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The difference between employee engagement and employee experience can be difficult to spot!

So, what are the differences between employee engagement and employee experience?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

It’s a no-brainer that as a manager, you want your workforce to be as engaged as possible – with a clear range of benefits up for grabs for those who engage their people well. 

To this end, organisations have really run the gamut of different approaches to raising engagement. These can vary, from increasing the amount of constructive feedback to giving them rewards like vouchers or luxuries like a fancy coffee machine. 

But while some of these approaches are intended to directly benefit an employee’s ability to engage with their role, others address broader elements of the employee experience. What’s the difference between employee engagement and employee experience we hear you shout….well, we’re glad you asked…

The difference between employee engagement and employee experience

Engagement is specifically the issue of whether an employee holds an intrinsic commitment and emotional attachment to their job, the organisation they work for and its goals. Experience, on the other hand, is more generally about everything that happens from the employee’s perspective. According to Gallup, employee experience ‘constitutes the entire journey an employee takes with your organisation.’

So while an employee’s workplace experience includes their engagement along with everything else, and gaining a better understanding of said experience can put managers in a better position to boost engagement, the two are not interchangeable. 

Engagement is one potential outcome of an effective employee experience, but not everything done in the name of employee experience actually impacts engagement (and certainly not as much as many HR suppliers might have you believe). 

The difference between employee engagement and employee experience: where does table tennis fall?
Engagement, experience or both?

Where employee engagement and experience diverge

One way employers, particularly larger organisations, try to improve the employee experience is with cushy perks. We’ve all probably been applying for jobs when one catches our eye promising free snacks, dry cleaning, a gym membership, and a pass to jump the queue at the pearly gates of heaven. Or it might be as simple as a performance-based cash bonus.

Whilst these perks are unquestionably a great appeal when it comes to attracting talent to an organisation, research has shown that they often do very little to encourage long-term engagement. Who really focuses on the free chocolate or occasionally used gym membership on a bad Tuesday afternoon when you’ve had an angry customer on the phone for 30 minutes? 

A study called “The Active Job Seeker Dilemma” found that 83% of HR leaders considered employee experience to be “important” or “very important” for organisational success. 56% were investing in more training, while 51% were making improvements to workspaces, and 47% gave more rewards.

Obviously training and workspaces connect quite directly to engagement. After all, your employees learning to do their jobs more effectively is obviously great. If an employee feels like management cares about their personal development, it gives them a reason to care about the organisation. 

If your workspace improvements specifically target wellbeing via things like new ergonomic equipment or provide better tools like more powerful computers, then these changes to experience specifically remove barriers to engagement.

But almost half of HR leaders in the study were also focusing on giving more rewards. While financial and other performance incentives can provide a short-term boost to engagement, they can actually have a negative effect in the long-term when they drive staff to compete with each other. In one study of an attendance reward scheme, employees with good attendance records were rewarded by having their names entered into a raffle for a $75 dollar gift card.

While this did create a short-term improvement, employees who previously had poor attendance soon returned to their old patterns when they no longer became eligible for the raffle each month. But on top of that, the awards decreased attendance, motivation and productivity in what the study described as “internally motivated workers” who previously had great track records. The overall efficiency of those formerly motivated employees fell by 8%.

In an interview about the study, Timothy Gubler, one of its authors, said, ‘Conscientious, internally motivated employees who were performing well before the award program was introduced felt the program was unfair, as it upset the balance of what was perceived as equitable or fair in the organization. So, their performance suffered – not just in terms of their attendance but also through a motivational spill-over that affected other areas of their work – including productivity.’

Employees aren’t that interested in shallow perks

Even if your perks or rewards aren’t based in competition, they might not be doing as much for engagement and experience as you think – according to a 2018 global survey of 7,300 employees, found that more than 55% of staff prioritise personal development opportunities over fun activities, free treats or financial incentives. 

Other studies found that the most important benefits to employees were time off, health insurance, and retirement plans, and that the most popular at-work perks were natural light and outdoor views.

Look, we’re not saying that nobody’s ever been won over by a foosball table in the break room. After all, fun perks can be the icing on the cake that makes your workplace a more enjoyable place to be and certainly help the employee experience. 

The difference between employee engagement and employee experience are often not obvious.
No, we don’t know why there is a ripped up baguette on that table either.

But the parts of experience that generally matter for long-term engagement and retention are the ones that enable employees to do their jobs more effectively while prioritising their wellbeing and work/life balance.

The results of these studies highlight the various aspects of wellbeing we covered in our four-part series.  People need insurance to ensure good physical health. They need time off to maintain mental health and social wellbeing. The desire for effective retirement planning shows that long-term financial wellbeing is very important to a lot of employees; more-so than any individual reward, monetary or otherwise, could ever be. 

That said, some perks do sit at the centre of the experience/engagement Venn diagram. For example, optional group social activities like paintball or a corporate getaway can boost social wellbeing, as well as engagement due to developing a bond with co-workers.

How considering employee experience can give a broader view of employee engagement

Under the umbrella of employee engagement at Weekly10, we have our share of recurring topics: workplace culture, feedback, work/life balance and flexible work being a few of the most common. And while we’re an engagement-centric organisation, it’s important to understand that these are just some significant aspects of the employee experience as a whole. 

Businesses need to take a thought-out, multifaceted approach to employee engagement with different options to suit different needs. Thinking in terms of both employee engagement and experience might just be the key to engaging employees long-term.

In 2019, the staffing firm Robert Half found that 64% of surveyed professionals believed that their careers benefited from a change of jobs every few years. This is obviously to the chagrin of managers on various levels, whose jobs can hinge on their ability to keep turnover below a certain percentage. But to a lot of people, their jobs don’t seem as secure as they used to. 

While a CIPD survey did find that the percentage of UK workers in “atypical” employment (work that was not full-time or permanent) has remained consistent over the last twenty years, they found that perceptions of a lack of job security were higher in people who were dissatisfied with their current job. They also found that 46% disagreed that they could easily find another job with quality and conditions equal to their current one. 

The 2020 Global Talent Trend report by Mercer found that despite 58% of organisations becoming more people-centric, more than half of executives still aren’t convinced that employee wellbeing is a top workforce concern. Their 2018 report had previously found that employees valued flexibility, commitment to health, and the ability to work with purpose. 

We’ve all heard the expression that “people quit managers, not jobs”. The key to overcoming a stick-and-move attitude to employment is with work cultures that encourage loyalty. These aspects of employee engagement are good first steps in getting there. For more information on monitoring employee experience to maximise engagement, check out our blog!

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Head of People Science