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If you're serious about CX you must understand employee emotions

9th Aug 2018
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Great customer experiences start with great employee experiences. And therefore organisations must understand the interplay between the rational and emotional needs of employees.

As customer experience leader Shep Hyken explains: "For a successful CX [Customer Experience] you must have a successful EX [Employee Experience]" - and he is one voice among a multitude of business leaders saying the same thing.

Many organisations say that their employees are their most important assets but then treat them like a line item on a balance sheet. Few organisations really know how their employees are feeling or the effect those emotions are having on their performance, loyalty or on customer experience.

However, the very best organisations treat their employees like customers - people with both rational needs and emotional ones.

We all like to think we make rational decisions - but we are lying to ourselves; studies show that the majority of our decisions are greatly influenced by emotions or are instinctive.

In this article I will explore the interplay between the rational and emotional needs of employees and what employers need to do about it. First, I will establish the link between EX and CX, then I will look at the role emotions play in employee behaviour and finally look at things employers can do.

Treat your employees right and your customers come back

"Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that." - Herb Kelleher, co-founder and ex-CEO of Southwest Airlines.

I am sure we have all had a shopping experience where a bored, disengaged store assistant clearly didn't want to be there and pretty soon neither did we. If it happens too often we, as customers, start to go where we do feel appreciated - after all, we have choice - now more than ever.

The data shows that 'companies that invest in employee experience outperform those that don’t.

Put simply, the data shows that 'companies that invest in employee experience outperform those that don’t ' [Jacob Morgan – ‘The Employee Experience Advantage’].

But what makes for a great employee experience? Is it pay, benefits, perks, a pleasant workplace or something else? Why do some organisations get a reputation for being a great place to work and other can't seem to hold on to good people even when offering industry-leading pay and conditions?

A large part of the answer lies in the nature of humans - we are both rational and emotional, individuals but also social and all of this affects our work behaviour.

Employees are people too - complex, imperfect and as much at the mercy of their emotions as their logic. It is unrealistic to think of them like ‘human machines’ and expect them to thrive and excel. If you are to get the best out of the whole person, you are going to have to treat them like whole persons.

Thinking about this, I developed this simple four-dimensional model to represent what's going on in the mind of an employee - whether deciding to join or leave an organisation or subconsciously whether to go the 'extra mile' or just coast along (context) or evaluating an experience:

Employee emotion

Most employers and employees think a lot about the Rational Criteria - pay and benefits or working hours and shift patterns, etc. and Human Capital analysis can tell you a lot about how these impact performance, retention and so on. The rational criteria relate to 'needs'; "I need to be paid", "I need to work regular hours", etc. Less well understood are the Emotional Criteria - the 'wants'; "I want to be happy at work", "I want to feel secure".

It's not that employers don't know the importance of these feelings, more that the tools they have available to understand and act on them are limited or they try to address them en masse.

It isn't just down to the rational and emotional criteria either - like other aspects of our lives, we have internal drivers; values, attitudes, personality preferences, etc. and the influence of others; an employer's reputation, business performance, reviews by ex-employees, etc.

All of these come together when we make decisions, in ways we are largely unaware of. We are also constantly updating and reworking our model of the world as circumstances and knowledge changes.

If you want to get serious about employee experience, you are going to have to get serious about really understanding what your employees are feeling: Employee experience isn't only a function of what employers do or provide, it's also how it is perceived - by both the rational and emotional mind.

Here's how to make a start:

1. Make the employee a priority - Ask yourself if your employee experience strategy is more about your business strategy or your employees’ needs? and are they aligned?

2. Interact and listen - Make it easy for your employees (and customers / suppliers) to provide feedback and act on it.

3. Define an ideal connection - Give employees a clear understanding of what’s expected of them and how they should interact with colleagues and customers and then lead by example.

4. Stay connected - Determine what resources you’ll need to ensure a consistent communication flow and respond authentically in a timely manner - ideally use tools that are not part of the formal feedback / performance review process.

5. Stay human - People want to work for and with fellow people, not an anonymous conglomerate. Empower employees to make informed, productive decisions and trust them.

6. Walk in the employees’ shoes - Managers can better connect with employees when they’ve had similar experiences. Find ways for them to understand the employee’s life in a variety of situations and what is important to them.

In summary, there is a link between employee experience and customer experience (and ultimately business performance. Employees are people too - they have emotional as well as rational needs and to excel at employee experience requires proactive and targeted attention.

Just like customers, employees have choices and a plethora of sources of information about employers. To become an 'employer of choice', organisations are going to have to get past the obvious or the gimmicky and start treating employees like what they are - a complex combination of thoughts, feelings, attitudes and needs all wrapped up in individual bundles.

Only when employers begin treating employees like customers and start really listening to them will they find it easier to recruit, train, motivate and retain the best and then reap the rewards of the link between EX and CX.

To find out more about how you can supercharge your employee experience, visit us at

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