Five big themes from the inaugural EX Report

This Summer, The EX Space and The People Experience Hub joined forces to launch The EX Report, our very first annual survey of the emerging employee experience profession.
Lee Smith

13 Oct 2023
Employee Engagement
Employee Experience
Line Managers
The EX Report set out to gain a better understanding of the state of EX practice in 2023.

The findings shine a light on the type of work EX and engagement practitioners are doing right now, how they structure themselves, the key challenges they are facing, organisational priorities and much more.  

With input from practitioners representing more than 100 organisations across the globe, we’ve been given a privileged view of where we’re winning and where we need to focus, how we’re contributing to the new world of work and what’s holding us back.

If you took part in the survey, thank you.  

Amongst the wealth of insights captured in this debut survey, we’ve identified five big themes which we believe illustrate the current state of EX practice and provide a useful roadmap for its future development. 

Here are the headlines:
1.  An emerging profession.   

We all know that EX is a relatively new and emerging discipline, but the survey results underline that, right now, this field is in the early stages of its development and has a long way to go to mature into a distinct and recognised profession.   

Most (66%) described EX in their organisation as patchy rather than consistent - great in pockets, but a work in progress elsewhere. However, a sizeable 29% are more pessimistic, describing their EX as ‘fragmented and incoherent’. Just 5% say their EX is ‘connected from beginning to end’, ‘aligned to organisational performance’ and ‘data-driven’. Very few practitioners are operating at the transformational level.  

Using the EX Maturity Model, we explored the key building blocks which underpin the professional practice of EX…  

  • Only 31% agreed that they use data and insights to prioritise EX activity.
  • Fewer still monitor the impact that EX has on key business metrics (24%).
  • Just 30% say they proactively involve employees in shaping EX.
  • A quarter design experience to meet individual human needs and motivations.
  • 26% said their EX is internationally planned, designed and joined-up.  

Those participating in this survey seem to be early adopters in this space and we celebrate and encourage their pioneering spirit. We also appreciate the many challenges they face, and recognise the need for EX professionals to focus on the maturity of their approach. This is vital if we are to be taken seriously by senior leaders (another key challenge – see below) and grow into a respected discipline.

2.  Fixing ‘broken moments’ is the current focus.   

Across the 100+ organisations we surveyed, the number one EX priority identified was ‘redesigning specific experiences’, chosen by nearly three quarters of participants (72%). This underlines our view that the natural starting point for many EX practitioners is to focus on improving the life-cycle experiences, such as onboarding.   

Focusing on these often ‘broken moments’ is often a great place to start, but we believe a more holistic and strategic approach will be required to elevate our practice. EX should focus on the entire employee experience rather these specific experiences, and be hardwired to the organisation’s strategy.

3.  Winning over the ‘C Suite’ is critical.

Given EX is in the early stages of its professional journey, it is understandable that practitioners are struggling with their ‘license to operate’ and are often held back by restrictive budgets and/or remits.  
The second and third most pressing challenges was around ‘securing resources/budget’ and ‘winning senior level buy-in’. Nearly a quarter said their organisation does not currently have a dedicated EX team or function. We also heard that employee experience is poorly understood by many senior stakeholders, so it’s easy to see how this translates into scarce resources and a lack of genuine buy-in at the top level.  

There is an urgent need to win more support from senior leaders, and become trusted advisors, demonstrating our impact and delivering ROI.

4.  Line managers are the big opportunity.

Building line manager capability tops the list of professional challenges for 56% and was also identified as the number three organisational priority (67%). This supports our hunch that EX and EE practitioners are beginning to address this most critical of engagement drivers.  

When asked the extent to which they believe line managers understand the role they play in delivering positive EX, a sizeable 39% disagreed.  With less than one in five (18%) agreeing. This paints a fairly negative picture of line manager capability in, or at least understanding of, this area.   

Turning to skills and capability, nearly half of our respondents (49%) disagree that line managers have the necessary skills and capability to facilitate employee experiences that deliver engagement. There is a need to focus on equipping and enabling line managers to deliver great ‘everyday EX’ by providing the right training and tools.  

Line managers are the guardians of ‘everyday EX’ and so are a vitally important part of the EX mix. And yet it appears they are at present poorly equipped to play their part. If we can build the capability of line managers, without adding to their already heavy workload, we’ll start to see big differences and long term culture change.
5.   An employee-centric approach is the big shift required.  

We need to move beyond the annual survey or even regular pulse surveys to ensure employees really have a voice and feel genuinely listened to and involved. But this is not enough, the big shift required is to put employees front and centre of designing and then delivering EX. This is the big shift that’s required to take EX to the next level.  

We discovered there’s a strong focus on ‘listening’ tools among those used by our participants, with annual surveys utilised by 84%. This highlights the dominance of survey tech, yet interestingly, relatively few also said that their EX decisions are prioritised using data and insights. Indeed, there is a very real risk that these tools end up generating more data than insight  

We also found that relatively few practitioners use other tools that put employees at the front and centre of the EX design process, e.g. personas, and experience/ journey mapping.  

To progress as a profession we need to find ways to genuinely understand the needs and motivations of our employees. This goes way beyond an annual survey, or pulse checks and a few focus groups. Improving EX has to start with genuine empathy, seeking to understand experience from the perspective of the people we are designing for.  

Taking a truly employee-centred approach is the foundation of EX and what differentiates it from a more traditional HR approach to the people side of business. This is by far and away the biggest shift we need to make but it also represents the greatest opportunity.  

These findings tell a clear story which helps us understand where the EX profession is right now, but it’s what comes next that really matters. There are some obvious implications for EX practice which will enable practitioners to develop their approach and continue to improve the world of work for employees across the globe. We have outlined our recommended actions at the end of the report and we will share our thinking around these in our next blog post.  

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