How to Define, Measure, and Improve Your Employee Experience

June 17, 2021

What matters most to HR? Over the last three years, we’ve polled attendees of our annual virtual conference, HR Virtual Summit, on their top concerns and their strategies for responding to them. The trendline is unmistakable: for the second year in a row, HR professionals named culture and employee experience as their top concern.

There’s wide agreement about the benefits of ensuring a great employee experience. BambooHR even has an excellent podcast series on the subject. However, other responses to our HR Virtual Summit survey indicate organizations face several challenges in defining, measuring, and improving their employee experience, with many organizations going on gut feelings or making no efforts at all. This article will examine these challenges and suggest practical steps toward creating a great place to work.

When people talk about improving the employee experience, it’s easy for the discussion to center on employee experiences.

Defining the Employee Experience

When people talk about improving the employee experience, it’s easy for the discussion to center on employee experiences: planning the next company party, taking nominations for awards to give out in the next all-hands meeting, or debating the merits of cube versus pebble ice for the break room soda fountain.

While these carefully considered experiences play a part in building your organization’s culture, in the end, they’re just a few moments in your employees’ overall experience. The greater context of how your employees spend their time—both on the clock and outside the office—determines how they view your culture and experience initiatives.

This reality is why BambooHR defines culture as the sum total of all the interactions in an organization. Lunchtime volleyball, compensation reviews, project management protocol, discussions of the company values, unspoken messages around taking time off, and yes, parties, rewards, and what’s in the break room—all of these interactions and expectations shape how employees feel, work, and engage.

Learn how HR professionals are measuring their employee experience.

Measuring the Employee Experience

Defining the employee experience as the total of all interactions feels concise and simple. Taking it a step further and measuring the sum total of all these interactions is a Herculean task, especially as organizations add more people and more complexity.

The inscrutable nature of human motivation and interactions is often the source of resistance toward employee experience initiatives: to really stretch an old saying, you can bring employees to the water cooler, but you can’t make them chat. Why spend resources on pleasing employees when there’s no guarantee they’ll appreciate it?

Your organization can’t be everything to everyone. It’s true for your clients and customers, and it’s true for your employees. But your organization can develop consistency in what it claims to be and what it delivers, setting up a cycle of finding and keeping employees who appreciate the experience you’ve promised to provide.

The first step to achieving consistency is finding benchmarks for measuring employee experience so you know how your current status compares to your goals. We recommend a two-step process: determine your mission, vision, and values, and then use them as your benchmarks for analyzing employee feedback.

Developing Experience Benchmarks

Just as your company mission provides a benchmark for your business objectives, your company values can serve as a benchmark for your employee experience objectives. For example, BambooHR has a mission we can track: to become the #1 recommended HR software for small and medium-sized businesses. And our seven values outline the path we take to reach that goal.

Values often get the same reputation as single-serving employee experiences: ephemeral platitudes that make the organization sound good in an all-hands meeting before ending up as little more than wall decorations. But values can be so much more—they can provide principles that guide employees in making the decisions that lead to the employee experience you’re trying to cultivate. Effective values help a great employee experience grow from the bottom up instead of being enforced from the top down.

For instance, the BambooHR values define a good leader as someone who assumes the best of their team, who improves in their position no matter what title they hold, and who is willing to be open about strengths and areas for improvement for themselves and others. Encouraging everyone to lead from where they are prepares employees to assume leadership positions, whether that involves managing others or mentoring newer employees in their craft.

Your organization’s values won’t be exactly like ours, but putting strategic consideration into your values helps you shape your employee experience as it develops.

Beginning an Employee Feedback Cycle

After using your values to define your employee experience benchmarks, the next step is to set up a cycle of regular feedback from your employees to evaluate how well your real employee experience matches your ideal employee experience. This works best as a cadence of surveys and conversations, with regular performance management supplementing scheduled organization-level assessments.

We recommend incorporating both direct and anonymous feedback into your assessments: direct feedback in the moment between employees and managers, and periodic anonymous pulse surveys to spot long-term trends employees may not feel comfortable talking about with their managers. These anonymous surveys are most effective when conducted in HR software, preserving each response’s demographic information for analysis while assuring employees their criticisms won’t be tied directly to them.

Learn from recent HR trends.

Does this mean employers should view every employee criticism as the master of the house ringing for the HR butler to come clean up? Clearly not. Overly-rapid change can be just as bad as no change when it comes to developing a consistent, positive employee experience as your organization grows. But carefully adjusting your plan based on the results of an effective feedback cycle helps you preserve the best parts of your operations and improve from there.

Improving the Employee Experience

With a clear understanding of the employee experience you want in your organization and a firm foundation of feedback data, you’re prepared to improve the employee experience. While it’s impossible to make specific recommendations for every organization, here are a few foundational insights into human motivation that can guide your choices:

  • Take a holistic view. Employees begin interacting with your organization as soon as they read the first words of your job ad. During hiring and onboarding, your new hires form impressions and make predictions for how their decision to join will turn out. Thanks to employer review platforms like Glassdoor, if you so much as interview someone, they can have a say on your employer brand: how your employee experience looks to the outside world. A consistent experience throughout an employee’s (or candidate’s) time with your organization is key for building a favorable employer brand.
  • Cover basic needs first. If employees don’t feel secure in their basic psychological needs, then those needs will take precedence in their thoughts and attitudes at work until those basic needs are met. Your organization meets some of these needs with compensation to cover food and shelter, benefits to secure against disaster, and regular culture maintenance to preserve employees’ social needs. Regularly reviewing these areas and helping employees feel that they have room to grow is essential for developing positive workplace experiences.
  • Give more than fun. This goes back to the difference between individual experiences or perks and a sustained positive experience. Once employees have their basic needs met, the opportunities for growth and achievement become powerful, more long-lasting motivators. So along with free snacks or nap pods, make sure your organization helps employees grow in meaningful ways, whether it’s developing new career skills or learning principles they can apply in their personal lives.
  • Expect employees to read between the lines. There is so much more to an employee’s experience than official communication or intention. For example, if you have an unlimited PTO policy but a manager drops more “ifs” than Cinderella’s stepmother when employees try to use it, then that team doesn’t receive the intended work-life balance benefit. If your employee feedback uncovers such situations, it’s worth determining whether additional training is needed to align managers with the original intention—or if you need to change the current policy because it no longer fits with your values and strategy.

The Bright Future of a Consistent Employee Experience

Crafting a consistent employee experience takes a lot of thought, effort, communication, and coordination. But all of this effort becomes more efficient than one-off experience events in helping employees recognize and internalize the consideration your organization has for them. As their continued experience proves you’re committed to creating a great place to work, your organization can reap the rewards of engaged, satisfied employees—greater productivity, lower turnover, and better business outcomes.

For more insight into the current state of HR, download our infographic 2021 Is All About Culture and Employee Experience.

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Brian Anderson

Brian Anderson expertly decodes all things HR, drawing on a decade of technical writing in the business organization industry to provide editorial support to internal and external learning programs at BambooHR. His writing explores the different motivations that shape the employee experience and the psychology of human resources.