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Employee Experience vs. Employee Engagement:
The HR Shift You Need to Make

Silhouette of a person walking down a railroad track at sunset.
Hacking HR Team

Posted on June 11, 2024

Let’s say you just rolled out a polished new engagement survey, where you meticulously crafted questions about job satisfaction, team collaboration, and company culture. However, as the results trickle in, you realize that most responses are short and not insightful. Perhaps your employees might not be actively disengaged (as the survey may or may not indicate), but they're not exactly setting the world on fire with their enthusiasm, either.

We could call it the "engagement plateau" – a phenomenon where traditional EE tactics yield diminishing returns. It's like trying to fuel a rocket ship with a bicycle pump. So, in fact, Gallup's data reveals a harsh reality: 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or actively disengaged at work, which is a crisis costing businesses trillions in lost productivity. But what if this isn't a crisis of engagement but rather a misdiagnosis of a deeper issue?

Employee Experience (EX) vs. Employee Engagement (EE): The HR Game Changer

It's time to clear up the confusion and address the elephant in the (often windowless) HR office:

What's the difference between EX and EE, and why does it matter?


The scope of the employee experience is the entire employee journey, from recruitment to exit. Employee Engagement is the emotional connection and commitment an employee feels toward their work and organization.


Employee experience focuses on a holistic view of what employees encounter, observe, and feel at each touchpoint. The focus of employee engagement is the level of enthusiasm, involvement, and dedication employees show at work.


The employee experience is driven by workplace culture, technology, leadership, compensation, benefits, work-life balance, and development opportuinities. Employee engagement is the result of meaningful work, recognition, growth opportunities, feeling valued and heard, and positive relationships with colleagues and managers.


The tools Human Resources use to measure employee experience and engagement are different. To measure the employee experience HR can use surveys, interviews, focus groups, observation, and analyzing behavioral data. As for employee engagement, it can be measured using employee surveys, performance reviews, absenteeism rates, and turnover rates.


Employee experience influences talent attraction and retention, innovation, productivity, customer satisfaction, employer brand reputation and overall business success. Employee engagement impacts productivity, the quality of work, absenteeism, turnover, customer satisfaction, and overall team morale.

The HR Shift

Employee Experience requires a holistic approach to designing the entire employee journey. Conversely, employee engagement requires a reactive approach, often focused on individual initiatives to boost morale and motivation

A table with they hey differences between Employee Experience (EX) and Employee Engagement (EE).

Why This Distinction Matters: The High Cost of Ignoring EX

Most companies have been barking up the wrong tree when building a thriving workforce. You've likely invested countless hours and dollars into chasing the ever-elusive "engaged employee." You may have organized team-building retreats, launched elaborate recognition programs, or even hired a motivational speaker to rally the troops. But here's the kicker: you can't force engagement. It's a byproduct of a positive employee experience.

Think of it this way: EX is the foundation, and EE is the result. If your foundation is cracked and crumbling (i.e., your EX is subpar), no surface-level engagement tactics will create a sustainable structure.

The EX-EE Connection: More Than Semantics

Think of it like this:

Employee Experience is the Soil: It's the environment where your employees grow. This soil includes company culture, leadership style, communication practices, development opportunities, work-life balance, and the tools and resources employees need to succeed.

Employee Engagement is the Plant: It manifests how your employees thrive in that environment. Engaged employees are passionate, motivated, and invested in their work. They're the ones who go above and beyond, who innovate, and who contribute to a positive workplace culture.

The Costly Consequences of a Cracked Foundation

If your EX is subpar – if the soil is toxic, lacking nutrients, or simply unsupportive – no amount of watering (i.e., engagement initiatives) will make your plants flourish. In fact, you might even end up doing more harm than good by pouring resources into surface-level fixes while ignoring the root of the problem.

A poor EX leads to:

  • High Turnover: Your best people will leave, taking their knowledge, skills, and networks.

  • Low Morale: Disengaged employees drain company culture and productivity.

  • Damaged Employer Brand: Word gets around. A negative EX makes it harder to attract top talent.

  • Financial Losses: Turnover, low productivity, and recruitment costs all add up to a hefty price tag.

How to Implement Employee Experience Strategies (Key Strategies)

Strategy 1: Listen Actively & Iterate Constantly

Strategy 2: Equip Managers as EX Champions

Strategy 3: Map and Optimize the Entire Employee Journey

Strategy 4: Build a Culture of Genuine Recognition & Appreciation


Recap & Call to Action: Shifting from a reactive EE focus to a proactive EX strategy is not a sprint; it's a marathon. But it's a race worth winning. Start by understanding your employees' needs, empowering your managers, and creating a workplace where people genuinely want to be.

Final Thought: When your people feel valued, they become your most potent competitive advantage. Investing in EX isn't just good for your employees; it's the smart move for your business.

How to Shift Your HR Strategy from EE to EX: A Practical Playbook

It was already established that Employee Experience is the foundation of a thriving workforce. But how do you make this shift? It's more complex than swapping out pizza parties for yoga classes (though those can be excellent additions). It requires a fundamental change in how you approach the employee lifecycle.

Here are four key strategies to guide your EX transformation:

1. Listen Actively & Iterate Constantly

  • Ditch the Annual Survey: Yearly surveys need to be updated. Opt for regular pulse surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one conversations to get real-time insights into what your employees are experiencing.

  • Act on Feedback: Don't just collect data; do something with it. Use feedback to identify pain points, prioritize improvements, and communicate your action plan to employees.

  • Embrace Transparency: Be open and honest about your findings and the steps you're taking to improve EX. This builds trust and shows employees that their voices matter.

2. Equip Managers as EX Champions

  • Train, Don't Just Tell: Provide managers with the skills and knowledge to create positive team experiences. This includes training on coaching, feedback, conflict resolution, and fostering a culture of appreciation.

  • Empower, Don't Micromanage: Managers can tailor EX initiatives to their team's needs. Trust them to be the experts on what works best for their people.

  • Hold Them Accountable: Make EX a key performance indicator for managers. Measure their success based on their team's feedback and engagement levels.

3. Map and Optimize the Entire Employee Journey

  • The Employee Journey Map: This visual tool outlines every employee touchpoint with your organization. It helps you identify moments of truth where EX can make or break an employee's perception of your company.

  • Personalization is Key: Design experiences that cater to the unique needs and preferences of different employee segments. One size does not fit all when it comes to EX.

  • Continuous Improvement: The employee journey is not static. Regularly revisit and update your map to ensure it reflects the evolving needs of your workforce.

4. Build a Culture of Genuine Recognition and Appreciation

  • Beyond the Bonus: Financial rewards are essential but are not the only way to show appreciation. Recognize employees for their contributions, big and small, through verbal praise, public recognition, and growth opportunities.

  • Peer-to-Peer Recognition: Encourage a culture where employees recognize each other's efforts. This can be as simple as a shout-out in a team meeting or a handwritten thank-you note.

  • Make It Personal: Tailor your recognition efforts to the individual. Some employees crave public acknowledgment, while others prefer a more private thank you.

With these strategies, you can transform your workplace into one where employees thrive while being mindful that EX is an ongoing journey requiring continuous effort, adaptability, and a willingness to challenge the status quo. But the payoff—a more engaged, productive, and loyal workforce—is worth it.

The Bottom Line: Employee Experience is the Future

The old playbook of superficial engagement tactics needs to be more effective. Instead, the future is about crafting a holistic employee experience with Engagement as a reaction (how employees feel after they've experienced your company) and Experience as the catalyst (the sum of all the interactions that shape those feelings). Hence, by focusing on EX, you're tackling the root cause while creating a workplace where people feel valued, heard, and empowered to do their best work.

The payoff? A more engaged workforce, a stronger employer brand, and a healthier bottom line are especially significant in the current talent war.

Become a People Experience Strategist

Ready to become an EX champion? Join our People Experience Strategist program and gain the skills and knowledge you need to transform your workplace. Enroll today and start building a future where your people don't just work for you but thrive with you.

The "People Experience Strategist" certificate program is designed to transform mid-career HR professionals into strategic trailblazers, equipping them with the skills to foster innovative workplace cultures and drive organizational success. Through expert-led, practical classes, participants will master the art of aligning HR strategies with business goals, managing talent, and leveraging data, preparing them to lead the future of HR with confidence and impact.

Learn more here.

Flyer of the certificate program, 'People Experience Strategist' shows a rocket launch and the logo of the People & Culture Strategy Institute powered by Hacking HR.

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