Making sure employees are happy can have a big impact on the success of your business. But when people talk about employee satisfaction, they often use two terms interchangeably: “employee experience,” and “employee engagement.” Both concepts do relate to employee happiness and both are important— but understanding the distinctions and how both ideas relate will help ensure employees are satisfied enough to stay at your company.
Part of the reason it’s so hard to distinguish between employee experience and employee engagement isn’t just how often they’re used interchangeably; it’s also how interconnected they are. In a Gallup piece distinguishing the differences between employee experience and employee engagement, writer Ryan Pendall boils it down to two concise definitions:
So, employee experience is the bigger picture of the employee life cycle, while engagement is a puzzle piece that goes into creating that picture. Researcher Jacob Morgan goes somewhat further in a Harvard Business Review piece regarding how little the millions spent on engagement actually buy, calling most human resources engagement initiatives an “adrenaline shot” that can boost how an employee feels about working for a company. In contrast, he writes about companies considering the experience a longer-term process: “They’re going beyond what engagement scores are telling them to do in the moment and redesigning employee experience, creating a place where people want, not just need, to work each day.” That desire to work at a company versus doing so simply because one needs to make a living drives employees to be better at their jobs, as well as more dedicated and loyal to the business — which ultimately makes it more successful.
As Pendall notes, “Your employees' level of engagement— their mindset and behavior when they come to work each day— has a major impact on what they think about your company.” This element of the employee experience is vital, even if it can’t ensure employee happiness on its own. Getting managers and employees on board with an engagement strategy is a key element of that overall puzzle: ultimately, the employee experience won’t be amazing if engagement is overlooked.
In a piece entitled, “The Employee Experience: It’s Trickier (and more important) Than You Thought,” Josh Bersin calls the employee experience “a giant vortex for everything in HR.” While that’s pretty intimidating, it boils down to a fairly simple fact: the employee experience is broad. It’s that journey that begins even before a new employee's onboarding on their first day at a company; according to Deloitte, “Starting as potential hires and recruits, employees look at everything that happens at work as an integrated experience that impacts daily life in and outside the workplace, including overall physical, emotional, professional, and financial well-being.” Because it’s so comprehensive, creating a positive employee experience can seem like a giant, unwieldy thing to take on, but it doesn’t have to be: it begins, as Deloitte shares, with ‘elevating the employee experience and making it a priority.’
There are some concrete steps to enhancing the employee experience. Bersin breaks down the employee experience itself, noting that it includes, “All the programs we’ve invested in over the years (employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, leadership development, performance management).” There are many values of performance management, and a performance management tool can certainly help a business to build solid foundations for this element of the employee journey, and beyond, really becoming an employee experience management platform. As previously noted, employee engagement also factors into that overall umbrella, so it’s worth taking a closer look at, as well.
Gallup describes engagement as: “the basic psychological needs that must be met in order to perform your work well.” That seems simple enough on the surface, but when it comes down to it, we have to understand what the phrase ‘basic psychological needs,’ refers to. It’s not just working somewhere pleasant; it’s also being given adequate resources to do your job well, and feeling as though your specific job is connected to the larger mission of the business itself. While some might believe that engagement is the wrong thing to focus on when considering employee happiness, wanting these needs to be met by a job is totally reasonable— and are all part of the overall employee experience.
An HBR piece focused on designing the employee experience like the customer experience (and seeing them as equally important), suggests keeping employees engaged by designing the employee experience to reflect the values of the overall brand — so if the brand values are seamlessness and automation, then everything employees do from performance reviews to signing up for benefits should have that same crisp, speedy, and effortless feel. In the piece, author Denise Lee Yohn notes, “Gallup has found that a staggering 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged, but companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share.” So, the benefits of engaging employees while also looking at the bigger picture with an employee experience strategy has obvious benefits for the business as a whole.
The employee experience and employee engagement are two connected elements of a business’s ability to keep its employees happy. Understanding the nuances between the two can be tricky, especially since there are different interpretations of both, but ultimately it’s about enhancing the overall employee experience while keeping employees feeling engaged and purposeful in their work.