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Why employee experience is the new customer experience: Five factors driving change at work

When I was in the early days of my career, the business world had just begun to embrace the notion of “Customer Experience” along with the initial iterations of e-commerce and e-everything. Consumer expectations were changing with technological advances, and a new(ish) field emerged: “CX,” shorthand for Customer Experience.

Since then, scores of companies have worked tirelessly to put the customer at the center of everything they do. For a company today, to be described as a “customer-obsessed company” is the ultimate badge of honor.

However, in a post-pandemic world, it won’t just be the customer experience that dictates the success or failure of a company—but the increasing importance of the employee experience, one where employee expectations are being drastically re-shaped by multiple forces.

“EX” or Employee Experience, will become as important as “CX” as the relationship between employer and employee is re-defined across a handful of key areas.

The Flexible Employee Experience

A survey done as part of Linked In’s Workforce Confidence Index finds that 50% of employees polled place hours/location flexibility as the top priority as an employee, exceeding things like salary, work-life balance, and culture. And of these respondents, it is millennials who value flexibility most, exceeding the generational average by five percent. Emily He, SVP at Oracle Cloud, asserts that flexibility, including remote options, can be a way to retain and attract top talent.

“One of the biggest things to remember as we approach “post-pandemic stability” is that the last year proved that remote work, works," she says. "It was not easy at first, and we could all use a break from Zoom meetings, but the basic assumptions that we need central offices in core industrial regions can be safely dismissed. That opens up huge opportunities for how companies can recruit and treat top talent.”

If flexibility has become the most sought-after work benefit, employers seeking to entice employees back to the office are going to have their work cut out for them. Yet, some appear eager to push for a return to the office. WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani claims without data that employees who work from home are less engaged: “Those who are least engaged are very comfortable working from home.”

Despite some executive sentiment, however, the flexible or hybrid employee experience is likely to gain steam as employers and employees bargain and set their terms on what is and what is not acceptable. 

The Wellness-Focused Employee Experience

Overall wellness, including mental health, has also emerged as a critical factor when evaluating the employee experience. Oracle’s Emily He relates this to the pandemic: “This increased stress and anxiety of Covid-19 has negatively impacted the mental health of 78% of the global workforce according to our annual latest study. The pandemic tore down many of the boundaries people put up between work and their personal lives. But it is not just because of the pandemic that mental health and wellness are becoming a greater focus for employees.”

Indeed, it has become standard practice for many companies to encourage “mental health days” as a way for employees to re-charge while chipping away at the historical stigma of mental well-being. 

The Socially Conscious Employee Experience

What happens when employees lean into social impact issues? Over the past few years, we’ve seen the emergence of political polarization, a politicized pandemic, and movements such as BLM and #MeToo take hold of public discourse. This dynamic is seeping into the workforce as manifested by employee walkouts in big tech in response to employer policies/actions, or as illustrated recently, the departures of roughly one-third of the employees of Basecamp, a small tech company divided over internal discourse of societal issues.

It is DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) efforts that are fast becoming the modern catalyst for organizational change. In California, The Silence No More Act is poised to be accepted or rejected by Governor Gavin Newsom. The roots of the proposed legislation are tied to a former Pinterest employee who violated NDA terms to speak publicly about her negative experiences as a woman of color with the company.

Cheryl Kerrigan, Chief People Officer at Toronto-based network company, BlueCat emphasizes the connection between DEI and difficult conversations “This is about having real and sometimes uncomfortable conversations across the organization and helping people to challenge stereotypes and examine the bias that we all may unconsciously bring. The more we educate and hold ourselves accountable, the better we become as an organization.”

The Engaged Employee Experience  

It’s no secret that the level of engagement of an employee is connected to their prosperity at a company.

HR platforms such as Peakon are designed to evaluate how employees feel about their jobs, work, culture, leadership, etc. Duncan Welling, a digital transformation expert, makes the connection between the heightened expectations employees now have of the technology they use at work.

“The implementation of technology to support employee experience has lagged significantly behind customer experience. Before the pandemic, employees were largely willing to roll their eyes and complain to co-workers about a bad experience accessing an internal system," he says. "But, with offices closed, these systems have become the only point of contact, and a consistently bad experience may cause valuable employees to go looking for new jobs.” 

A decrease in an employee’s overall engagement could be a sign they are looking elsewhere, and with an economic recovery in progress—this could prove to be disastrous for companies. One study suggests that a “Turnover Tsunami” is coming. Research commissioned by the Achievers Workforce Institute found that 52% are looking for a new job, up from 35% a year earlier. The study also found that 46% of respondents feel less connected to their company, and 42% say company culture has diminished since the start of the pandemic. Just 21% said they are very engaged at work.

Should the Employee Experience Feel Like Family?

In a recent memo to employees, Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke issued a clear statement that his company’s employees shouldn’t view themselves as members of a family. “Shopify, like any other for-profit company, is not a family. The very idea is preposterous. You are born into a family. You never choose it, and they can't un-family you.” Instead, Lütke proposes employees view themselves as part of a cohesive team, dedicated to a shared mission.

Regardless of metaphor, today’s employees are searching for meaning, purpose and deep connection to their career given the amount of time and energy they invest in it. Brian Rainey, CEO of Gooten, a product fulfillment company stresses the importance of a supportive environment as core to the employee experience. “What hasn’t changed is what employees look for in a job—a rewarding experience to solve challenging problems in a supportive environment," he says. "Culture, benefits, a forward-thinking management team, and job satisfaction: none of these are new. What’s changing is the ability, speed, and number of opportunities that the best employees have if they aren’t satisfied with their current position.”

Whether it be team, family or simply an organization that supports its employees, it’s becoming clear that employee expectations are changing, and they have more say in the value (and values) that comes with being employed at a company. As the economy recovers and work takes on a variety of shapes—the employee experience will matter more than ever.

 

This article was written by David Armano from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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