Move Over Employee Engagement: It’s Time to Focus on Workforce Experience


While employee engagement and workforce experience are often perceived as similar, they are two very different concepts. Workforce experience is a holistic phenomenon that demands acute attention from HR. We spoke with Jeff Mike from Deloitte to discuss: 

  • The importance of workforce experience beyond employee engagement 
  • Three strategies to improve the quality of the workforce experience
  • Exclusive insights from the Bersin and Deloitte Consulting Framework for Workforce Experience

Organizations have always tried to improve engagement levels at work through diverse methods to maintain productivity. But recent research suggests that this could be an isolated approach that often overlooks the big picture. 

A step further from employee engagement Opens a new window and employee experienceOpens a new window , “workforce experience” appears to be a more accurate driver of productivity, employee satisfaction, and overall workplace effectiveness. However, only 9% of organizations are “very ready” to address the challenge of realigning the workforce experience for improved productivity, found Deloitte.

We spoke to Jeff Mike, VP, Head of Research Ideation at Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP, to explore workforce experience in greater detail.

Employee Engagement or Workforce Experience – What Should be on Your Radar?

The discussion on the benefit of focusing on employee engagement vs. employee experienceOpens a new window has been around for a while. Now, however, the debate has moved further to workforce experience. According to Mike, the two concepts serve two specific and largely different purposes.

Employee engagementOpens a new window is a reflection of the effectiveness of various factors in the workplace. This includes indices such as compensation, benefits, and individual employee attitudes.

Workforce experience, on the other hand, captures the interactions between all the members of an organization – spanning those on direct payroll as well as contingent workers and C-level leaders. Mike offers a succinct definition of workforce experience, as proposed by Deloitte.

“We define workforce experience as all the connections between individuals and their colleagues, leaders, and employers; encompassing personal, physical, digital, and organizational elements. This holistic definition is inclusive of the alternative workforce, comprised of contractors, consultants, gig workers, and crowdsourced talent, as well as regular, on-payroll employees,” he said.

Here’s how workforce experience differs from employee engagement. 

  Employee Engagement

Workforce Experience

It is the cumulative effect of different workplace drivers, including culture and compensation.

It is a driver of engagement – in addition to other outcomes such as increased retention, smarter hiring, and higher productivity.

Engagement is a measurable index and can be assigned a quantitative score.

While experience quality can be measured, workforce experience itself is an intangible collection of interactions that cannot be measured.

It is only one factor in an employee’s end-to-end professional journey.

It is a more holistic parameter, spanning every type of worker as well as every facet of their work life.

Table 1: The difference between employee engagement and workforce experience

Mike puts it simply: “For HR professionals, it’s important to note that workforce experience is not the same as employee engagement. Engagement (a measure) is an outcome of a compelling workforce experience (the means). In a similar fashion, customer loyalty is an outcome of compelling customer experiences.

“Relating workforce and customer experience in this way brings HR closer to the business and promotes a more human-focused enterprise.”

Also Read: 

Top 10 Employee Engagement Apps for 2020Opens a new window

3 Strategies for HR to Improve Workforce Experience

First, as HR, it is vital to go beyond a narrow focus on employee engagement. The focus instead should move to every aspect of the workplace, starting from culture and ethics to employee well-being and the essential meaning of work. Then, this assessment of the workforce experience should be supported by three key strategies: 

1. Take lessons from marketing

Recently, several concepts and principles from marketing (for example, employee personasOpens a new window ) have found deep resonance in the HR segment. This is because employees are your internal customers, expecting the same quality of experience, responsiveness of service, and ease of operations they receive as customers of other businesses.

Mike tells us: “High-performing organizations are 6 times more likely than low performers to bring customer-facing business insights to HR from marketing and to treat the workforce like customers.”

2. Offer collaborative tools that simplify workloads

A Gallup report on employee engagement Opens a new window revealed alarming findings on the lack of basic amenities in the workplace. Only three out of 10 employees “strongly agreed” that they have the requisite tools to perform productively at work.

As HR, you can shortlist workplace technologies (productivity apps, mobile learning tools, employee self-service solutions, and even candidate relationship management technologies) to deliver a high-quality workforce experience – right from recruitment to exit.

“High-performing organizations are almost 5 times as likely to implement collaborative and co-creative technologies to connect individuals and teams in the design work and people-related processes,” said Mike. 

3. Ensure leadership buy-in and cross-functional collaboration

Workforce experience doesn’t depend on HR only. An employee’s interactions with finance, admin, IT, and other functions all determine experience quality. That’s why it is so important to involve stakeholders across functions to deliver superior experiences at work.

“HR needs to work in harmony with the business, finance, facilities, marketing, and IT for this approach to work,” Mike mentioned.

There also needs to be executive buy-in to ensure pan-enterprise experience transformation. C-level leaders can assign ownership of experience quality to different business unit heads and team leaders who, in turn, identify experience ambassadors among employees.

As Mike put it, “Ultimately, a collaborative C-suite must hold leaders across the enterprise accountable for creating the day-to-day conditions for a compelling bottom-up, personal workforce experience.” 

Adopting a Holistic Framework for Experience Management

While most organizations already deploy surveys, analytics, and dashboards to measure employee engagementOpens a new window , that is just one small part of the larger “experience picture.” This is why Deloitte has recently unveiled a new Workforce Experience Framework, designed to provide a comprehensive and all-encompassing view of the workplace. 

The framework breaks down an employee’s interactions into four distinct levels.

  • First, the employee is influenced by a company’s culture and their immediate leadership, guided by these two forces as they navigate the workplace. 
  • Next, the employee is affected by their daily work schedule and the facilities available to get it done. This could include environmental factors such as food and beverage amenities, IT support, HR aids, and the like. 
  • Then, the design approach and delivery model of every workplace element shape employee interaction – for example, the office layout or the intranet design. 
  • Finally, external factors also have a lot to do with workforce experience. For instance, an overlong commute will negatively impact workforce experience quality, despite being extraneous to the organization. 

Key Takeaways for HR

A positive workforce experience is key to organizational success, especially in the digital era. Always-on technology has changed how employees interact, collaborate, and perform.

That’s why it’s vital to objectively assess the existing experience spectrum, identifying gaps (especially when it comes to external workersOpens a new window ) and imbibing the lessons learned from customer relationships in the workplace. This will help employers build enduring relationships – that are meaningful to the employee, productive from a business vantage point, and designed for maximum retention. 

What measures have you taken to strengthen workforce experience? Share your insights with us on FacebookOpens a new window , LinkedInOpens a new window , or TwitterOpens a new window . We are always listening!