Treat Talents like End Users for a better Employee Experience

by Daniel Hannig

You might not think of yourself as a designer. Maybe you can’t draw. Even if you’ve never won a game of Pictionary, however, you can still design experiences. In an effort to address striking employee disengagement numbers (85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work, according to Gallup), some companies are turning their methods for user and customer satisfaction inward.

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Customers, users, and employees ultimately are all people who want to meet a certain goal while they encounter barriers. User experience and customer experience both focus on this journey: How can the product or service we offer move our customer from Point A to Point B as efficiently and pleasantly as possible? Applying this framework to employment experience gives companies an action plan to develop more engaged, productive employees.

Designing employment experience means considering all the various touchpoints an employee will interact with during their work day. How long is their commute? Can they find parking? How easily are they able to get to their workstations and begin their scheduled tasks each day? Do they have the tools they need to get their work done?

Just like user and customer experience (UX and CX, respectively), employment experience (EX) puts people first, while trying to understand their expectations, struggles, and professional goals. By taking a holistic view of how people work, and investigating how to remove roadblocks, companies are bringing innovation into employee engagement.

In UX, every new feature begins with a User Story. User Stories distill what a user wants to do and why. Laying out a User Story focuses developers’ attention on one specific issue to fix. They vary in detail, but they all share a similar template:

“As a [type of user], I want [some goal] so that [some reason].”

Here’s how an employee might describe an issue they’re experiencing with their job:

“I live outside of the city, so I have a long commute every day. Mornings begin with a stressful drive, and it can be hard to transition into the office environment. Afternoons are more of the same, but compounded by family commitments, so as 5 o’clock approaches I start to mentally disengage from my tasks somewhat. I know that I’m a valued employee, but lately I’m not functioning at a hundred percent. I’m worried about the impression I’m making on my coworkers and supervisors.”

Traditionally, this situation might be handled with a practical, but merely surface-level solution. A manager might shift the employee’s working hours so that they can avoid the majority of traffic or, more likely, simply offer their sympathies. In reality, these solutions do little to address the root of the problem, while still negatively affecting the employee’s work output. Instead, let’s approach this as an employment experience issue. This person’s User Story might be, “As an out-of-town employee, I want to reduce the stress that comes with my commute so that I can be more productive.”

Simplifying the problem like this allows us to treat the employee like any other customer. Deciding how best to serve them, therefore, means starting from the ground up. For instance, a manager could evaluate an employee’s core responsibilities and discover that their duties don’t necessitate being in the office five days a week. Working from home, meanwhile, would enable them to be more productive, while reducing their stress, increasing their level of job satisfaction, and realigning their work/life balance.

When it comes to user experience, we typically start with a blank slate and a clear goal: Make the customer happy. An issue with employees, on the other hand, carries its own baggage: What’s appropriate? How far should we go to accommodate them? What do I know about this employee’s home life? An EX approach eliminates these questions and lets you quickly and easily brainstorm solutions while leaving the relatively simple cost/benefit analysis for later. As you read on to learn more about employment experience design, keep in mind how User Stories could describe and simplify an employee’s struggle.

Innovative industry leaders are already taking employee experience to heart. This year, Adobe melded their customer service and HR functions into one department: Customer and Employee Experience. In an interview with Forbes, EVP of Customer and Employee Experience Donna Morris explained, “You can’t live out a different brand with customers from the employment brand and what the employee experiences”. Tying EX and CX together, with cash incentives for loyalty and customer ratings, has brought the company’s mission to life for employees, as they are treated with the same courtesy and respect as customers. And it paid off: Adobe recently reported a robust 25% year-over-year annual revenue gain.

The Three Elements of Employee Experience

The term “EX” covers a lot of ground. Every interaction an employee makes from the time they leave their home, to the time they come back after work, is included in the Employee Experience framework.

To understand all the small, everyday actions that add up to EX, we can break it down into three major parts: Cultural, Physical, and Technological.

Cultivate your company culture

Employees happy brainstorming black and white

”Increasing employee engagement investments by 10% can increase profits by $2,400 per employee per year.” – Workplace Research Foundation

The cultural element of employee experience is the least concrete of the three. A company’s culture is the sum of its values, attitudes, and activities. A healthy company culture motivates employees to come into work with a positive attitude, engage with the people around them, and work together toward a common goal. It flows into organizational structures, inter-departmental relationships, and leadership.

When you land a customer or user, you want to carefully lead them through the stages of product interaction–first, you show them how it works; then, you engage with them to build a sense of investment; and finally, you reward their loyalty with referral programs and incentives. If a customer decides to end a relationship with your product, you make an effort to find out why. The same should be true for your employees.

Like users or customers, employees also go through stages during the course of their employment. Employees who are onboarding are going to have different needs and concerns from employees who have been with you for years. Designing programs that are relevant to employees as they are onboarding, working, and offboarding means that you can orchestrate the culture you want to see in the workplace.

Naturalize your office’s physical space

Plants in a white room office

The physical element concerns everything that employees can see and touch. An employee’s physical environment has a demonstrable impact on their health and wellbeing. A Harvard University paper shows that “green” offices, and their resulting improvements in air quality over traditional office spaces, may improve cognitive function in employees.

On the other hand, over-illuminated offices (usually those blasted by fluorescent lighting), can give employees migraines, anxiety, and even diminished sexual function. Another report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory claims that the perfect temperature for maximum creativity and productivity is 21 ℃, as productivity decreases with any change in either direction.

Thankfully, as critical as it is, the physical space of your office is relatively easy to adapt. Thermostats go up and down with the push of a button. Lamps can be added and light fixtures can be replaced. To create a more comfortable space for your employees, consider updating office furniture, putting interesting art on the walls, or softening spaces by adding some indoor plants.

Update to more efficient tech

People updating laptop

In 2018, it’s more than likely that your employees will have to use technology to get their work done. Even if it’s just the use of an internet connection, word processor, and email service, it’s important that they can rely on those tools to work. When you’re having an issue with your computer, not only do you have to wait for IT support to come by your desk, but your focus and creativity are also interrupted.

Think about how difficult it is to book a meeting room at your company. Can you easily find a free room? Can you access the schedules of your invitees to book around their meetings? Or is it a more time-consuming and convoluted process with annoying mistakes and overlap? Employees tasked with arranging meeting rooms would likely be more helpful in a different capacity, and showing up to a meeting room to find it already occupied can be a significant hassle. Perhaps a digital approach, such as a scheduling app, would reduce headaches and increase productivity all around.

According to Trendhunter, employees waste an enormous amount of time trying to use inefficient tech. An employee spends, on average, 67 minutes a day trying to find key information and 74 minutes a day trying to contact their coworkers. Finding solutions to these everyday problems can benefit not only your overall productivity but employee morale as well.

When you treat employee engagement issues like struggles in UX, you can focus on a problem and brainstorm a solution with more clarity. Instead of feeling frustrated by how you think employees should feel – something that rarely enters the conversation with users and customers – you can take an impartial view of a recurring problem and fix it. While Employee Experience can seem so broad as to be outside of your control, it’s really just a collection of tiny moments that you have the ability to enhance.

What do you think? Can your company benefit from applying an EX approach to talent problem-solving? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below!


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