What's The Difference Between Employee Engagement & Employee Experience?
Updated: Jun 9, 2022
It's obvious, isn't it? The answer to this question. No? I guess it has been made more complicated nowadays, as new terms get interpreted in many different ways and conflate our understanding. After all, there isn't even one, universally agreed definition of what employee engagement means. So it's easy to see why there might be some confusion.
In this writer's opinion though the answer can be made relatively simple, if not perfect. Employee engagement is the output, in sentiment terms, of all the things an employee experiences at work, that indicates how aligned, loyal, willing and energetic their support of that business is. Employee experience is the focus a business gives to all the touchpoints that influence that measure of engagement.
In episode 41 of the Sticky From The Inside podcast, host Andy Goram speaks to one of the world's leading voices on employee engagement and employee experience, Emma Bridger, MD of People Lab, to try to get some definitive answers on the topic and find ways to help more businesses improve their levels of employee engagement.
The workplace landscape is constantly evolving. One moment we're told that Hybrid-working is the future, the next the likes of Alan Sugar and Boris Johnson are telling us we're "lazy gits" to be working at home, constantly distracted by "coffee and cheese" instead of knuckling down to a hard days work. This sets the context for the conversation, at a time when retaining productive, loyal, and thriving employees is at a premium.
This is a transcript of the full conversation, but you can also listen to the episode here.
The Full Transcript
00:00:00 Andy Goram
Hello, and welcome to sticky from the inside. The Employee Engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier competition-smashing, consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host Andy Goram and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn their lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them and create tons more success for everyone.
This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it.
So, if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.
00:01:11 Andy Goram
OK, we are living in a rapidly changing and frankly crazy world right now. One moment we're fighting off a pandemic, the next we're battling to pay our bills and worrying about global conflict. Whoever said that change was a constant wasn't lying. One thing though, that does remain constant, at least on this podcast, is our obsession with helping people lead more fulfilling work lives and turning around the juggernaut of the reportedly poor levels of employee engagement globally. Or should that be the quality of employee experience? And actually, what's the difference between those two things and does? And does it really matter?
What's for sure is that our working environment is in a state of flux right now in the UK. Recently we've had Lord Alan Sugar saying people working from home, are just "lazy gits" and the Prime Minister himself, Boris Johnson, saying we all get a bit too distracted by coffee and cheese when we work from home, so why don't we all head back to the office? Whatever happened to hybrid working being the saviour of work? So just what is the way forward?
Well, today I'm joined by Emma Bridger, who's the Managing Director of People Lab and who literally wrote the book on employee engagement. Her book “Employee Engagement”, there is the clue, has just been updated as the world of employee engagement and experience has evolved. As one of the world's leading employee engagement and experience experts who works with organisations to help them design and create great employee experiences which empower people to be their best, who better to hear from to help pick through all this stuff and see if we can see the wood for the trees?
Welcome to the show Emma.
00:02:57 Emma Bridger
Thanks Andy, delighted to be here.
00:03:00 Andy Goram
Really good to have you. I would say a bit of a coup for the podcast to get you on here, with all of your knowledge.
Just for people listening Emma, could you just do us a quick favour? Just give us a brief introduction to you, what you're currently looking at. The things that are sort of sucking the brain at the moment.
00:03:18 Emma Bridger
Yeah, thanks so I'm Emma, nice to meet you, and I run a company called People Lab which I've been doing for 13 years now which has just flown by.
So I kind of started my career as an academic, as a behaviour change Psychologist and I loved it, and I went to the world of health psychology. There's some really interesting stuff there which is probably the subject for another podcast later. And I kind of fell into the corporate world facilitated by a move to Brighton. And like, there weren't any lecturing posts going, so I started applying for jobs and I fell into the corporate world and absolutely loved it. And that was at the end of the 90s or 98, so showing my age here, and at the time, you know, no one was talking about employee engagement or employee experience. And I kind of had this slightly weird role. I worked in an OD (Organisational Design) team originally kind of looking after wellbeing, because that had been my background from a health psychology point of view. I did a lot of health promotion work, so that's kind of how I got in there, and also internal comms. So I had a really weird portfolio of work. So, wellbeing, internal comms, I looked after what was called the corporate social responsibility strategy at the time, CSR.
00:04:26 Andy Goram
Oh! Exciting stuff.
00:04:28 Emma Bridger
I just did all this kind of really kind of random stuff. And I’d go to conferences and speak to people and people be much more sort of like, they just did internal comms, or you know maybe CSR or whatever it might be. And I just sort of said I do all this sort of stuff. And when the term engagement, I first started reading about it, I found it actually quite helpful. Because I could kind of give a label to all the stuff I was doing. Actually, all the stuff I was doing was about helping to, you know, to engage people at work. Helping people to be their best selves at work. To thrive at work. All that good stuff. So that's kind of how I kind of fell into it.
And then I did 10 years in that and had to set the business up 13 years ago because I'm really passionate about that work should not be a miserable experience. And actually, it's really obvious, right? But great things happen when we get it right with our people. So that's kind of how I fell into this world. And I think you know, your points around EX and engagement. Employees have always had experiences good, bad or ugly. But now we're actually thinking about them. We now realise that that's pretty important to try and help organisations, individuals have good experience at work, because that's good for everyone, right?
So I'm quite excited by the fact there's an increased focus on experiences, but we've I mean, you know people like us, we have always been involved with intentionally designing great experiences for our people. That's always happened no matter what world we've been in. But I think now the focus is, you know, it is much more acute on the experience of our people, which is great news.
00:06:03 Andy Goram
It is, and thinking always helps Emma, doesn't it? Having a little bit of time to think and really assess things and get into it and find the right way forward. It always helps. And I think it's fascinating just listening to you there about your background and then how it all gets wrapped up in engagement. And I think that's one of the things about this topic that I absolutely love. Because engagement is clearly the output of a lot of other things, you know. All of this communication, even the link to CSR, you know what drives the business and how you can link that to what drives the people, and that looking for that Nirvana of engaged people. But we'll get stuck into all of that. No question, and hear a bit more about how the book’s needed to be updated.
And I guess with that in mind I mentioned in the intro about this sort of changing landscape that we're dealing with, from a work perspective. So, what is going on? As the expert here, what has happened? What is happening to the world of work landscape right now? And how is that influenced you updating the book?
00:07:08 Emma Bridger
Yeah I think uhm, it's a really good question. You know, the world of work is constantly changing, OK? We talked about change being a constant. And I guess it's quite easy to look at COVID and think that a lot of the changes we've seen, like you know, the increased digitisation of working, hybrid working, was facilitated by COVID. But actually, that's not the case. These changes were already happening.
Uhm, I mean, you know, I think about my career. I've always worked in a hybrid way, you know, for since the 90s. It just suited the kind of work that I've done. But I think what we've seen is that COVID has just kind of really accelerated that pace of change. So, you know, one of the clients we work with, they’re are large, central government body, you know, they had a plan before COVID to roll out MS Teams to their workforce. Many, many thousands of people and I think they had kind of a 3 Year Project plan. They did it in three weeks, right? So that was, you know that's kind of one of the benefits, I guess of, you know, the need to quickly be able to talk to people virtually, rather in person.
So you know, these changes are already happening. So, we’re already seeing, you know, some people start to question the hours I spend at work. That was already happening. You know, people already started saying, “Actually, I need work life balance.” You know, the idea of a four-day working week was around before COVID. Hybrid, flexibility. We've been talking about flexibility for a long time. We've been talking about, you know, greater diversity and inclusion for a long time. But I think what happened in COVID was that these things either accelerated rapidly or really came to the top of mind.
I mean, I keep saying there's nothing like a global pandemic to give you a huge dose of perspective as to what's really, you know, what really matters to you in your life. So people are suddenly questioning you know, actually what do I really want...? I'm a long time at work. What do I really want out of this experience? I just think it accelerated what we were seeing. And then obviously, add on to that, you know, other movements happening. You know the Black Lives Matter movement, the Me Too movement and we've got all of these things going on, which has kind of created this, I guess, this real groundswell of employees having more power in how they experience work, which is a good thing, right? “Power” is kind of quite a, you know, an emotive word, I think, but I use “power” in a very positive way here.
So suddenly employees are saying,
“You know what? I'm not going to put up with this anymore. Actually, this isn't good enough”
in the way that perhaps, customers do and have done and will continue to do, employees are starting to kind of question, I think, the way they are treated at work a lot more; accelerated by the global pandemic.
00:09:50 Andy Goram
I think that's really interesting, isn't it? Because my background in hospitality and having worked in The States for a while, the parallels between a British customer complaining and an American customer complaining were kind of like night and day. But I always believed the fact that because that customer base was so vocal, the service industry in The States didn't have a choice. Right? It had to react to create better experiences. Whereas, we're all guilty, I think, in Great Britain of sitting in a restaurant being served something that is less than good, and when the waiter/waitress comes to you and says everything OK, we stop our moaning to the people on the table, look up to the waiter and say, “Yes, it's lovely. Thank you very much.” And we don't really give them the feedback to help them evolve. And actually, when we do give them feedback that they're not equipped to do anything about that feedback. The number of times I've said, when asked, “Is everything OK?” and I've gone, “No.” The response is “OK. Thanks very much” because they're just not prepared for it, right?
And I think this is interesting what you're saying with the employee piece now about being a bit more vocal. Being demanding, having had time, you know. I know people talk about the great resignation. II prefer to call it the “Great Reflection”, because I think people have had time and space to think about what really matters to them. And I think, from my perspective, this is what's coming through, right, in that engagement experience from an employee perspective. People being more vocal, looking over the fence and seeing what's happening elsewhere and saying, “Actually, why can't I have a bit of that? And why aren't you doing that?” Is that what you mean? Is that where you're going with it?
00:11:23 Emma Bridger
Yeah, definitely, and I think that, you know, we were talking about this a lot actually, in the last week. About this kind of changing nature of work and and why is that? And I think that there's lots of things that are going on. I think one of the things is that, you know, we've learned a lot. You think about you know, the idea that the modern workplace is quite new thing, right? So I think it's fair enough that we didn't really know a few generations ago... didn't really know what they were doing. And they had their best intentions about your productivity or what have you, but we got it wrong. And then we realised we got it wrong. So the kind of directive, carrot and stick model that doesn't really work, you know. You don't get the best out of people like that. And we've adapted and changed. Perhaps not as quickly as some of us would like, but we now know that a kind of coaching conversations is a far more effective, kind of facilitator of change, than a kind of
“You will do this, because I’ve said so.”
So I think there's that. I think, you know, people that work in People Functions, you know, the science has kind of helped us to understand better how to motivate people, how to get the best out of people. So I think we've just evolved, because we are just understanding far better what works. But I also think that you know, if you look, especially with social media, but look globally, people are really owning or becoming more accountable for their lives, their experiences, and then we call it “internal locus of control” in psychology, and they’re saying
“Actually, it’s kind of down to me as well.”
If I don't like what's going on in my life sometimes, like you know, I don't have the resources to be able to change that, but if I do then I kind of need to do something about it. And you know it's a great example you give there, because I think about the way I was treated when I was at work many years ago, they would not put up with that now. You know and I always tell this story about when I when I was pregnant with my eldest son Harry. I had a fairly new boss, and we didn't get on. You know, I'd like to say it was all him, but I probably wasn't the easiest person to work with.
00:13:22 Andy Goram
Ha ha ha!
00:13:23 Emma Bridger
I promise that's probably a young, ambitious know it all. But anyway, I remember telling him that I was pregnant. And his first comment was,
“Do you know who the father is?”
00:13:33 Andy Goram
00:13:34 Emma Bridger
Yeah, yeah, and I sat there, gobsmacked and very upset. but I didn't say anything. I didn't do anything. I'm a hardcore feminist, right? You know, and I was in Riot Girl bands in the 90s. Yeah, I set up girl-only gigs. And, I'm, as you know, I'm not frightened of making my voice heard, but I knew it would be career limiting to have that conversation. He's my boss and I knew it would be career limiting to challenge him on it.
00:14:02 Andy Goram
That's crazy, isn't it?
00:14:03 Emma Bridger
I know, yeah, absolutely. And I would, I just would not put up with that now. I wouldn't do it, but...
00:14:07 Andy Goram
He’d be arrested now! It’s shocking.
00:14:09 Emma Bridger
Sure, yeah, yeah.
00:14:12 Andy Goram
Though, but yeah there is this... I guess this almost unwritten contract that's changing, right, between employer and employee on the back of all of this change we've talked about. And I think, like many places, some businesses are all over it. I mean, it's heartening for me to hear... you're talking about, “Oh! The long time ago in 1998 I was working on wellbeing.” Wow! Some people have only just woken up to the whole thing about well being, you know, so we're all operating on this diode, I guess, of guys at the front pushing stuff and other guys lagging behind. But catching up, I hope.
But do you get a sense that this contract is definitely changing? And you talked about “power” in a positive sense. Is it? Is it still changing? Is it still migrating towards the people within an organisation? Or, if we look at what's going on recently, and some of the press and what have you, is it swinging back now to, I guess, the business authority? I don't know. What do you see?
00:15:12 Emma Bridger
I have an optimism bias, so yes, of course I’m going to say I think it's changing for the good, and it keeps changing. I think when you hear, like you mentioned, Alan Sugar and Boris they look so outdated, don’t they?
00:15:25 Andy Goram
00:15:26 Emma Bridger
They look out of fashion, they look outdated. You look at them and go, you know, “Really?!” You know, people aren't... I mean, there may be a few people nodding right, but most people are saying, you know,
“Come on, we've moved on past that!”
They look very old-fashioned. It's like talking about changes, you know, in society as a whole. You know we talked about, you know the comment I mentioned before and the Me Too movement and the world has changed beyond recognition, you know? There's certain behaviours that were acceptable in the 70s, 80s, 90s that just not be acceptable now. You say you would get arrested for some of them, you know. And I think it's the same in the workplace, that you know, those sorts of very outdated behaviours, I mean, they're not going to get arrested, but they just look outdated and very, very out of touch with...
00:16:12 Andy Goram
Really. Really out of touch. But I think I... I don't know. I think it's really interesting 'cause like you say, there’ll be people nodding and people shaking their head. I mean, that is the world, right? I read something the other day in Time. Not that I often get time to read Time. It just popped up and there was something in there about the dark side of employee engagement, right? And it quoted Elon Musk. I don't know whether you've seen what he said about China, right?
00:16:38 Emma Bridger
I haven't no, no.
00:16:40 Andy Goram
So he said something... I'll get the quote a little bit wrong, but he said something like,
“There are some super talented, hardworking people in China, who strongly believe in manufacturing.” I think he was talking about the whole electric battery landscape, and he said, “They won't just be burning the midnight oil, they'll be burning the 3:00 AM oil. They won't even leave the office.”
And the sentiment here was that they're so engaged they just won't stop. And the piece went on to talk about the connection between engagement and burnout, right? That you're so engaged that you end up burning out, right? And I don't know... I wonder whether, I wonder whether in the dark recesses of Lord Sugar’s brain is that somewhere, people want to work hard. And they really, really if they’re really engaged in their work and they won't stay at home and they won't go to the cheese box and all that kind of rubbish. And I don't know. I thought that was an interesting thing to read. But a worrying thing because, I have a concern that people could interpret this engagement thing on both sides of the coin. Employees could see that and sort of go, “Engagement. That's just you wanting more out of me.” and employers going, “Engagement. If you're engaged you’ll work harder.” You know, I don't know. Does that make sense to you?
00:17:59 Emma Bridger
Yeah, it makes sense and I think, you know, just there’s a few things to unpack in there. I think, you know, for me, engagement is about thriving and being your best self at work. You’re not your best self at work if you working until 3 o'clock in the morning. I mean even myself, I run my own business and there’s some weeksI have to put quite a few hours in. It's been one of those weeks this week, and I know I'm not, I'm not my best. I know I'm not and I know it's taking me longer, actually, to do things because my brain is now... and there's a whole load of neuroscience, I won’t go into it, but check out the work of Shawn Achor, who's a brilliant Harvard scientists who talks about happiness advantage. You know there's a certain level at which... think about the classic Bell curve, right? It's a certain level at which we’re kind of thriving and at our best.
And we talk a lot about challenge. Nobody ever says, “I was really thriving because I was, you know, coming in at 9 and leave at 5.” And, you know, you look... quote the Bible here, “The devil makes work for idle hands.” You know a lot of people can't cope with... we need purpose in our life.
00:18:57 Andy Goram
Yeah, we do.
00:18:57 Emma Bridger
You know. And we need, you know, the idea of if you won the lottery. What would you actually do? And you know the idea for me of not having something to kind of get me up out of bed, you know, it's quite frightening. And then you get into the whole kind of like sort of sociological viewpoint around the Protestant work ethic. And you know, work is good and we need to work. And I think the term “work” often has negative (connotations), “Hard work”, you know. But the idea of kind of just repositioning that and sort of saying, “I've got something that I do in my life that gives me a purpose and fulfils me, makes me feel good about what I'm doing and it also helps me to pay the Mortgage, whatever”, that's good. And, of course, I was talking about those people that perhaps do jobs that aren't great jobs. And I always quite the example of when was a student. I was trimming lettuces, and it was a horrible job. I hated the job. But I still had Purpose, because I loved the people I worked with and I had a great laugh with them. It's all about people. So it doesn't necessarily have to be about the work you do.
So I think that, you know, the Alan Sugars, they've kind of got that hardcore, Protestant work ethic of like work equals good, but only if it's really hard work. And actually, you know, we're not at our best when we are putting in those sorts of hours. We can do little spurts of that, absolutely, for sure. But it's you know, knowing when to go,
“Actually, this has gone on too long now and I'm really starting to burn out here.”
So, it's that kind of bell curve thing for me. So not enough isn't good. And by work, it doesn't necessarily have to be a paid job. It could be whatever it is that you do in your day, you know, to fulfil your time. But too much is also going to be bad for you as well. So, I think there's a kind of a sweet spot in the middle where you're thriving.
00:20:39 Andy Goram
There's always a balance. There's has to be a balance. I just thought it was an interesting thing to read. He's in the press a lot for various reasons at the moment, and I thought I could just sort of see him there... if he had a moustache, twirling it in the background about, “Oh! Employee engagement - the dark side”, buy we will move on from there.
You mentioned a little bit about the differences between employee engagement and employee experience. Can we just get into that in a bit more detail, just to sort of plan for what you see as the differences, the links between the two?
00:21:11 Emma Bridger
Yes, I think a starting point is, you know, thinking about engagement, there isn't a single universal definition. Which is both a blessing and a curse. So, we haven't got a beautiful kind of reliable and valid diagnostic that can say I'm engaged or not? Which is why I have a huge issue with benchmarking. Because you're comparing apples and pears, and all sorts of different fruit. But I think, you know, talking about the book update, you know, like there’s a great piece of research done by Johnny Gifford and Jake Young, from the CIPD and I’m a huge fan of the work they do. And Johnny and I have had lots of very good-natured debates over the years, and I think it's great that the kind of, you know, challenge he brings to the Engagement industry. And it really looks at kind of, you know, the definitions of engagement, what we mean by it etc. But what they do say in their report, is that no matter what, you know, this whole theme to do with engagement has had a positive impact on people practices, right? So, it's a good thing. Of course it's a good thing to want to help your people be their best selves at work. So however we choose to define it, you know, employee engagement is essentially about, you know, helping people to be their best selves, whatever that means. And for me, it's really simple, right? It's the way we get to it.
So yeah, it is an output. Yeah, absolutely is an output. But for me, the way we get to that is through experience. So, if I'm having a, you know, a good experience at work I'm more likely to be engaged. It's that simple, right? So, if I'm being appreciated. If I'm feeling valued. If I'm doing something that gives me that kind of sense of meaning and purpose. If I'm working with great people. If I've got autonomy. All those kind of elements, all that stuff is going to make me feel good. So, it isn't about toxic positivity, 'cause I think people get very confused, well, I think some people get a bit confused with something,
"It's all about being happy, and it shouldn't be about being happy.”
It's like... actually, psychologists don't really talk about happiness. They talk about wellbeing, which is where it gets confusing. Because in psychology wellbeing is what the layperson would label happiness. But obviously in work, when we talk about wellbeing, we talk about kind of health and wellbeing, so it gets very confusing.
00:23:19 Andy Goram
00:23:20 Emma Bridger
But I think, you know, when you have a good experience at work you release these positive emotions and that kind of it gives you that kind of a competitive advantage, if you like. Because when we release positive emotions we have a load of dopamine flooding our brain and that helps us to just perform better. So, we're able to solve problems. We're able to be more creative. We’re able to much more genuinely connect with people. So we're just better. That feels good, so it's kind of a cyclical effect. So we go, you know how it feels when you're on form, it feels great, doesn't it? You think, “I'm great today. I’m nailing it. This is brilliant.” You know, so for me, it's like the more opportunity we can, you can have at work to have those kinds of emotions, then we're going to feel better about everything, not just work, but life. That's the link between experience and engagement.
And I said, it isn't about making it really easy. It isn’t about going to work and going, “Yeah, I'm so happy!” although it might be some of that. Sometimes we experience positive emotions when things are really difficult. So, this is a kind of a bias that called this just got the IKEA effect. Pain is good. You know that kind of brilliant feeling you get when you put a big piece of IKEA furniture together, right? You might say, “I hate IKEA”, right, but I love IKEA. We value things more when we've put effort in, right? That's what we're trying to say here, in a clumsy way. So we value a piece of IKEA furniture more than before, because we built that. It feels good. We built it. So at work, you know, we might be having a really tough day trying to sort out some difficult stakeholders, or trying to, you know, turn a report in. But when we do it, it feels really good. “That was really tough, but I got there.” Or maybe you're having a tough time, you know, sorting out some difficult stakeholders and a colleague comes and puts your arm around you and says, “It’s Ok. I've been there.” And it feels like a real connection that feels nice that someone’s noticed I’m struggling.
So we have the opportunity for positive emotions, even when things aren't going that well. And the more opportunity we have for those positive emotions, the more likely we are to be engaged. So we need to think about how we intentionally design experiences that are more likely to enable people to have those kind of those positive strokes each and every day.
00:25:24 Andy Goram
And I mean... I overuse a phrase on this podcast, a lot. And I can hear listeners groaning before I even say it. All the things that you said there all sound entirely commonsensical, right? They just... it just stands to reason, right? It's what we know. And yet, it still feels like it, really isn't common practice. And I don't know, as somebody who literally helps people across the world kind of get into this stuff and make improvements, where are people falling over, not getting it, or getting it wrong, from your experience?
Are they focusing on the wrong things? Are they looking for quick fixes? What's the story in there?
00:26:07 Emma Bridger
Yeah, I mean I think there’s so many different answers I could give to this. So, I can try... I'll try and summarise it. In my experience, I don't think... The majority of organisations are not bad, and they're not full of bad people. They’re just full of sometimes... not full of, but sometimes there are misinformed people in there who, they want to do the right thing, but they're getting it wrong. For a whole load of reasons.
I think one of the reasons is that there's a lot of outdated science. So, let's throw some perks at people. Science is..., you know, and I get... when I went from the world of academia to the world of work, I was quite shocked and more latterly frustrated. Uhm, that what we know from the world of academia and science, wasn't really translating into businesses. We know this stuff doesn't work. We’ve known this for like 30 years. Why would we still do this? Why are we still chucking gym memberships and fancy coffee at people thinking that's gonna make a difference to how they feel about working for us? Because we know it doesn't, but there's a whole billion-dollar industry around perks, right? And it's like I find that quite frustrating and...
00:27:10 Andy Goram
It's an easy fix, though. They think, isn’t it? I can buy that.
00:27:12 Emma Bridger
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So that brings me on to my next point, which is... I'm going to see this as a psychologist, but I think the world of psychology is sometimes underrated, 'cause a lot of it is common sense, right, but you have to have a genuine desire to understand people to help you perform well in this space.
00:27:35 Andy Goram
00:27:36 Emma Bridger
And I think for a lot of people this feels, or not for a lot of people, but for some people, this can feel quite overwhelming. So, they're going to say, yeah, of course, it's the right thing to do to engage our people. I’ve no idea how to do it.
00:27:46 Andy Goram
00:27:47 Emma Bridger
So, what I'm going to do is I'm going to do a survey. Because that makes you feel like... it gives the illusion of doing something. So, I’m a bit more relieved now 'cause I'm doing something. Because I have no idea where to start. And then I'm going to fix some stuff off the survey and that gives me more of an illusion of doing something. And again, there's this whole billion-dollar industry, that’s been born out of, you know... It’s quite dark really. Because you know the clever scientists in these consultancies, who make a lot of money out of this, they know that this doesn't work. It's measuring something, not doing something about it. And so, I think, that for some people it can feel quite overwhelming. And a lot of the work we do at the moment, is with newly formed employee experience teams who are going,
“Kind of everything that happens to an employee, is experience. I have no idea where to start. It’s overwhelming. Can you help us?”
And I'm a big fan of keeping things simple and breaking things down. So I think there's a couple reasons that there's a lot of well-intentioned practice that's based on outdated science practices. There's a lot of well-intentioned practitioners that just feel overwhelmed, so you know, do the easy, quick win stuff, as you said. We'll give people some perks and do a survey and that’ll sort it.
I don't think that organisations, the world of work, really places enough value on the sorts of work that people in this space does. Quite often people just kind of, “Oh you can do that.” Which you know, just sort of, a willing amateur, which is great, but something that really hasn't got the right skills and background. I mean you wouldn't stick somebody in marketing that hasn’t got a marketing background. You wouldn’t stick someone in finance that hasn’t got a finance background. And yet, the world of people, it's like, “Oh yeah! You've done that job well for a while. You’re an Ops person, so we'll just stick you in an HR role.” Now well, that that might be right, OK? But, they might have wonderful skills, but they don't have the expertise. They haven’t grown up. They haven't got the the subject matter expertise to genuinely understand how to get the best out of people. How to understand needs and motivations, you know? So I think that there's a lot of that going on.
Like I say, I mean you know, you couldn’t take me and stick me in the finance team, because I haven't got a finance background. So why is It OK the other way around?
00:29:57 Andy Goram
So where would you...take us back to that example of that experience team, newly coming together, who's overwhelmed and doesn't know where to start. What do you say to them? Where do you get them to start? What's your sort of starter for 10, if you like?
00:30:11 Emma Bridger
Yes, I think even while you're figuring that out, just get really curious about your people. For me the shift from a kind of traditional HR approach, to an employee experience approach, is about really turning up the people side of things. And this is the the irony. I've mentioned this I think already, but if I haven't, I'll say it again. But the irony is that we're working in people functions, but we've kind of forgotten about the people. So we're really good at designing competency frameworks, or performance development systems that work well for what the organisation needs. They align with the strategy they're going to deliver for us. And they work well with the work that people do. But do they actually work for the people? We so rarely ask that question. We so rarely ask about performance management, you know?What do you need to help you perform well at work? We don't say that. And if we do say it we say it where people go, “I want more money” and that's not the right answer.
So, I think there's something around some genuinely putting people at the heart of the process. And it isn't about... I'm a massive fan of involvement. And as you know, I kind of added involvement as my fifth enabler to the Engage For Success enablers .
00:31:17 Andy Goram
00:31:18 Emma Bridger
But it's gotta be more than that. It can't just be, “Oh well, we've involved them in design.” It goes one step further around. You know, how can you genuinely put yourself in the shoes of the people you're designing for? Do you understand their needs and motivations? Their pains and gains? Do you know them, right? That's where it has to start.
And then we've got... I've developed a landscape, an EX (Employee Experience) landscape model, to really to help people get their head around this overwhelming kind of field of EX. And it kind of goes from your hygiene experiences, so you know, have people got the right tools to do the job, to get paid on time, all that good stuff. And we know that that doesn't engage, but you know, if you haven't got it there, they'll be very disappointed, right?
00:31:58 Andy Goram
They're the table stakes. They get you in the game, right?
00:32:00 Emma Bridger
Exactly. And then we kind of move across the sort of the life cycle experience, or the classic space that HR people functions are already kind of playing. So, you know, how do we attract people, on board people? How do we, you know, performance manage people? The classic kind of touch points. But the the big shift there is, OK, so for years we've been doing this stuff to people. Let's start to think about what they need from these touchpoints. Have we got them right? We talk a lot about moments that matter. And often, but you know, we'll sit in a darkened room, again very well-intentioned, but we'll decide what we think are the important things. You know, I've never heard anybody in my whole career say, “Yeah, it was a really great place to work, because I had such a good performance management conversation with my boss.”
00:32:39 Andy Goram
00:32:39 Emma Bridger
You know, no one ever says that. And actually most of the time it's actually a dissatisfier. It's a disengager. But what someone might say is,
“Yeah, I felt like my manager really had my back and they wanted to help me get on and I, you know, I really wanted to move into this part of business.”
Maybe I'm in finance and I want to move to engagement, and they said they supported that, and they helped me develop myself. Those are sorts of things that matter. So, we look at what are the moments that matter for your people, and often they don't necessarily map to the stuff that we're working on. So you’ve got to kind of really revisit that and say,
“Some stuff that we're working on, we think it's really important, that maybe isn't important, to the experience of our people.”
For example, you know things like bereavements. Things like maternity or paternity. They are such big moments for people in their lives and the way the organisation responds and deals with those moments can really make or break your experience with an organisation. People often go through onboarding again, because our first day on the job, we’ll remember that if it's good.
00:33:38 Andy Goram
00:33:40 Emma Bridger
And remember if it’s bad. So you’ve got the life cycle experiences. Then you kind of move across, and you’ve got what I call everyday experiences. That's the culture. It's the leadership. It's the, kind of how do people talk to each other here. What sort of emails do people send. Do they copy everybody? That's a really negative experience when you get the world and his wife copied on emails, it's like, “Oh!”. There's everyday experiences. How do I get greeted when I walk into the office in the morning, how do I get greeted? Are people friendly? Do they speak to me? You know, so those sorts of everyday cultural moments. And they’re more intangible, but critical.
And then we also talk about the EX mindset. So this is like the individual. So this goes into the real psychology in terms of, yeah, the organisation's got great hygiene, all the lifecycle touchpoints are brilliant. The culture’s fantastic, but I also have, as an individual, an accountability and responsibility for how I show up at work. So, the hypothesis could be an optimism bias, might help you to have a better experience at work. And this is a brand-new area. No one’s really researched this. And it’s something that I get really excited about, being a Psychology nerd. So you know, my hypothesis would be if you have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset, you're probably going to have a better experience at work, or in life actually. If you're more resilient you're probably going to have a better experience at work. And the great thing is about these mindset examples, is that we can actually teach them to people. So if you have a fixed mindset, it's OK, we can work with you on that. If you're not very resilient. It's OK, we can give you some tools and coping strategies to help you develop and grow your resilience. It's like a muscle. You have to train it. You know if you have a fixed mindset. Say, you know, a sort of pessimism bias. We could help you to become optimistic.
So I’m not saying that says that you know, the ownness isn't on the organisation to do the right thing. Of course, it should do the right thing. But this is an “and” as well, as thinking about our individual mindset. So that's what I kind of... that EX landscape model is one I share to sort of help people make sense of where to focus. So which bit you want to go for first. Which fits within your circle of control and influence, because EX doesn't just sit neatly in one team. If it's everything that happens to the employee, it's got to sit with everybody. So where do you want to go for first?
00:36:00 Andy Goram
100% back in my old career, I was looking after brand experience, and I went from sitting in marketing to annoying everybody because I figured, well wherever anything happens affects the brand right? It's exactly the same. It's exactly the same. There's so many tendrills. It relates right back to what you said at the beginning about your early career. Yeah, I think all these different kind of jobs, well, where's the link? Well, the link’s right there. They all tie together. They all manifest in the same sort of stuff.
So look, I think it's worthwhile trying to link together all this kind of changing landscape, the focus on experience, right, with the output of engagement, and the workplace. So looking at your book, and looking at, well, how do we future proof our engagement or our experience strategies going forwards? Because, and an example right now, as you know, I said at the start
“Ooo! Hybrid was like the new, white, sliced-loaf originally”
and now it's almost smelling like Brexit, when you mention hybrid. So, how do we future-proof engagement stuff going forward, Emma?
00:37:08 Emma Bridger
Yes, I think it absolutely goes back to this this empathy principle. You know, the better you understand your people, the more likely you are to get this stuff right. Those companies that invest time and energy in genuinely understanding who their people are. You think about, you know marketeers. They know their customers
00:37:30 Andy Goram
00:37:31 Emma Bridger
They know their customers inside out. We have to get that passionate and that nerdy about knowing our people. And that is not, yeah, we do a survey or pulse survey. No, no, no, no. It's gotta be much deeper than that. We need quantitative and qualitative insights. I'm a big fan of employee personas to help us to do that. So to help us to stand in the shoes of the people were designing for. And we developed these personas with lots of clients. And you could just see the light bulbs go off.
The minute you'll save designing, uh, access before this management approach and you look at the different Persona group straight away, so, “Ah! OK! Well, that that group over there they might need this. And that group over there is probably going to need that.” And yeah, straight away you just... suddenly it just helps you to understand the different needs. Because the whole time we're doing the same thing for everybody, we're going to get it wrong. And the whole time we're treating our employees, as some kind of like, you know, distant group that we don't really know, we're not in touch with what they need to have a great experience. So for me, that's where it starts.
00:38:32 Andy Goram
And you base those personas on lots of listening, lots of talking and input and pulling back rather than assumption, right?
00:38:38 Emma Bridger
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely they have to be grounded in insights. So they're not about, oh, you hear it so often, you know, “Well, nobody likes email, everybody says this.”, and often it's just, “I don't like email. And I say this.” You know, it's like the great thing about personas is, they're rooted and built on genuine data. So, they help you to have those tricky conversations with stakeholders and say, “Actually, no. This is going to work because we know this about people. We know that about people.” So it really helps you to make that case of stakeholders to what you're doing and why.
00:39:08 Andy Goram
Brilliant and so we get curious. We try and understand more about our employees. Is there anything else that we've got to be focusing in on to kind of help, like keep ahead, or at least keep in line with all the rest of the changing stuff that's going on?
00:39:26 Emma Bridger
Yeah, so I think as you know, we use design thinking to develop, or use the process of design thinking to help us to develop experiences. And a big fan of this. It's sort of... it's a framework. It's not a prescriptive approach, it’s a framework to help you think about things in a more innovative way. It’s absolutely Human centred so it’s about putting your people at the heart of this. And what I love about this, it is developed with my colleague Belinda Gannaway, who Co-wrote the EX By Design book. We developed a kind of a... build on the Design Council, double diamond and created a triple diamond which is about scoping out what's our ideal. How do we measure up? Then let’s empathise. So who are we designing for? What's their need? And often when we scope it out and then we do the empathy piece, you have to end up going back and saying, “Actually that scope wasn't quite right. Because we thought it was X, it’s actually Y.” And then we get to the solution space.
And I think, you know, in terms of future-proofing, I think Design thinking is all about experimentation. So, you know, prototyping and testing. So not sitting in a darkened room and coming up with the perfect answer and then rolling it out to great cost and effort, and you know, wasting your time and energy and effort. It's like small prototypes to communicate an idea and get feedback, and then to keep going around that kind of design experiment, iteration loop so that we land on the right things.
And again, our colleagues in user experience design and customer experience, like they've been doing this for years, they know this. It works. We need to kind of really adopt these principles, 'cause they are well tested, and they will give us a much, much better result at the end of the day.
00:41:01 Andy Goram
Amazing again, it sounds like it's just common sense to take that kind of like product design approach to building these kind of experiences, rather than just, you know, basing it on what you reckon. And it makes a great deal of sense.
And unbelievably, we've got to the point in the show that I call sticky notes, right? Which is the attempt to summarise all the stuff we've talked about, mate. And so, if I was to ask you to leave the listeners with three invaluable pieces of advice in which to move their employee experience forward, you know, and have better engagement, that you could fit on 3 little post-it notes.
00:41:41 Emma Bridger
00:41:41 Andy Goram
What would your advice be?
00:41:43 Emma Bridger
Yeah, so I think my first piece of advice would be, never assume what a great experience looks like for your people, or what engages your people. Just don't make those assumptions. And I've got an activity that I use called “Best Experience.” I've mentioned that already, so it's just go out and ask people to tell you stories about when they're at their best, and listen to those stories, and use those insights to base whatever it is you do next time. So that'll be my first one.
Uhm, my second one is then, build on these insights to get genuinely curious about understanding your people, their needs, their motivations, options. You know, really, really kind of at all times, just keep that curiosity going, 'cause that’ll be my second one. So they’re quite related, these.
Now, my third one is, just never forget the employees are the customers of the workplace. And remember this at all times. Stick this on a sticky note and put it next to your workplace wherever you work and just think would I treat a customer this way? And if the answer is, “No”, then yeah, just.... that's my key one.
00:42:48 Andy Goram
I love that one! Absolutely love that one. I can't ever escape my marketing, brand background and I just think that is absolutely bang on.
And before I, I let you go, the book, it's out now? People can get hold it? Where can they get hold of it?
00:43:04 Emma Bridger
Yeah yeah, so “Employee Engagement 3rd edition” is out now. It's available at Amazon. I'll share with you for the show notes a discount code (AHR20).
00:43:15 Andy Goram
00:43:16 Emma Bridger
We're also going to be... I think it's a 20% discount code, but don't quote me on that. Pretty sure it’s 20%.
We're going to be running an event as well. An in-person event, kind of launch even, even though it’s already out. A launch event and get some of the contributors... we had some brilliant people contribute to the book. Uhm, so just trying to line that up at the moment in diaries etc. So probably late June, early July people would come along to that. We'll get some great speakers along. It's going to be in central London. So yeah, book’s available now, Amazon or any good bookseller, and...
00:43:47 Andy Goram
Others are available.
00:43:49 Emma Bridger
Published by Kogan Page, so you can get it from the Kogan Page website as well. And we’ll share the money off code on there.
00:43:54 Andy Goram
Fantastic, did David McLeod, did he write the preface or something for your book?
00:43:58 Emma Bridger
He did, he did.
00:43:59 Andy Goram
Oh! Amazing. Brilliant.
00:43:59 Emma Bridger
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Actually David and Nita (Clarke). They wrote it together. So it's lovely to have them involved, yeah.
00:44:05 Andy Goram
Old engage for success mates there, marvellous stuff. Emma, it's been wonderful to speak to you. Thank you so much for sharing your insights, experience, wisdom, all that great stuff. And I wish you the best of luck with the book.
00:44:20 Emma Bridger
Thank you for having me. It's been a great conversation. Really enjoyed it, thank you very much.
00:44:23 Andy Goram
You're welcome, Emma. Take care.
00:44:25 Andy Goram
OK everyone that was Emma Bridger and if you'd like to find out a bit more about her, the things we've talked about and get access to that discount code for the book, please check out the show notes.
00:44:40 Andy Goram
That concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something, maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forwards.
If you have, please like comment and subscribe, it really helps. I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to the Sticky From The Inside podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.
Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.