their employee experience should focus on improving the overall quality of life of their employees. Many companies get this confused with offering additional benefits, enticing perks, and other “feel good” initiatives in hopes of increasing their employee engagement levels. “Unfortunately, these superficial motivators often have little to no effect on an employee's engagement level. Conversely, companies that successfully improve their overall employee experience will be rewarded with highly engaged employees,” she said.

Technically, employee engagement is how engaged an employee is at work-how involved and active they are in their job and workplace; companies often take steps to deepen engagement through giving and volunteer programs, teamwork building, culture and community building. Employee experience is the entire experience an employee has at work — from experiencing a long commute to the office and having a hard time finding parking, to a crowded cafeteria without vegetarian options, to knowing who to contact to resolve a benefits or work issue, to having the right equipment, tools and technology to do their job, to the entire environment and office space around them, and more. 

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: 9 Employee Engagement Survey Questions to Ask

Employee Engagement vs Employee Experience

We should look at these as two different perspectives on the same thing: employee experience refers to how your team experiences you as a company, while engagement often refers to how employers experience the team — are people productive, do they recommend the company, and how long they’d work there? Engagement data is often focused on measuring the ROI of employee practices — are you happy with what we’re doing?

"Engagement and the employee experience are different, yet related constructs,” Lisa Barrington of Phoenix, Ariz.-based Barrington Coaching pointed out. For practical purposes, the employee experience is the totality of experiences one has during the recruitment, employment, and post-employment phases of a job. This includes the interactions with others, the policies, procedures, and processes one faces, the culture of the organization, the total rewards (pay, benefits), the physical environment, and the job itself. The totality of all these factors large and small create an experience that ultimately influences the level of engagement an employee feels toward their employer.

Employee engagement includes an employee's psychological involvement in their job and tasks, the connection they feel to their colleagues and leaders, and the resulting commitment they have toward the organization. Highly engaged employees are typically characterized as having a positive effect, high energy, and will display discretionary effort.

Create Experiences From Employees Standpoint

Cameron Smith is senior global director of product management for workforce engagement at Daly City, Calif.-based Genesys, shared his thoughts on the causes of disengagement.

  • Lack of understanding of, or connection to, the core mission and values of the company
  • Lack of feedback and direction from the team manager, or just overall poor communication between the employee and manager
  • Feeling underappreciated for the employee’s individual efforts
  • Lack of good rapport with teammates
  • An incomplete onboarding process

Final Thoughts

Employee experience is the totality of all the perceptions and experiences that employees go through while working at a company. It is an employee-centric and bottom-up approach where employers design their workflow and processes around their employees to better their day-to-day and overall experiences. Employee engagement is all about short-term cosmetic changes (i.e. one-off engagement activities,) employee experience encompasses the entire reality of what it's like to work at an organization. Both are equally important but to really develop a strategy that encompasses both it is important to understand both and how they impact on work and the organization globally.