by Sharon Florentine

5 strategies for improving employee experience

Jul 25, 2019
IT LeadershipStaff Management

A positive employee experience can greatly impact engagement, retention, and productivity. Hereu2019s how to make sure yours is second-to-none.

happy employee retention floating man with laptop and coffee zen meditation by dorian2013 getty
Credit: Dorian2013 / Getty Images

Employee experience has become a key differentiator in today’s tight tech talent market. Employers who provide a positive, invaluable journey for their employees — from the first application and interview process, and on through onboarding, employment, professional development and becoming a company alumnus — can impact engagement, culture, morale and retention in ways that provide distinct competitive advantage.

But how can you make sure your employee experience is second to none? First, you have to understand a bit about human psychology, says Shavon Lindley, CEO at ion Learning. The human brain is wired to work best when it has achieved psychological safety. Any perceived threat to that safety diminishes a human’s ability to listen, learn, collaborate and function at their best.

“Back in caveman days, the brain would get triggered into a fight, flight or freeze response by physical threats,” Lindley says. “Now it’s more about social or psychological threats: stress, worry, exclusion, being in a new environment.”

Because of this, employees walking into a new job are automatically not using their brains’ highest-level functioning, Lindley says. “So organizations have to focus on making these experiences as safe and comfortable as possible to get the best out of people.”

Following are five tips for improving your company’s employee experience.

Ask employees what they want

Start with the people who can best tell you what they need to have a good employee experience: your employees. What you believe might be a positive experience could be the opposite, as GE discovered when it looked to overhaul its IT support and services solutions.

“We looked at the operational aspects of what we had, like most companies do, and we assumed it was okay because of the traditional measures: who was closing tickets faster; how many people we had working on these things. It was a heavily outsourced, mostly manual process, and on paper it seemed great, but when we actually went to our employees, they said, ‘This is miserable, and we hate it,’” says Chris Drumgoole, CIO of GE.

Many organizations follow a similar mantra of, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ but they may be asking the wrong questions of the wrong people. In addition, especially in larger, global enterprises, a positive employee experience can vary from department to department, and can change based on region or culture, says Julie Dove, vice president of digital workplace experience at GE.

“You have to meet with and listen to the feedback you’re getting from your global organization. Some cultures and regions are going to react differently, and you have to prove that you’re listening and working to address their concerns if you want to bring them along on the journey,” she says.

Measure the right things

To get a true pulse of your company’s employee experience you have to use the right metrics to measure the right things. Engagement, morale, retention, and collaboration are all solid metrics for gauging the employee experience. Internal surveys, anonymous feedback, and comprehensive stay interviews and exit interviews can also help you understand where you need to improve.

“For us, our old solution was measuring how we could get more helpdesk agents to close tickets faster, instead of leveraging automation, chat, and AI to be more effective and help our employees help themselves,” Drumgoole says.

Look to other organizations that have stellar employee experience

Some organizations already have ‘good employee experience’ down to a science, and word gets around, says Jeff Monaco, CTO of digital workplace technology at GE. With the consumerization of IT taking hold in enterprises, you have to challenge how you’re looking at technology and make that a core element of your employee experience strategy, he says.

“Everyone in every department buys and manages tech nowadays, and that consumerization aspect is what is needed,” he says. “Everyone wants predictability, confidence, ease of use, quick acquisition, so you have to take that into account.”

And that can mean looking outside your own industry to see who’s doing this well, Drumgoole adds.

“We had to ask ourselves what customers and consumers wanted, so we deliberately looked outside of tech at companies like LEGO, Disney, Zappos — the places everyone holds up as examples of great experiences, and then adjusted that to fit our own needs,” he says.

Use technology to help

The explosion of AI and machine learning, chatbots, automated self-service and similar technologies can do wonders to help your employee experience, but only if you leverage them within your organization, says Drumgoole.

“You need to get your best people leveraging these technologies and writing software to help create this great experience,” he says. “For us, all the rote, tedious mundane stuff within IT services and support is now handled through these technologies, and that created a better experience. With the efficiency and cost savings, we were able to reinvest in better people to help with more complex issues, and that helped immensely,” he says.

Consider small mentoring groups

On a more personal level, consider creating small, cross-functional mentoring groups so that your employees can explore and understand not just their own department, but others across the company. That can increase collaboration, engagement and also that sense of psychological safety that’s so important, says ion Learning’s Lindley.

“What we recommend is putting people into a diverse, mentoring group of three or four people maximum, that’s as cross-functional as possible. There should also be a slight difference in ‘level’; but not drastically — you want peers and mentors, but not, say, a C-suite person with an entry-level hire,” Lindley says. “Diversity here is especially important — race, gender, ethnicity, religion, family type and size, kids and no kids — the more variables you can have the better.”

That size and composition is most effective for open conversations as well as building trust and safety, especially for new employees. These groups should meet at least monthly so that members get to know each other well, and can honestly share what it’s like to work for the company and impart the mission and values to new workers, she says.

“It’s critical that new hires build relationships right off the bat, and having that support system helps employees want to stay. We have to create these inclusive environments that help retrain the brain to overcome similarity bias — which translates in the workplace to ‘IT people only hang out with IT people, and marketing people only hang out with marketing people.’ These groups will put your brain in the most receptive state for building trust and that will transform your employee experience while building strength in the organization,” she says.