The Rock-Solid Business Case for Employee Experience

What kind of business results can we expect from focusing on employee engagement?


When it comes to Employee Experience, business leaders want proof. Leaders want proof that money spent on things like engagement, collaborative workspaces, free food, and training, all have a positive impact on the bottom line.

But what if they don’t actually make that big a difference on results?

There is of course research suggesting that companies who show greater concern for their employees outperform those that don’t. Over the long haul, the effects of culture become more visible on business metrics, like shareholder returns. But in the short term, there are plenty of companies with toxic cultures who perform exceptionally well in spite of it.

Like a bucket in the rain doesn’t appear to fill from a single drop, Employee Experience isn’t felt with a single action. It takes time to see the effects. Measuring the impact of a single Employee Experience initiative is challenging and often requires lofty claims about the expected impact. We know because we have had to make this case to skeptical leaders.

So the question for leaders is this: if you can still have strong results next year while also not giving a shit about Employee Experience, why should you worry about employees at all?

The Moral Arc of Business

Being a factory worker during the Industrial Revolution was a lowly existence. Dangerous equipment and tiny wages made for terrible working conditions and booming business. The government intervened and gradually things improved to the point where we now have nap pods at work. Instead of getting your arm lopped off by a steel death machine, you can take a nap at work. That’s incredible progress. At this point, even if it was profitable and legal, most businesses can’t imagine subjecting workers to the same conditions that were prominent in the 1800s. The reason is that our moral bar has been raised. Through science and progress, we now have a different view of what is acceptable. Scientist Michael Shermer calls this the Moral Arc.

It applies to business too.

Treating employees well was never about business results. It’s always been about the responsibility of a successful organization to recognize their place on the Moral Arc. Some companies set the curve (ahemm...Google), some companies fight to hold the baseline. Over time, everyone moves, raising the mean and standards of employee treatment.

The reality is that our current focus on Employee Experience may not be about impacting business performance after all, at least not short-term performance. On the horizon of the organizational Moral Arc, is meaningful work for employees. A world where companies are responsible for giving employees a way to make a difference, learn, and enjoy life, not because these are perks, but because they’re the equivalent of modern workers rights.

Your engagement strategy might not have that big an impact on next quarter results, or even next year. Your training class may not improve business results of the team, at least not in a statistically evident way, but it doesn't make those things useless. No one is concerned about the ROI of a water cooler placed in the corner of the office, but you do it because it makes work a better place to spend time.

Make work a better place to be because it’s the right thing to do.

Give your applicants a reason to choose you instead of someone further down the arc.

Make people go home and talk glowingly about their day.

Over time, those behaviors matter, and yes, you will outperform others.. You may never be able to draw a line directly to next quarter profits, but it still has an impact. A drop in the bucket.

Is that enough reason to care about Employee Experience? Is it enough to inspire employees just because you can?

Adam Allred