The Ingredients for Crafting the Perfect Employee Experience

The Employee Experience (EX) is quickly becoming the hot topic for organizations. Companies are realizing employee engagement is an output of something more intricate than surveys and the dreaded action-plans forgotten until next year. If employee engagement is the outcome, then EX is the equation—the formula of the right ingredients leading to productivity and satisfaction.

What is the Employee Experience?

EX is every touchpoint an employee has with a company from potential candidate surfing your career site to the moment they retire or leave. It’s the sum of individual attitudes shaped by big things like pay, benefits, and company direction, but also little things like expense policy, cafe meals, personal equipment, leadership styles, missions, and social interaction. Sound like a lot of touchpoints? It is. And that’s precisely why so many companies struggle to move the needle.

The Core Ingredients of the Employee Experience

We have identified a few core ingredients consistently associated with positive employee experiences. Depending on how you deliberately mix these ingredients, employees will feel specific emotions leading to engagement.


Meaning is the presence of purposeful work and evidence of doing social good. It’s why a company does what it does. It is critical that this be clear and understood by employees, even before customers and shareholders. Meaning is more than a corporate communications team wordsmithing generic values or a mission statement plastered in the lobby. These words must be the words of the employees. Simple. Memorable. Inspiring. Repeatable. If you think providing employees a sense of meaningful work is just fluff, consider this - In a recent 2011-2015 analysis, Korn Ferry found that purpose-driven companies outperformed their peers in both annual growth and revenue.


Connection is the presence of solid, healthy relationships, and energizing social interactions. Can employees find others they want to know personally with compatible interests and values? This is not something that just happens organically. It should be intentional and strategic when making hiring decisions, designing collaborative spaces, as well as the company knowing the personal interests and values of employees. Connection is the opportunity to fit in with a larger group, where no one is an island, and you consider many of your coworkers to be friends. Gallup research shows friendship at work has an impact on performance, particularly for women. Two-thirds of women cited socializing as a “major reason” for why they work. It goes beyond the relationships with peers too. In a recent Forbes article, Steelcase recognized the importance of creating an increased intimacy between senior leadership and employees. They moved leadership offices to main floors so that leaders and employees have daily face-to-face interactions. 


Access is the presence of the right tools, spaces, and resources to do what needs done. This is the stuff that sometimes isn’t sexy, but critical. It’s a physical environment which complements the work and provides opportunity for interaction. It includes inspiring workspaces for groups to physically collaborate, as well the technology in those spaces to not just connect but to do work virtually. Access is also about making it easy for people to get needed resources. Access can show up as simply providing tools or software. Other times, it is information, training, funding, or opening doors to influential individuals. Often providing Access means taking away outdated or cumbersome rules and policies. Fast Company recently profiled Hootsuite who appointed a “Czar of Bad Systems” to remove or correct inefficient, distrusting, or outlived processes.


Combining Ingredients

Crafting the perfect EX is more than just having the ingredients of Connection, Meaning, and Access. You need to strategically overlap and mix together the ingredients to have the best EX. When the ingredients interact, it creates the feelings driving employee engagement.

Meaning + Connection = Belonging

When Meaning and Connection interact, you feel you belong. There’s an air of “we’re working towards something bringing our personal values and worldly beliefs together.” It’s allowing employees to express passion for the company’s purpose with others as equally passionate.

Connection + Access = Creativity

When Connection and Access mix, it stimulates creativity. You feel energized by those around you while having the autonomy and resources necessary to solve problems. An example might be a group of diversely skilled employees assigned a business challenge and given the freedom to execute ideas. It could also mean scheduling a meeting in a new and unusual location allowing for creative problem-solving and personal interactions not typical in the office.

Meaning + Access = Achievement

When Meaning and Access combine, there’s a sense of accomplishment. It’s a pride in the purpose being met with little friction slowing you down. An example is the feeling an employee would have visiting customers face-to-face, seeing the positive impact their work has on others.

It’s important to understand that Connection, Meaning, and Access independent of each of other might not affect overall engagement. Nor does lacking in any one ingredient mean your employees are not engaged. The key difference between Employee Experience and engagement is that EX recognizes how all interactions influence employee perception.  EX shouldn’t be in silos or the role of a specific department, but rather, thought of collectively. It’s how the three ingredients complement and work with each other that creates a kick-ass EX leading to booming engagement and productivity.

Written by Adam Allred and Allen Weaver - Cofounders of Bourbon Fat, a consulting firm helping organizations create kick-ass employee experiences through human-centered design. They have each designed and facilitated leadership development, culture, and design thinking training to 500,000+ employees across multiple Fortune 100 organizations.