Employee Experience Design: All HR Needs to Know

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Employee Experience Design: All HR Needs to Know

Written in collaboration with Marna van der Merwe.

We live in a hyper-connected and on-demand world, where we have access to what we need at the click of a button. Not only has this influenced the expectations that consumers have of organizations, but we can see a clear influence on employee experience design. We expect intuitive, user-centered designs and personalized experiences tailored to our preferences – whether that interaction is physical or virtual.

This trend, combined with the changing nature of the employment relationship and scarcity of critical talent, has increased the focus on employee experience as a strategic organizational lever.

In this article, we provide background to the employee experience movement, position a practical methodology for an impactful employee experience design, and demonstrate the framework’s value through two case studies.

What is employee experience?
Why is employee experience important?
Crafting employee experience design
Case Study 1: The offboarding experience
Case Study 2: The talent acquisition experience

What is employee experience?

Employee experience refers to the lived experiences of employees throughout their employee journey outside and within the organization. The organization can craft employee experiences by identifying memorable moments for the employee and moments of value for the organization.

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The desired employee experience is aligned to these moments within the employee lifecycle. An effective employee experience design involves a human-centric design thinking approach toward understanding the employee’s wants, needs, and preferences.

Employee experience originated from three very different schools of thought. The first borrowed concepts from marketing in terms of thinking about employees as consumers of organizational services and focusing on their wants, needs, and motivations for action. The second comes from the software and product design fields which tried to improve the user experience of technology by designing products with the “end-user in mind.”  

As HR, we also played a role by starting to think beyond processes and incorporate elements of experience into practices such as talent attraction. We evolved from thinking about concepts such as the candidate experience to applying the same type of thinking to the broader employee life cycle.

Employee Experience Design: The Three Approaches

A strong theme within employee experience is empathizing with the employee, understanding their needs, and crafting outward-in solutions that optimize the moment of interaction aligned to their expectations. Employee experience is usually designed as a journey of interactions and events that lead toward a particular think, feel, and do experience.

Employee experience is, however, not only about the employee. The design of employee experience also acknowledges and defines which experiences will provide value for the organization and in what manner. For example, if the onboarding experience is positive, it improves employee productivity time, which leads to better outputs.

AIHR’s Dieter Veldsman discussed how to design exceptional employee experiences with Rosa Storm and Anne van Lieren from a service design company Livework Studio. Check out the full interview below:

Why is employee experience important?

Various studies have highlighted the business impact a positive experience will have in terms of productivity, employee engagement, and performance. A study conducted by MIT CISR indicated that organizations that invest in the employee experience are 2X more innovative. They also achieve double the customer satisfaction and 25% greater profitability than those that make no investments.

Employee Experience Effects on the Organization

Let us put this into perspective. The idea is that positive employee experiences lead to higher job satisfaction and employee engagement. This, in turn, leads to positive behavior from employees when doing their work, which results in higher productivity levels. Higher productivity leads to better outcomes and, if managed correctly, better client satisfaction, which influences organizational performance.

We must acknowledge that other mediating variables will impact this relationship positively or negatively, for example, the right strategy, product, or price. Yet, we can still argue that a positive employee experience influences and impacts client satisfaction and organizational performance.

Don’t get us wrong; employee experience is not the silver bullet that will fix all organizational challenges. Still, it goes a long way toward creating a high-performance culture where employees feel valued.

It is also important to note that employee experience is not all about the employee, as the name suggests. The experience is about both the employee and the organization. It is a two-way street between the moments that matter to the employee and the moments of impact or value for the organization. Employee experience design assists organizations in intentionally crafting these experiences to deliver value to employees and, in turn, the organization.

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Crafting employee experience design

Traditional HR practices are primarily based on process design principles concerned with efficiency and effectiveness. An experience-based approach takes a slightly different approach to answer the following questions:

  • Why is this experience significant?
  • Who is the consumer of this experience?
  • What do they want to achieve from this experience?
  • How do we deliver this experience?
  • What should we improve based on their feedback?

Including these questions in the design process creates a deeper understanding of the employee’s needs, wants, and desires. Using techniques borrowed from design thinking and consumer behavior, we developed a four-step approach to help include EX-thinking into the design of HR practices:

Employee Experience Design Methodology

Step 1: Understanding the “why”

The first phase of the approach focuses on defining the “why” for both the organization and the individual.

Articulating why the specific experience is essential is a critical first step during this phase. This means creating an understanding of the experience and its impact on the individual level and organizational levels.

Step 2: Determining “who”

Once clarity exists around why the particular experience is essential, the next phase focuses on understanding the consumer of the experience.

This is a data-driven and insights-informed step in the sense-making process. It relies on qualitative and quantitative data to define user personas that shape the experience requirements.

Step 3: Defining “what”

Once you’ve defined the “end-user” or consumer, the next phase is to consider what the experience entails. This phase focuses on defining the touchpoints that shape the experience and the desired experiences of each interaction.

This phase typically entails the creation of employee experience maps that articulate what the ideal experience of the end user should be at each interaction touchpoint by considering cognitive, emotive, and behavioral reactions:

  • Think (Cognitive): What do we want the consumer to think during this interaction?
  • Feel (Emotive): What do we want them to feel?
  • Do (Behaviour): How does this translate into the desired action or behavior

Step 4: Unpacking “how”

This phase entails storyboarding or mapping the experience to understand where and when these interactions occur and how the interaction is best facilitated.

Using the touchpoints as a basis, the interactions are specified in more detail, often considering process steps, interaction outlines, or step-by-step walk-throughs. 

We applied this framework to two case studies.

Case Study 1: The offboarding experience

In this case study, the focus was on an insurance services organization operating across three different geographies with more than 15,000 employees. The organization had identified the need to create an engaging offboarding experience to manage alumni talent, a previously untapped talent pool.

The company collected data via exit surveys. They realized that employees who were leaving the organization felt a sense of abandonment once they had resigned. That led to a negative offboarding experience and limited desirability to return to the organization.

Using the framework described above, the organization first identified the different “offboarding employee” personas to better understand the wants, needs, and requirements for each of the employee journeys for both the organization and the employee:

PersonaExampleIndividual needs and outcomesOrganizational needs and outcomes
The employee that is asked to leaveDismissals
Exiting the employee fairly and respectfully regardless of circumstances.Fairness, transparency, and consistency of process aligned to organizational values.
The employee who leaves due to unforeseen circumstancesDisability
Transitioning into a new phase requiring support (disability) or focus on loved ones left behind (death).Managing the untimely exit process, which extends to the beneficiaries and family’s needs
The employee that decides to leaveResignationsCareer transition and conclusion of the employment contract obligations.Creating a positive offboarding experience to maintain the relationship and ensure long-term contact.

Using these insights, the organization identified the following think, feel and do moments that would optimize the experience for the three different user groups:

Designing the Offboarding Experience
ThinkThis is an organization that cares for its employees, future, past, and present.I believe my experience at the organization has been a positive career experience.I think that the organization is a place I will return to in the future or recommend to friends and family.
FeelI feel cared for, equipped, and supported through this transition.I feel valued, recognized, and attached to the brand, although I am departing.I feel a sense of pride when thinking about my organizational experience.
DoI am clear on what is required of me through the exit process, knowing that the organization is there to support me.I retain my organizational pride and relationships with colleagues and engage with the brand outside of my role as an employee.I refer others to the organization for career opportunities or as clients.

By identifying these moments that matter, the next step for the organization was to redesign the processes, systems, and human interactions required to deliver on these experiences. During this stage, the organization also explored the role of technology and how it could act as an enabler of an efficient experience while still enabling the desired behavioral response. 

Lastly, the organization implemented specific “listening posts” where continuous feedback was collected from all the persona profiles to measure whether the desired think, feel, and do moments did take place as designed.

Case Study 2: The talent acquisition experience

We applied the approach to redesigning the talent acquisition experience of a global financial institution with 8,000+ employees. Using this approach, we managed to design the talent acquisition practice from the consumer’s perspective. In this case, it was based on the experience of the candidate. Below, you can see how these different practice phases changed by applying an EX perspective:

Practice PhaseShift from……toPractical implication
Brand awarenessReactive sourcing through career portals– Proactive sourcing through multiple channels
Employer branding strategy
– Internal marketplace to tap into internal skills
– Investment in social media platform strategies to promote talent brand
– Building an internal talent portal to make internal opportunities visible
InteractionGeneric job adverts and inconsistent candidate feedback– Personalized and realistic job previews
– Clear visibility of lived experiences
– Technology enablement candidate communication that ensures transparency and efficiency in the process
– Enablement of triggers on our core ERP system to communicate with candidates at every step of the process
– Capturing employee stories to demonstrate the employee value proposition
SelectionFace-to-face interviews and stepwise progression– Virtual and AI-powered interviews
– Multiple screening tools upfront to reduce funnel
– Meaningful feedback
– Implement asynchronous interview methods and use of video-technologies
– Digitization of the psychometric assessment process to create efficiencies and deploy assessments at various stages of selection
Career decisionAn offer letter and transactional process– Career offer and employee value proposition consideration
– Mutual “opting in”
– Digital process
– Broader EVP attraction and visibility
– Digital candidate portal to facilitate the offer process electronically
ConnectionThe traditional induction process focuses on inducting the employee into the organization– Connection with the team, line manager, and organization through multiple engagements, facilitated through a digital platform
– Experience measure to enable agile responses to challenges
– Clearly articulating the role of line managers in the onboarding process and creating visibility through a line manager dashboard
Voice of the employee pulses to measure the onboarding experience
Engagement & empowermentThe onboarding process focused on transactional elements, such as goal setting, measurement, and time to productivity– A digitally facilitated process that enables organizational learning empowers line managers and provides a real-time overview of individual progress and challenges
– Focus on engaging the employee through channels that they use and prefer and empowering them with easily accessible, on-demand, and relevant information
– Experience measures along the journey to enable agile responses to challenges
– Development of onboarding portal as a central place for all new employees to manage their onboarding journey – from digital form completion, access to critical information, compulsory training, and team interactions

A final word

For organizations to remain competitive in an increasingly competitive talent market, organizations need to intentionally design the employee experience strategies that will attract, engage and retain employees. Well-thought-out employee experience design delivers value for the employee through memorable moments and leads to positive organizational outcomes.

Note: This article is based on a book chapter. “Designing for humans: A revised consumer experience-based approach towards people management practices.” In I.L. Potgieter & N. Ferreira (Eds.), Managing Human Resources: The new normal (Chapter 4). Springer.

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