I've spent the past few years working on exploring and studying employee experience. I put everything I found into a new book called The Employee Experience Advantage where I analyzed 252 companies around the world to create The Employee Experience Index. Here's why employee experience matters...
Life is short, very short. This is why many of us explore the world, try new things, and otherwise venture off the beaten path, because as humans we are curious. This is also why many of us focus on creating experiences instead of simply owning material things. We save up to eat at fancy restaurants, go skydiving, visit exotic cities thousands of miles away, climb mountains, and do all sorts of other experiential activities. We don't stop to think about it, but experiences are really one of the main things that make us human. Research done by Cornell University psychology professor Dr. Thomas Gilovich, University of Chicago postdoctoral research fellow Dr. Amit Kumar, and Dr. Matthew Killingsworth, who studies human happiness at the University of California, San Francisco, found that when people spend their money on experiences, over time their satisfaction goes up whereas when people spend money on physical things, over time their satisfaction goes down. The research also found that waiting for an experience elicits more happiness than waiting for a material good and that when we spend money on experiences, those purchases are also more associated with our identity, connection, and social behavior.
Experiences stay with us throughout our lives. Not only do they shape who we are as human beings, but also they help us connect with and build relationships with others. Clearly we as human beings care about experiences because we are willing to spend our hard-earned time and money on creating them. We don't do this simply for the experiences themselves and for the feelings we get during a particular moment but because they create memories. So if experiences are so vital to our existence as human beings, then what happened to experience inside of our organizations? When you consider that we spend about 30 percent of our entire lives working (assuming you work only 40 hours a week, which many of us go far beyond) this becomes a scary statistic. We can even take this one step further and ask, "What happened to the humanity inside our organizations?"
As the world becomes more fascinated with discussions of robots and automation, this experience aspect is more important than ever! While some believe that robots and automation are taking jobs away from humans, I believe that it's the humans who are taking the jobs away from robots. Decades ago we didn't have any type of connectivity, and these discussions around robots and automation weren't even an afterthought.The role of humans was simply to show up at the same time every day, do the same job over and over, wear the same outfit, report to the same person, not ask any questions or cause any problems, and work like a robot. At the time we didn't have automation so what did we do? We used humans. We have designed perfect organizations for robots and automation, but because we didn't have these technologies at the time, we used the next best thing: people. Now, when these technologies finally exist, they are claiming the jobs and responsibilities that we designed for them to begin with. Humans were simply placeholders; bookmarks in a novel. Today organizations around the world are trying to figure out how they have to redesign themselves to focus more on people. Robots don't care about experiences at work but humans do. The experiences organizations design are ultimately what shape the actions that employees take and the relationships or associations that they want to have with your organization (if any). The challenge we have to overcome today is how to shift our relationship with work from feeling like a physical purchase, where satisfaction starts to decline over time, to an investment in an experience, where our satisfaction increases over time.
In my last book, The Future of Work (Wiley, 2014), I shared that synonyms for employee include cog, servant, and slave; synonyms for manager include boss, slave driver, and zookeeper. Synonyms for work include drudgery, struggle, and daily grind. This is quite literally how we have structured many of our organizations over the past few decades. We have actually designed the humanity out of them. However, today we are starting to realize that this way of thinking about work no longer makes any sense. The one big assumption we have always had about our organizations has now proven to be completely wrong. Organizations have always assumed that people needed to work there. After all, you have expenses, bills to pay, a family to look after, and things you want to buy. The organization has a job it can offer you to help you take care of those things so it's clearly a good fit. This has been the traditional relationship between employer and employee, and organizations have always had all the control and the power. Again this was the simple equivalent of purchasing a physical good. Oftentimes these same organizations were simply able to rely on their brand power to attract and retain talent. Today that is no longer the case. The war for talent has never been fiercer, and in an effort to attract and retain the best and brightest, organizations have to shift from creating places where they assume people need to be to creating organizations where people truly want to be. This shift in approach from need to want is also causing organizations to invest heavily in employee experience.