The emotions count! Employee experience from the applied anthropology lens

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In every company, there are many social interactions happening every day that impact the company´s performance. Interactions between employees, and/or between employees and their employers, and between employees and customers. All these human interactions affect the employee’s experience. In this article, I will talk about Employee experience (EX). I will start by addressing this topic in a very general way, secondly, I will discuss the role of applied anthropology in this area, and finally, I will illustrate with an example of luxury hotels as a specific field to investigate this topic.

What is employee experience?

What do you imagine when we say Employee experience? Each one of us who has worked or is working in a company has experienced his or her own employee experience. The employee experience contains everything that an employee lives, does, finds, observes and feels from the first to the last day at his or her job. And it doesn’t necessarily only include that time span. Many authors point out that the employee experience already begins on the day of the job interview. The employee experience is influenced by many factors, for example by the interactions with other people, by the work environment, the workplace design, by the goals of the company and the attitude of the managers and the employees themselves. But the employee experience is also influenced by other circumstances such as the type of transport that one has to use to get to the job, and the time of the commuting, or other private/personal things going on in someone´s life that might impact how tired they arrive to work in the mornings. Like having a sick baby at home, for instance. All these aspects have a great impact, positive and negative, in the way how employees feel and of course, how they work. Therefore, they should be taken into account by Human Resources, and employers. 

Recently, research toward employee experience has become very important for employers trying to improve the work environment in their companies and services.

Employee satisfaction plays a significant role in defining organizational success. It is necessary to understand as to how employees can be kept satisfied and motivated to achieve out-of-the-ordinary results. Customer satisfaction seems to be a natural corollary of employee satisfaction and in turn, organizational success is upshot of this duo. (Naseem, Ejaz Sheikh y Malik, 2011: 41)

 

Having satisfied and motivated employees is key to success.

Having satisfied and motivated employees is key to success, however, I believe that interest in employees does not have to come only from the interest in business success, but also in caring about employees as human beings. As Annette Franz has already written accurately: ¨It’s not just about the impact on the customer experience; it is also the impact on employees themselves. It’s about treating them like humans, not like cogs in the wheels of corporate success. It’s ultimately about caring about people — like people do.¨  Consequently, I consider this as another reason to talk about applied anthropology in the context of employee experience, because, as we all know, it is the discipline engaged above all, in humans…

¨It’s not just about the impact on the customer experience; it is about the impact on employees themselves. It’s about treating them like humans, not like cogs in the wheels of corporate success. It’s ultimately about caring about people — like people do.¨ (Franz, 2019)

Applied anthropology & employee experience

Applied anthropology is key to do deep qualitative research of the employee experience. Using the main methods of applied anthropology, the traditional ethnography (including participant observation and interviews, focus groups, etc), and then combining them with innovative visual thinking tools such as the Employee Journey Maps we can provide a full scope of the experiences people have at their jobs. The employee journey map can contain data on the whole experience of an employee at a company, or the data from a regular full day, or for a specific event, etc. For example, a day of the employee and demonstrate the factors that have influenced his or her work, such as a discussion with his or her colleague, or some complications on his or her way to work, among others. But also, an employee map can represent the whole experience of the employee from the job interview to the moment when they leave their positions. Here you can see the example of the employee journey map done with UXPressia

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Example of employee journey map done with UXPressia

Conducting Ethnographic Research of the Employee Experience

The anthropological methodology has a great advantage. Thanks to participant observation and interviews with the employees and the employers, it is possible to gain a special kind of data, that methods of other disciplines, especially the quantitative ones, cannot achieve. I am talking about “thick data” that reflects the people´s emotions.

The analysis and the results of the ethnographic research can serve in more than one area. Thanks to the depth of this type of research employers can come to understand elements that exceed the experience of their employees, the tensions between the different narratives employees have on the experiences being lived in that company, or on how to process and refine the employees’ knowledge and ideas. For example, an employee can have an idea about facilitating or improving something in the company, but nobody knows yet because there is not a standardized way for them to give feedback or an open organization that is willing to hear these inputs. In an effort to break the top-down approach, the employers can make use of these insights to improve the work-life and enrich their company. The changes that come from the results of the study on the part of the employers can also have a physical character – for instance, there can be changed the layout of the physical space so the people can work in better conditions.

The other aspect that I find quite useful in the anthropological research of the employee experience and the work environment is that the anthropologists provide an external point of view. This view can reveal the things and phenomena about which neither employers nor the employees have even noticed. Moreover, this research can be carried out more than once. This is to say, that it can be repeated after a certain time to see which things have been improved, what has been changed or if something new has occurred that needs to be evaluated.

 The employee experience will obviously be different depending on the various types of companies or services. For the purposes of this article, I will use an example of luxury hotels to demonstrate the different factors that can influence the employee experience.  I will also discuss the way how it can be investigated in this context.

 

Luxurious hotels as an example for the employee experience

Luxury hotels are a very interesting field to observe the employee experience, because, among others, the interactions between people there are quite influenced by cultural differences, intercultural communication, gender stereotypes and the cultural concept of luxury Besides, in the field of luxury hotels, the unequal relationship between customers and employees can be seen very clearly, especially thanks to differences in social classes. Each hotel employee has a different experience depending on the type of work he or she does, which comes together with a certain status: Cleaners, dining room employees, receptionists, maintenance, etc.  

Receptionists, for example, experience very substantial moments. They are usually the first ones to speak with the hotel customers, listen to their wishes, needs, but also complaints, problems, and supplications. This is not an easy job. In the hotel, especially in the luxurious one, everything has to be in accordance with the client’s wishes, although sometimes it is difficult to make them satisfied. The hotel employee experience changes every minute. At one moment one of the clients can throw the room card directly into your face and just after that a smiling customer comes and wishes you a nice day. For everything going well in a service like a hotel, it is very important that employees collaborate with each other well, quickly and effectively. This is another aspect we should not forget. Luxury hotels have many employees distributed in different sectors and when one of the employees makes a mistake, it can affect the rest of the team. Therefore, the interaction between employees is a fundamental part of the employee experience. In the end, we have to think about the relationship between employees and managers, because this interaction is also very important on the subject of employee experience. Moreover, the managers should be the first ones interested in it and wanted it to be the best possible as it can be.

Doing anthropological research in the luxury hotel, the researcher has to spend time with all employees, live their everyday experiences with them and observe their interactions. Since the tasks of hotel employees diverse, it is important to devote a specific time to each of the types of hotel work to get a holistic approach. The researcher should also spend time in the lobby, to observe the interactions between clients and employees at the everyday level. Finally, to see the interaction between employers and employees, he or she has to attend their meetings too.

The interviews should be conducted in a quiet place, where people feel comfortable and have time and space to talk. The investigator should not judge any of the answers and also has to take care of the sensitive information of their informants, making sure to never vulnerate them. Anthropologists as researchers always have to be reliable. After all, we do not seek to benefit only employers but all employees of the hotel or company we are doing the fieldwork in. The duration of the fieldwork is not determined. The important thing is that the researcher experience as many situations as possible, because then he or she can have a more complete image of the field. Likewise, it is important to write down every single thing that happens and occur during the observation and interviews. In fact, every small detail can play a significant role in the analysis and in the conclusions of the research afterward.

In anthropological research, people are not treated as numbers, but as human beings with their own experiences. Along with it, I believe that to understand their employees, companies or service managers should know the experience of each one of them.

Bibliography:

FRANZ, Anette. What Exactly Is The Employee Experience? Forbes [online]. 1st of February 2019. [cit. 08/08/2019]. Available in: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2019/02/01/what-exactly-is-the-employee-experience/#41bfaf6f4dbf

NASEEM, AFSHAN, SHEIKH and MALIK. “Impact of Employee Satisfaction on Success of Organization: Relation between Customer Experience and Employee Satisfaction.” International Journal Of Multidisciplinary Sciences and Engineering, Vol. 2, No. 5, August 2011.

I am a student of social-cultural anthropology at Charles University in Prague. I like to discover all the fields where the anthropological perspective with all the research methods can be incorporated and used. I believe that anthropology can teach us how to understand things in a deep way. Currently, I am conducting research about the Latinamerican salsa dance as a commercial product.

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