Why employee experience should get the same attention as user experience

May 16, 2023

HR leaders made it through the system shocks of 2020. They made it through the Great Resignation. Now, many are focusing once again on “normal” priorities like reducing employee attrition and improving engagement.

To assess that, many of today’s HR leaders conduct employee surveys. Once the results are in, however, do you have the resources and tools you need to act on that survey data? How do you decide what actions to take and in what way they should be executed? How do you tease out actions from often “generic”’ sentiment-related questions? And once you’ve put those actions into play, how do you determine whether they were successful?

If you’re not sure how to answer these questions, it may be time to borrow strategies from another field. In many cases, applying principles of user experience (UX) research can help you identify the most important employee problems to solve and the most impactful ways to solve them.

HR leaders can use these principles to improve employee experience and support the bottom line.

Background: user experience, customer experience, employee experience

Let’s start by defining some key terms:

  • Customer experience is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a company.
  • Employee experience is the sum of all experiences an employee has with their employer.
  • User experience (UX) is the experience of a user with a service, device, interface, or anything with which the user interacts.

UX research aims to identify what users need and want, how it fits into their lives, how they expect a process or device or interaction to work, and when it doesn’t perform, uncovering why it’s not working and how to fix it. Insights gleaned from UX research help companies deliver experiences users want, need, and expect; this results in customers who are engaged, delighted, satisfied, safe (when it comes to medical device experiences), and ultimately, loyal.

How employee experience affects the bottom line

You already know that high turnover is expensive, and you no doubt appreciate just how much employees’ day-to-day experiences can affect intangibles like morale and engagement, which have a big impact on whether they stay or decide to pursue jobs elsewhere.

The good news is that existing research helps quantify (and validate) that experience: Gallup’s most recent meta-analysis of employee engagement studies found overwhelmingly that businesses perform better when employees have positive workplace experiences.

This analysis looked at the relationship between employee engagement and business performance (as assessed via 11 outcomes, including customer loyalty/engagement, profitability, productivity, and turnover) and found that employee engagement has a correlation of 0.49 (that is, a moderate correlation) with business performance.

This information can be helpful as you advocate for investments in improving your employee experience.

What might those investments look like? This is where UX research principles come into play. Let’s take a look at some of those principles and how HR leaders can leverage them to improve employee experience.

Helping you filter through the noise

When HR professionals approach the question of what to do with data they are currently gathering, it starts with knowing what information should be acted on. HR professionals have many ways to gather employee data, be it through formal or informal channels; these may include climate or pulse surveys, 360 feedback, third-party initiatives, leadership meetings, hiring and turnover reports, or employee and manager ‘drop-ins’. There is so much data, in fact, one of the challenges we’ve heard from HR teams was how to determine what is ‘real’ and what to act on.

By applying UX research, you can get answers based on more than intuition. One key tenet of UX research is to seek out user experiences, which drive behavior more than most of us realize. Here’s how:

  • Experiences drive feelings. Experiencing unclear or inconsistent communication from leadership, for example, can lead to feelings of uncertainty and fear.
  • Feelings drive decisions. Most of us make decisions based on feelings and intuition, even if we later justify them with logic.

What’s more, most of us struggle to put our feelings into words. Even when we’re able to, we may find it hard to share them with people at an organization who can make a difference – which, of course, includes HR leaders.

Here’s how we might use these concepts to help HR leaders turn data into concrete actions that improve employee experience and help the business overall.

First, we work with a team leader to get a problem statement. If the team is struggling to convert prospective customers into paying customers and wants to understand how to provide employees the motivation they need, that statement might be: “The business needs our team. I’ve told them that.”

But maybe when we talk to employees on the team, we uncover underlying feelings that are driving their behavior. A UX approach goes beyond surveys and questionnaires and could involve observations, contextual inquiry, in-depth interviews, workshops, etc. to get rich feedback.

If this situation is like many we see, those feelings typically fall into a few larger categories. For example:

  • Fear of losing their position: Some team members may feel their own energy flagging and worry that they aren’t being viewed well by management.
  • Fear of being out of touch: Since the start of the pandemic, for example, team members may have felt less clear about executive leadership’s plans than they did when everyone was in the same office.
  • Home environment strains: Some team members may be struggling to focus during the shift to work-from-home, with the new distractions of pets, kids, and more.
  • Low self-confidence: Some employees may feel, for example, that an idea they’d shared has been shot down. That may have left them feeling hurt and unwilling to share future ideas.

Once we identify the root causes of employee behavior, it becomes much easier to identify solutions that can move the needle: better understand employee job fears, identify how execs can communicate more clearly, identify ways to improve WFH productivity, and offer coaching on expectations around feedback and teamwork.

This isn’t to say that steps towards any of these goals are easy, but they are concrete, evidence-based actions HR leaders can take to improve employee experience and engagement. Downstream, those changes will decrease attrition and boost the bottom line.

For actionable solutions, embrace a UX approach to employee experience

Today’s HR leaders understand the power of data to drive business decisions. Embracing UX research principles is a proven way to identify the most impactful next steps to take based on data in employee surveys.

With support from an experienced team, you can confidently identify what matters most to your organization’s employees in order to craft better experiences that drive engagement, productivity, and bottom-line improvements.

Curious about how this approach can help you improve employee experience in your organization? Get in touch with us.