Please raise your hand if you’ve ever felt let down by your employer. If your hand’s not up then you’re in the minority. Today, companies are taking steps to improve employee experience but there are still aspects of modern-day work life not meeting expectations. 

A company designing a better employee experience would do well to start off by drawing on their experience in creating positive customer experiences. CX in the workplace is the practice of the employer looking through the eyes of the employee. This article aims to provide the top ten trends in employee experience design.

1. Candidate experience

It makes sense to start at the very beginning before employees even become employees. We like to call it candidate experience design and it’s all the interactions the HR/ recruitment team have with candidates during the application process. Employer branding if you will. It’s a crucial element in perception management and builds the foundation for employee loyalty. If the candidate is unsuccessful the company needs to take the opportunity to leave a lasting and positive impression – achieved by creating a series of enjoyable interactions.

Harnessing the power of social media can also pave the way to creating an exceptional candidate experience during the recruitment process. Social media plays an important role in the setting perceptions of company culture and can give an excellent taster of ‘a day in the life’ in the office. The average time a person researches a potential new employer is 2 hours. During that time they will assess LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Facebook in search for clues. Airbnb makes a great case study for applications of employee experience design in recruitment. Jill Riopelle, Head of Global Recruiting at Airbnb, uses storyboards to explore both the touchpoints and the candidates’ emotional journey throughout.  The benefit of creating storyboards is to fully understand the experience from the candidate versus what management assumes is the case. Talent teams can engage candidates in many ways but the communication must be consistently an accurate presentation of the company culture. One of the biggest reasons a new start fails to complete probation is down to feeling like they don’t fit-in so the hiring managers need to personify the culture to save company time and money. 

2. Onboarding

Once an offer has been accepted the onboarding process begins. Much like the candidate experience – getting this wrong can have a long-term impact on the employee. 69% of new starts are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experience great onboarding. Achieving the best first steps for a new employee will require an onboarding action plan – starting by understanding what the new employee wants from the process. Employee feedback in combination with the HR onboarding strategy produces the framework for an onboarding plan. A strategy can be devised by answering the following questions:

  • When will onboarding start and how long will it last?
  • What impression do you want new employees to walk away with?
  • What do new employees need to know about the culture, technology and work environment?
  • What role will HR play in the onboarding process? What about direct managers? Co-workers?
  • What will make them feel welcome on their first day?
  • What kind of goals do you want to set for new employees and how will you personalise to each individual?
  • How will you gather feedback on the program and measure its success?

The onboarding plan should begin with pre-start-date communication. New employees want to feel prepared so they can be ‘useful’ from day one. Have a colleague reach out in advance also takes away some of the anxiety of being the new kid in school. On the first day, keep it simple. The main aim is for the individual to understand their role and responsibilities, to get to know their team and to immerse into the culture. A company book or checklist is a great way to make the new employee feel useful. During a recent project with a large financial organisation. Nile worked with each team in the company and uncovered a fragmented and inconsistent approach to onboarding where employee experiences varied from team to team. With this insight, we helped the HR teams to make adaptations so all new employees were welcomed into the company in a consistent way with a tour of the building on the first day, an introduction to senior management and a clear set of starting expectations

3. Agile talent management and development

When it comes to the full lifecycle of employee experience, feedback is fundamental for both staff development and engagement. Switching to a more flexible, responsive model will allow for agile employee management. For instance, taking a user-centric approach to learning and development led Cigna to create a system of real-time feedback, which, gives employees a more iterative and relevant development program. Similarly, employee experience design prompted Cigna to deliver management coaching via weekly videos, to fit around managers’ busy schedules promoting on-the-job application of new techniques. Instead of pulling staff out of their workdays to attend training seminars. 

4. Employer Brand

Candidates have one chance to make a good first impression, the same goes for organisations looking to attract the highest quality talent. An organisation looking to made a good first impression needs a strong employer brand. The employer brand and customer brand need to be consistent. According to research, a well-managed employer brand attracts 3.5 more applicants per job. It also reduces the cost-per-hire by 50%. When it comes to using the employer brand in recruitment try to identify what makes the company unique, create an awesome company culture, and talk about environment and technology in the workplace. Potential new employees also want to know how they will be managed so be transparent about the employer-employee structure. A large part of the employer brand also comprises of formal and informal communication that takes place over the employee lifecycle. Informal employer branding already exists whether you attempt to shape it or not. It is in every contact the employee has with the organisation – every ‘moment of truth.’ An employer brand strategy designed with employees in mind can shape many of those experiences.

5. Internal communications

Providing great colleague experiences led Forrester to recruit a Head of Employee Experience with a communications background rather than HR. His priority? To:

“forge an emotional connection between Forrester employees and the Forrester brand.”


This emotional connection is critical in creating positive interactions between staff and their employers. Organisations owning colleague experience design are taking a marketing, comms and design approach to the workplace. Through design thinking and employee journey maps, HR departments are now focusing on understanding and improving colleague experience by using different tools to measure employee satisfaction and engagement. HR professionals are adopting other marketing and service design tactics such as:

  • Segmentation
    Instead of segmenting the workforce by generalisations like location, job title or division, companies should start to organise staff by professional characteristic, or even personality traits. As with marketing, more accurate and granular segmentation can enable you to create a greater and more customised connection with individual employees, based on more relevant criteria.
  • Journey mapping
    In the same way that designers build user maps to identify points of interaction between the customer and the company, HR professionals are starting to build employee journey maps that identify the ways in which the employee interacts with the employer throughout the full employment life cycle. This kind of user map can enable you to spot areas that are hurting the relationship between employer and employees, making it harder to retain talent, or reducing productivity.

One final forward-looking note on changes to internal communication, some companies are using “human-like” chatbots to help resource management. HR teams can be overwhelmed by demands so chatbots can step in to field front-line HR queries, allowing HR professionals to focus their attention where it is most needed – creating a great place to work in a way that only fellow humans can understand. Automation is most definitely a trend that’s here to stay and likely to have a massive impact on HR departments both in terms of comms and recruitment.

6. Team development

Whilst employee development plans are becoming more personalised, in some organisations, the process of goal-setting is shifting from the strictly individual to the collective. The vast majority of employees experience their work as a series of group projects. As Ashley Goodall of Cisco puts it:

“One of the big misses in HR has been our nearly exclusive focus on individual development and performance. At Cisco, we noted great accomplishments are delivered through teams, not just through individuals working alone. This led to our insight that an individual employee’s experience is really their team experience and this is different for everyone.”


This means tying benefits to the team, rather than the individual, performance, by giving employees the power to award fellow team members micro-bonuses based on recognition of helpfulness and support. Companies like PerkBox are capitalising on this change in employee rewards and recognition by providing a shared platform of benefits and discounts.

7. Office design

No discussion of colleague experience can pass over without mentioning the design of the physical spaces offered to employees. Anyone who has ever worked an office has heard the squabbles over the temperature and desk allocation. More importantly, a considered office design enables companies to design spaces that promote, rather than hinder, the culture they hope to build. Airbnb, for example, has redesigned their offices to reflect the nomadic company ethos by enabling employees to work anywhere, from the kitchen to the communal living room. Office spaces with open plan areas mixed with private booths cater for extroverts and introverts. Replacing monotonous cubicles with multi-functional spaces allow for more conscious and thoughtful choices using interior design. Diverse spaces cater to different types of work, increase productivity, encourage collaboration and in some cases improve health.

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8. Wellbeing in the workplace

Company wellness programs are now taken as a given, at least in larger organisations. Today, a company designing for employee experience needs to provide what employees actually want, rather than simply paying lip service to the whole wellness concept. For instance, SunTrust Bank offered a financial fitness and savings platform to help reduce employees’ financial stress. CIPD’s annual health and wellbeing at work report states, ‘most respondents believe that their organisation’s health and well-being activity has had positive results in the last year, most commonly better employee morale and engagement (44%), a healthier and more inclusive culture (35%) and lower sickness absence (31%)’. Investing in employee wellbeing aims to address one of HR’s biggest pain-points, sickness and absence from work. According to the CIPD report, 60% of stress-related absence is because of workload and 32% was management style. These statistics highlight an interesting take on the real meaning of wellbeing in the workplace, ie. it’s less about healthy snacks and gym memberships and more about manageable workloads and better employee relationships.

9. Career mobility

Employers are offering internal career mobility opportunities to allow employees to “test drive” new roles. For businesses, internal mobility programmes provide a way to help employees with flexibility, career growth and professional development while stemming the turnover rate. Employees get to add skills and experience on their CV without changing job. Mobility programmes suit companies concerned over losing talent and recognise those individuals seek opportunities to drive forward in their career and improve knowledge. Career mobility programmes are proven to increase engagement, productivity and retention.

10. Offboarding

An excellent place to end this article. We started by looking at the emphasis required to set new employees’ up for a successful colleague experience. Designing an effective offboarding process is essential for future recruitment, company reputation, and business performance. During the first section of this article we highlighted that new recruits use social media research and Glassdoor to make an assessment on an organisation’s work culture suitability, in fact, 70% of candidates look to company reviews before making a decision. The majority of those reviews will be written by former staff — and although there is no control over what they write, a smooth offboarding experience will have a lasting post-departure relationship that should create advocacy for the organisation.

If you want to dig a little deeper on Employee Experience design, you can download our Insight Report – ‘Future of Work: Creating an exceptional Colleague Experience