Make the employee experience a business priority

Putting an organization’s people first is the first step towards attracting and retaining talent and, crucially, to outperforming the competition.

Published ·May 23, 2022

Reading time·5 min

The ultimate aim of any brand is to turn potential customers into repeat customers and repeat customers into loyal customers, so that they become advocates for that organization’s products or services.

Today, organizations recognize that the route to advocacy is customer experience. Yet what some companies fail to grasp is that it’s not possible to deliver a consistent and consistently positive customer experience without a workforce that is loyal to their organizations.

Just as with the customer base, to succeed in a consumer-facing business sector, an organization’s workforce, whether in house or provided by an outsourcer, has to believe not only in goods or services but also in the brand itself — its values and business culture.

Therefore, delivering a customer experience that aligns with expectations regarding a brand promise begins by delivering a consistent and consistently positive employee experience.

But what exactly is the employee experience and how can organizations harness it to ensure long-term success?

What is the employee experience?

Just like the customer experience, the employee experience is cumulative, comprehensive and builds over time. It should be considered as the perceptions, observations and sentiment an employee has towards their employer, starting with the interview process and continuing across each step of the employee journey.

To some organizations — particularly those that have focused on financial remuneration as the primary means of attracting and retaining talent — the employee experience might seem like a new concept that has come to the forefront based on the events of the past two years.

Why is employee experience important for organizations?

Employee experience started gaining momentum in the early 1990s when, thanks to the economic downturn, organizations that had taken a financial hit and were unable to offer pay increases as enticement or for retention purposes were forced to think outside the box. In doing so, they moved their focus to benefits packages, such as flexible working hours, gym memberships or better access to training and development.

Recent events have highlighted a direct correlation between providing employee support and improved productivity. This, in turn, has forced many organizations to reevaluate their existing approach to and understanding of employee experience.

Employers considered as employee experience leaders saw a 21% increase in top performers within their organization. Even pre-pandemic, organizations where 80% of employees said they felt their job was important and valued enjoyed an average 51% reduction in absenteeism and a 21% improvement in quality.

Why the definition of employee experience is changing

At the same time, employees are also in a reflective mood. Two years ago, 43% of U.S. adults would have been prepared to quit their current position for a near identical role at another organization for nothing more than a 10% pay increase, regardless of that company’s culture or approach to management. Financial security and a salary representative of their role are still important. But for most people, whether an employee experience is perceived as positive or negative is now just as likely to be formed by work-life balance, health and wellbeing, the physical space in which they work — whether in office or at home — how engaging and appreciated the role is, and the organization’s overarching culture and values.

This shift in perspective is one of the driving forces behind what commentators and analysts have dubbed the Great Resignation. In April 2020, just 1.8 million Americans quit their jobs. This decreased from the normal average of 3.5 million a month. However, as the U.S. economy has reopened, these numbers have risen to record levels, surpassing 4 million in August and continuing to hover just above the 4 million mark every month since.

People are reassessing their personal and professional priorities. When asked to cite their top reasons for quitting their job in 2021, 63% of Americans listed a lack of opportunities for advancement as a reason and 57% pointed to feeling disrespected at work. This contraction of the available labor pool is why starting salaries and signing bonuses, even for the most mundane and repetitive of roles, have hit an all-time high in an attempt to attract new hires.

The employee experience is the customer experience

The employee experience is fundamental to the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. The leading organizations within the sector understand that their people are their greatest point of differentiation and their most important asset. Outsourcers that have focused on employee experience as their primary means of improving the customer experience have seen greater levels of retention, lower rates of absenteeism and increased productivity.

Advances in technology, particularly around artificial intelligence and automation, will, over time, displace certain roles and even professions. However, what the march of technology won’t do is walk all over people. On the contrary, such innovations are actually elevating the human aspect of work, and making individuals with a high degree of empathy and emotional intelligence as valuable to enterprises as data analysts and software developers.

The best BPO organizations are at the vanguard of this technological revolution. However, they are also at the cutting edge of understanding and decoding customer behavior and expectations.

Even if 86% of consumers, globally expect an organization to offer self-service as part of their customer experience and only 30% of consumers aren’t interested in using a chatbot to resolve simple issues, 87% of consumers want to speak directly to a person when they have a critical issue.

And of course, in such a moment of truth, a customer’s expectation is for an issue resolved on an emotional as well as objective level.

Why culture and technology are key to a positive employee experience

As part of a comprehensive approach to improving or optimizing the employee experience, the role of technology should be to empower people to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, not to replace their jobs. Likewise, as well as for eliminating the mundane and repetitive aspects of roles, technology and tools should be leveraged to simply communicate and collaborate and as a means to providing access to continued learning and development.

However, without a business culture that enables and recognizes the importance of people, any attempt to elevate the employee experience will ultimately fail to meet its objectives.

The best business cultures value innovation, inclusivity, respect, celebrate workers’ achievements, facilitate communication and connection and, increasingly, understand the importance of flexibility and work-life balance.

And without the right blend of culture and technology, organizations will fail to reap the benefits. Businesses that are considered employee experience leaders enjoy three times the return on assets than their peers and a 16% return on sales (operating profit margin). Meanwhile, those without a clear employee experience strategy report an 8% return on sales.

The best and the brightest employees already recognize that they are an organization’s most important asset. It’s time for businesses to share this view.