87 cents in an Experience Economy!!

Recently, one of my friends told me about a bad experience he had with the HR of his organization. He holds a middle management position and goes on frequent business trips and the company used to reimburse his expenses. Last week, after one of his trips, as usual he raised the request for reimbursement for a few hundred dollars with supporting bills. After a few days, he got an email that his request was rejected and the reason for that was not mentioned in the email. Baffled, he decided to check with the HR department to seek clarification, but his HR manager was not available for next couple of days and he could not reach out to her. After a few consecutive visits to HR department he caught hold of her and sought the clarification for the rejection. Now you are going to laugh at the answer which he got.. Company has a policy of reimbursing only 15% of the tips given at restaurants and his bill was 87 cents more than that!!!

Yes, 87 cents!!It was for that amount that the entire bill of a few hundred dollars was rejected and made the employee leave his desk during work hours and chase the HR for days. I was so ashamed and sad to hear such a story about HR. These are the days where the HR fraternity talks endlessly about being the strategic partners and transformational business leaders and still there exist another end who is not bothered about guaranteeing a minimum level of employee experience. (Although I do have the thought that this is just a transactional activity that can be handled by admin and need not come under the purview of HR, in this particular organization, it is the HR who handles it.) Can you still expect the employee to be as engaged as he was before and have good regards for his HR and above all the organization?

Many define engagement, in a nutshell, as the emotional commitment that an employee has for the mission and goals of the organization. This emotional commitment is an end result of the experiences and feelings that the employee gets inside the organization; his/her experiences with the work, supervisor, team, organizational culture, policies, processes and every other touchpoint. Every single encounter an employee has inside the organization can influence his attitudes and commitment level. And today it is not really tough for employees to look for opportunities outside the organization which s/he believes can result in a better experience than the current one. In 1998, B.Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore coined the term Experience Economy defining experiences as the next stage of economic offering after the transition from commodity to goods and then to services. Commodity and goods can be replicated by competitors, so are services at least to an extent. But experiences are something unique to every organization.

Though this term of ‘Experience Economy’ is more relevant from an end product perspective, I believe it is of extreme importance to HR; a focus on the Employee Experiences. The compensation, perks, benefits or even the work can be obtained in other organizations. What can actually make you stand out is an outstanding overall employee experience. Pine and Gilmore say that an experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event. Similarly, organizations should use their culture as the stage and everything else as props to engage individual employees to create memorable experiences which in turn would increase the productivity and efficiency of the workforce and help in retention too. They also talked about the two dimensions of experience –participation level of the customer and her/his connection to the event. That is from active to passive participation and from absorption to immersion where the customer moves from being a mere observant, absorbing the experience to a stage where s/he is part of the experience and immersed in it. From an employment point of view the passive stages happen when the employee is not part of the organization and would just be observing it as an outsider, may be as a prospective applicant. What is important at this stage of experience are the brand image of the organization, the products sold and the causes it stand for .The active participation happens right from the application to joining the organization and till the end of the employee life cycle. A lot of focus is given on the Candidate Experience which has become an essential part of recruiting, especially now when the power is in the hands of the candidates. This should be extended to make it more wholesome covering the overall employee experiences which are consistent across the organization.

In the example that I gave in the beginning of the post, instead of rejecting the request and making the employee waste a lot of his productive time, the HR could have approved the bill for the amount acceptable as per the policy and explain the same in an email to the employee. You know it’s not rocket science and is as simple as that. But it could have been a different and smooth experience for the employee .That is what matters and obviously not the 87 cents.

The Gall Up employee engagement report for the month of October’15, shows an engagement level of only 32.1% among the US employees. This trend has not changed much in the recent years and it’s really an indication for us to do things differently. Being a compliance organization is not what is required from the HR anymore or to put in a more real way, organizations would not need an HR department itself to do just this. In one of his talks , Mr. Pine gave the example of Mid Columbian Medical Center at The Dalles, Oregon which transformed itself by using the Planetree philosophy of providing personalized ,humanized and demystified experiences to its customers. And I think these are the words that we, HRs, can borrow and make them the three pillars of Employee Experiences.


The Ardent HR


Photo Credit :stopsellingvanillaicecream.com



  • Until every HR person treats every employee as a valued customer, situations like this will continue to reflect badly on all HR professionals.

  • nairkrishnapriyaj@gmail.com

    Yes,absolutely,Jason.That should be the attitude with which employee issues to be addressed.Thank you so much for your valuable thoughts.

  • janardanan nair pk

    a really insightful and thoughtful piece. articles of these types, rather than the usual run of the mill, cliche-ridden ones, are welcome breaks . congrats. carry on.

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  • Good one..

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