Designing Employee Experiences (EX): The next wave of workplace innovation

There’s an old saying that the blacksmith’s horse and cobbler’s children have the worst shoes or words to that effect. In modern business thinking, that could be applied to employee experiences. We’ve seen huge strides in how we think about UX (user experience) and CX (customer experience) but are we putting the same thought into the daily experiences of the people who make it all happen behind the scenes? It’s time to focus on EX.

Is Employee Experience a Customer Experience too?

If you consider the sizeable investments companies like Amazon, Airbnb and Google have made in improving all aspects of their customer experiences, perhaps their biggest win is improved brand loyalty and excellent customer retention scores. They have a culture of customer-centric design that keeps people coming back. But culture isn’t merely an outbound marketing tool, it’s an expression of the workplace culture behind it.

From attracting the best talent to keeping it for longer within the organization, there’s little doubt about the importance of EX as a workplace culture tool. A recent study by Deloitte (Global Human Capital Trends) cites 79% of executives rated EX as a critical issue to improve productivity and enable growth. Areas like behavioral economics and self-directed learning for professional development are becoming hot topics as companies try to streamline their working processes and give their employees more ownership of their working day. It’s a matter of productivity in some respects, but also, addresses a very human need for individuals to feel more effective within large, complex organizations.

How EX is changing HR

HR was once predominantly a process-driven role within organizations, where the typical remit was the administration of employees. There was a time when HR focused mostly on managing recruitment, employment contracts and mechanisms like pensions and in-work benefits. But increasingly, HR occupies a more experiential role, getting into the mechanics of employee wellbeing and retention.

We’ve seen the rise of design thinking in how recruitment experiences are branded and in-work wellbeing programs are implemented. Like UX and CX, EX uses similar approaches, like using survey data and research techniques to understand employee pain points, and a growing number of companies employ Chief HR Officers, or Employee Experience Officers to bring HR teams closer to business development and customer experience teams on an organizational level.


EX – small changes, big improvements

Designing workplace experiences and affecting a ‘pro-employee’ culture is an inherently practical process. Most organizations have employee feedback data to get them started, it’s a relatively small step to conduct immersive research on the shop floor to understand the behavioral drivers behind employee feedback, and design better experiences around them. Here’s a few examples of turning employee feedback into smarter experiences…

1. Mapping the employee journey

The working day is part of an employee’s daily life. Understanding that employee experiences are part of a bigger picture than what happens between the moment they clock-in and clock-off reframes the way a HR team can analyze the workplace user journey. It’s a question of taking issues like commuting, parking, school runs and the places where new talent might encounter recruitment advertising into account when designing workplace process. Even if employee pain points are located outside the office, it’s important to realize they can be central to how employees relate to the workplace itself.

2. Improving the flow

Nobody likes a long line at the staff canteen. Nobody wants a coffee break 10 minutes after they arrive at their desk. And who likes a conference call scheduled for 5 minutes before they need to leave and pick-up the kids? There’s a natural rhythm to company life, but this doesn’t always synch up with the rhythm of the employee’s day. Creating more flexible systems for managing breaks, lunch and meetings can require a lot of thought, but it reduces diary overload and stress related absences. Feedback data often indicates that even little frustrations, over time, can have a big negative impact on workplace experiences.

3. Experiential learning and choices guidance

Increasingly the onboarding experience for new recruits is essential, because the first 90 days in a post often determine the retention expectancy for a candidate. This means considering the challenges faced by new employees as they grapple with learning multiple new systems and recognizing they’ll bring their own habits (like using mobile devices) into the workplace and naturally expect them to integrate with their working day. Designing systems to be more intuitive, and adaptable to the habits of the staff is important. Beyond that, it’s possible to add huge experiential value through offering employees more guidance on the best in-work benefits (like pensions or insurance plans) to help them make better choices from day one, rather than presenting them with a list of options and expecting them to work it out for themselves.

EX is really about the consumerization of employment

We live and work in an age where everyone has a personal life supported by technologies that used to belong to the workplace. Email, mobile phones, apps and messaging platforms changed our workplaces twenty years ago, but they’ve revolutionized our social lives even more so in the last ten.

We’ve come to expect the same self-service, user-friendly experiences at work that we expect when we’re using Facebook or shopping online. Designing the workplace around that kind of digitally empowered persona is the next big challenge for employers all over the world.

This means employers need to consider bringing the home life into the workplace, from building Facebook groups for staff social activities, to integrating popular messaging apps into work processes. It’s a matter of using systems design to make work faster, easier and to streamline processes to make people feel more independent, valued and productive.

Finally, designing around employee pain points is as critical to growth as listening to customer feedback is to acquisition, product development and retention. Like UX and CX, EX is a practical process of using data, immersive research and ultimately, monetizing empathy. After all… if your staff don’t like their workplace, how do you expect them to make customers love your brand?

Creative Director

Sutherland Labs
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