Redesigning EX for 2023? Put purpose at the center of your plan

As HR leaders head into 2023, many are placing new emphasis on the employee experience—redesigning everything from tech offerings to benefits programs to ensure a competitive edge in today’s candidate- and employee-driven market.

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Employers would be keen to note, experts say, that efforts to strengthen EX must go more than skin deep; perks can only get the company so far, as today’s employees are looking for an experience rooted in purpose.

Meghan Stettler, a director at the O.C. Tanner Institute, says the firm’s recent research found that employees use varied language to describe what they’re looking for out of their work experiences, but it largely comes down to one idea: fulfillment.

It’s a concept employers are increasingly recognizing in the last few years, as the pandemic prompted a large-scale realignment of workers’ priorities—and the lack of such drove many to the door. A recent study from Gartner found that more than half of employees surveyed said COVID made them question the purpose of their day-to-day job.

Industry analyst Stacia Garr—who will be exploring the concept of purpose in the leadership pipeline at the upcoming HR Technology Virtual Conference, Feb. 28-March 2—said earlier this year that “purpose really matters in our society today.” And if employers simply think of purpose as a “Great Resignation” fad and not a permanent change in employee expectations, she says, “we have missed an incredibly important opportunity.”

Just what type of fulfillment are employees looking for? Stettler says O.C. Tanner drilled the concept down into four dimensions—the need for community and belonging, growth, purpose and balance, all of which were threatened by the stressors of the pandemic, social unrest and continuous upheaval in recent years.

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To meet employee expectations for fulfillment in their EX, she says, HR leaders should work to target each of these dimensions. For instance, align individual contributions to common purposes, encourage autonomy and flexibility, promote development including through stretch assignments tailored to individual passions and incorporate recognition throughout the employee lifecycle.

See also: Think 2022 was challenging for HR? Get ready for next year

Natalie Rothman, executive vice president and CHRO at Advance Auto Parts, says the auto retailer has been shifting its EX strategy in recent years with employee fulfillment in mind. It has strengthened its investment in ESG initiatives, for instance, and is working to give employees more of a voice in company initiatives.

Its Innovation Garage, for example, allows team members to submit ideas to tackle business problems—anything from furthering DE&I strategy to improving the team member experience. Employees vote on ideas and have the chance to present their solutions to company leaders.

“It’s really fun for them,” Rothman says. “We’re getting people involved all across the company—people in stores, in warehouses—and the winner gets stock in the company. We have a ‘Be an owner’ culture, so we want to make sure all of our team members feel like owners of our company.”

When fulfillment can be successfully embedded in the EX strategy, Stettler notes, it can yield quite a return for employers: O.C. Tanner research, for instance, found that highly fulfilled employees are likely to stay with the organization three years longer than those who aren’t.

While EX improvement can’t happen overnight, the environment may be ripe for it. According to recent research from FOUNT, a provider of an EX management platform, 94% of respondents agree that EX work is a long-term commitment at their organization; more than 60% have an EX strategy for at least the next six months. No long-term strategy is possible without leader buy-in and, according to the report, about 40% say senior leaders view EX improvement as equal to other business priorities.

As the world of work continues to transform, Christophe Martel, co-founder and CEO of FOUNT, expects to see even more investment in EX redesign.

“The pandemic increased the urgency for long-term investment in EX because employee expectations have changed,” Martel says, “and the cost of inaction is higher than ever.”

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at