Designing The Employee Experience

In the dozens of conversations I have each week with companies charting their paths to a better customer experience, the role of employees often comes up. We talk about the importance of employee empowerment and how critical it is that employees feel free to make decisions that are right for customers. We discuss tactics like hiring, socialization, and rewards that can help organizations build corporate cultures that reinforce customer-centric attitudes and behaviors.

But rarely — if ever — does anyone ask me about actually designing the employee experience.

As I’ve said before: Great customer experiences don’t happen by accident — they have to be actively designed. In other words, you need to follow a structured process to ensure that you’re meeting customers’ needs and enabling interactions that are easy and enjoyable for them. While the discipline of design hasn’t yet become mainstream in the business world, companies around the globe — E.On Energy, Fidelity Investments, Mayo Clinic, and Virgin Mobile Australia, just to name a few — have started to embrace the value of design in customer experience. They’re conducting ethnographic research to uncover customers’ hidden needs. They’re bringing customers in for co-creation sessions to develop new experience ideas. They’re iteratively prototyping and testing the proposed solutions.

So why aren’t these two concepts — employee engagement and experience design — more frequently combined? In most companies that I know of, even in those where customer experience is a priority, the employee experience just kind of happens. The IT department implements a new CRM or accounting system, finance and human resources introduce new policies and procedures, the facilities group moves employees to a new and unfamiliar location — and employees must learn (mostly on their own) how to adapt to these changes and integrate them into new ways of working. But just like great customer experiences, great employee experiences — those that enable employees to support customers as they’re supposed to — don’t happen by accident. They have to be actively designed.

This week at the annual Service Design Network conference in Paris, Mad*Pow, a user experience design firm headquartered in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, presented a case study of one of the few employee experience design projects I’ve ever seen. Waste Management (yes, the garbage company) came to the agency to help it “fix the intranet.” Rather than just focus on the website, however, Mad*Pow took a broader approach in examining employees’ information needs.

It traveled to multiple Waste Management sites throughout the US to conduct research with employees who collect garbage, do the compacting, and work in the back office. They looked at employee communications ranging from physical bulletin boards and newsletters to emails and internal TV monitors, and they observed employee interactions with these touchpoints. One of their key insights was that the internal TV monitors placed in break rooms, driver lunch rooms, and other staff areas (like the room where drivers pick up their route info) absolutely captivated the employees’ attention. In one break room with picnic-style tables, every single employee sat facing the TV monitor — even though it was turned off! However, the company had never really thought about structuring the content on these screens.

In the end, Mad*Pow created a set of six personas representing corporate employees, field managers, frontline employees, and customer support reps. And while it did redesign the intranet as initially asked, it also created wireframes for the internal TV monitors that structured key info like company news, important reminders, upcoming events, and employee kudos in a way that would make employees’ time in front of these screens more valuable.

What has your company done to actively design the employee experience? I’d love to know!


Service Design for employees

With the company I work for (Informaat, The Netherlands) we have done Service Design for employees in a large governmental organisation. I strongly believe that if you create better working circumstances for employees by designing them, it will leave employees more time and energy to focus on the client. I also believe that new generations of employees do no longer accept any bad designed working environment like f.e. horrible intranets or terrible timesheet systems. Because they are used to far better products in their private lives.


hi Gerjan,

If you'd be interested in sharing more about your service design work (for the govt org you mentioned and any other case studies you can share), I'd love to know more.

Just send an email to and they can help us find a time to chat.


Customer experience begins at home

Thats a great example of the Waste Management company Kerry. Even we at Infosys Ltd. have observed that great customer experience begins by engaging the employees better. There are always innovative product and service ideas that are sitting in some corner of enterprises. The need of the hour is to bring them to the forefront. Designing great Customer Experience is a 360 degree approach and covers the entire enterprise ecosystem.

Design principles for incredible employee experiences

Check out the not-for-profit WorldBlu: They have a framework for designing amazing employee experiences based on 10 democratic principles ( Some amazing places to work like Zappos use these principles and have been certified by WorldBlu. Also loads of ideas on their website about specific practices to bring the principles to life from the most democratic workplaces in the world (
(disclosure: my previous company was worldblu-certified and I now work with them as an ambassador, because I love what they do!)

But still different from *design*

hi Tom,
Thanks for the links to WorldBlu. It looks like they're doing great work, and I certainly can't argue with any of the 10 democratic principles. But I don't see anything on the WorldBlu site about actively *designing* the employee experience. I.e., following a standard human-centered design process that includes research, analysis, ideation, prototyping, testing, iteration, and co-creation. And that was really the main focus of this post -- that this design process can be applied to employees as well as customers.


Incorporating the employee

Incorporating the employee experience as part of the innovation process has actually become a major component of projects we have been doing for companies over the last 18 months, particularly in healthcare.

It began with ethnographic research projects we conducted for two different companies that wanted to focus specifically on the employee experience as a means to achieve a higher goal. What we learned following the close of the projects and conducting case studies on each of them was that capturing the employee component of the innovation problem is actually a massively overlooked opportunity.

Not only can you effectively design the employee experience following these sort of initiatives, but you can also identify the reasons for doing it which can serve to drive alignment among leadership. And the primary reason for doing it that we've learned through experience is that it's incredibly difficult for a company to achieve real innovation on customer insight, alone because it's their employees that need to be able to take action on what is revealed. And if the company has not designed the employee experience in such a way that it enables and motivates employees to act on the insight, then you it's incredibly difficult to drive the change needed in order to innovate.

This is where much of our positioning at Storyline using storytelling as a means to drive employee engagement has become so critical in recent months. And it's largely due in part to revealing the value of designing the employee experience through ethnography.

Great topic! Great to learn about Mad Pow as well, we're in the next town over so I'll have to look them up.


hi Pete,

If you'd be open to sharing more about your work, the nice folks at can help us find a time.


Service design and employees


You raise a very important matter. I myself approach service design from a background in architecture (built environment) and access consultancy (design that includes disabled people), where the needs of everyone, including customers and employees comes into my analysis, recommendation and design work. In the construction world it is too easily forgotten that design of environments impacts the user, service design, management, operability and communication (information architecture).

From a stark commercial analysis of the importance of this issue, unless we get an effective relationship between built environments, information environments and the services that operate through them, and take account of the customer and employee experience, then it will affect the productivity and profitability/effectiveness of the organisations concerned.

I am doing a lot of networking within the worlds of service design and information architecture, because I see that there is a need for a stronger relationship to be had between the design of environments and what goes on within and from them, which enviably means that we take a closer look at people’s needs, with an aim to achieve positive employee and customer experiences…

Excellent blog… please keep me posted with your on-going thoughts.


Steve Maslin RIBA NRAC Consultant
Director of bud
Building User Design Solutions Ltd

It's a systems thinking question

Hi Kerry,

When I'm asked to work out a customer experience strategy for my clients (together with them) I always tell them right at the beginning that they can't create any sustainable high level CX without having happy employees. Only happy employees can create happy customers over time. And happy employees are employees whose needs & expectations are met, much the same as for customers.

And you are totally right, it looks like straightforward to apply the same design mind- & toolsets to design the emplyoee experience than we use for designing customer experiences, services, products, websites…etc.

Also, employees only can get engaged when they are empowered, which is a question of corporate culture and type of leadership (the most difficult part of all…). All these functions are intertwined: To create a great customer experience, you need to apply systems thinking, and I also believe that system thinking must be an integral part of design thinking anyway, othwerwise design thinking fails, at least in the long run.

Greetings from Luxembourg,
PS: A pity that we didn't get to talk more in Paris. Next time :)

Designing employee experience - Step 2

Hi Kerry,

Thanks for your article, it's nice to have something written on this subject! :-)

A HR consultant, I'm currently leading an employee experience design project within a major French bank, together with a team of information and service designers. We're at the time at step 2: designing "employees journeys" on the basis of what we've seen and heard in bank agencies (step 1).

The journeys should then be used with a dedicated toolkit to facilitate some discussions within the organization about work conditions (step 3), with different kind of actors (employees, HR people, medical services, unions, organization strategists, etc.). The aim is of course to improve the employees work experience, considering it is a way to improve the customer service and the global performance.

On another hand and just like Steve, I try to raise awareness among the French HR and work environment (real estate, facilities, information technologies) communities about the importance to focus more on users and their experience of the workplace(s). I launch a whole series of workshops on this topic in Paris (for HR and work environment specialists together), starting next month!
More information here:

To me, Livework experience with call centers (that you already reported about), Kaiser Permanente or Mayo Clinic experiences, or the Danish School of Design DAIM project are also employee design projects, and great sources of inspiration!

Thanks again for the article, Blandine.

Hello, good article! We have

Hello, good article! We have done Service Design for employees in a large industries. We are a internal branding consultancy based in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Following the chain of experience

Customer experience improvements happen on both (or multiple) sides of the interactions. So following the chain of experience, it is logical that the pain points experienced by employees will ultimately be transferred to customers.

We have long advocated including employee experience research, not only in our intranet project, but in all projects. For example, several of our ecommerce implementations have involved cross-channel secret shopping and spending time in call centers and retail locations and back offices. Redesiging only the front to the experience for customers is lipstick service.

It's nice to have this deeper perspective out in public dialog. Thanks!