Caroline Walsh, vice president in the Gartner HR practice, leads a team whose qualitative and quantitative research looks into the top challenges facing today's HR leaders and the best practices that make HR teams more effective. In this interaction, she discusses some of the insights from her team's work on employee experience and how these apply in practice.
Here are the excerpts of the interview:
Why has employee experience become a top priority for business leaders across the world? Has it not been always about customer experience?
Employee experience is hugely important for organizations, in part because of all organizations have done to improve customer experience. We now see employees expecting consumer-level experiences from their work. Moreover, when they are dissatisfied, employees are more likely than ever to complain publicly, with 45 percent of employees likely to share negative work experiences publicly.
We also know that a good employee experience has real impact on both talent and business outcomes. Employees who are fully satisfied with their experience are 60 percent more likely to report high intent to stay and 69 percent more likely to be a high performer, compared with those with an average level of satisfaction. Organizations whose employees are fully satisfied with their experience are 48 percent more likely to meet organization customer satisfaction goals and 89 percent more likely to meet organizational innovation goals, compared with those organizations with an average level of employee experience satisfaction.
Today, as organizations across the globe figure out how to move their workforces remote, the employee experience is changing dramatically—and will likely continue to be changed after the pandemic. Understanding and managing the employee experience will only continue to grow in importance.
Where do most organizations sit on the employee experience maturity curve? How does it vary across markets?
Most organizations have made initial ad hoc investments in the employee experience and are measuring how employees respond to those investments. These organizations now are moving to what we consider the “developing” employee experience maturity which entails HR leaders investing in employee listening techniques to identify and design HR experiences that matter most to employees. This is great place for organizations to be starting! This is still what we consider an investment approach that focuses on selecting the right experiences from the employee perspective. We find that this approach also mostly focuses on HR experiences rather than all potential experiences an employee could have at work. Most organizations have yet to consider how to improve employees’ experiences with other functions across the organization or how to shape employees’ perception of the experience investments that have already been made.
We typically see similar trends across markets. However, the types of investments being made vary based on market. For example, we definitely see technology organizations and startups as some of the first movers with new investments in the employee experience because of the tighter talent market in which they are competing.
What makes employee experience a top consideration for business leaders?
It's not that organizations are failing across the board to provide the best employee experience—it’s that employees’ expectations have grown, and continue to grow, so it becomes harder and harder for organizations to actually meet employee expectations. In fact, organizations are investing heavily—our conservative estimate is that organizations spend an average of US$2,420 per employee on the employee experience. But with each investment, employees’ expectations rise, necessitating still more investments. Instead of simply investing in the employee experience, our research finds that organizations should shape how employees feel about their experience—an approach that focuses on improving and influencing employees’ perceptions of their experience. Organizations pursuing a “shaping” approach to the employee experience will improve employees’ experience satisfaction by 32 percent--and will spend 32 percent less—each year relative to organizations using an investment-focused approach.
How can CHROs and other HR leaders create and execute a holistic employee experience strategy that drives both employee and organizational outcomes?
We know that employee experience is directly linked with both talent and business outcomes, as mentioned above. We know that the best way to improve employee experience satisfaction is through pursuing a “shaping” approach. Shaping is a more comprehensive, holistic approach to understanding and managing what influences employees’ perceptions of their experience over time. CHROs and HR leaders can drive a shaping approach by ensuring employees understand the intended value of employee experience investments and sustaining positive feelings over time through a broad focus on what drives long-term employee perceptions of their experience.
What are some of the biggest pitfalls you see organizations making when executing their employee experience strategy?
One key pitfall is being overly focused on investments alone. Organizations today are often concerned with where they need to invest to improve the employee experience. Investments are important, but as above, we’ve found that organizations are already investing heavily. Instead, organizations should also focus on shaping the employee experience.
Another pitfall is going it alone. The employee experience may report through HR, but it is a cross-function issue. HR leaders must work across the organization to manage the experience.