Focus On Employee Engagement, Not Employee Experience

We are finally seeing a movement by the general business world to seriously focus on the role and value of employees, which is why “Embracing Employee Engagement” is one of our 2017 CX Trends. Temkin Group has viewed employee engagement as a critical foundation for customer experience since our inception. It’s one of our Four CX Core Competencies.

While the trend is great, there’s still a long way to go. I’d love to see many more human resources organizations recognize that employee engagement is one of their strategic objectives (see my post, HR Execs: Wake Up To Employee Engagement!).

As this area has gained attention, there’s been a troubling misunderstanding creeping up in the dialogue. People are confuscating Employee Engagement with Employee Experience. They are not the same.

It’s important to understand the distinction, because only one of them is the foundation to success. So let’s look at each of them:

  • Employee Experience deals with how employees enjoy their job or environment. It deals with making things fun and enjoyable. People often say things like “let’s treat the employees’ experience like we do the customers’ experience.” They think of ways to make the work place more exciting and fun, by adding things outside of work like pizza parties and gift swaps. Employee experience can be measured by questions like “how much fun do you have at work.
    • My take: This is a very nice thing to do for your employees, but it is insufficient to drive success.
  • Employee Engagement deals with how committed employees are to the mission of their organization. It deals with human beings’ intrinsic needs for a sense of meaningfulness, choice, competence, and progress. People who want to affect change in this area must focus on the design of the work environment using what we call the Five I’s: Inspire, Inform, Involve, Instruct, and Incent. Employee engagement can be measured by the three questions in the Temkin Employee Engagement Index.
    • My take: This is a requirement to drive long-term success.

If you want to build a high performing organization that consistently delivers great customer experience, then you need to focus on employee engagement. If you happen to improve employee experience along the way, then that’s an added bonus.

The bottom line: Focus on employee engagement, not employee experience.

P.S. Based on some great comments to this post, I want to clarify something. Improving employee experience is not a bad thing. But a company should not be focusing its energy on improving employees experience just for the sake of that improvement. The ultimate goal should be in creating an engaged workforce, not just ensuring that employees enjoy their work experience. See my post: Are You Creating Engaged or Entitled Employees?

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I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

13 thoughts on “Focus On Employee Engagement, Not Employee Experience”

  1. Doesn’t the employee experience lead to employee engagement in the same way the customer experience leads to customer loyalty?

    1. Hi Ammon: Great question! And the answer is “not necessarily.” It’s true that it is difficult (not impossible) to build engagement if the experience is really bad, but improving employee experience does not necessarily lead to high levels of engagement. If the employee experience at the American Cancer Society is really poor, you might still end up with highly engaged employees. Improving employee experience without developing an increase in commitment to the organization’s mission can lead to entitlement, not engagement. See my post: Are You Creating Engaged or Entitled Employees? With customer experience, we don’t want companies sinking money and effort into making the experience better and better unless it’s connected with delivering on their brand promises. The key is not just better customer experience, but customer experience that reinforces the value of the brand and the company, which is what builds loyalty.

      1. That makes sense. I guess I see the same qualifiers as being applicable to both customer and employee experience. In both cases, the experience has to be improved in the direction of generating customer loyalty and employee engagement. A positive experience for both customer and employee are means to an end, not ends in themselves.

  2. Just to say, I enjoy reading this blog. I just subscribed to your newsletter, I’m a fan. Thank you for sharing the five I’s, something we can definitely try here at work. As an employee myself, I love the activities and treats at work. A bit of fresh air in a very exhausting industry like sales. Which I (personally) think helps me to be motivated and be engaged. The drive to work better (engagement) comes naturally if employees are happy with what they do. Keep it up!

  3. Hi Bruce, Gosh I was just thinking about this engagement/experience relationship – and I guess I have it backwards, but I am having a hard time understanding wrapping my head around it. I see Experience as the umbrella, with engagement a huge, key factor affecting the experience. I see this as one contributing factor that can be identified, parsed and purposefully designed and managed for improvement, contributing to the overall positive or negative employment experience. If you made a Journey Map for the Employee, wouldn’t job engagement/or lack thereof be one of various possible pain points to address? I don’t think entitled employees are necessarily happy, or having a good experience. Am I being swayed by my own need for engagement and letting it color my assumptions that this is a critical part of having meaningful work, or assuming all employees need meaningful work, which will therefore make them happy? Help me, CX Yoda! I am feeling a bit muddy about this, and CX usually gives me a real sense of clarity. 🙂

    1. Here is a disconnect for me–> This (which I wholeheartedly agree with): “(we view) employee engagement as a critical foundation for customer experience since our inception. It’s one of our Four CX Core Competencies.” I would push this further and say that likewise, engagement is a also critical foundation for the Employee Experience. But then, there is this (which I am scratching my head at): “Employee Experience deals with how employees enjoy their job or environment. It deals with making things fun and enjoyable. … Employee experience can be measured by questions like “how much fun do you have at work.” You would never take that approach to define Customer Experience. Way deeper, way broader., and I would say the same thing about the Employee Experience. I see employee engagement and customer engagement as being flip sides of single “organizational purpose/culture” coin. Going back to Simon Sinek’s why–>how–>what – it is the why (or the coin) that both customers and employees ultimately engage (or don’t engage)with. Otherwise, a job, is only a job. Or, a product is only a product. No meaningfulness attached, beyond the job, or the product, and there goes your loyalty. All these things, I would say you helped teach me, Bruce! What am I missing?

      1. Averill, I appreciate the very thoughtful comment. Employee engagement is the level of commitment and energy that employees give to helping a company succeed. The “experience” of their job, is neither necessary nor sufficient to create that engagement. Can it help or hurt? Sure. But there are many cases where people love their job and have a wonderful employee experience, yet put no energy or effort in helping the company succeed. That’s an “entitled” employee, not an engaged one. One of the key drivers of employee engagement is their commitment to the mission of the organization. That can exist (or not) given any type of employee experience. A hospital employee who believes that she is saving lives can be fully engaged even if the work environment is crappy. That’s why companies need to focus on employee engagement, which may end up with some improvements in employee experience. But if they focus on employee experience, then they won’t necessarily end up improving engagement. I could go on and on, but I suggest you check out our Employee Engagement Resource Page.

      2. As you and I discussed above, couldn’t the same thing be said about the customer experience? Isn’t there is just as much chance of customers developing entitlement if the development of the customer experience is not focused on generating customer loyalty?

      3. They are similar phenomena, but somewhat different. The same way that you can focus on employee experience and not get the engagement you really want, you can focus on customer experience and not get the loyalty you’re hoping for. We help firms understand the right ways to improve the right experiences for the right customers at the right time. So I’d say employee experience does not necessarily lead to employee engagement and improved customer experience does not necessarily lead to increased loyalty. Both of those efforts need to be much more discerning.

    2. @averill – I think you’ve done a nice job of making the distinction between experience and engagement.

      The way @Bruce Temkin defines it is probably the way most people think of employee experience. So my opinion is your definition is more technically accurate while Bruce’s definition echoes the disconnect that’s common in the corporate world.

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