2023 Employee Experience Barometer: the employee experience confronted with its contradictions

The 2023 edition of the parlons RH employee experience barometer has just been released, with this year’s specific focus on the manager, both in terms of the manager experience and the manager’s role in the broader employee experience.

I was eager to see whether this new edition would mark a turning point and inject a new dynamic. Back in 2021, I was surprised that the picture painted was that of an employee experience that didn’t concern work situations, and in 2022 I was worried that in the absence of a definition shared by all, the employee experience would quickly be limited to QWL and end up in a dead end.

I’m not going to go into the whole study in depth, but I will focus on two key points: the manager and the fact that the employee experience should definitely cease to be a purely HR issue.

The barometer is available for download here (in French)

The manager, key to employee experience

There’s no need to explain why the manager is a key element in the employee experience, as he is an essential point of contact between the business and the employee (you join a business, you leave a manager…). This is why we also need to take an interest in the manager experience: following the principle of symmetry of attention, a manager cannot give his staff what he himself does not receive from his own manager and the business. As I explained in the context of the Management Delivery Model, there is a promise made to the customer, and the employee in front of the customer must be enabled to keep it, his manager has a role to play in this, as does his manager’s manager etc…

Which brings me to a very down-to-earth definition of the employee experience, which is far from Care Bear Land, but is no more and no less than giving people the means to do their jobs without having to fight against their own business. In other words: “employee experience is the sum of the feelings and benefits that an employee derives from his interactions with the components of his work environment throughout his life cycle in the business“.

According to the barometer, in 58% of businesses with an employee experience approach and 42% of those without, management is logically seen as an activity that has a major impact on the employee experience.

Payroll and personnel administration come last, behind social dialogue (5%) and compensation and benefits (11%), and management is second only to onboarding (73%). You only get one chance to make a good first impression, but let’s hope it doesn’t end there.

The manager: a relay nobody listens to

Although managers are involved in the process in 48% of cases, they are only involved in its design in 43% of cases. These are staggering figures: how can you have an impact on the field without listening to those closest to it, and how can you deploy an approach without relying on them?

We can deduce from this that more than half of businesses do not involve the manager in their approach, and worse still, consider that the manager plays a minor role in the employee experience… Whereas 58% of them say the opposite in the preceding question.

But as you’ll see below, we’re not far from a contradiction.

And you’ll find the answer a little further on: it’s HR who “listens”, defines and applies the approach. Will we, as I’d hoped, solve the core issue of work organization in this way? I don’t believe it for a second.

The good news, however, is that 73% of practicing businesses measure manager experience formally or informally, compared with 33% of non-practicing businesses. Logical: if you don’t believe in the employee experience, you don’t believe in the manager experience either, but I think that a little vigilance with regard to this transmission belt should be essential, simply from the point of view of operational performance. But no…

Then it’s not surprising that managers don’t want to manage anymore. Too many managers have already become managers through promotion, without having the qualities or the drive to do so, sometimes even reluctantly. What do you expect them to think if we don’t listen to them or give them the means to do their job?

On the other hand, how can you involve managers in such a process when 62% of them are only assessed on the pure performance of their team? That’s a lot of extra work that has no impact on their own indicators. Tell me how you measure me, and I’ll tell you how I’ll behave.

Work organization, the inconvenient truth

I spoke earlier about the lack of a clear vision of what the employee experience is, if not a vision at all.

What do respondents consider to be the employee experience?

78% Taking employee feedback into account.

76% Paying attention to employees’ well-being at work.

58% Continuous improvement of HR services by listening to employee expectations.

57% Improving the operational organization of work based on employee feedback.

51% Organization of collaborative management

34% Management benefits and services for employees

I note two salient elements.

The first is that a key element of the employee experience is to be listened to. Not listened to in order to get things off your chest, to treat your mental health or to do a boo-boo, but listened to in order to make things better on a day-to-day basis. Apart from benefits and another factor, everything is related to this subject.

The other factor, in fact, is the improvement of operational work organization based on employee feedback. And that’s a real step forward

Improving the operational organization of work: the elephant in the room that makes a surprise appearance in the employee experience barometer.

For as long as we’ve been talking about employee experience, I’ve been saying that the operational dimension is at least as important, if not more so, than the HR cuddling to which the subject is most often confined.

Every time I saw a study on the subject, I was astonished that this point didn’t feature, even though my experience in the field told me quite the opposite. When you ask employees off the record what’s going wrong, they talk about their manager, organizational problems, poorly organized meetings at all hours, decision-making and validation circuits, not HR issues unless you’re already on the verge of a crisis.

I got the answer last year when I was interviewed by the organizers of the barometer: employee experience is an HR topic, so in general, only HR items are proposed in the list of choices.

And so this year they decided to include this item to see if people reacted to it.

Jackpot: a subject that no one had talked about before because they hadn’t been asked, and which turns out to be the 4th most important concern, let’s even say 3rd ex aequo with HR service offering, far ahead of employee benefits and services.

And I’d even go so far as to say that it’s the most important ex aequo: if we consider that taking feedback into account is more a question of listening than of action, and that in my opinion most of what comes up concerns the organization of work (unless the questions are skewed) and that improving well-being can be included in HR services.

In fact, this only confirms that the employee experience rests on two pillars: work context (HR), and work (operations, management, delivery…).

The employee experience is in the wrong hands

And who’s in charge of employee experience? HR. And here again, the barometer is very interesting!

In businesses with recent experience (1 year), it’s the HR department in 82% of cases, in those with 1 to 3 years’ experience it’s 80%, and in those with the longest experience it’s only 64% (32% for the CEO).

Or to put it another way: the deeper you dig into the subject of employee experience, the more you realize that it’s not just an HR issue.

I’m not saying, once again, that HR shouldn’t deal with the subject, but that they can’t deal with it alone! Or show me a legitimate HR Director on the subjects of work organization, delivery, operations… and there are some, because they come from the field. But they’re hard to find.

Work, its organization and complication, are at the heart of the employee experience, and it’s about time they were taken into account. It’s not for lack of repeating it over the years.

Bottom line

It took 6 editions of the Employee Experience Barometer before it finally emerged that one of its essential components was the organization of work!

Better late than never, but this has a major impact on the way in which such an approach is organized and managed.

We also learn that managers are just a transmission belt to which little attention is paid, but we already knew that.

Image: working better by SK Design via Shutterstock

Bertrand DUPERRIN
Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
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