What EX professionals can learn from flat-pack furniture

Lee Smith

03 Apr 2023
Employee Experience
Employee Engagement
EX Design
Have you ever heard about the IKEA effect? It’s a cognitive bias that occurs when consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they have partially created. Researchers from Harvard, Yale, and Duke University discovered that self-assembly positively impacts the evaluation of a product by its consumers. Their findings suggest that when people use their own efforts to make something, they value it more than if they didn’t put any effort into its creation, even if it is done poorly.

The outcomes of experiences

While there are probably few people who would describe assembling flat-pack furniture as a positive experience, the outcome of such an experience can nevertheless elicit positive emotions.

Having a great experience at work will of course elicit these positive emotions, but that doesn’t mean the experience itself is necessarily without challenge or pain. In our ongoing research about what makes a great experience at work, we never hear anyone say an experience was their best because it was easy and required little or no effort. Most often our best experiences involve overcoming challenges, solving a problem, some kind of personal growth or similar. What we never hear is "it was a brilliant experience because it was really easy”.

What can we learn from this?

There are a few ways we can look at both understanding this finding and applying the learning to the way we design EX. It’s not just about the experience itself, but ultimately, how it makes you feel and its lasting impact on you. Just think about those people who describe running a marathon as a compelling experience! Our research has shown that involvement and autonomy are significant elements of a great experience and subsequent employee engagement. Like the IKEA effect, if an experience facilitates autonomy and features employee involvement, then employees are more likely to value it.

Secondly, as we’ve already mentioned, great experiences tend to involve an element of challenge, problem solving or difficulty. We’re not advocating you deliberately design painful experiences, but these ideas are useful to keep in mind as you work to design experiences which will deliver engagement. It's easy to fall into the trap of assuming that good or positive, equals easy, and this is not often the case. What is interesting is that, broadly speaking, experiences which relate to hygiene factors such as pay, benefits, tools to do the job etc tend to be more positive if they are easy and straightforward. Whereas, experiences which link to motivator factors, such as feeling valued and recognised, are more likely to require an element of challenge, and, or mastery. So, of course it’s likely that as practitioners, we are involved in the design of experiences which cover both hygiene and motivator factors.


Let’s take the example of onboarding. Having the right kit and access to the building on day one of a new job are the hygiene factors. These experiences should be simple, straight forward and easy. However, those elements of onboarding which relate to motivation factors, such as being given some autonomy, involvement in work and more, should have some element of challenge. No one wants to sit there bored and twiddling their thumbs for the first few weeks of a new job.
So in summary, if you want to design great experiences which will result in engagement, keep the hygiene stuff simple and easy. But make sure there’s opportunity for challenge and mastery in other experiences too.

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