The New Employee Experience

It’s your first day in your new job as project manager with a medium-sized insurance company in California. Your first day at work is in the middle of a pay cycle, and you’re curious about when you’ll receive your first paycheck.

You also have other, more sensitive questions around benefits enrollment since your spouse is giving birth soon. You call the HR Help Desk, and after holding for 12 minutes, you are told those payroll and benefits-related answers will be available when you log onto the employee portal.

Fast forward a bit, and you’re now in the portal, although struggling to find the benefits form needed for life event changes among dozens of other forms and links. But your eyes are drawn to an “urgent open task” requiring you to take sexual harassment prevention training. You’re alarmed to say the least.

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You start to wonder whether the coming days and weeks in your new company will be just like this. Well, as the following industry research findings suggest, unfortunately, they just might:

* Employees use 9+ apps on average; and 43 percent “somewhat” or “totally” agree they have to switch between too many apps at work.

Source: Survey, “The False Promise of the App Economy”, 2017

* Through 2018, 90 percent of organizations will lack a post-modern application integration strategy.

Source: Gartner, 2016

* 72 percent of employees say they can’t find the information they need, and 65 percent of executives view the “overwhelmed employee” as an “urgent” or “important” issue.

Source: Deloitte Human Capital Trends, 2014

Employee Experience at a Crossroads

The research paints a pretty clear but frankly disturbing picture of the typical experience at work. It is of someone being overwhelmed with distractions and frustrations trying to get things done, plagued by too many systems that aren’t well integrated. Moreover, they are serviced by corporate staff in HR and elsewhere that might try their best, but execution is impeded by legacy tools and incomplete or unreliable information.

As just one example, the much-heralded self-service capabilities of employee portals are often built based on obsolete search technology. Most don’t leverage semantic or ontology-based search (to understand intentions and word relationships), they are typically content-cluttered due to inadequate governance processes around updating the information, personalization is nowhere in sight, and portals rarely access all relevant systems and content resources.

To cut to the proverbial chase, what’s been missing is that there’s too much of a gap between a typical consumer experience and the experience of today’s employee in most organizations. Consumer experiences such as those offered by Amazon or Apple by and large enable an “emotional attachment” because they are highly personalized and friction-free, if not quite enjoyable. The person or system you are interacting with likely knows you and your preferences and tendencies. You feel valued. You appreciate that your life has been made a little easier. Mutual trust is established early on. And you are able to handle clusters of activities at the same time to be very time-efficient, and we all place an incalculable value on time.

The Game-Changer: Natural Experience Layer

Well, help may be on the way, as the chasm between employee and consumer experiences looks like it’s about to narrow. Unlike traditional corporate systems and their traditional interaction channels (e.g., not-so-intuitive employee self-service, portals often linked to just one system, siloed help desks), a new category of enterprise chatbots are now being designed to achieve maximum employee engagement and productivity across the entire enterprise. Let’s call them “enterprise smart bots”, and some of the early entrants in the market are getting much closer to, if not mirroring, the prototypical consumer experience we always hope to get.

A key factor allowing the employee experience game to be changed is something we can refer to as the Natural Experience Layer or “NX” of smart bots, with the operative word being “natural.”

The “NX” term is generally derived as follows: User Interface evolved into User Experience which is now ascending to an even higher standard, the so-called Natural Experience.

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What to Expect

The same dynamics discussed above — natural mediums and forms of interaction, not caring about what — or how many — systems or resources must be tapped into or curated, and feeling known and valued (or emotionally attached) all apply to the next incarnation of employee experiences via enterprise smart bots.

Here are a few examples:

* Upon being hired into the new role, you get a “check-in” from a friendly bot that asks if you would like to get introduced to others in the organization occupying the same role, or even living in your area. The benefits: have an opportunity to socialize (a primary need) while also compressing your ramp-up time, and/or having someone to share commuting costs with.

* When enrolling in benefits, and specifically a flexible spending account, the bot asks you if you really think you will spend the amount you are budgeting because it’s a “use it or lose it” plan. You mention that you have no way of knowing that, and much to your astonishment, the bot comes back with this: “If you like, I can provide some guidance in the form of what other employees generally (or on average) budgeted who are of a similar age, family status and salary situation. And I can highlight what budgeted amounts worked best.”

* Six months into the job, you want to take a PTO day. You enter PTO into your phone and your friendly HR bot informs you that you’ve earned 5 days so far and asks when you would like to take them. You specify you only need two, the following Wednesday and Thursday. The bot enters your request into your payroll system, and after notifying your manager, who says “yes,” submits the approval in both the payroll and scheduling systems. Finally, as a “high value courtesy”, the bot checks the corporate project management system then makes sure you’re aware a key deliverable on a project you are managing is due the day you come back.

The best examples of employee portals, employee self-service (using HR systems) and HR Help Desks will likely soon encounter a “transform or perish” scenario. This is because enterprise smart bots, and their natural, consumer-like experience will be the new standard in very short order. They will drive employee engagement and major operating efficiencies, create a culture of innovation to attract and retain top talent, and they will also allow HR to be very data-driven. The opportunities to find use cases to apply this technology will only be limited by an HR department’s imagination and the ability to prioritize — because there will be many.

Steve Goldberg
Steve Goldberg served as global head, HR systems and talent management processes in the U.S. and Europe before becoming PeopleSoft's global head of HCM Product Strategy and primary spokesperson. Steve then co-founded a Recruiting Solutions company and a boutique consultancy focused on HR-M&A and Change Management. In recent years, he has been advising both solution vendors and end-customers on maximizing the impact of HR Technology assets and initiatives. Steve is frequently published, has keynoted on three continents and holds an MBA in HR.