When was the last time you bought into an experience? If you've participated in a training workshop, remained a regular at the local café or been involved in a memorable exchange between you and your organisation – it’s safe to say you’re a part of the experience economy.

For decades now, the business world has been primarily focused on increasing employee engagement as the ultimate motivator to organisational success —adding policies and reward schemes, changing processes and promoting better cultural fit. While these are all necessary to improve organisational systems, studies show engagement scores continue to decline worldwide, with employees demanding more for themselves – both personally and professionally. Before we can determine the reason why, let’s start by better understanding the two terms.

Employee Engagement

Engagement can be defined as ‘greatly interested or committed’. In an organisation, this commitment manifests both emotionally and intellectually. From an emotional perspective, it describes the degree to which an employee is satisfied with his or her job and is committed to the organisation. Intellectually, this refers to the degree of an employee’s positive mindset at work, belief in the importance of contributing to the success of the organisation, and resilience when facing tough times. When employees are committed to their organisation’s goals , motivated to contribute to its success, and are able to enhance their own sense of well-being - we say that they are engaged at work.

Engagement in the workplace is measured and improved through surveys, of which your average will ask: How engaged are your employees? What is motivating their engagement? How can you improve engagement?

While these questions have value, they focus on the organisations parts, such as job satisfaction, job involvement and burnout, to name a few. This fragmented approach is often at the detriment of understanding and integrating the entire, ever-evolving lifespan of an employee at work.

The Experience Economy First coined in 1998, the experience economy is the shift from a consumerism-based economy toward an economy driven by investment in experiences. The experience economy stems from a human need for authentic connection – to people, to ourselves, to our communities and to the world.

The employee experience is a direct result of this global need for greater interpersonal interaction and a sense of togetherness. An increasing number of employees are no longer satisfied with considering all the contributors to their satisfaction, engagement, wellness, and position within the organisation. In a technological world with increasing transparency and the growing impact of the millennial generation, employees are now not only expecting, but demanding a more productive and attractive work experience. Rather than focusing so narrowly on employee engagement, organisations need to rethink how they can integrate the whole human - the spiritual, mental, physical, emotional and in this digital age, agility – and bring these elements together in all the workplace, Human Resource, and leadership practices, that impact people both on and off the job.

The 2017 Global Employee Engagement Report, revealed that less than one quarter of employees are highly engaged while only 39% are moderately engaged. Could it be because most of our leaders are working on the wrong things? We’re coming down hard on where employees are underperforming or where organisations can improve their training, when we should be identifying how to create a more memorable, meaningful and holistic experience at work that touches the whole human. ‘Invest in experiences over things, and you’ll find greater happiness’. Daniel Gilbert argues that buying into experiences makes us happy because we turn them into a part of our identities. It follows then that if organisations apply the same thinking, they’ll reap optimal results.

The Future is Experientialism

Being very good at one particular skill, doesn’t mean that someone can manage people; having a strong vision doesn’t translate into an executable plan; developing a technology savvy organisation with the best technology on offer doesn’t mean that you are enabling more satisfied and productive employees. As the world moves toward a more experienced based workforce, the ability to balance all these factors and look holistically at the human being and their ideal end-to-end employee experience, is the key to a more fulfilling future of work.

What does the ultimate employee experience at work look like to you?