Why employee experience design matters

Employee experience (EX) design puts the individual at the centre of everything with the goal of enriching their life and career from the outset.

Holly Gibson

Holly Gibson People Experience Manager Follow me: Linkedin

Why employee experience design matters

Date: 20 July 2022

Most Human Resource professionals think about managing people with an ‘employee lifecycle’ view. This model is as old as employment itself. It’s also fundamentally flawed and arguably no longer fit for purpose with fierce competition for talent, skills shortages, and changing views on the value and place of work in individual life circumstances.

The traditional lifecycle approach goes like this: It starts with attracting a prospect’s attention, shifts to the recruitment process, through onboarding, to their tenure at the company with a bunch of processes around that, and finishes up when the person moves on.

Newer approaches move away from this mindset where ‘termination’ (for whatever reason) is the inevitable outcome. Instead, employee experience (EX) design puts the individual at the centre of everything with the goal of enriching their life and career from the outset. This means efficiently connecting them not only with the right tools and equipment but also with people within and throughout the organisation. It also means individualizing their experience rather than shoehorning everyone into a standard process.

This is a big shift because, as any businessperson will observe, individualising delivery of almost anything means scale becomes a challenge. That’s why the traditional HR approach is very much ‘this is how we do things around here’, with no co-design or collaboration.

And yet, HR engagement and experience are among the key factors with a big impact on whether or not someone wants to be a part of your organisation in the first place! In other words, it is absolutely worth focusing on customising individual experiences.

Let’s see how we do this.

One size doesn’t fit ‘brilliant’

Our vision is ‘brilliant people, connected, enabled and unleashed’.

How does that measure up to the old way of doing things where we (the employer/HR) would prescribe ‘how things are done around here’? This is how we do performance management, this is how your hire is reviewed, and here’s how everything is structured in terms of hours, leave, entitlements, and so on. The answer is that it doesn’t.

When the Assurity Consulting HR team thought about EX, we started with our vision and looked at how we could create experiences that support and feed into that vision. For starters, let’s just acknowledge that pigeonholing people isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of brilliance!

More than that, we looked at all the HR bits which should underpin brilliant people, connected, enabled, and unleashed.

This led to a separation of the things which can be described as ‘hygiene factors’ from those where a custom approach could make a difference. Employment relations, health, and safety, and payroll are things that should just happen with a minimum of fuss (and which are generally regulated pretty closely by legislation).

Then there are factors where we (HR and the business) can do things differently. Remuneration. Environment. Benefits. Engagement. Performance management. Tools and equipment.

Individuals have individual needs in these areas, and there is real room for differentiation of the employee experience here.

How could we differentiate? In Assurity’s professional work in experience design, we like going directly to the people ‘on the front line’ and asking them. And that’s exactly what we’ve done. We went to our people and asked them, ‘What’s the most important thing for you right now in terms of your own experience’.

Turns out, it’s the little things

We used the design of our Christchurch office space as a test case of what happens when you ask employees what they want and then do whatever is possible within a limited budget to deliver on those requests. This paves the way for future customisation, because everyone saw that when we asked, we listened and made the requested adjustments.

Under Connect, ideas included more plants, a coffee machine, common spaces, and private ones. Under Enabled, dual monitors, quiet rooms, cables and adapters for various hardware devices, standing desks, and secure bike parking. Under Unleashed, pooch friendly, a games area, monitor stands, and separation of work areas from client-facing ones. All these suggestions (and more) which came from our people ended up in the Christchurch office design; you can see all the requests in the figure below.

Probably the most remarkable revelation is that it truly is the little things that can make a big difference. In one case, it was a mouse for working from home (rather than being stuck with a laptop touchscreen or pad). Other requests include changes in start and finish times, allowing better work/life balance. And one was facts and figures to back our commitment to better environmental performance (our clever consultants automated the data collection and presentation).

Lessons learned: Listen and do create confidence

While these are small and often inexpensive adjustments, the real change is in involving people in the things that impact them the most. We’re done with the office design, but far from done with listening to our people and customising how we interact with them. That’s because EX is fundamentally about closing the gap between what your employee value proposition is and where you actually are.

Other steps we’ve taken include providing our consultants trust and time to design how they can make the best use of the weekly non-billing time built into their client work to allow for growth, connection, and development. This has fostered an environment where our team plan time to work together, engage on shared topics, and coordinate days in the office for lunch and a chat. We’re changing the language used by our leaders and the way they engage with staff (our regional GM always wants to know ‘what do our people think’ before taking any action). People throughout the business are willing and eager to share their thoughts and ideas.

And yes, we are even changing things around performance management interviews and remuneration policies. We’re working towards greater transparency.

EX design is something palpable. Our people see and sense the change in approach. And they respond to it because they aren’t just told they matter and they are special to the organisation. They see it and feel it every day. And that’s what makes working here a unique and life-enriching experience.

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