If I asked you to name any two things that go together, I'm willing to bet you wouldn't say "data and feelings." And who could blame you? The two concepts seem at odds with one another--one cold and calculating, while the other is much more abstract. And yet, the more we learn about employee experience (EX)--that is, how people feel about their experience at work--the clearer it is that the key to making strides in this space lies in data analysis.

EX has always been important, but it's more of a front-burner issue today than ever before. Most workplaces have changed more in the last two years than in the twenty years preceding, and many of the things we took for granted about EX have proven to be less static than we thought.

For example, pre-pandemic, it was easier to gauge and influence employee experience. Moments of levity and connection were much easier to come by when we had the advantage of seeing one another face to face. Today, most workplaces remain remote at least some of the time, which makes it harder to keep a finger on the pulse of employee experience.

Why is EX so important?

Ultimately, this is about more than just sentiment. One in four employees are planning to leave their jobs in 2022, and turnover is expensive. Improving employee experience is a very real way to hedge against this.

So how can we be more intentional about crafting--and monitoring--a positive employee experience? Using data to track, monitor, and improve EX may seem like an impersonal solution to a deeply personal issue, but in reality, it's far from it. Let's take a look at how data can help you understand, analyze, and recommit to EX.

1. Get a read on engagement. You can't improve employee experience without knowing what needs to be improved. Sending out regular surveys can help you understand why your topline engagement might be high or low.

At Bonusly, we send a 10-question survey to our employees every quarter to get a read on job satisfaction. By keeping the questions consistent and to-the-point, we track engagement over time, which helps us assess how well our plans to improve engagement are actually working.

If you're not sure which questions to ask, start with the basics. There are well-defined measurement tools like Employee Satisfaction Score and Employee NPS you can employ, and you can add more pointed questions about things like engagement, inclusion, workload, and feeling a sense of purpose (for example) to get a sense of what might be contributing to your overall engagement score.

2. Reduce recency bias in performance reviews. Recency bias affects everyone. Our brains are hard-wired to recall what just happened much more easily than what happened a week ago. Unfortunately, this can also come into play when it's time for performance reviews. This can hugely impact employee experience if people feel they aren't getting the kudos they deserve.

Creating systems that challenge this bias is a great way to counteract it. One way to do this is to set up a frequent and timely recognition system. (Bonusly, the company I founded, is a recognition and rewards platform that enables everyone in your organization to visibly recognize one another.) That way, when it's time for a review, managers can look up the last six months of recognition data and use that as a guide rather than relying on memory alone. This can go a long way in producing recognition that's fairer and more robust, which can help employees feel they're being fairly assessed.

3. Map out career progression. Employees feel more engaged when they believe that their manager not only cares about their growth, but is also providing opportunities for them to advance towards those goals. At a minimum, managers should be mapping out career paths so their employees can see where they are now as well as where they could go in the future.

Once your organization reaches a certain size, you have the opportunity to take that individual data and put it into the context of your organization overall. You can start analyzing things like your rate of internal vs. external hires, as well as discrepancies in promotion velocity across different departments, roles, and demographics. That data can reveal the effects of unconscious bias and allow you to remediate it to create a better overall experience.

The bottom line

When it comes to feelings, there's a surprising number of data-based actions you can take to understand and influence them. But it's important to remember that data is just one piece of the EX puzzle. If you're not taking the time to share your findings and show how you're taking action based on your learnings, very little will change. Being transparent and intentional about how that data is informing your EX initiatives will do more to improve morale than any data point along the way.