Employee Experience (EX) vs. Employee Engagement (EE)


Learnings from our EX Guide:


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Companies that prioritize EX excellence over the next few quarters will stand to accrue exponential gains. They will be well-positioned to gain from a bullish market through faster innovation, superior products, and more customer-centric service. They will also continue to save on bottom-line costs.

To achieve this, however, companies need to relook at the state of employee experience at present and from a pre-pandemic perspective, apply continuous listening strategies to understand the real needs, expectations, pains, and motivators of the workforce. This will deliver a data-driven plan that brings about meaningful and sustained improvements in EX, which uplifts organizational success at this crucial time in human history.

Learn how to assess the state of employee experience, find improvement opportunities and gain from a post-COVID-19 economy


1. What is employee experience (EX)? 

Employee experience is defined as the cumulative impact of the multiple interactions that an employee encounters over their tenure with an organization, spread across all job-related sites, including the physical office, a WFH environment, commute, work-related travel, and the mind space inhabited during work.

To understand what constitutes employee experience, it is helpful to plot this concept against four contributing dimensions:


1. Physical

The physical dimension refers to all tangible elements involved, such as workplace layout, technology, and equipment, working conditions, ambient atmosphere, etc.

2. Cultural

The cultural dimension encapsulates a set of intangible values that the organization seeks to collectively embody. Decisions like who to recognize, what to celebrate, what to wear, what to say, and even elements of the physical like where to work are determined by culture.
4. Digital

Once considered part of the physical dimension, the digital aspect of employee experiences is becoming increasingly important, comprising the ease of use of technology, flexibility of access, upskilling, and using technology to improve the employee’s quality of life.
4. Work

Labour is a core dimension of the employee experience, referring to the actual task(s), clarity of objectives, compensation, new opportunities, and work habits such as collaboration, hierarchy/ non-hierarchy, work-life balance, and the like.

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2. What does EX look like in a post-COVID world?

As companies look at improving employee experiences in 2021 and beyond, it is vital to recognize how these four dimensions have fundamentally changed in the aftermath of the pandemic.

1. Physical: Workplaces become untethered

With many employees working from home and choosing to go to the office only 2-3 days a week (i.e., a hybrid model), companies must rethink office space design. There is the rise of office hubs where employees can meet in person without commuting, saving real estate costs while enabling informal social interactions that are difficult to engineer virtually. Health and safety is the priority as people return to the office, with challenges around coordinating a hybrid workforce while ensuring safe distancing. Our research suggests that there has been an unequal impact of remote work on demographic groups, depending on how suited an individual’s home environment is for work.

2. Cultural: Values are to be proactively manifested

Company culture can be understood as “the way we do things around here,” which is underpinned by organizational values, attitudes, and behaviors. The pandemic has challenged employers’ ability to maintain a strong sense of culture, as so much of this is created organically when employees inhabit a shared space. Providing frequent and consistent communication has been critical to maintaining existing bonds so that employees feel part of “something bigger” and are driven by purpose. Also, accessible leadership plays a key role when working remotely, building trust and ensuring the value system remains stable. Leaders may allocate regular time slots across the week when people can interact with them informally. And, for new hires, leaders and line managers play an even bigger role in communicating the company’s values and cultural expectations.

3. Digital: A critical dimension across the entire organization

To survive the disruption brought on by the pandemic, investment in technology has rapidly increased for companies of every size. As companies become immediately reliant on tech tools to enable remote and hybrid work, digital transformation is now a top priority. This also entails reimagining the business model to create value through sophisticated digital enablers – bringing together technology, people, and processes for shared outcomes. Importantly, such a large-scale change program requires a robust digital strategy and the intelligent use of data for orchestration across departments, and adapt to any curveballs on the way forward.

4. Work: Industrial era notions undergo a shift

As we shift to hybrid work, companies have formulated new norms and rules for how work gets done. Many have adopted an outcomes-based approach to performance management, as the lines between work and personal lives get blurred, and traditional indicators like the hours worked are no longer applicable. However, work-life balance requires special attention as employees may work longer hours and struggle to “switch off.” In terms of work habits, platforms like Slack or Teams, and activities like virtual quizzes or happy hours have helped to collaborate and stay connected.




EX Guide 2021 _visual3. Six reasons why EX and Engagement matters


As we witness a post-pandemic economic boom and a shift in employee expectations from the typical workplace, lower unemployment and a war for top talent will be an inevitable reality. That’s why it is vital to zoom out and consider engagement not only as a standalone concept but in the context of the holistic employee experience and the end-to-end employment journey.

By deeply understanding the human aspects of working in an organization, employers can design tailored experiences that demonstrate empathy, build engagement, drive business outcomes, and eventually intersect the workforce with your corporate brand.

Simply put, tangible benefits and financial rewards alone aren’t enough to engage employees in the new normal. Instead, companies must look at more human and intrinsic drivers that make up EX throughout the employee lifecycle and eventually lead to higher engagement.

Apart from helping employees stay engaged, the nature of EX influences several other parameters of organizational success. Specifically, there are six reasons why companies must evaluate the cumulative experience across the average employee lifecycle and deliver EX tailored for business outcomes.




1. Positive EX drives individual and collective productivity

Research suggests that employee engagement and EX is linked to both team- and individual-level performance. According to Josh Bersin’s Definitive Guide 2021, organizations are 2.2X more likely to exceed financial targets if their HR facilitates positive EX. On similar lines, IBM and Globoforce’s study found that positive EX is linked to higher self-reported work performance and discretionary effort. The link between EX/engagement and productivity/performance could also have to do with the presence of transformational or inspiring leadership in an engaging work environment.

2. Employees will be more satisfied and less prone to attrition

While job satisfaction and employee engagement may be different, they are most definitely correlated. Research by Governors State University found this correlation to be extremely strong for jobs in the public sector, making it vital to invest in EX design that ensures employees are satisfied. In fact, satisfaction with the job (i.e., contentment with basic job traits like pay, commute, and co-workers) is the bedrock for longer-term engagement that staves off attrition. Josh Bersin’s report confirms that when organizations invest in EX, they are 5.1X more likely to create a sense of belonging and retain employees.

3. Engagement could help in employee health and wellbeing

Companies can bring about higher levels of well-being by working towards greater engagement. This is because an engaged workforce is less vulnerable to stress and burnout, receiving timely support and guidance from leadership in tough situations. Also, workplaces that value EX and engagement will also strive for work-life balance, avoiding myriad mental and physical health risks. In a recent report post the pandemic, Gallup emphasized that it is vital to invest in employee engagement (given the current global average of 20%) so that it improves overall well-being. As offices reopen, physical well-being measures such as sanitization, safe distancing, and air quality checks must be central to EX design. 

4. Smartly designed EX can bring down absenteeism and turnover

Absenteeism and turnover – two primary indicators of workforce disengagement – can be measurably curtailed by reimagining the employee experience. Gallup found that teams in the top quintile of engagement have successfully realized a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 59% reduction in turnover. In an engaged workplace, not only are employees more motivated to “turn up” and bring their best to work but they are also encouraged by leadership to address burnout to avoid long-term repercussions like absenteeism arising from ill-health. Also, employees will feel a strong sense of purpose and involvement in the company’s objective, preventing turnover.

5. Engaged employees can improve customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores

How your employees feel in the workplace will reflect directly in their attitudes when interacting with customers and the consequent CSAT. This is particularly true for customer-facing roles and industries like retail or contact centres – for example, Cisco found that the quality of agent experience has a significant impact on customer experience at nearly three-quarters (74%) of organizations. Even for mid and back-office roles, positive EX and an engaged workforce will lead to better products and more streamlined processes that have a ripple effect on CX and customer satisfaction. On similar trends, Josh Bersin's latest report shows where companies are leveraging the right EX strategy, employees are 2.4x more likely to delight customers.

6. Companies with positive EX will outperform their market peers

While it may seem like your financial performance and EX are only loosely correlated, research suggests otherwise. For example, a study by the University of East Anglia (UEA) analyzed over 300 publicly listed companies in the US over seven years to find that high levels of employee engagement could unlock “statistically and economically significant abnormal returns” for the companies. An engaged workforce directly impacts key determiners of financial outcomes such as brand reputation, product quality, customer service, and corporate culture, in addition to bottom-line savings.


How to become an EX-first company: A three-pronged roadmap


As the pandemic transforms the future of work and a (global) war for talent looms over the horizon, becoming EX-first is no longer an option. Your EX strategy and investments this year could determine financial outcomes for several upcoming quarters as the economy sees bullish and inclusive growth. From upskilling employees in the right areas to curbing attrition risk, from recognizing your most valued performers to mindfully designing a benefits package, 2021-2022 will be a period of holistic change. This requires a systematic three-pronged roadmap.


1. Beginning with Strategy and Analytics


The first step is to align your employee experience strategy (milestones, interventions, goals, and KPIs) with the larger business strategy in place for the same upcoming period. This will help to measure and report clear outcomes throughout EX implementation so that the expected and predictable ROI is achieved. There are six best practices companies must keep in mind at this stage:

Download your own PDF copy :

Employee experience Guide Cover  2021
✔️Learn more on how to calculate the ROI on employee experience

✔️The distinction between EX and engagement 


  • Aim for alignment with both business and people outcomes - Employee experience must be correlated with people outcomes such as greater engagement or increased productivity, as well as with business outcomes.
  • Define measurable KPIs - Clearly defined KPIs that can be observed and quantified such as “likelihood to stay with the company in the next 12 months” or CSAT scores among customers” will help plot progress over the stipulated period of change.
  • Prioritize the customer - This includes both the internal customer (i.e., your employees) as well as the end customer so that EX interventions are tailored to address on-ground needs, motivations, and pain points.
  • Segment employee data - It is vital to understand how needs, motivations, and pain points differ across employee demographics such as multiple age groups, caregivers and non-caregivers, new joiners vs veterans, etc.
  • Identify the right questions - To collect accurate data as per the necessary KPIs, organizations need to ask their employees the right questions through surveys and feedback programs. Questions must be linked with an actionable decision which in turn results in business and people outcomes.
  • Synchronize with the full employee lifecycle - EX will evolve at key moments of truth across the employee’s tenure at the organization. Data collection at key junctures is necessary for a 360-degree view of EX from onboarding to exit.

At this stage, organizations should aim to build the bedrock of the EX program through sophisticated analytics that can help extract insights into employee experience, engagement, and the potential effect on business.


2. Consolidating by Continuous Listening to the VoE

Employee experience is not a static entity, and neither are the needs or expectations of your organization. That’s why an ecosystem of multiple channels is necessary to listen to the sentiment of the workforce – also known as the Voice of the Employee (VoE). Continuous listening programs that pay attention to VoE can reveal insights into true intent and experience that debunks popular assumptions.

For example, EngageRocket’s benchmark found that a dip in the number of employees at risk of burnout didn’t necessarily mean that they were able to avoid burnout. Between 2020 and 2021, the section of the workforce able to avoid burnout decreased by 17%, and those unable to avoid burnout also decreased by 4 percentage points. It is the neutral or coping population that shot up. Continuous listening reveals the true picture of what employees are going through on-ground, avoiding misleading stereotypes, assumptions, and broad-stroke analytical fallacies.

There are five best practices companies must keep in mind at this stage:

Leverage multiple channels - Multiple channels and a diverse set of tools will get you insights into the many aspects of employee experience. It factors in all forms of VoE, and by combining a variety of data sources, you can root out false positives and false negatives. It is advisable to use organisation-wide surveys, lifecycle surveys, pulse surveys, multi-rater feedback and open-ended comments.  


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Org-wide Surveys

Involve the entire population, to gain breadth and depth of info across the organisation.

Lifecycle Surveys

Specific individuals are invited to participate based on their stage in their employee lifecycle, eg onboarding or exit surveys. These are “always on”.

Pulse Surveys

Extended to a sample or the whole population. Useful for tracking trends, diving into detail on specific topics or employee groups. Eg. employee net promoter score, 10-20 question “dipstick” surveys, or longer topical surveys on topics like total rewards, mental health, diversity & inclusion, etc.

Multi-rater Feedback / 360° Reviews

Either include peer reviews, 180° or 360° feedback focusing on manager behaviours, competencies or values. These are usually reserved for developmental purposes, but when used carefully, may be applied as input for performance appraisals.

Comments / Sentiment

These include the analysis of open-ended comments in surveys, as well as the ability to respond to these comments in a psychologically safe way, eg. via an anonymous 2-way chat. This provides qualitative input to supplement the quantitative data collected via other methods.


Develop two-way communication - The continuous listening mechanism must include an acknowledgement of the fact that the VoE has been heard. You can achieve this by designing communications based on the input from end-users. The feedback can help shape follow-up actions such as further questions, and a brief snapshot of the insights gathered, creating a closed feedback loop. A closed-loop will ensure that the conversation is genuine and authentic (instead of being top-down), and positively contributes to the bonds of trust. 


Get employee buy-in for continuous listening - A continuous listening strategy, as opposed to one-off programmes, requires active buy-in and participation from the workforce. Ineffective surveys can exacerbate disengagement instead of detecting its root cause. That’s why it is important to first communicate the programme to employees, set up continuous listening Champions if needed, and demonstrate the benefits of active participation. For example, frequent check-ins pioneered at Netflix by Patty McCord helped to both improve performance as well as reduce stress and anxiety. 


Make it cross-functional - Continuous listening cannot be just a one-off checklist exercise, siloed to a single department, team, or business unit. That’s why companies must configure a centralised programme supported by data unification between departments to gather meaningful insights for specific employee segments and specific employment lifecycle milestones across the organisation. Different functions have different needs, different OKRs, and it's important to examine differences across various functions to identify opportunities for improvement. 


Weave continuous listening into your culture - In the long term, listening to the VoE has to be so embedded in the company culture that it takes place seamlessly, through both formal and informal efforts, and can capture the micro-experiences of an employee’s workday. This requires training managers on the tenets of EX and employee centricity and active participation from senior leadership.


3. Thriving through Action and Ownership


The final step of your three-pronged roadmap to becoming an EX-first company involves the meaningful utilization of data to solve real employee problems. In addition, stakeholders across the organization, from HR and management to team leaders and learning professionals, must know their role in EX and the outcomes they are striving for.

They should be focused on garnering regular feedback and acting on the same in alignment with the KPIs and targets established in the first step.

There are four best practices companies must keep in mind at this stage:

Download your own PDF copy :

✔️Learn more on how to calculate the ROI on employee experience

✔️The distinction between EX and engagement 

Make EX data accessible to stakeholders

The insights from continuous listening and VoE programs will be collected in a centralized manner, ready for dissemination and use across the organization. This means that key stakeholders must be trained on data interpretation to garner the most meaningful and relevant insights from the centralized repository. A smartly designed dashboard with role-based access can also help, as it ensures that the right data reaches the appropriate stakeholder and that the insights are easy to read without any statistical knowledge.

Incorporate EX into leadership development

C-level leaders, middle management, and even team leads must be trained on the importance of EX and how their role is intertwined with the various dimensions of the employee experience. There are two sides to this conversation – first, senior management must frequently speak on EX as a key corporate value. Second, there has to be an emphasis on the use of VoE data when making organizational decisions.

Foster psychological safety

An environment of psychological safety is essential if employees are to express themselves and provide authentic feedback. Worryingly, our research found that more than a third of employees said that they do not discuss work-related problems with their managers. Trends like these can work against you when building an EX-first company, denying employees the psychological safety they need to express the genuine VoE. That’s why managers and leaders have to be trained on this aspect of work culture, particularly in the context of remote and hybrid work.

Develop data-based interventions and measure impact

A clear framework of data-based interventions is required to guide the organization consistently and holistically towards a more positive EX. Managers should be able to read data, understand the intervention required using the framework, and act on time. The impact of the intervention should also be measured, as the accumulated impacts over time will give you the ROI from EX investments.

The three prongs – beginning with Strategy and Analytics, Consolidating by Continuous Listening to the VoE and thriving through Action and Ownership – will assist organizations as they place employee experiences in the front and center of their people strategy, business strategy, and eventually, the super-long-term corporate vision.



Start your EX journey with the State of Readiness Assessment


To create a clearer understanding of where companies are at in their journey towards becoming EX-first, we have developed a maturity model based on the data and insights gathered through our programs. There are 5 levels of EX maturity: Prepare, Launch, Thrust, Coast, and Apogee. As a company progresses through the levels of EX maturity, it strengthens its strategy, measurement capability, and sophistication around employee listening and action.


EngageRocket EX Maturity Level



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Employee experience Guide Cover  2021