Employee Experience – The Driver of Business Engagement and Success

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by Sarah McDonough, Talent & Reward Lead, Willis Towers Watson (Ireland)

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed enormous stress on employees of organisations throughout the world, and the impact has been experienced differently depending on personal circumstances, such as having to deal with home schooling, care giving, loneliness, burnout, and mental and physical health challenges.


As society cautiously moves towards reopening, and a hopeful sense of normality, organisations need to focus on the well-being of their staff and linked to this, the employee experience. We define the employee experience as the sum of all the moments that matter between an employer and employee. It focuses on purpose, work, total rewards, and people, and has a direct impact on business performance. We know that organisations that have a strong employee experience outperform their peers across multiple business metrics including return on assets, return on equity and overall revenue growth.

At Willis Towers Watson, we undertook global research during March and April (the 2021 Employee Experience Survey) looking at the key issues of employee experience from an employer’s perspectives. The findings were most informative, with 81% of surveyed employers believing that employee experience drives work engagement. 80% believe that employee experience facilitates wellbeing while 79% recognise it as a driver of productivity.

The research consisted of over 1500 employer respondents representing close to 9.5 million employees globally, with 78% believing that employee experience drives business performance and 92% stated they planned to enhance experience as a priority for employees over the next three years. The nature of work and how we engage is evolving, but the pandemic has quickened this process, and the research is illustrative of global shifts that are evident in businesses across Ireland.

The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly one of the most disruptive events to impact businesses of all sizes and sectors in modern times. The employee experience research found that as the pandemic took hold, most employers (56%) moved to a remote or hybrid work model, compared to only 9% of employers using such a system three years ago. Employers also cut hours, undertook restructuring activities, and made changes to pay and benefits – actions fundamentally designed to safeguard their business.

The research also highlighted that many organisations were not ready or equipped to deal with the stress test that the pandemic has caused and as a result have had to deal with the ongoing impact on key areas such as engagement and culture.

However, one group of organisations emerged from the pandemic with a stronger employee experience outcome than their peers – those organisations focussed on creating an employee experience strategy that is integrated with their business strategy and fuelled by technology. We call these companies ‘transformative EX organisations.

What can we learn from the experience of transformative EX companies when focusing on employee engagement? These are organisations that are focused on understanding, listening to, communicating, and engaging their employees.

Overall, employers need to build an employee experience strategy that is integrated and aligned to the business strategy – such an approach will benefit all. Our research found that 2 out of 3 transformative experience organisations say that they will use digital technology to transform experience in the next three years. When we consider how businesses engage in todays globalised environment and how they have adjusted to the pandemic, technology needs to be at the heart of the employee experience. Utilising technology to reconnect, foster innovation and drive change will be a feature of successful employee experiences, and companies have the opportunity now to begin this journey.

At Willis Towers Watson, we have a long history of supporting organisations to understand and listen to employees and now we have a new employee experience platform called Embark which is a tool that can be used to effectively communicate and engage employees.

Embark can be described as the front door to the employee experience. A modern, scalable digital employee experience platform, it simplifies the employee journey and creates one simple starting point from which to motivate and support your employees. Using interactive multimedia, the platform creates an immersive experience across talent, benefits, careers, wellbeing, culture and rewards by bringing employees to one place for all things HR with easy access to dashboards and third-party systems. Providing clear benefits for employees and employers, further information on Embark can be found here.