Why you should hire a chief employee experience officer

It’s not supposed to be fun — that’s why they call it work. It’s a common adage, but it’s one that may be past its due date as more companies are focusing on employee experience and even hiring for positions that emphasize the issue.

“In the vast majority of organizations, you’re still looking at a traditional structure where you would have a chief HR officer and a number of senior HR leaders responsible for different elements of what HR delivers,” says Todd Mathers, partner and leader of talent, rewards and performance consulting at Aon Hewitt.

The approach is, however, evolving. While Mathers hasn’t actually seen the job title of chief employee experience officer, the issue does come up. “In some of the more progressive organizations we work with, they do have a role that would report into the chief HR officer that has accountability for employee experience. But not every organization will call it the employee experience officer.”

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When employees agree the organization consistently acts with integrity, 83% report a more positive employee experience

When employees agree co-workers help each other out at work if needed, 77% report a more positive experience

When employees agree they receive recognition for doing good work, 83% report a more positive experience

When employees agree their work schedule is flexible enough for them to meet family and personal responsibilities, 79% report a more positive experience

Source: 2016 WorkTrends employee experience index study conducted by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and Globoforce’s WorkHuman Research Institute

One company that has led the way is Airbnb Inc., which was reportedly the first company to have hired for the role in 2015.

In Canada, companies that have embraced the concept include Meridian Credit Union Ltd., which hired its first chief employee experience officer in September 2017. “The CEEO is really about enabling an integrated and aligned approach to creating that exceptional employee experience,” says Anne Berend, the person who took on the role.

“I certainly still have responsibility for the traditional HR functions — recruiting and talent management and leadership development — [but my role] extends to things like worrying about the kind of technology employees need, how do we enable innovation in their day-to-day work, how do we really make sure employees are happy, healthy and engaged.”

One way is through the organization’s employee giving program, My Commitment to Communities. The credit union matches donations and fundraising for any Canadian charity up to $1,000 per year per employee, says Berend, noting 42 per cent of employees participated in the program last year.

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Meridian also has a dress-for-your-day policy. “If you’re going out to see members or meet with vendors or suppliers, you’ll likely choose to dress a bit differently than if you’re in the office all day in internal meetings,” says Berend. “Employees love that there’s that flexibility.”

Employee experience can also come in the form of physical space. Mathers knows of one company that put coffee bars on different floors. “Those were put in place to encourage collaboration,” he says.

Companies, he notes, are “starting to do things with the physical workspace to enable that to happen better. That would be an example of what some companies are actually doing with office design to support the employee experience.”

Why hire a CEEO?

But do companies really need someone dedicated to employee experience?

Mathers says many companies know talent is a key asset. “For [companies] to find and keep the people who are ultimately going to drive their success, they need to create a work environment that will attract the people with the kinds of skills and abilities they need,” he says. Berend agrees. “People have choices, and we’re aware of that, which is partly why we have such a focus on an exceptional employee experience,” she says.

It’s also about retaining that talent. “The cost of managing talent from a recruiting and turnover standpoint is significant,” says Mathers.

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“It’s not just the hard-dollar cost; it’s the loss of institutional knowledge and the impact it has on customer or client relationships.”

Mathers says companies need to define the kind of people they want and then figure out which features they find attractive. “Then create an employee experience that doesn’t compromise who you are as an employer but can meet the greatest number of those needs.”

Brooke Smith is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor.