What is technology’s role in building the employee experience at work?



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9 mins

HR software helps to create the digital employee experience. Get it right, and employees will thrive and stay with your organisation. Get it wrong, they’ll be unhappy, unproductive, and probably leave

Google the term ‘employee experience software’ and you’ll receive a barrage of hits from companies claiming to be able to transform your culture and keep everyone smiling on a daily basis. But the fact is that employees’ experience of their workplace is so multi-faceted that one piece of HR software is unlikely to be able to measure and track it reliably, let alone enhance it. Despite this, many vendors claim to offer a single solution to solve your employee experience ‘problem’ – a claim that needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

If you think about the sheer number of different roles in an organisation, and the touchpoints those employees encounter during the working day, tracking and supporting those individual experiences would require an AI supercomputer. For most organisations, a central HR system such as Ciphr HR will act as an anchor for all the other key parts of the digital ecosystem such as HR recruitment software, feedback tools, learning and development and performance management. “A colleague’s journey might start by signing on to [a central system], and an application programming interface (API) takes them to their next tool and the data passes backwards and forwards,” explains Bradley Burgoyne, head of talent at Ciphr. “If you get the central system right, this will enable employees to easily access systems across the wider tech ecosystem and deliver a good employee experience.”

What makes up the digital employee experience?

HR analyst Josh Bersin breaks down the “tech stack” an organisation could use into three key areas: a productivity layer that houses tools such as Teams, Zoom or Slack that employees use for general communications and are not job-specific; an experience layer with tools that are less used but important to the employee’s experience of work, such as entering a holiday request; and an application layer that is the core HR or business operations system (the employee doesn’t interface with this as such, but does experience its outputs). Knitting these tools together with clever digital glue or ‘middleware’ is what creates a smooth employee experience. And just as there has been an evolution from enterprise resource planning (ERP) deployments and mammoth HR systems to a platform that integrates the best tools available for different aspects of the employee lifecycle, the tools within an employee experience platform need to reflect the end-to-end employee experience, or journey.

The points on this journey could look something like this:

Logging into the front end

  • Productivity tools such as email, Teams, Slack or chatbots
  • Logging into a workflow ‘in-tray’ such as ServiceNow
  • Internal social media such as Workplace from Facebook

Accessing the tools you need

  • Assigning a new employee an email address via the IT helpdesk
  • Accessing a learning module via a learning management system (LMS)
  • Updating a performance management profile with new credentials
  • Filing expenses

Providing feedback

  • Completing a pulse survey via a feedback app
  • Reporting a tech problem using a chatbot
  • Sending an anonymous complaint through an employee response tool

Hygiene factors

  • Accessing a payslip via the payroll system
  • Choosing rewards from a flexible benefits platform
  • Updating software via the IT department
  • Booking a holiday on a time and attendance system

Growth and improvement

  • LMS recommends a course based on career aspirations
  • Taking a diversity and inclusion module via a learning portal
  • Giving colleagues kudos for achievements using workplace social platforms
  • Sharing your achievements on LinkedIn or external communication platforms

Why integrate your people management systems?

The impact of integrating the tools that facilitate these journeys is two-fold: on the one hand, organisations can get valuable data about different aspects of the day-to-day operations of their workforce, while on the other, employees can navigate through different tasks more seamlessly. Talent consultancy Korn Ferry describes the latter as “engagement plus enablement” – that is, the higher levels of engagement and superior performance that will emerge when employees are empowered to perform at their best by their environment.

“You can have highly motivated individuals but getting stuff done is hard for them, or they find it hard to serve customers,” says Phil Pringle, employee experience strategist at Qualtrics, an experience management company. “Companies acquired a lot of technology during the pandemic to support employees to do their jobs but it can still be a complicated landscape to use. They need to question how these tools are working, because if they’re not, you lose good talent and engaged people.” German technology company Userlane recently found that 1 in 10 employees had considered leaving their jobs because of difficulties using software, while 4 in 10 had experienced frustration or difficulty when using workplace tech.

To get to this point, however, it’s important to consider what those employee journeys might look like, adds Burgoyne. “Start with those simple principles, otherwise you can overcomplicate things and the tech will mirror that. Let the employee lifecycle guide you, thinking about what the best employee experience looks like at each point. If you try and do the whole piece in one go, it’s a huge ask. It needs to be incremental.” This is particularly important with the added layer of complexity that remote and hybrid working brings with it, he explains. Research by Ciphr in May 2022 highlighted the importance of job security, and being able to seamlessly communicate an issue with a manager could influence whether someone feels comfortable enough to broach difficult issues at work. “Wellbeing is a huge part of employee experience and technology can help to manage transparency and processes to support employees. They want to feel safe to challenge things or empowered to develop solutions. The platforms themselves won’t make that happen, but can structure the conversations that will facilitate it,” says Burgoyne.

“Companies have acquired a lot of technology to help employees do their jobs… You need to ask how these tools are working, because, if they aren’t, you’ll lose good people”

Engagement expert Ben Whitter argues that “there’s no Utopia yet” when it comes to technology ecosystems for employee experience, and that success is often down to how organisations create a suite of tools, and the human response that sits alongside the technology. “Organisations need to think about not just the infrastructure, but also the relationship. Otherwise it can end up being just a central HR system,” he says. In a recent analysis of employee experience platforms by HR research analyst Josh Bersin, he likened the need for simplicity to the experience consumers have when using sites such as Facebook and Amazon. “Consider the consumer market,” Whitter says. “Google, Facebook, and Amazon have dozens of back-end systems, yet we see a single easy-to-use interface as consumers. Just as they have abstracted away complexity with a front-end layer, so must we build a similar architecture for employees in our companies. This is the world of HR technology and services in the future, and this is why we now need an employee experience platform.”

Integrating and building interfaces for multiple systems may seem like a costly and time-consuming project, but will ultimately pay off in terms of the end-user experience. Increasingly, vendors offer ready-made APIs that require little or no coding to enable central HR systems such as Ciphr HR to communicate with other software in your HR tech stack. It may also be the case that only a certain proportion of tools need to communicate in real time with your central HRMS software, reducing this burden further. Identifying those key points in the journey where that integration needs to be flawless is all part of building a better employee experience.

How you interact with candidates during the recruitment process is a prime example of one of those key points, says Claire Williams, chief people officer at Ciphr. “Your candidate experience reflects your brand and you want to set the tone for how someone’s employment will be with you. HR and onboarding software needs to do more than just capture someone’s bank details; they need to help you communicate more frequently now that notice periods are increasing, or prompt you to call a candidate to ask if they need anything just before an interview so you’re not wasting either side’s time,” she explains. Being able to “bolt-on” tools using APIs adds flexibility, too – a chatbot that can answer frequently asked questions about start times or documentation, for example, or greater messaging capability when there are a lot of contractors at customer sites.

Are you using the right technology?

Standing back and considering which processes support a positive employee experience is an invaluable exercise when investing in technology. It’s one that may also mean auditing the tools of your organisation for their usability and relevance, suggests Cookson.

“We need to stop using the technology as a mere communication tool and begin using it as an engagement tool, offering genuine two-way communication across the organisation, and making it easy for people to find information to make decisions that would aid their productivity and level of satisfaction in their roles,” he says.

“Most organisations have technology that could help but haven’t invested the time in making it easy to use, making it cohesive and ensuring it gives a great experience to those working in perhaps complete isolation. Many organisations have features that are useful, but not necessarily in the same pieces of technology.”

He adds that many employers would do well to remember the mantra ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’. “Not everything we do needs digitising,” he says. “A helpful approach may be to adopt the 80:20 rule – 20% of your processes take up 80% of your time, so focus on digitising those.”

This article is an extract from Ciphr’s white paper, Employee experience: moving the dial on moments that matterDownload the free PDF to discover:

  • The definition of employee experience (and how it differs from employee engagement)
  • How to measure the employee experience
  • Which employee experience interventions are most effective

 Download the complete white paper now.