6 Trends Driving Better Employee Experiences in 2018

Employee engagement is critical for a strong and productive workforce, but it's not the only important factor. Smart companies understand that providing a comprehensive employee experience that follows the employee's entire journey — one that offers opportunities for development at every step along the way — benefits everything from product quality to resource management and strategic thinking.

These progressive organizations are leading a shift away from simple employee engagement to a more holistic employee experience approach. In 2018, it's likely more companies will come to the same, more nuanced understanding of the impact employee programs can have on the corporate bottom line.

As more companies adopt comprehensive employee experience programs, the marketplace is adapting and new avenues of improvement are appearing. Based on feedback from our 8,500+ customers at Qualtrics and our recent global employee experience research, here are six trends for high-impact enhancements we expect to see in employee experience in 2018:

1. A Shift Away From 'More Frequent Feedback' in Favor of 'the Right Feedback at the Right Time'

While recurrent meaningful feedback is crucial to the employee experience, a scattershot approach is not sufficient. In 2018, expect to see companies begin adopting the true silver bullet, so to speak: collecting and delivering the right feedback at the right time. When organizations build programs that solicit, collect, and distribute feedback at critical moments, leadership can impact real change within their organizations.

2. The Employee Experience Will Become Everyone's Business

New technologies allow companies to democratize critical employee experience insights across their organizations. While HR has typically been solely responsible for collecting, analyzing, and acting on employee data, managers can now easily collect frequent and actionable insights for their teams in real-time during multiple points of an employee's life cycle.

As organizations enable managers and individuals to act on their experience data, or "X-data," individual managers will adopt employee experience responsibilities that were once the sole responsibility of HR. The emergence of guided action plans and manager-enabling technology will direct people leaders with expert content in an automated way that we haven't seen at scale before. Although this will not obviate HR's involvement in major decisions regarding employees, it will free HR leadership to be more strategic and proactive.

3. Diversity and Inclusion Will Require Org-Specific Strategies That Drive Results

Companies are discovering that the failure to establish inclusive and diverse work environments today has legal, financial, and social consequences. As the pressure for meaningful change continues to build, companies will need to adapt organization-specific strategies to establish and improve workplace cultures. 2018 is the year diversity and inclusion strategies will be widely adopted across all industries and workplaces.

4. Employee Data Will Become Implicit, Not Just Explicit

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are driving a data revolution across the entire enterprise, and HR is seeing the benefits. Although HR will continue to collect employee experience insights through explicit channels like engagement surveys, the emergence of AI will allow for the integration of a larger variety of behavioral, emotional, and attitudinal indicators (e.g., attendance data) into the equation. In 2018, organizations will continue to utilize their explicit data around employee experience as they also begin leveraging data sources that provide implicit signals of underlying attitudes and emotions.

5. Employer Branding Will Be Critical

Online platforms like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Monster are deep wells of information for job seekers. These resources put powerful tools in the hands of candidates and have turned the interviewing and hiring process into a more dynamic affair. Despite this, many companies have failed to step up their games when it comes to talent acquisition.

Employee feedback and reaction surveys can help companies build great employee brands, but attracting top talent will require those organizations to market and advertise their attractive brands and employee experiences to wider audiences. Smart companies in 2018 will take steps to reduce the gap between their intended and perceived brands, as well as find external avenues to share stories of employee journeys.

6. Organizations Will Connect the Employee Experience to the Customer Experience

Highly engaged employees help grow revenues, according to Bain Company — as much as two and a half times more than employees with low engagement levels. Given such a clear correlation between engaged teams and improved financial performance, it's not surprising that many of Qualtrics' Fortune 500 customers are starting to connect employee data with customer experience data. Understanding the relationship between these two key X-data elements will help organizations better leverage their engaged teams to drive customer loyalty, profitability, and revenue.

As stakeholders begin to adopt the principles and processes of employee experience management, more organizations will benefit from having happier and more engaged employees. Investing in employees' careers and development will pay far greater dividends than casual Fridays and the monthly birthday cake in the break room. Look for employee experience to take a much more prominent role for smart companies in 2018.

Rachel Barker is employee experience product manager at Qualtrics. Gunnar Schrah, Ph.D., is employee experience expert at Qualtrics.