People often think about the employee experience, or EX, when there is an immediate problem to solve; perhaps there is a crisis like a global pandemic, war, recession, or a shift in culture. As well, organizational changes like acquisitions, mergers, layoffs, or team restructuring all represent potential for rethinking the employee experience. While disruptive circumstances call for a reevaluation, we know that experience occurs outside major events, and any consideration toward improving the employee experience needs to factor in all aspects—the big disruptions as well as minor daily interactions.
Companies can tap into principles, thinking, and tools that drive engagement and growth by more closely integrating those responsible for the employee experience with those in charge of user experience. Common user experience research methods and tools like personas and journey mapping can be leveraged to assess employee experience. By viewing the employee experience through a UX research and design lens, companies can constantly gather meaningful data to learn and make ongoing, iterative improvements to the entire working experience that can significantly impact employee’s lives and overall business performance.
Understanding the Opportunities
As Caroline Criado Perez writes in her book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, “It’s not always easy to convince someone a need exists, if they don’t have that need themselves.” Managers’ experiences are often very different from those of the people they manage. With hybrid and remote work, managers may not be privy to challenges that are experienced by their workers. According to Deloitte, when asked about employees’ mental, physical, social, and financial health, executives vastly overestimated how employees are doing. When asked about mental wellbeing, 84% of executives said that employees were good or excellent versus 59% of employees who self-reported the same. Financial wellbeing also shows a substantial discrepancy with 81% of the C-suite assessing employees’ financial situations as positive versus 40% of employees feeling the same.
Though this divide may not be intentional, it does highlight the need for research that illustrates a complete picture. Transparency of data with managers will help them understand and align their efforts with the needs of their teams. Because many recent reports during the pandemic show the growing gap between the experiences of executives and employees, it has become essential to uncover the intricacies of employees and their unique working experiences.
Common human resources tactics for collecting feedback are helpful but might not accurately capture all data. Exit interviews, for instance, aim to understand why an employee is leaving the company. These interviews can help highlight significant management or team issues. Still, they also may be introducing a peak-end bias into the data. The peak-end bias is a cognitive bias that affects the perception of an experience based on the most intense moment, or peak, and the end. Although this bias can identify moments of extreme emotion, it may inaccurately shape an employee’s perspective, causing a loss of insight about the experience as a whole.
Outside of exit interviews, you should seek to understand, measure, and benchmark the experience so that you can work to improve it. Especially as the employee lifecycle has changed, employees may not be exiting your company in the same ways. In a good economy, employees move seamlessly between companies and positions. During the pandemic and worsening economy, people may feel stuck, apathetic, or downright unhappy, but remain in their positions regardless.
In 2019, 74% of employees reported feeling energized at work versus 63% in 2022 according to Mercer™. Upon analysis of the disaggregated data, women are even less energized than that. Employees reporting the risk of burnout increased from 63% in 2019 to 81% in 2022. With the upward trend of burnout and quiet quitting, or doing the minimum of work acceptable to maintain a job, capturing outside data and deepening understanding becomes vital to prevent corporate culture decline for everyone.
Closing the gap between those responsible for the employee experience and the user experience team empowers companies to tap into accepted user experience principles and research methods that can help develop a more accurate and detailed perspective. This collaboration can also shift the perspective from problem solving to problem seeking. When approaching optimizations to the employee experience through the lens of a specific problem to solve, the risk is overlooking other contributing factors and missing out on opportunities for enhancement in broader terms.
Research and Data Collection
As user experience designers, we have the skills to uncover the most important data and understand how it could be used to evolve experience. We accept these challenges daily. Combining empathy with data and putting the employee at the center of this process can help structure your thinking and uncover actionable insights.
First, understand any available data and look for opportunities to capture missing or additional information. Conducting the proper research (at the right time) will provide a greater understanding of the working experience. Employee research should occur in a few different forms.
Employee interviews can help in gathering in-depth information through conversation. Focus groups are another way to capture attitudinal information and better understand team sentiment. Moderate a group of six to nine employees and ask open-ended questions. Both employee interviews and focus groups can provide excellent qualitative data. These interviews can help uncover outdated processes, time sinks, and other daily friction points frustrating your employees.
Surveys can be employed to gather quantitative data on your employees. While it is essential to develop questions thoughtfully to prevent ambiguity and skewed data, collecting and interpreting a large amount of data can happen quickly. Surveys also have the benefit of anonymity. This encourages the participation of employees who may be uncomfortable in an interview or focus group. Use surveys to gather information on job satisfaction, opportunities for career growth, management, and company culture. Add open-ended questions at the end of your survey to collect additional feedback.
Pulse surveys, or short, frequent surveys, can help capture sentiment quickly. Pulse surveys should ask the same 10-15 questions and be distributed regularly. The questions in your pulse survey should focus on employee happiness, wellbeing, purpose at work, and any challenges getting in the way of achieving goals. This data creates a baseline and will help you understand if your employee-focused efforts are working over time.
Employee interviews, surveys, or focus groups are research methods that can provide valuable insights into their experiences. These methods should be used frequently and outside review cycles and more extensive corporate strategy discussions. Changes to the employee experience should be iterative and informed by data, not based on assumptions. As in product development, it’s critical to understand the audience and provide a foundation for the decisions you make in the subsequent phases of optimizing your team experience.
Long accepted in product development and marketing, personas should be developed for employees. Crafting employee personas can bring to life segments of your company and help the team better understand psychographics that motivate behavior. Personas also help frame conversations around employees’ needs and goals versus those of the business.
Audit your workforce and see how it may be organized along different metrics like tenure, area of focus, personality traits, and the organization’s expectations of them, and so on. This may help to identify patterns and ways of segmenting the needs of employees. Although it is easy to get granular developing personas, remember that these are used to provide focus to the team. Limiting to three to five personas should provide enough segmentation to capture a snapshot of your employees accurately.
You can then prioritize your personas based on your organization. You can also challenge the value of benefits and programs against these personas to see if they will be meaningful. Personas should be tested and maintained.
Employee journey maps show the process employees go through to achieve their goals at your company. Journey mapping should include data, visualization, and a bit of storytelling. When you have personas that reflect the makeup of your organization, you can begin to map the different paths of the employee experience. Journey maps should include stages, goals, touchpoints, channels, challenges, and emotions.
Typical stages in the employee lifecycle include recruitment, onboarding, development, retention, and exit. Journey mapping should be from the persona’s perspective. Begin by mapping the persona’s goals at each stage.
- Recruitment: This early milestone potentially makes a first impression for your company. Critically analyze each existing job posting to ensure that the tone accurately represents the company, speaks in language that is inclusive of your persona, and clearly defines responsibilities. Take time to evaluate any reference sites applicants may visit, such as Glassdoor®.
- Onboarding: Walk through your existing onboarding as your persona. Is it relevant, compelling, and meaningful?
- Development: Learning and growth are major components of employment. It is important to remember that progress and development may not look the same for every persona. Although we often think of employees’ desires to advance their careers and climb the corporate ladder, this isn’t the case for everyone. A persona can additionally desire mentorship, upskilling, or greater community impact, among other motivations. Understanding the persona’s goals is foundational to helping them continue to be challenged, grow, and stay motivated.
- Retention: This phase looks at an employee already in their role. Is your persona still motivated and contributing to their full potential?
- Exit: Perhaps your persona retires, finds a new job, or leaves their position due to a priority change.
Figure 1. Use this guide to begin a conversation around persona goals at each stage in the employee lifecycle.
When creating the employee journey, represent all the different touchpoints and channels that comprise the experience. As you develop your employee journey map, analyze to ensure that all touchpoints have consistency. Often, breakdowns in experience are due to inconsistencies.
Next, include problems, also called pain points, that the employee is facing. What is getting in the way of the employee achieving their goals? You’ll want to optimize these pain points when the exercise is complete.
Layering on your journey map, include the employee’s emotions at each stage. Emotions are complex and can influence behavior. Be sure to understand outside influences on emotions, too. For instance, an employee may feel anxiety about returning to work after parental leave. How the company supports the employee during that time can establish or build loyalty.
Figure 2. Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. (Credit for original graphic: Picteorico, Shutterstock)
From your map, identify the moments that matter in the experience, which can help you prioritize efforts that likely make the most difference for the employee. These high-impact moments can be positive or negative. Moments that matter solidify the employee relationship, or negatively impact the relationship.
Based on your research and journey mapping, seek clues, identify trends, and prioritize the opportunity areas to maximize impact. What could be done better? What tools and processes can be updated? What training should be provided to managers and leaders? This is a good opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm with your team to better the employee experience.
Communicate with managers and provide specific direction. Help managers understand what is working well and what needs improvement across different organizational departments and levels.
Publishing the results of your employee surveys is an optimal way to show that you’re listening and that your employees’ voices are valued. By publishing these findings, you can empower your team members by giving them access to what they need to know: that their opinions matter.
The Impact Is Real
Abby Covert, author of How to Make Sense of Any Mess, notes, “The impact of UX is crystal clear: the more satisfied your users are, the more likely they are to do whatever it is you are encouraging.” The same can be said of satisfied employees. Compensation and benefits packages aren’t the key reasons employees remain in their roles. Employees are seeking purpose and roles that they feel valued in. They want to contribute to companies whose values align with their own. They want to feel fulfilled and challenged.
Employees who feel trusted, inspired, and have purpose in their role are more likely to overdeliver, inspire loyalty, and contribute to company growth. And companies with thriving cultures are more likely to attract and retain top-notch talent. Employees want to be part of an organization that cares about them as individuals and invests in their growth.
The Gallup® State of the American Workplace Report highlights that a positive, thriving employee experience and a great customer (or user) experience are intrinsically connected. Gallup reports that highly engaged business units had a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity. The result? A 10% increase in customer metrics and a 20% increase in sales. Kevin Oakes, author of Culture Renovation: A Blueprint for Action writes that “healthy culture is usually the cause of great market performance, not the result.”
To understand, iterate, and improve the employee experience, collaborate and bring your user experience team to the meetings. By connecting UX and EX, you’ll create a better place for workers to produce their best work and grow with the business.
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