Employee Engagement #1: Be There

Employee Engagement #1: Be There

Modern companies are creating increasingly well-crafted experiences for their customers and, through their external focus, excel at engaging their users through their products and services. Often, though, they tend to forget their other most important user group: their own employees. Creating amazing user experiences for the people making their product or delivering their services allows companies to really stand out in this employee driven market. After having invested a lot of time and money to educate your employees, they have an abundance of knowledge and experience that is difficult to reproduce. To get the same value in a new employee - if you can even find them -  takes thousands of dollars and years of investment. Retaining these heroes is key. It is time to start looking in. 

In this three-part blog series, we want to explore what designing for employee experience really means and how our expertise and experience in the best UX can impact workplaces all around the world. In this first blog, we will tell you more about how to be there. In the second blog you will learn more about being relevant and in the third blog about being quick.

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What if your employees receive a customer grade experience?

Millions are spent around the world on customer satisfaction research, gathering data and sending out surveys at every possible opportunity. Every day, customer journeys are sketched on whiteboards to find the most important touch-points where their experience can be improved. Brands are always pushing to make the customer experience as special and surprising as possible in order to increase customer loyalty and retention. Even with all these focus and budget, it is very difficult to understand customers needs.

The cost to replace highly-trained valued employees can exceed 200% of their annual salary

Dutch online webshop Coolblue has transformed the process of ordering a product into an adventurous journey with humour, surprises and special moments that gets people talking. Other companies like NS.nl and Bol.com have doubled down on their social media presence so customers always have a human being to talk to when they have a complaint or a question. Boarding a flight with KLM is easy, fluid and comfortable, with every interaction refined and thoughtfully designed. They have taken the customer experience to a human experience, taking into account human emotions like surprise, curiosity and the collective wish to be special and to be seen, instead of just being a number in a CRM dashboard.

A Willis Tower Watson study showed that more than 50% of all organisations globally have difficulty retaining some of their most valued employee groups. They don’t know how to make their employees feel appreciated and valued. The cost to replace highly-trained valued employees can exceed 200% of their annual salary (source).

Now take a glance around your workfloor while sitting at your desk. Around you, your colleagues. Most of them are probably humans. Humans with feelings, needs, wishes, humans who are annoyed, sometimes sad, feeling creative or not creative at all. They are in the same way human as your customers are human. Not only that, they are creating the human experiences these special brands are known for. It seems like a no-brainer to make their work experience an awesome one as well. The first step: having a conversation.


All conversation starts with listening. To oneself, but also to each other. Your employees are communicating their needs and wishes in all kinds of different ways, most of them implicit and non-verbal. Interpreting talking to each other as the first step in the design process for creating an epic employee experience makes sense: it’s user research! If you ever have gone through a proper design process, you have done user interviews to gather insights to base your design on. This is it! Also, making sure they are aware that they feel heard and see their needs converted into actual improvements in the company, is essential to engaging employees and making them an integral part of the business. 

Employees who are ‘engaged and thriving’ are 59% less likely to look for a job in the next 12 months

Legendary design firm IDEO have from their very beginning put the autonomy of their teams first, making sure they work in an environment that is fit to their specific team’s needs and facilitating all kinds of ways to make them collaborate more efficiently and, perhaps even more important, fun. They call it Setting the Conditions for Innovation and have constantly been pushing towards a fully open and transparent organisation. Team leaders are encouraged (and sometimes even ordered) to ask their teams what they love, loathe and want to tweak about the company and are without exception fully engaged in the shared vision of the company. Employees who are ‘engaged and thriving’ are 59% less likely to look for a job in the next 12 months (source).

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To engage as such, it is key to make teams feel as...teams! Whether or not you have actual teams within your organisation (these teams could also be divisions or specialities), making sure there is a sense of community and creative intimacy is an essential part of redefining what it is to be an employee. Being part of a group of people with a shared vision gives a feeling of shared purpose, which will keep individuals within teams striving to move forward, experiment and improve. It is also easier to keep track of team’s needs and acting on these needs as such, than focusing on individuals needs and realising it’s practically impossible to please everyone. 


Don’t forget, it’s all about creating an environment where people can be their best self. Their most creative self, their most productive self. The environment of family is the one that facilitates this best. So, how do the teams at IDEO for instance, manifest themselves as such? By giving each other gifts, for example, like team shirts or awards. ‘One studio head sent a reversed drawing to the design team which earned him a mirror on a plaque’, Tom Kelly writes in his The Art Of Innovation. Having fun and having memorable shared experiences will transform employees from people who work for money to people who work to create value:  for their customers and for each other.

How we transform employee engagement for our clients


For one of the largest telecom providers in the world, we created a custom employee loyalty platform that allows people to enter campaigns to win prizes, from simple merchandise to week-long holidays. Through the use of social media connectivity and facilitating the exchange of recognition, teams celebrate their successes as well each other. During this project, talking to employees, we found out some key factors to making a platform like this work.  This is what we have learned:

  1. Encourage the exchange of recognition
    Yes, listening is important and yes, sharing your appreciation for your employees is very important (more about that in the third blog), but even more important is facilitating a way for your employees to share their appreciation for each other. It has been shown that both sharing and receiving recognition for their work is extraordinarily motivating both ways and engages employees more with the work they do and in turn, with the organisation they work for.

  2. Connect to the platforms people already know and share their lives on
    That humans are creatures of habit has been stated (too) many times, but it is not less true. Often times, the way people are used to interact with something happens out of reflex more so than conscious choice. Using social media channels that are already a way of giving and receiving recognition about one’s successes and experiences, is a fantastic way of lowering the threshold of interacting with a loyalty platform.

  3. Be aware of different teams/people with different contexts
    Creating a singular clear-cut solution for all your employees probably will not yield the results you expect. A personalised experience is key to create long-term engagement with your employees (as you know from customer experience).

In other words, your employees are people, with people wishes that like to be treated as people. To be able to do this there are different tools an approaches. Tools like office vibe or using talent motivation assessments can help map out the specific wishes and talents that people have. But combining all the information into one employee lifecycle that can help unlock all the potential that an employee has, is a totally different ballgame that requires a strategic approach and full commitment. At Merkle we have experience setting this up and helping companies achieve significant increase in employee loyalty. Want to see how we do this and what our approach is? All we need is one morning, one parking spot and one hour of your time.