An Essential Guide to Employee Experience: Where We’ve Been and Where Your Business Should Be Today

October 22, 2019 - Written by Albert Eloyan

Imagine your parents at work 30 to 50 years ago. What did the workplace look like then? What does your workplace look like now? 

From recruiting and onboarding through to your final day in the office, the employee experience encompasses everything you encounter and observe at work, and that experience has changed wildly over the last decades. In the last five years especially, rapidly evolving technology has accelerated the speed of change to a breakneck pace. 

Today, employees seek meaningful work, transparent leadership, technology that empowers efficiency, and organizations that encourage and recognize creativity, learning, and collaboration. Companies who instead remain stuck in the ways of yesterday will never be able to maximize the potential of their employees, let alone stand a chance in the raging war for top talent.

The Workplace of YesterdayWorkplace of Yesterday.png

Command and Control

For past generations, the workplace was defined by hierarchy and structure. Leaders were automatically and unquestioningly respected, regardless of whether they had earned it. As an employee, you did as you were told, given no reason to think your voice mattered to executives or that you had any say in important decisions. 

A Walled Garden

While today the open office dominates, leadership was once literally walled off, hidden in offices on upper floors where average employees rarely ventured. In those environments, knowledge about an organization’s inner workings and challenges were held by a select few. Even interactions with your direct managers were limited, and feedback was a one-way street reserved for annual reviews. Employees simply didn’t expect it to be any other way. This was the world before the internet, when news travelled slow, and there was no precedent for the open, constant stream of communication and information we’re immersed in today.

In-Person and On Paper

Getting work done meant being in the office from 9 to 5. Most meetings were in-person, with an occasional phone call mixed in. You didn’t telecommute or have weekly video calls to check in with your team around the world. Technologically, it wasn’t an option, and employees wouldn’t have been trusted to work outside the office anyway. 

Likewise, every task or request required paper. Employees slogged through long, complicated forms and waited forever while one higher-up after another signed off. Still, you accepted it. What else could you do?

Individual Specialties

In the heyday of baby boomers, almost every employee had one specialization that they worked on individually. They generally focused on clearly defined tasks that required little to no use or exploration of knowledge from outside their discipline. Even when working on a team, each team member completed tasks on their own rather than in collaboration with the group.

Every day, employees repeated similar tasks, aiming to eventually climb the ranks so they could receive slightly more complex assignments for slightly higher pay. In hopes of advancing, they spent time deepening expertise in one area rather than branching out into related work. Switching companies was also less common, similar in spirit to the salaryman notion popular in Japan, in which loyal employees devote their lives to working for monolithic organizations.

The Employee Experience of TomorrowEmployee Experience of Tomorrow.png

Inspire and Engage

Today, people want to do mission-driven work that matters in a company culture they enjoy. Employees want to make an impact in their company and on the world. They search for employers with a strong, clearly demonstrated purpose and guiding values. They want managers and teams who support their goals, growth, and ideas and recognize and celebrate their contributions. When all this comes together, companies have happier, more engaged, and more motivated employees who drive higher profitability and stick around longer.

Open Offices

Those who grew up with the internet and social media have a new standard for how leadership should communicate. They call for leaders whose offices are literally and figuratively open—leaders who seek input and feedback and who earn trust through authenticity in words and actions. They count on leaders and managers to provide regular updates on industry and company changes and to make time for questions and discussion. Likewise, employees expect that feedback will be an ongoing open conversation that occurs in real-time as tasks are completed and progress made. At every level, transparency and communication is essential in today’s workplace.

Digital Workplaces

Technology makes nearly everything run smoother and faster, helping employees and leaders be more effective at their jobs. New tech exists for simplifying and improving onboarding, performance reviews, employee surveys, recognition and rewards—you name it, you can find it. Behind all this tech is also the data to explore what’s working (and what’s not!) and make smart improvements for the success of organizations, teams, and even individuals.

At the same time, online communication tools are allowing massive numbers of people to work partially or entirely outside the outside. While many people appreciate the flexibility of working from home, remote workers can easily begin to feel lonely and disconnected, so the best employers invest time and energy into engaging and recognizing their remote workforce.

Collaborative Creativity

The emergence of the creative workplace is the trend that has most heavily shaped the employee experience in the last decade. Innovation is no longer a competitive advantage; it is a necessity. With employers realizing that cross-disciplinary collaboration is vital to creativity and innovation, office spaces (physical and virtual) are now built to foster conversations between people of diverse experiences, backgrounds, and opinions. 

As companies battle for the best talent, employees move freely around industries and organizations to discover their strengths, likes, and dislikes. Experimenting and learning new things is encouraged, and mistakes are accepted as part of the creative process. As a result, many employees gain expertise that is more broad than specialized —which is actually a good thing for employers according to the best-selling book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. People with varied knowledge and experiences are more nimble, agile, and better prepared to lead and solve problems by connecting the dots across disciplines in ways extreme specialists can’t.

Optimizing Your Employee Experience for the Evolving Workforce

The employee experience you provide matters. Today’s employees are more mobile than ever and they’re looking for an employer whose mission and culture aligns with their own values, goals, and principles. They want transparency, communication, and flexibility. They expect to be given the tools to do their job efficiently and the room to experiment, grow, and collaborate with others at every level and in every discipline across the company. 

When you provide this essential experience, you’ll retain employees longer and see a surge in motivation and creativity. If you ignore these expectations, your employees will have no trouble moving on to the next company, and you’ll be stuck spending time and money on the frustrating search for a qualified replacement.

It’s not just our word either. Research backs us up, with a recent study showing that companies who most heavily invest in the employee experience (including cultural, technological, and physical environments) see more than 4 times the average profit and more than 2 times the average revenue of all companies. These same companies are also nearly 25% smaller, suggesting that they have higher employee productivity and innovation.

At Surprise HR, we can help you gain an employee experience advantage over your competitors by making employee recognition the very best it can be. With our platform, you can celebrate employees who innovate and experiment, recognize employee growth and progress as it happens, collect employee feedback, and make drastic improvements in creating a more engaged workforce that will keep driving your business forward into the future.

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