The Difference Between Employee Experience and Engagement

As more millennials enter the workforce and dominate the labour market, many organizations are experiencing a significant change in their workplace culture. From technology and recognition to engagement and leadership, companies are shifting their focus towards what employees expect from their organizations. 

Think: more connection, more communication, and more recognition. 

In recent years, the ‘employee experience’ has become the core value proposition of many organizations to attract and hire team members who align with their company’s culture, vision and values. Indeed, this concept has come to encompass virtually all aspects of HR, including employee onboarding, engagement, and retention strategies. 

Millennials are certainly a factor; Deloitte estimates that, by 2025, millennials alone will make up 75% of the global workforce, and those same millennials care deeply about their experience with their organizations and prospective employers. Thus, companies are tailoring their engagement and retention strategies to meet the expectations of their existing and future employees. 

What often results is an emphasis on either employee engagement or employee experience, where each is treated almost exclusively as its own element of recruitment and retention. But is there a difference between the two? 

Experience vs. Engagement - what’s the deal?

When we talk about ‘employee experience,’ we’re referring to the entire journey an employee takes with your company; from the pre-hire and onboarding process to exit interviews and every event, interaction and experience in between. 

‘Employee engagement,’ on the other hand, is emotional and social; it encompasses how employees feel about their work, their purpose, their value, and their organization. 

These two concepts appear to be different, but you may be surprised to learn that they aren’t actually dissimilar. In fact, the two are intertwined. 

In other words, they work in tandem!

Engagement is part of the overall employee experience, and so it follows that an effective engagement strategy will assist in nurturing a positive experience for employees where they feel enriched and valued at work. Consider learning and development, constructive feedback, consistent communication, wellness initiatives, and more as part of an overall engagement and experience strategy.  

As the world of workplace culture evolves, organizations have to consider what makes employees want to work, rather than showing up simply because they need to. That’s where both concepts align.  

Employee engagement fosters great work, but does experience? 

While a great employee experience is crucial for retention, a positive employee journey doesn’t necessarily mean that employees will take pride in their work, feel connected to their organization, or engaged in what they do. 

That’s bad news bears for organizations looking to retain their top employees, especially the millennial ones who are likely to change jobs more frequently. With dynamic job markets and new companies cropping up every day, millennials have the advantage of jumping ship for new opportunities; 60% are open to new job prospects and 36% will seek a new role as job markets continue to evolve. 

Thus, focusing on just engagement or just experience alone is no longer a saving grace. Salary, fancy offices, annual performance reviews and the possibility of advancement are no longer prime incentives for the modern workforce.

Rather, employees are searching for an all-encompassing experience characterized by engagement. 

What does this mean for the modern workplace? 

For one, companies must recognize that they can’t rely exclusively on engagement or experience because engagement is part of the overall employee experience

Think of it this way: engagement is humanistic and experience is organizational. You engage by delivering on experience and create experiences by delivering on engagement strategies.

Moreover, organizations need to consider what makes their employees want to work versus show up simply because they need to. Easier said than done, right? 

At Kudos, we view engagement as an essential part of any organization’s daily practices, and indeed, engagement is part of the experience; this includes recognition, where we consistently recognize our employees for their contributions. There exists a myriad of ways you can engage your teams, like the tactics we use here at Kudos! 

Here are a few of our top tips...
  • Foster relationships - Build relationships based on communication, transparency, and trust. Employees are more likely to feel empowered and impassioned by what they do, showing up because they want to!
  • Practice recognition - Disengagement rarely has just one cause, but little to no recognition or praise for a job well done can contribute to this lack of engagement. Recognition can begin with something as simple as a ‘thank you,’ which you can give every day. 
  • Encourage initiative - Trusting your teams’ instincts and passion can go a long way in encouraging them to care about their work. When employees feel there isn't growth opportunity and aren't given enough autonomy, that's where nurturing initiative and giving teams opportunities to shine is vital in engaging people at work (and in their work, too!). 

While your employee experience will encompass an employee’s entire journey, it’s essential to recognize that engagement is part of that journey and can ensure that employees remain engaged and passionate about their work throughout that journey. What starts with a positive onboarding process and moves to a successful tenure can be complemented by regular recognition and engagement! 

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