If We Are Moving to a “Gig” Economy Why Are We So Worried About the Employee Experience?

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In HR we have not yet landed on a definition of what comprises employee engagement, yet here we are trying to now define “the employee experience.” One of my favorite futurists and prognosticators about the future of work, Jacob Morgan, is working on a new book about the employee experience. What he has found in his research is interesting.

Engagement is not experience

Morgan said he has surveyed numerous companies that are working on employee experience. He is finding that companies are trying to “purposefully design an organization where employees actually want to show up to work and not where they need to show up to work,” but many are struggling with how experience differs from engagement. Although Morgan is still working on his definition of employee experience he says that there is a general consensus that engagement is a “focus on shorter term tactics” while experience is more a strategic initiative to attract and retain needed talent for the long haul and it encompasses engagement, happiness and more.

Does a focus on experience alter company design?

It seems, as I read Morgan’s work, that companies are creating titles and altering jobs to try to get to the level of employee experience that is desired. Some companies even alter company structure in order to improve the employee experience and that is why we see different office designs, flow of work, and even the chance encounter that employees may have with other employees. Morgan says that “Employee experience is a combination of three environments: cultural, physical, and technological.” He further says “Everything from the food employees eat to the technologies they use to get their jobs done to the office spaces they work in are all a part of the employee experience.”

I don’t think many of us would disagree with this assessment. Certainly we have seen that the employee experience has radically changed in many organizations in the last decade or so, where before employees had to fit into the environment of the company to where today some companies are going through a customization process for each employee hired, however, as I read this I could not but help think “If we are moving to a gig economy why are we so concerned about the employee experience?

Is the employee experience important to a gig worker?

If the employee experience is a strategic move, is it, and will it be, important to companies that work on a gig model? If you are only hiring people to function as independent contractors doesn’t that we are not really concerned about the strategic value of each worker, only the tactical value of each worker? I could see a concern for engagement, after all while the worker is performing for you, you want them to do their best, but if they are not for the long term then why be interested in their experience?

I think as a field of endeavor, HR needs to help companies come to a definition of these terms. We need to find the meaning of what is important to workers, both employees and contractors, and try to structure work and relationships so that people are both engaged and have a good experience.

Have any suggestions?

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