What’s really new about designing the Employee Experience

What’s really new about designing the Employee Experience

Februar 25, 2017
/ /
in Blog

Recently, companies have been publicly or silently rebranding and refocusing their HR Teams on creating the Employee Experience, adding new HR positions or refocusing older ones.

Many ideas and concepts are connected to this term – some old, some new. Let’s start with the most important parts of the concept.

A new perspective 

Of the definitions I’ve seen, I liked the one by Susan Peters, Senior Vice President Human Resources at General Electric, most: “We define employee experience simply as seeing the world through the eyes of our employees”  

This might sound rather basic, but let me ask you one question: Why has it taken HR so long to innovate in the area of traditional performance management? It has taken so long, because up until now, experts’ opinions on best practices were more influential than employees’ experiences. New approaches to achieve performance differentiation without frustrating, time consuming experiences for management and employees were recently implemented by companies like GEMicrosoftAdobeDeloitteAccentureand GAP.

From processes to experiences and needs

The concept of employee experience recognizes the importance of each interaction a company has with an employee. In recruiting, each interaction with the applicant adds to their decision of accepting an offer or not. In onboarding, each interaction influences the feeling of having made the right decision to join a company. Over the long term, each interaction adds to the employee’s decisions about continued engagement and commitment.

Many major drivers for engagement and commitment are regularly measured by HR. However, those standardized categories may miss important factors, because seemingly small aspects can add up when they entail emotional experiences.

Nontransparent and stressful internal selection processes can leave employees unhappy even above and beyond the experience of not getting promoted. Time-consuming administrative processes can deeply frustrate employees because they feel their time is not valued. The practice of creating a burning platform for change can leave employees feel exhausted and not valued, especially when change is pervasive.

Employee experience as well as customer experience is ultimately about recognizing and fulfilling emotional needs. The quality of the experience you have when picking up your BMW adds to your satisfaction as a consumer. The experience of feeling competent and enabled in front of a Macintosh makes you a loyal customer.

How to design for experience 

Several approaches HR apply to capture employees’ perspectives are either outdated or limited. Brainstorming in workshops, for example, has proven ineffective at delivering significant new ideas, although it is still widely used. Surveys are important in measuring progress but are too blunt an instrument to convey deep meaning.

Approaches like Design Thinking offer us a wealth of material on how to design for good experiences and are readily applicable to HR. I myself have written about such methods in German and there is a wealth of other widely available material on the subject, for example by the Stanford d.school.

What is not new about employee experience 

Since the origin of corporations in the Renaissance, leaders and HR departments have cared about their employees to various degrees, ranging from deeply responsible to horrifically neglectful. There are examples of beautiful designed workspaces from the last century. The British East India Company’s headquarters were stylish and impressive for their time, with extraordinary interior. They provided many employees not only with food but with copious amounts of alcoholic beverages during working hours to keep them happy while working long hours in remote locations. The term “war for talents” was first used in 1997 and the scarcity of and competition for key talent is barely new.

Of course, you don’t need a new term or concept to realize the importance of employee relations for your long-term business success. However, when it comes to truly understanding the perspectives of different groups of employees, focusing on experiences and using new approaches like design thinking can be very helpful.


Technology is currently creating both pressure and opportunity for an increasing focus on employee experience. The transparency of people practices has risen significantly due to platforms such as Glassdoor. Stories about misconduct and toxic cultures spread quickly over social media.

Technology is more and more seamlessly intervening in every aspect of our daily lives. Employees are increasingly expecting their employers to offer modern technology in the workplace from effective self-service to contemporary communication and cooperation tools. Successful technology is never about the tool itself though, but about the need to connect, to be effective, and to be enabled to do what you want to do. Designing user experiences or choosing the right tool based on employee and company needs is fundamental to creating a successful employee experience.

Employee experience goes beyond technology. It is also about understanding what makes your employees resist change, what frustrates them, what makes them proud and what motivates them get up in the morning. The beauty of the concept lies in moving from a rather technocratic focus on process efficiency towards a more human-centered design focused on what is really important.


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