What is employee experience? Guide for the future of work
Build a stronger organization with a bottom-up approach. Listen to your employees and apply their feedback to company goals and decisions to boost employee retention.
By Sarah Olson, Staff Writer, @seolson5
Last updated August 16, 2023
Creating a positive employee experience (EX) and work culture is imperative to preventing employee churn.
In recent years, workers have been calling BS on “the way it’s always been done” in favor of flexible work and healthier work-life boundaries. Businesses can expect these trends to continue, especially as millennials and Gen Z take over the workforce. These generations are highlighting areas where employers can improve, and they aren’t shy about taking action against current labor standards or publicly quitting.
The people you hire are your most valuable assets, and if you want to keep your best people from jumping ship, you must be receptive to your employees’ needs and priorities. You need to support your people, just like you support your customers, and give them a reason to feel good about working for you.
In this article, we’ll cover:
What is employee experience?
Employee experience (EX) refers to how employees feel about their job, work environment, and employer.
Practical aspects of the job—such as pay, benefits, flexibility, and PTO—are important to the employee experience. But company culture is just as important. To determine if your company is fostering a positive work culture and employee experience, ask yourself:
- Is communication generally positive and solution-oriented?
- Do employees feel safe enough that they can share feedback freely?
- Do managers respect their employees’ PTO and time off the clock?
- Do leaders provide transparency around company priorities and KPIs?
For better or worse, people need to work. The goal of employee experience is to minimize the small, daily annoyances of the workplace so it’s easier to be productive—whatever that means to you.
What factors make a good employee experience?
To provide a great employee experience, you need to offer a work environment that’s more than just okay. The employee experience consists of several factors, including:
- How leadership shows customer appreciation
- How business leaders relate to employees
- Mental well-being initiatives and support
- Freedom and safety to surface ideas and complaints
- Learning and development for career advancement
- Task completion autonomy devoid of micromanagement
- Work-life balance and the freedom to use PTO without pushback
- Sense of accomplishment and value
- Excitement for the work they do
If you aren’t prioritizing all of these, it’s more likely your employees will feel disconnected from your organization and either disengage or look elsewhere for a job. According to Statista, the most common reasons employees worldwide quit their jobs in 2022 were:
- Lack of career growth and advancement opportunities
- Inadequate compensation like pay, benefits, and perks
- Lackluster management styles
- Lack of meaningful or inspiring work
- Stressful and unsustainable work expectations
- Poor relationships with colleagues
- Not enough work and scheduling flexibility
- Little support for employee well-being
Why is employee experience important?
Employee experience is important because your employees are doing the work: They develop products and services, build customer relationships, solve business challenges, and support your back-office operations.
If you don’t treat them well, it will show up in their work. As author and keynote speaker Blake Morgan tweeted, “Customer experience is a reflection of employee experience.”
How to develop your employee experience strategy based on EX journey stages
Understand the employee journey to get ideas for bettering the work experience. The employee journey contains six steps:
Each stage comes with pain points, key touchpoints, and specific strategies. All work together to provide a positive EX as new hires progress to veteran employees and eventually leave.
Throughout the hiring process, show prospective hires that you value their time and appreciate their interest in your business from the first interaction. You never know who may join your team, and it’s important to show that you care from the get-go.
Optimize recruitment processes to create a new employee experience that leaves new hires with a positive view of your company. By prioritizing your candidate’s overall experience, you can:
- Ensure you have the best candidates in the pool of prospects
- Avoid hiring prospects that aren’t a good fit
- Build a stronger brand reputation
- Increase employee retention rates
The onboarding experience sets the foundation for future interactions throughout your working relationship. To make sure new employees start off on the right foot:
- Reiterate their job description and set goals
- Outline performance expectations
- Define career paths and opportunities for advancement
- Help them forge connections with their teammates
- Explain who they can contact for coaching, mentoring, and additional support
- Train them on key processes and business tools
During onboarding, provide a knowledge base to support new employees as they acclimate to your processes and ensure they can easily access materials.
Fast, streamlined IT support or an internal help desk will also be key to getting them up to speed with new equipment such as laptops, system access, and more.
Create opportunities for your team to learn new skills and fine-tune their old ones.
If they continue to grow within your organization, you will see a return on this investment in no time. Even if they don’t, when you educate existing employees, they tend to stick around longer, have higher job satisfaction, and can provide meaningful insights to the team.
Some development opportunities your organization may be interested in include:
- Teaching employees to use emerging software and technologies
- Providing resources on industry-related news and updates on best practices
- Bringing in guest speakers to provide insights and tips relating to their work
- Starting a skills development fund for continued employee education
Ultimately, you should promote staff based on company needs, but promotion can also be a tool to show how much you appreciate an employee’s hard work and contributions.
A change in title and compensation is a great way to reward employees, and when you highlight opportunities for advancement, it also gives other employees something to strive for.
Some benefits of promoting from within include:
- Better performance and results
- More engagement and a sense of belonging
- Less employee turnover and higher retention rates
The key to retaining employees is to provide a work environment that people want to engage with. You can do this with employee retention initiatives like:
- Creating an awesome company culture
- Ensuring workloads are sustainable
- Encouraging work-life balance
- Recognizing employees for the work they do
- Upgrading benefits and giving bonuses when you can
This is the final step in the employee lifecycle—and one you shouldn’t overlook. Keep in mind that employees may choose to resign for a number of reasons. This could be retirement, extended family or sick leave, low job satisfaction, misaligned values, or just an amazing opportunity they couldn’t pass up.
An exit interview, or even a survey, can tell you a lot about why someone chose to depart from your company. The feedback you receive can also tell you more about how current employees may be feeling and illuminate opportunities for improvement.
5 ways to improve the employee experience
Before you worry about the details, you should understand your employees—their needs, priorities, job duties, and expectations for an internal knowledge base or help desk.
A well-rounded internal help desk solution should offer:
- Help desk and help center functionalities
- Live chat and AI chatbots
- Feedback management
- Performance and analytics tracking
1. Offer fast and efficient employee support
Ensure your employees can access the resources they need without delays by simplifying workflows and processes with employee experience tools.
According to the 2022 Zendesk Employee Experience Trends Report, 68 percent of company leaders see a direct link between internal employee support and business growth. Zendesk also found that 70 percent of teams saw an increase in internal employee requests, and 86 percent believe requests will continue to trend upwards.
Since most internal teams haven’t capitalized on the capabilities of features common in customer support, such as macros (standard replies for support requests) and triggers (automated actions based on an activity or event), they rely on support tickets.
IT departments can use software like Zendesk to support internal teams—i.e., your employees. Internal help desks are also a great way to support your customer service team. You can get it right by building processes based on employee needs and responsibilities rather than catering to IT convenience or typical standards.
2. Make internal resources easy to find
Sometimes, internal knowledge is spread out across multiple tools and systems, making it hard to answer even the simplest questions, like “When can I change my health insurance election?” or “Is President’s Day a company holiday?”
Save your employees from going down a rabbit hole and consolidate internal resources like FAQs, employee handbooks, and benefits information in one place where they’re easy to find.
You can make it simple for employees to find the information they’re looking for by:
- Creating conversational experiences
- Offering relevant channels
- Sharing personalized and contextual information
- Offering a user-friendly agent workspace
You should also include contact information for the internal customer service desk in your onboarding program. Additionally, managers should know where to direct employees if they need help with a specific issue.
Another thing to think about is how your internal support accommodates in-person and remote employees. Remote employees might appreciate having text or chat support that they can access from anywhere, while in-person employees may be more inclined to pick up the phone.
3. Provide learning and professional development opportunities
Don’t let your employees get so caught up in the daily grind that they don’t have time for professional development opportunities, like taking a class or attending a conference. These opportunities are not just nice to have; they can also be a much-needed spark of inspiration.
Boredom, if left unaddressed, can lead to burnout. Below, burnout recovery coach Emily Ballesteros explains the different types of burnout and what you can do to address burnout from career boredom.
Consider development funds for employees where they can get funding to attend professional conferences or enroll in online classes. If money is tight, you could consider allowing your team to spend one hour per week on free or low-cost professional development activities like:
- Watching videos
- Listening to podcasts
- Reading industry-related articles
- Completing a LinkedIn Learning or free online course
4. Outline clear pathways for promotions and advancement
A common pain point for employees is not knowing how to get a promotion. Career advancement can be murky, making some feel like managers made decisions based on popularity or clout versus demonstrated skills.
Without clear pathways for advancement, employees may be more inclined to look at opportunities outside the company where they advance and receive a significant pay bump.
Base promotions on a career pathing framework and whether the person has demonstrated the skills and experience required for the role. Managers should prompt their employees to identify their goals and develop a plan to gain the skills necessary to advance to the next level, giving feedback along the way to ensure they are on track to achieve milestones.
5. Request feedback from employees often
You shouldn’t just ask your employees for their opinion once a year—or worse, only during their exit interviews. Asking for feedback frequently ensures you’re always on top of issues and can provide solutions that keep your employees happy and service levels high.
Feedback should be part of your standard operating procedure. It’s also smart to implement an open-door policy regarding feedback. You shouldn’t have to wait for the next performance review cycle to share feedback with an employee and vice versa.
Another important part of employee feedback is psychological safety. If you want your employees to share their honest (and sometimes brutal) feedback with you, they need to feel safe and they won’t face retribution for speaking up.
Wharton psychology professor and business guru Adam Grant has some good advice on creating psychological safety in the workplace.
How to use Zendesk for employee experience
Learn how your team can use the Zendesk employee experience platform to provide better internal support with less hassle and create more engaged employees.
Types of employee experience surveys
You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Employee experience can be somewhat subjective, but the good news is there are a lot of different tools you can use to assess the employee experience: surveys, sentiment analysis, focus groups, and qualitative feedback, to name a few.
Surveys are maybe the most obvious, but they aren’t one-size-fits-all. Here are a few different ways you can use surveys to better understand how your employees feel.
Employee engagement surveys
Administer employee engagement surveys using tools like Qualtrics or Glint. In these types of agent satisfaction surveys, you’ll most likely ask employees to give a quantitative assessment of their experience, such as asking how satisfied they are on a scale from 1 to 5. This will help you see company-wide trends and pinpoint problem areas that may require more attention.
Considering answers get relegated to a ranking system, it’s best to ask simple, emotion-based questions like:
- Do you think the deadlines on your most recent project were attainable?
- How likely are you to recommend working here to someone in your network?
- Do you enjoy working here?
- Do you connect with our organization’s values?
You can use either a numbers-based rating system or provide a scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”
Support satisfaction surveys
Tools like Zendesk allow you to automatically send satisfaction surveys to employees after they’ve used your help desk or read a help center article. These surveys allow you to assess the helpfulness of your internal services, and if you receive any negative feedback, you can identify the area(s) in need of improvement.
Use this opportunity to gauge how well internal resources and help desks meet employee needs. Ask questions like:
- Are there any resources that you needed and were unable to find?
- How was your experience navigating the knowledge base?
- Did the help desk agents help you resolve your needs?
You can use apps like Polly to administer short, focused surveys to different groups of employees. For example, you may send a Polly survey following a company meeting or event to ask participants what they thought of the experience.
Temperature checks capture feedback when it’s most timely and actionable. These can include questions like:
- Are all of your current projects in scope?
- Are you on track to make your sales goals?
- Do you need help reprioritizing any tasks?
- Are you anticipating any customer issues or pushback this week?
- Are any sales or service tasks taking longer than expected?
Sentiment and behavioral surveys
You can use employee experience software to identify patterns like what types of questions employees ask and internal resource utilization. For example, you can review ticket data in Zendesk to find frequently asked questions that may require more education or training.
However, you’ll need to survey employees to get to the bottom of how they feel about various occurrences at work. To better understand your employees’ mental, emotional, and physical well-being, ask questions like:
- What work-related factors contribute most to your stress levels?
- What part of your job do you enjoy most?
- Is there anything we can do to better support your mental health?
- What software or process inefficiencies cause frustrations?
Personal, long-form responses can add value as employees describe their experiences in their own words. Qualitative responses provide context that quantitative surveys simply can’t. Both types of surveys are valuable, but pay close attention to any written responses you receive and take action when applicable.
You can use open-ended survey questions to boost survey response rates and better understand the EX at your company. Here are examples of questions you can ask:
- What do you like most about our company?
- What do you dislike about our company?
- Is there anything we can do to help improve productivity or performance?
- Have you noticed any communication roadblocks among your team?
Your employees’ contributions don’t have to end when they put in their two weeks’ notice.
As we mentioned earlier, when people are ready to leave a job, they’re typically more willing to provide candid insights into your work culture—and their feedback can help you make necessary changes to support the people who are still on your team.
You can ask offboarding employees a series of thought-provoking questions about their experiences with your company during their exit interview or via email. While you may not always love what you hear, they can provide a lot of great information if you know what questions to ask.
To get to the bottom of an employee’s reasons for leaving, try asking some of these questions:
- Can you tell me why you’re leaving this job?
- Why did you decide to start looking for another job?
- Is there anything we could have done differently to provide a more positive experience for you?
- Is there anything we could have done/can do to keep you on?
- If you could change anything about your role, what would it be?
- Do you feel that your training and onboarding were sufficient?
- What was your favorite part of working here?
- Did you feel appreciated and supported by management?
To ensure you get the most useful insights, assure the interviewee that their answers are confidential and that you genuinely care about their opinions.
Benefits of employee experience excellence
A positive employee experience can bolster productivity, increase retention, and boost performance. Often, when a business invests in its work culture, it also improves customer satisfaction because, without undue stress, employees can do their best work.
Focusing on providing a good EX can:
- Reduce employee turnover costs
- Increase employee retention
- Boost lead generation
- Improve the customer experience
Reduce employee turnover costs
Research by CultureAmp shows that the cost to replace someone can range from 30 to 200 percent of their salary. But it’s more than just money. New hires need time to get up to speed, and some say it takes up to a year before a new employee gets fully established, which can hurt your bottom line.
Here are some expenses you can avoid by keeping existing employees on:
- Recruitment costs: Commissions can be as high as 30% of your new employee’s first-year salary
- Background checks: $10 to $100+
- Employee referral bonuses: $1,000+
- Onboarding: $1,000+
- Training: $700+
Retain good employees
Employee retention should always be a top priority for businesses, but in the wake of the Great Resignation following the pandemic, companies need their long-term employees to stay. Aside from losing valuable top talent, finding employees who are a good fit for your company and hiring them can be time-consuming.
Once you add up all the expenses, businesses can expect to spend up to as much as three times a new hire’s annual salary to cover hiring costs.
Joblist found that 1 in 4 bosses personally begged their tenured employees to stay upon receiving their resignation. These internal experts are extremely valuable, so foster a work environment where they feel appreciated and supported. Not only does it speak to the type of business you’re running, but keeping employees can also help you save a lot of money on recruitment and onboarding.
Generate leads from employee advocacy
Employee advocacy on LinkedIn and other social media networking sites could be why job candidates, or even potential customers, discover your company.
Ensure that when your employees talk about you, they have something good to say. Happy employees can have a direct impact on sales because:
- When an employee is dialed into your company and believes in your product or service, they can make prospective customers believe in it, too.
- They provide better customer service and tend to identify more opportunities to upsell and cross-sell, boosting profitability.
- They stick around longer and foster strong relationships with customers.
Improve the customer experience (CX)
Keep your team happy, in the loop, and productive to maximize employee retention and business results. Investing in your employees often results in better work and customer service, giving you a competitive advantage. Satisfied, engaged employees are also more likely to see and capitalize on sales and support opportunities like:
- Social listening
- Personalized live chat support
- Upselling and cross-selling
Employee experience examples (problems and solutions)
Now, let’s take a look at some common problems companies experience that cause employees to quit and how you can resolve them.
Poor communication in the workplace can easily lead to misunderstandings, frustration, confusion, and employee churn. Set communication expectations and boundaries such as working hours, who to talk to within your organization, expected response times based on channels, and more. You can also use a communication integration like Slack to streamline communications.
A unified customer view also helps multiple departments come together to maximize success. If a customer submits a support ticket and the agent sees that they could benefit from upgrading their current package, they can easily share that data with sales to help meet business objectives.
For example, Instacart, a popular same-day grocery delivery service, relies on the ability to review complete and accurate customer context. The organization handles more than 175,000 support tickets each month across six teams, so it’s essential to have a support software that offers a unified customer view. Using Zendesk, Instacart was able to craft a personalized support experience and ensure its shoppers have the data they need to complete their job efficiently.
Inefficient work processes and tools
Help your team save time by documenting key processes and providing answers to commonly asked questions.
You can use AI and self-service resources to make the employee experience as convenient as you do for your customers. Speed up recurring tasks with automations, and use AI to determine when a staff member needs additional support from your internal help desk.
Employees can also use a knowledge base to find solutions independently. For example, they can use it to get answers to questions like:
- How can I reset my password?
- Can you help me remove a virus from my laptop?
- Why can’t I access my W-2?
Workrise, a business specializing in workforce management and vendor solutions, transformed its customer experience by customizing internal systems with Zendesk, which ultimately helped its team provide outstanding service. By training staff members to make the most of the support software and introducing cutting-edge automations with triggers and macros, the company perfected workflows across 18 teams.
Forty percent of employees quit their jobs due to burnout in 2021, and as many as 28 percent were so unhappy that they resigned before finding another job.
Sales and support are two fast-paced roles, and it’s easy for agents to burn out, especially if they’re dealing with rejections or upset customers. These feelings can be further exacerbated by remote work and negatively impact the employee experience.
logging off for the day after sending a single email pic.twitter.com/uCa4u6Rnnc
— Morning Brew ☕️ (@MorningBrew) July 5, 2022
Use the Zendesk dashboard to pull reports and get clear insights into support ticket volume, average close times, and other key metrics. If you see that your team is being bombarded with support requests and has no room to breathe, it signals that you need to make some adjustments to help prevent burnout.
- Use AI to deflect high-volume inbound support tickets
- Create a knowledge base to help agents find key information faster
- Offer human-centric support channels like Slack and Zoom so agents can get support from their team
Limited career-growth advancements
While you should make it a priority to reward exemplary performance by giving raises and promotions, it can sometimes be hard to know when to make that call.
Use Zendesk to review analytics and assess performance to determine if it makes financial sense to make any changes.
Also, when you hire a new employee, outline career paths and benchmarks so they know what it takes to move to the next level within your company. You can also use metrics to see if they’re meeting those expectations.
Some employee performance metrics you may want to keep an eye on include:
- Average time to resolution
- Customer satisfaction
- Deals won
If you notice that an employee isn’t meeting their targets, you can use this data to understand where your organization is falling short and how you can better support them to ensure they meet their goals.
Prioritize your people
If you’re only aiming for employee satisfaction, you may be missing the mark. Just because your employees work a hybrid schedule, receive fair compensation, and have a sweet benefits package, doesn’t mean they’re content with their job. Make employee engagement a priority to help spark enthusiasm for their daily tasks and encourage them to take an active role in your organization.
Ensure you equip your team with the tools, resources, and support they need to be successful and feel empowered to do their job every day. Use Zendesk to map internal workflows, integrate with powerhouse applications, and introduce a truly rewarding EX.
You need your employees to be on your side if you want to deliver exceptional customer experiences, innovate new and better solutions to problems, and build loyalty with your customer base.
Good EX is the foundation of good CX, and you need both to compete and thrive during turbulent times.
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