What Is the Employee Experience, and Why Is It Important?

Young male and female coworkers chat in conference room

To build an employee experience, consider what your employees see, hear, think and feel about your organization. You can help create or maintain the experience by engaging with your employees, understanding their unique wants and needs, identifying their experiential touchpoints, experimenting and improving.

You've heard of the employee experience, but what is it, exactly, and why is it important? How do you define the employee experience, identify its components and create an experience that meets the wants and needs of your organization and its employees? Keep reading to find out.

What is the employee experience?

The employee experience is what employees see, hear, think and feel about your organization. It's how employees experience working at your company from when they join to when they retire or leave.

"It's each employee's personal and unique experience with work," says Amy Leschke-Kahle, vice president of performance acceleration, The Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP company. "It's asking employees, 'What are the most important things to you in terms of how you experience work, and what does work look like, feel like and sound like to you?'"

Why is the employee experience important?

The employee experience is important because it can affect employee morale, brand and reputation and customer or client experiences. It is influenced by hiring, onboarding, engagement, growth and development, retention, turnover and offboarding strategies. Your employees, past and present, talk about these experiences. Some discuss them with co-workers, friends and family members. Some write reviews about them. Some stay or leave because of them. Accounting for these experiences and taking steps to help ensure they remain positive, supportive and beneficial to all stakeholders is what employee experience management is about.

4 stages of the employee experience

The employee experience can also be viewed as a framework with stages, including:

  1. Hiring and onboarding
  2. Engagement, growth and development and retention
  3. Turnover and offboarding
  4. Post-employment sentiment

What are the key components of the employee experience?

The key components of the employee experience are the people, technology, policies, practices and processes that help you manage each stage of the employee experience.

The most significant component is your people – your workforce collectively, your HR practitioners and your executive or managerial teams. A supportive, communicative, amiable and adaptable relationship between these three groups is essential to building and maintaining a positive employee experience. Examples of other important employee experience components include your hiring and onboarding processes, employee engagement platform, company culture and employee self-service tools.

"Stakeholders, key departments and functional areas need to be aligned with the experience the organization wants to provide," says Amy Freshman, senior director of global HR, ADP. "Ask yourself whether your actions, programs, products and interactions are aligned with what you want your employee experience to be."

Is there one employee experience or multiple?

The employee experience can be viewed collectively and individually. It can be viewed as the employee experience, which considers the overarching experience of an entire workforce or select group of workers. It can also be viewed as an employee's experience, which focuses on one employee's experience. Both approaches are beneficial.

The collective perspective provides broad insight into how your employees are experiencing your organization. In contrast, the individual viewpoint provides granular insight into what a person is experiencing — specific moments and examples — which is helpful, especially if an employee's experience is novel or unique.

"For each person, there can be a different set of critical factors," Leschke-Kahle says. "You have to ask yourself, 'What are those critical few things for that employee?'"

What are some examples of the employee experience?

Here are seven examples of different facets of the employee experience:

  1. The hiring and onboarding experience
  2. An employee's feelings of engagement and of wanting to stay or leave
  3. The growth and development experience
  4. An employee's experience with health, wellness and financial benefits
  5. The technology that helps an employee manage their HR needs
  6. An employee's experience with diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I)
  7. An employee's relationship with their manager and team, plus the support they receive

How do you build an employee experience?

To build an employee experience, you need an employee experience strategy. Consider what your employees see, hear, think and feel about your organization. You can help create or maintain the experience by engaging with your employees, understanding their unique wants and needs, identifying their experiential touchpoints and interactions, experimenting and improving.

Consider your hiring, onboarding, growth and development, engagement, retention and turnover and offboarding strategies. Are they successful? Are they benefitting your people and the business overall? Are your people saying that these experiences are positive, seamless and straightforward? Are they pleased with the benefits you offer? Do they feel seen, heard and valued? Are you monitoring the experiences? What does your data say, and what are you doing in response?

Ask yourself whether your actions, programs, products and interactions are aligned with what you want your employee experience to be.

Amy Freshman, senior director of global HR, ADP

The importance of an employer value proposition

The employer value proposition (EVP) is a critical component of an employee experience strategy. It defines the things of value you offer your employees. It identifies your cultural characteristics, principles, commitments, employee benefits and more. Creating or refining your EVP is step one. Step two is living up to it.

"The EVP represents what employees can expect once they join your organization," says Liz Gelb O'Connor, global head of employer branding, ADP. "It's meant to share your culture; it represents the experiences employees will have once they get there and what's expected of the employees in return. If you do your EVP right, when people get to your company, their expectations should align with their actual experiences."

When does the employee experience begin and end?

The employee experience begins during hiring and continues throughout onboarding. After onboarding, employees enter the engagement, growth and development and retention phase, where various factors influence their engagement, advancement opportunities and likelihood of staying with the organization.

Engagement and retention tactics should continue indefinitely within a mutually beneficial employment relationship to increase the likelihood of positive brand advocacy during and after employment. A positive, smooth, supportive experience can encourage employees to speak and write positively about your brand for years. When the employment relationship is mutually beneficial, even if one party decides to end it, the commitment to employee engagement and retention shouldn't cease, as these areas help drive positive brand advocacy post-employment.

An employee's exit does not conclude their employee experience. How they experience the organization during and after offboarding is important. You can maintain or create loyal brand advocates if you handle offboarding well. These former employees engage in post-employment promotion on behalf of your organization, repeatedly driving talent to your doorstep.

"The employee experience never ends," Freshman says. "It's also important to think about boomerang employees. Just because a great employee leaves today doesn't mean they might not return tomorrow. Offboarding is part of the employee experience. Are you celebrating wherever the employee is going? Do you have an employee alumni network they can join?"

How do you make a good employee experience?

You make a good employee experience by investing in beneficial hiring, onboarding, engagement, growth and development, retention and turnover and offboarding strategies. People analytics can indicate how employees feel about these experiences; you just have to ask them. By gathering and analyzing data about the employee experience, you can build an actionable database of opinions, observations and perceptions, all of which can help you improve the employee experience. You should also be able to view the data collectively or individually, letting you go macro or micro depending on the context and occasion. And, of course, remember your EVP.

"How do you make a good employee experience? Live up to your EVP because, hopefully, it's a good one," Gelb-O'Connor says. "How do you make a bad employee experience? Don't live up to your EVP and create a negative environment. Usually, creating a bad employee experience goes back to a bad human experience in some way – inconsistent use of policy, a bad leader or a negative pocket of experiences within the organization."

Find out how to create a positive employee experience.

How do you evaluate the employee experience?

You evaluate the employee experience by monitoring metrics for success. Each phase has metrics that provide insight into the employee experience. Consider time-to-hire, for example. Time-to-hire helps you understand the efficiency of your hiring process, which affects the experience of prospective employees. Similarly, a low retention or high turnover rate may indicate negative experiences existing employees might be having.

To evaluate the employee experience overall, you could use an employee experience survey or focus group.

"A tried-and-true way to measure the employee experience is to ask," Freshman says. "Leaders should ask employees, 'Do you have everything you need? Has the experience been what you expected?' There are tools for this, whether it's a formal or informal employee experience survey. You could also do focus groups. Surveys are strong tools to start with, but they usually provide surface-level information. Focus groups let you dig for more and hear from your employees directly in their own words."

What is the most important part of the employee experience?

No part of the employee experience is more important than another. Each is important and can affect your organization's reputation and employee morale. Each phase and its associated components, whatever those components are for your organization, should be considered integral to a successful and satisfying employee experience.

"There's no part of the experience that isn't important," Gelb-O'Connor says. "It begins with a good start, and then there's, 'Are we nurturing these people? Are we providing opportunities for growth, engaging in their careers and giving them opportunities? Are we meeting their personal needs?' Every single part of that is a moment that matters."

While you should treat each phase as important, you may benefit from prioritizing hiring and onboarding first.

"The early part of the experience is critical because it could make or break whether or not someone stays," Freshman says. "Those first six to 12 months are crucial."

Employee vs. candidate experience: What's the difference?

Unlike the candidate experience, which prioritizes the experience of prospective employees, the employee experience prioritizes the experience of existing employees or candidates who have accepted a job offer. Both concepts are linked, however.

"The employee experience begins with the candidate experience," Freshman says. "They can get segmented, but should that candidate experience turn into an employee experience, the employee usually thinks about their experience as dating back to their early stages of engagement with the recruiter and interviewing."

What is an employee experience role, and what does it do?

Employee experience jobs involve overseeing, managing or contributing to an organization's employee experience. These activities make up employee experience management. Many HR leaders and practitioners fill this role. Other employee experience job titles include people consultant and employee experience lead, manager, coordinator, specialist or analyst.

Employee experience professionals are the experiential bridge between an organization's leaders and its employees. They work with employees and leadership teams to ensure that employees have a positive and satisfying experience because they understand the impact of an experience that is negative, disappointing or underwhelming.

Next step: Employee experience solutions

Now that you understand the concept, what it is and why it's important, learn how to build a great employee experience. Download our guidebook, get answers to FAQs and review our checklist — all available on our employee experience page.

Learn more from this complimentary on-demand webcast. Register and replay anytime: Rethinking Benefits and the Employee Experience