If you’ve taken a look at the new LinkedIn Global Talent Trends report, you’ve seen that employee experience is becoming increasingly influential in the workplace. Approximately 96% of the talent professionals surveyed for the study said employee experience is very important in shaping the future of HR and recruiting.

“Companies are beginning to work for employees, not just the other way around,” the report concludes. “HR teams are going all in on employee experience to improve retention and employer brand. Beyond collecting feedback, companies need to actively collaborate with employees to create an experience that works for everyone.”  

Our work in employee engagement confirms the findings from our colleagues at LinkedIn Talent Solutions. (Didn’t know Glint is a part of LinkedIn? You can read more here.) Indeed employee experience is top of mind for the HR tech industry and people leaders across sectors—so much so that we’re starting to hear the two terms being used interchangeably.

The truth is a bit more nuanced. Employee experience and employee engagement aren’t the same thing—but they are related, and we think it’s important to understand how.

How are employee experience and employee engagement related?

Before we make distinctions between the two terms, let’s first establish definitions.

Employee experience (EX) is everything an employee observes, feels and interacts with as a part of their organization.

Employee engagement (EE) is the degree to which employees invest their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral energies toward positive organizational outcomes. (Dive deeper into the EE definition here.)

So how are they related? The most straightforward way to state it is that employee engagement is influenced by the employee experience. In other words, an employee who has a positive experience at work is generally more likely to be engaged than an employee who has a neutral or negative experience.

Employee experience and employee engagement from an employee’s point of view

To illustrate the relationship between EX and EE, consider the hypothetical story of Mike, a sales director at Acme Corporation.

Mike loves his company, his team, and the product he sells. By all observations, Mike has high potential. He has earned relatively quick promotions; he is tapped for the most exciting projects and accounts; and he is given the opportunity to participate in high-profile development opportunities. In fact, he was recently assigned a board member as a mentor. 

In his personal life, Mike has a big change coming up. He and his partner are expecting their first child. They live far from the office, so Mike approaches his manager to propose some form of flexible or remote work. His manager refers him to the HR team. 

The HR team quickly declines the arrangement, saying, “If we do this for you, we have to do it for everyone.” 

Mike feels like his commitment and passion for the organization is not recognized in return. Despite that passion, he decides to leave the company. 

Mike’s story is one we hear all too often, and it’s a great example of how EX and EE intersect. We see in Mike that he felt like his organization wasn’t meeting his most basic needs. As a result, it’s impossible for Mike to focus on giving his all for the organization. 

Mike’s situation is a painful illustration of how EE is influenced by EX. 

How HR leaders can balance employee experience and employee engagement

So what does this mean for an HR leader like you?

In Mike’s case, the organization learned the hard lesson that employee experience is not one-size-fits-all. There were two failures in his story. First, his manager waived their chance to ensure Mike’s EX would take care of his basic needs, deferring that opportunity to the HR team. And then the HR team made a decision without context. Ideally, the HR team coaches the manager to personalize EX (which, in this case, would’ve resulted in a flexible work arrangement for Mike).

Generally speaking, a broad EX approach will not automatically create a culture of highly engaged, high-performing employees. Snacks and a foosball table in the break room do not alone result in desirable outcomes. We know that particular elements of EX, like a sense of belonging, purpose, and ability to learn and grow, have a much tighter connection to EE. And worse, a botched opportunity to individualize EX can negatively impact EE. 

It is crucial to give employees a voice through regular engagement surveys and ongoing conversations between managers and employees—with clear action based on feedback. We know from our customers’ experience that organizations that do employee engagement pulse surveys 3-4 times per year grow their businesses much faster than those that survey less frequently. We also know that people who have at least a monthly conversation with their manager feel more focused and supported. The insights your organization will gain from regular engagement surveys and conversations will empower both managers and employees to make changes together, and ensure those changes are individualized to the needs of each employee.

Here’s the new Global Talent Trends report, if you’d like to take a closer look:

Global Talent Trends 2020 cover

Looking for more information on employee engagement? Learn more here.