How do you measure employee experience?
8 minute read
Measuring employee experience is tricky: to get the best insight, layer multiple data sources and invite timely, regular feedback from your people
If organisations are going to ‘listen at scale’ to employees, there need to be mechanisms in place to gather their views, to process this data and to mine it for insights. There’s no doubt that the field of employee feedback and listening has evolved; organisations that had previously relied on a single, annual survey to produce an index of employees’ engagement now increasingly run more regular pulse surveys or deploy other modes of feedback. As technology has become more sophisticated (and often cheaper to implement and maintain, thanks to cloud computing), companies have realised they can start a dialogue with employees in a more fluid way, creating a drumbeat of feedback rather than a snapshot of a moment in the past. And where annual employee surveys tended to focus on the goals of the business and employees’ views on them, this evolved approach centres on the employee, rather than the employer.
13 data sources that’ll help you measure employee experience
A comprehensive employee feedback ecosystem could comprise several elements, such as:
- Annual review survey: they may get a bad press, but an annual engagement survey can provide a useful benchmark of how employees feel at that point in the year compared with others. However, the size and scope of these surveys means that analysis and, therefore, any follow-up of the results can be slow
- Pulse survey: these can form part of a more regular feedback cycle than an annual survey, with many organisations choosing to run these surveys quarterly. They can also be ascribed to particular topics, such as views on hybrid working practices or proposed new policies
- Onboarding survey: improving the candidate experience can lead to lower employee turnover and fewer candidates dropping out of the process, so a short survey after the recruitment process is complete can offer valuable insight, particularly in the current labour market
- Exit survey: at the other end of the employee lifecycle, an exit survey can be an anonymous way for employees to give more honest feedback. More and more organisations favour these over exit interviews, where employees may feel wary of sharing concerns face to face
- 360-degree feedback: this can be used as a way for colleagues to give peer-to-peer feedback, or for employees to give their views to managers on how their experience at work can be improved
- Instant feedback apps: there are many tools on the market that allow employees to give immediate feedback on any given issue or even rate whether they’ve had a good day at work. These are useful because they can provide a ‘heatmap’ of where any potential issues with engagement lie, and rely on anonymity so are an honest reflection of employee feeling
- Net Promoter Scores (NPS): similar to the consumer NPS many organisations use to gauge customer experience, employee NPS can show workforce satisfaction levels
- Sentiment analysis: using data analytics and/or artificial intelligence (AI), organisations can mine text in employee tools such as email and social media to gauge positive and negative reactions to what’s happening at work. For example, the announcement of a new CEO could provoke discussions on employee chat channels, and sentiment analysis could give an idea of how this has been received
- External feeds: employer review sites such as Glassdoor can be a useful source of current or past sentiment, as can professional networking sites such as LinkedIn
There are also hygiene factors in the day-to-day employee experience that can be measured and feed into decisions about how to improve engagement, such as:
- HR system records of how much overtime is worked or whether hours are different to normal
- Absence management software, showing high levels of sickness absence on certain days
- Data from productivity tools such as Microsoft Outlook showing whether someone attends a high number of meetings
- Reward or medical insurance system insights on the benefits being accessed by employees. Increased use of counselling services or employee assistance providers (EAPs), for example, may point to levels of stress (or high levels of openness, conversely)
Why collect data from multiple sources to measure employee experience?
The advantage of deploying a range of tools to gather feedback is that companies can react quickly where needed, and intervene at crucial points during the employee lifecycle. During the pandemic, savvy organisations sought immediate feedback to respond to employees, using tools to gain insights on front-line work experiences or how remote workers were responding to the rapid change happening around them. This was often a challenge, according to Ross McCaw, CEO and founder of OurPeople, a platform that enables organisations to unify their communications. “During the worst of the pandemic, we witnessed the mass adoption of new and old communications platforms, and this left many organisations struggling to find a single provider that could serve all their needs. Their communications became muddled,” he says. Integrating communications is crucial to enhancing this aspect of the employee experience, he adds, because it eliminates confusion and boosts efficiency. A listening employer that acts when prompted continues to be an expectation for workers: PwC’s recent Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey identified one of the five key factors making someone less likely to resign as “feeling their manager listens to them”.
How an organisation builds that feedback loop will depend on factors such as its commercial goals, levels of workforce attrition and whether the workforce is mostly office based or not. For most it will be a mix of some of the tools above. “It’s folly to expect one piece of technology to solve all of those problems. The best way to start is with where do you want to go, and what are your priorities,” says David Godden, vice president for sales and marketing at feedback company Thymometrics. “Rather than thinking that an employee survey will solve all of your problems, think about how you understand what employees want from the company, and how you push that back into the business based on what the company wants.” Start with a feedback strategy, he adds, and then introduce the technology to extract the information and support communications. And while technology can automate how you gather data on employee experience, and increase the scale at which you do so, it will achieve nothing if the data is not acted upon, or the conversation is one way. Godden adds: “A continuous loop is so important. Understand your strategy, ask questions, justify whether they’re the right questions, then build on them and hone your strategy. If you don’t do anything with answers, people won’t bother next time.”
“You can have the best strategy and values statements, but if employees’ experiences at work don’t match those, there’s a serious disconnect”
Megan Price, positive psychologist and founder of Happybyme, argues that feedback mechanisms are more important than ever to understand the ‘whole’ person at work. “The pandemic gave us a chance to reflect on our own lives holistically – bringing the threads between our work and home lives together,” she says. “We should expect our experience of life not to be one where we completely turn off at home or become someone else at work, you just do whatever needs to be done, whether business or home.” Feedback can help organisations respond better during moments such as an apprentice starting their first job, the phone call we make when we offer a role, and how we support someone through a bereavement. “You can have the best strategy and straplines, but if their experience doesn’t match there’s a disconnect. The one time you don’t act in line with those values will be the only time they remember,” she says.
If an organisation is gathering multiple sources of employee feedback, this also offers an opportunity to look at employee experience in a more intersectional way. If data is aggregated across groups so no-one is identifiable, it’s possible to draw out insights on how different groups experience aspects of their work. This can support diversity and inclusion goals: for example, a trend towards negative feedback on employee benefits from younger women could prompt a refresh of what’s on offer, or candidates from a particular ethnicity dropping out of the recruitment process may spark an investigation into whether aspects of the process could be off-putting. These insights can also highlight aspects of HR processes that may be more time-consuming than they need to be or aren’t providing sufficient return on investment. “A traditional survey is only a snapshot in time, so it can be hard to get that level of granularity,” says Phil Pringle, employee experience strategist at Qualtrics, an experience management company. “Now we take a more ecosystem-focused approach where matter we can look at moments in the employee lifecycle and use feedback mechanisms to complement one another in a more holistic way.”
Layering data sources to give a more accurate picture of employee experience
Claire Williams, chief people officer at Ciphr, agrees that a layered approach can give a better picture. The company draws on a wide range of feedback sources to see how it is responding to employees at different points in the lifecycle – from prompts during the induction process to exit interview technology that gets into the detail behind why employees are leaving. “Everything is held centrally and branded consistently,” she explains. “We also have employee sentiment tracking that shows a very real moment in time in terms of employee satisfaction. If someone says they’re unhappy, I give them a call and ask why. It’s often just a bad day at work or something personal, but doing this has had a very real impact.” On top of these tools, the company brings in insights from sites such as Glassdoor, correlates employee NPS scores against customer satisfaction measures to identify any patterns, and uses exit data to see whether candidates’ experiences once they join match up to promises during the hiring process. “This all builds into a holistic view of the experience: anything in isolation is too narrow,” she adds. “Looking at different layers of data also means we can see leading indicators and be more forward thinking as an organisation, taking a more proactive approach.”
Using surveys or feedback tools to gauge how important different aspects of the employee experience are can also help the business understand where to direct energy or investment, adds Godden. “Many surveys don’t really ask what’s important – they just ask employees if they are happy with their manager or their salary,” he says. “This misses the point. What the company thinks is important to the employees might not be what they think is important.” Asking about levels of satisfaction and priorities helps build that more employee-centric experience, he adds. A further factor to consider is response rates, adds Williams. “If you’ve only got 30% of staff responding to a survey, two-thirds of your workforce aren’t even engaging with the questions, so that should ring alarm bells,” she says. Reviewing uptake of feedback mechanisms is essential if they are to be useful, prompting questions such as whether communications channels are effective or whether questions were asked in the right way. It’s not just about what you ask, but how.
With an ever-growing array of tools badged as employee experience products, the market for measuring engagement can be confusing. But by helping leaders to link increases in engagement to overall business goals, these tools can play an important role in achieving those targets.
This article is an extract from Ciphr’s white paper, Employee experience: moving the dial on moments that matter. Download the free PDF to discover:
- The definition of employee experience (and how it differs from employee engagement)
- The role of technology and HR software in building the employee experience
- Which employee experience interventions are most effective