What is Employee Experience?

Some mistakenly confuse the term “Employee Experience” with other popular terms like “talent management,” “human resources development,” or “employee engagement.” While Employee Experience (EX) is certainly related, it’s not synonymous. EX is much broader in scope:
The Employee Experience is the sum of perceptions employees have about their interactions with the organization in which they work.


During the past several years, the push to understand and define the employee experience has gained significant momentum, and rightly so. There has been an increased trend leading many HR Executives (and even marketing departments) to take on titles like “Chief Employee Experience Officer.” On one hand, it’s wonderful to see, because they’re starting to get it. But, when asked to describe what “Employee Experience” means, they bring out charts and models that are really describing the Employee Life Cycle (ELC).

Employee Life Cycle

While certainly a part of the EX, the Employee Life Cycle is distinct, made up of all the steps or processes in which an employee participates during his or her relationship with the organization. The ELC is chronological and sequential and assumes a beginning and an end. The Employee Life Cycle includes important events and processes like recruiting, onboarding, employee development, promotion, and exit interviews. The ELC is an important part of the human resources process, because it takes into account the steps that occur from an employee’s first contact with the organization to the last interaction after termination. However, the Employee Life Cycle differs from the Employee Experience in two very significant ways: perceptions and expectations.

Consider this. Two friends, Ingvar and Edvar, start new jobs on the same day with the same company. For the first year, they are assigned to the same boss, work in the same manufacturing facility, and have similar job responsibilities. Their compensation is identical. In fact, nearly every step of the ELC is identical.  Yet their Employee Experience is very different.

Ingvar has two children, both involved in football. When he joined the company, one of the things he found most attractive was that company touted the importance of work-life balance, which was important to him, because he wanted to support his children’s athletic events. Edvar is single. He’s all about the late-night party scene, so he finds getting to work before 9:00 in the morning (at least with a clear head) is challenging, particularly on the nights he plays guitar in the band.

Fortunately for Ingvar, the company has some flexibility in how early an employee leaves in the afternoon, as long as they begin sharply at 7:00 in the morning, and critical projects are finished up before heading out for the day. Ingvar finds this a real plus. Edvar, on the other hand, feels constrained by the 7:00 a.m. start time. It simply doesn’t meet his needs. He also thought that “work-life” balance meant he would have some flexibility that facilitated the “life” part of the equation as much as it did the “work” part. No such luck. In fact, last time he brought it up to his supervisor, he was told to “go read the policy manual.” He had also understood that he could be fast-tracked to a management position if he showed promise which, in his mind, he clearly has. But he’s still in the same role he was in when he started with Ingvar over a year ago. He begins looking for new employment. Two employees. Identical ELC experiences. Very different EXs.

Employee Experience Equation

EX depends largely on perception and expectations. The perception portion dictates the outcome of the experience. The Employee Experience is based on the employee’s perception of what it going on, and not always on the reality of what occurs. This is why Ingvar and Edvar can have identical experiences, yet their EXs can be vastly different.

EX =     Experiences + Expectations + Perceptions
             Unmet Expectations + Unmet Experiences

Most organizations fail to understand this concept. They believe that creating a stellar EX is a matter of tossing out a few perks that they believe to be universally appealing, then calling themselves “great places to work.” Yet their workers are still disengaged, and they move on to places where their EX is better aligned with what they’re looking for.

Meeting Expectations

A positive Employee Experience isn’t just a factor of what the company throws at the employee. It doesn’t even depend fully on the events that occur across the Employee Life Cycle. Rather, it’s a result of how the employee perceives those experiences, and whether or not those experiences meet expectations.

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