Decades-old business wisdom and countless text books tell us to put the customer first. But what is often overlooked is that customer satisfaction can only be achieved with an engaged workforce. As Richard Branson, CEO, Virgin Group puts it: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

But what we see playing out in many organisations is new employees joining the company excited and full of new ideas but as time progresses the energy and enthusiasm they walked through the door with starts to plummet and they eventually became disengaged and leave. For many organisations, keeping staff engaged is an ongoing struggle, even though all over the globe they are spending millions of dollars on engagement efforts.

According to a study published on Harvard business review, the reason for this engagement battle is that “most initiatives amount to an adrenaline shot.”  Organisations focus on introducing perks to boost their scores and while these may create a satisfying workplace, their impact is short lived. Soon the company has to out-perk what they did last quarter or last year to lift the numbers again. It becomes a vicious cycle. The value of these perks only goes so far.

If you’re serious about putting employees first, instead of offering your people a rush of adrenaline, you need to deliver a positive employee experience throughout the employment life cycle.  Just as offering a superior customer journey leads to satisfied customers, a great employee experience creates satisfied employees. And it makes business sense too. The same HBR study found that companies that invest in employee experience outperform those that don’t – they are four times more profitable and have higher stock prices. These employee “experiential” companies include Adobe, Accenture, Facebook, Microsoft.

Employee engagement is an ongoing journey and the journey begins even before candidates apply for a job, and it continues even after staff leaves the business. The employee experience encompasses everything an employee experiences on the job and in the company, including the physical environment where they work, the company culture and how they are remunerated and incentivised.

Offering a superior employee experience can help you attract and retain the best talent and here are three steps that you can take, to create an optimal employee experience:

  1. Map the employee journey

The journey begins with your employer branding, the candidate perception of your brand, even before they consider working for you. If they then apply for a job, how do you convey your values during the recruitment process? Are those values aligned with your job listing and the way your  recruiters behave? Does the application process send the right message? Does the onboarding process provide a positive experience? Are L&D, career planning and promotions meeting expectations? How about the process for job termination or retirement?

  1. Understand the needs of your employee demographics

In our work with our clients we often see a misalignment between what employers think their employees want and the actual needs of their employees. Here you need to think like a marketer. With an increasingly multicultural and multigenerational workforce, the needs of your people can vary dramatically. Cultural differences, age and geography can impact on how employees perceive the work experience. Cookie cutter approaches to delivering positive experiences will not resonate.

  1. Listen and measure

Understand where you are today. Use formal methods such as annual and pulse surveys, focus groups, exit surveys, candidate interviews, ongoing performance conversations as well as informal channels such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor to build a picture of how your employees feel about their experience and spot areas of opportunity. Most importantly, aim to receive “real-time” feedback from employees so you have the chance to course correct.

In many organisations, employee engagement has centred around often short term adrenaline shots designed to increase their engagement scores. But companies which put their employees first, take a more holistic view and focus on creating a happier and more productive workplace, find the business results will follow.

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About Contributor

Chris Mayler is a Senior Client Director for Korn Ferry Advisory, Australia. For the last 15 years, Chris helped organisations maximise the potential of their workforce to drive business performance.