• Shohreh R Aftahi, PhD

Is Employee Experience Your Competitive Edge

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are experiencing an era of workplace turmoil. Research indicates that the companies that create unique, authentic experiences strengthen employee purpose, kindle energy, and raise organization-wide performance.


Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the assumptions about the nature of work and its organization have been proven wrong. Employees and employers have shared this sense of disruption. While most have felt their organizations have supported them throughout this turbulent time, others have struggled. The work-from-home experience has been very positive for many organizations; therefore, some companies are exploring virtual or hybrid working models, many are expecting a full return to the office, causing a rift between employee concerns and employer expectations.


The daunting question is, how do leaders satisfy all parties in trying to normalize the work environment? Here is a unique opportunity to listen to the employees and engage them on what matters today and into the future. In surveys ThriveVance has conducted at our client's organization, we have assessed 3500 individuals' views on work, how it has changed, and how they want their work environment to be. Even though each participant's experience is specific, common patterns have emerged.


Employees want trust, social interconnection, and purpose. They want to feel that their contributions add value to the organization and are recognized as a genuinely collaborative team. They need clear responsibilities and opportunities to learn and grow. They anticipate that their sense of purpose aligns with that of the organization. Having experienced WFH or hybrid work environments, they want an appropriate physical and digital tool that gives them the flexibility to achieve the vague work-life balance.


Companies are experiencing many exhausted and overwhelmed employees leaving the organization, questioning the meaning of work, and considering their options. Organizations will benefit significantly if they offer an excellent employee experience by taking these needs and feelings seriously at such a crucial time.


Delivering a high-quality employee experience is not just lip service; it requires a reflective redirection from a traditional top-down organizational model to one based on design thinking. This move allows a company to put its workforce first by discovering how they view their employee journey and the gaps between their expectations and what employees feel in their journey. It then responds by delivering tailored mediations that focus on critical factors that maximize satisfaction, performance, and productivity. Therefore, companies can become more inspiring, collaborative, and create a meaningful and gratifying experience.


Research done by Gallup shows that people who report having a positive employee experience have 22 times higher level of engagement than the employees with a negative experience and that they are ten times more likely to want to stay at a company.

For instance, Dave, the COO of an IT Consulting firm with 780 employees, engaged us to help them solve the challenge they were experiencing with high volunteer employee turnover. It seemed that they could not hold on to their talent, even though they threw money at them. We partnered with them to discover the core issue. We helped them design a survey to get feedback from their employees. Selected a broad sample of employees in each department and various levels and completed 234 (representing 30% of employee population) verbal 360 interviews. Collected the data and found common themes; they liked their compensation. However, they felt deep disappointment from the lack of clear responsibility; employees felt their talents were not being utilized. This firm was designed on a flat organizational model to minimize hierarchies, with the hope of creating an empowering environment. However, they had made a culture that lacked giving employees a true sense of responsibility, acknowledgment of individual contributions, and a sense of belonging, which was exasperated by the pandemic that forced everyone to work from home. The highlight of employee experience was that they stock the breakroom with food and drinks at no cost. When asked if they would actively consider leaving the company, 25% said they are actively looking, and 15% said they would consider if they were approached.

In examining organizational behavior, we discovered that although the organizational model is flat, the behavior is based on a top-down model. We recommended looking at the organizational behavior through the lens of design thinking, putting the employee experience first, helping to improve productivity by designing solutions that are compelling, enjoyable, and simple. As a result, the leadership identified where the system was breaking down. Changed the relationship logic in the org chart so every employee would receive consistent feedback and acknowledgment. Instead of throwing bodies at the projects, they devised a system to leverage talent and skills and changed the bench model so employees could be on multiple projects instead of one.


We repeated the same survey and the interviews three months after the changes were implemented. The results indicated a resounding positive difference in how employees felt about the organization, their trust level, and their sense of belonging. The surveys had a 28% increase in positive responses and a 32% improvement in the adverse reactions. And the verbal 360 interviews showed a drop in employees actively searching for new opportunities from 25% to 8%, and those open to leaving if approached decreased to 7%. We have moved forward to the next phase of the project to develop the leaders with the organization to be ready for the growth they are experiencing.


In this three-part series of articles, we look at how at ThriveVance, we help companies to create an employee-centered experience to help retain and excite the best people, creating value and, as a result maintaining a competitive edge. Be on the lookout for the following two articles to see "How employee experience can shape a company's growth" and "How to take an organized approach to employee experience."

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