Stepping up the employee experience

Gill Maxwell, Research Advisor, CIPD. 

Improvements in the employee experience underpin retention

In 2022, the people profession is still very much in the organisational spotlight in managing ongoing changes to working practices. The CIPD has analysed data from our annual surveys (in association with Workday) on the profession in the UK to identify step changes from 2020 to 2021, which may well signal emerging trends for this year and beyond.

Analysis shows that making improvements in the employee experience is a discernible change in the last couple of years. This is especially important currently, in light of high labour turnover − also known as ‘the Great Resignation’ − and record numbers of job vacancies. Retaining employees is critical and, potentially, the employee experience is integral to this.

A better understanding of the employee experience gives a fresh perspective on people practices

Focusing on making employee experience part of an organisation’s core people strategy has increased modestly (from 35% of our 2020 survey respondents to 38% in 2021). Adopting such an employee-centric approach to people strategy and practices means taking a holistic account of how employees experience and observe their employment with their organisation. In simple terms, this means formulating HR strategies, policies and accompanying practices from the perspective of employees.

Unsurprisingly, company culture and values are key elements in employees’ experience. Our year-on-year survey data analysis shows that these elements are most common in organisations that are improving their employee experience (for 49% of our respondents in 2020 and 2021).

Four other aspects that have had increased uptake in our respondents’ organisations are:

  • the creation of learning programmes that better meet the development needs of employees
  • investment in management and leadership programmes
  • information gathering on recruitment, selection and onboarding experiences
  • implementation of new HR technologies.                                                                                                    

The employee experience isn’t a one-size-fits-all or fixed-content construct; instead, it may comprise varying additional or alternative elements. For example, a sense of purpose and belonging, social and interpersonal connections, as well as good manager and co-worker relationships are recognised by McKinsey consultants as important for employees to experience at the present time.

Investing in the employee experience pays dividends in retention: a case study

For Frontiers, a leading open access publishing company, taking action on current core elements of the employee experience is ‘extremely important as it really impacts on retention of employees,’ explains People Business Partner, Tina Karia.

Headquartered in Switzerland, Frontiers has staff across 14 locations worldwide, including the UK. It is rapidly expanding and currently has over 1000 employees - and it wants to keep them. The overall approach is to ‘make sure employees have a fantastic experience from onboarding [and] throughout their employee lifecycle with us.’

Tina envisages employee experience as an umbrella with different spokes or facets over time. It means ‘taking a step back from the business point of view to ask: “What does the employee regard as a great experience?”’ Employee engagement surveys and actively listening to employees address this question. From these sources, flexible working is the top priority in the current employee experience.

An internal survey of Frontiers staff in 2021 showed that 75% of staff prefer working from home and would like to continue doing so in the future, but can choose a physical office if and when required. Employees can work flexibly in a new ‘remote-first’ work philosophy for staff. However, such flexibility presents a couple of challenges. Firstly, remote working can compromise the employee experience psychologically and, secondly, just as it aids recruitment, it also makes it easier for employees ‘to leave a company as their pool of jobs expands exponentially with remote work.’

Consequently, the people team is now ‘conducting a deeper dive’ into how it can improve health and wellbeing for its entirely remote workers, in particular, to boost the employee experience. The guiding question is: ‘What do our employees regard as a great remote working experience?’ All answers – expressed as people policies and related practices − will, of course, be considered from the employee perspective.

Further reading:

In a buoyant jobs market, firms need to take a holistic approach to retention (
How companies can turn the Great Resignation into the Great Attraction | McKinsey

The findings reported here are in addition to the main findings reported in the CIPD People Profession 2021 survey report in association with Workday. You can find out more about employee turnover and retention in our factsheet on this.

Add your voice and help us build an annual snapshot for the people profession – complete the 2022 survey here.

Related content:

CIPD reports on a collective view of future trends and cross-functional collaboration in a changing world of work.

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