Employee Experience: hype or solid trend?

Employee Experience

The potential of the Employee Experience concept

In 2015, Airbnb announced that they were appointing a Global Head of Employee Experience. The following year, the company topped Glassdoor’s list of the 50 Best Places to Work. Today, a Google search for the term “employee experience” will yield results from several organisations with formalised employee experience roles within their HR structures, including Adidas, Adobe, Cargill, Cathay Pacific, Cisco, Facebook, GE, L’Oréal, LinkedIn, Nationwide, Orange, Ralph Lauren, Sky, and more. It’s a sign that organisations responding to advances in technology and shifts in employee expectations are tapping into the potential of the employee experience concept, which aims to provide employees with positive touch points in the workplace environment—physical, cultural, and technological—and has been shown to lead to greater levels of engagement, enthusiasm, involvement, and employer brand commitment.

Even small to medium size employers such as Qualtrics, the private research software company based in Provo, Utah, are reforming their businesses with the employee experience in mind. This traction at both the multinational level and at small, medium, and local levels suggests that industry viewpoints are aligning. In fact, there’s growing evidence that the employee experience is fast becoming a full-blown workplace phenomenon set to reform longstanding approaches to promoting employee engagement.

In May 2017, an investigation of LinkedIn members, conducted by Staffbase, found that there were 2,975 people in companies worldwide with either “employee engagement” or “employee experience” in their job titles. The results showed that there were more than two and a half times as many professionals with “engagement,” but a deeper look at the numbers revealed some telling results. It is now evident that companies taking steps toward redefining the traditional role of human resources are the likely bellwethers for the more all-encompassing concept of the employee experience.

Traditional HR functions are broadening to include departments that impact the ability of the employee experience to attract, retain, and maximise top talent. While this change in practice has implications that delve to the core of traditional management thinking, one clear result has been the creation of new job titles: Human Resource Managers becoming (as at Airbnb) Chief Employment Experience Officers. This obvious distinction provides an excellent opportunity to quantify the employment experience trend by allowing for a comparative tally of professionals with “employee experience” in their job descriptions versus those still identified as working in “employee engagement.”

Employee Engagement vs. Employee Experience: A Comparison

The Staffbase study looked at companies with anywhere from 201 to more than 10,000 employees who had either “employee engagement” or “employee experience” in their job titles. The result in favour of engagement was of little surprise, given the attention the concept has received in the last twenty years. What was surprising were the high numbers for the relatively new EX movement.

Employee Engagement                       2,137

Employee Experience                            838

Ratio                                                         2.55

The Overall International View

The overall international view

While employee engagement still rules the workplace landscape in India and the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia favour “engagement” by lesser margins of 2.3 and 1.5, respectively. Canada is the one country where “employee experience” has already gained significant traction, outweighing “employee engagement” by nearly 11%.

LinkedIn Profiles USA UK Canada Australia India
Employee Engagement 1278 408 110 50 291
Employee Experience 561 70 136 34 37
Ratio 2.3 5.8 0.8 1.5 7.9

EX in the U.S.

Focusing solely on the United States, more than twice as many professionals had “employee engagement” in their job titles, outnumbering “employee experience” 1,278 to 561. Differences between men and women were consistent, with 72% and 80% of female employees (i.e., 28% and 20% of male employees) found in “experience” and “engagement,” respectively, revealing, if nothing else, that the job of managing people in organisations is overwhelmingly done by women.

EX and Career Level

Examining career level shows that the EX trend appears to be rising through the ranks, with “experience” employees at the director level holding a 14% to 13% advantage over “engagement,” the takeaway being that perhaps adding “employee experience” to your title is a wise career move.

Career level Employee Experience Employee Engagement
CXO 1% 2%
Partner 1% 2%
VP 7% 7%
Director 14% 13%
Manager 28% 17%
Senior 30% 39%
Entry 19% 20%

The study also looked at company location, which among other findings showed that for EX professionals, San Francisco is the place to be now, but Boston might be the place to be tomorrow.

EX and Company Type

The type of company under scrutiny also revealed some interesting contrasts: Nonprofits, educational institutions, and government agencies had no more than 11% of the total number of employees in either category (compared to a 54% to 51% experience/engagement split in publicly held companies), likely revealing that these institutions have been slow to adopt practices in either category.

Company type Employee Experience Employee Engagement
Public Company 54% 51%
Privately Held 35% 27%
Non Profit 8% 11%
Educational Institution 1% 4%
Government Agency 1% 5%
Partnership 1% 1%

EX and successful business strategy

Finally, the study examined the companies that have already taken great strides in making the employee experience a part of their business strategy. Ralph Lauren—with 22 staffers in employee experience—leads the list, followed by Adobe, Airbnb, Qualtrics, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Verizon Wireless, the one company to appear in the top 10 of both the “employee experience” and “employee engagement” lists. LinkedIn had nine people in employee experience, and it may be worth noting that they, along with Adobe (and Airbnb, as noted earlier), were all ranked among the top 50 “Best Places to Work” in the 2016 Employees’ Choice Awards given by Glassdoor.

While it’s too soon to tell exactly how these numbers will bear out, they indicate that the idea of developing the workplace as an experience has been gaining traction in large, multinational corporations, especially those in tech-centric industries. It does seem clear that established, proactive companies are aligning around strategies related to the implementation of the employee experience concept. Given that smaller businesses often copycat the practices of market leaders, the question is just how long will it be before other companies take up arms in the employee experience revolution.


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