Design thinking is now taking center stage in improving Employee Engagement and Experience at the workplace. Marketers have long obsessed about the Customer Experience (CX) journey.  HR teams at leading companies are now adopting the same principles to better manage and improve the “Employee Experience”.

The rise of mobile and cloud computing technologies has had a massive impact on the way people work and collaborate these days. While these applications have opened up new levels of access to information and collaboration, they have also created a whole new set of problems.

Employees now are flooded with information and updates from multiple sources – some personal, some official. The need to be constantly updated with all that is happening around can be overwhelming to a lot of people. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is increasingly impacting a growing section of the workforce. This often tends to provoke feelings of “anxiety and restlessness, often generated by competitive thoughts that others are experiencing more pleasure, success or fulfillment in their lives than they really are” (1)

With social and collaboration platforms making inroads into the workplace, HR now has a new challenge. Decisions on how people communicate, collaborate, consume organizational updates etc. all have implications on employee engagement. In a typical organization there are a few dozen data repositories, a bunch of communication and collaboration suites, different platforms for updating time sheets, leave applications, managing calendars and so on. Just remembering passwords to the platforms itself can be a challenge for the average employee not to mention different user interfaces and restrictions.

With the war for talent raging in full force, HR and top leadership at companies have now started thinking about Employee Engagement and Experience the same way Marketing teams have spent the last decade thinking about Customer Experience. Too much complexity in platforms and technology applications used by companies leads to productivity loss and eventually lead to disengagement.

Deloitte research found that people collectively check their phones more than 8 billion times each day but there is no corresponding uptick in productivity to match that constant update of information. (3) And top companies realize this!

“People need their interactions with technologies and other complex systems to be simple, intuitive, and pleasurable.” (2)

Without any doubt, there’s a subtle but definite shift underway at top companies to put design principles at the core of designing how the enterprise works.

The new frontier for HR.

To better engage the employees, and help manage complexity, HR must incorporate design thinking when architecting programs, which puts the employee experience at the center. Organizations can achieve an uptick in employee engagement by leveraging design thinking to make work easier, efficient, fulfilling and rewarding.

In the HBR article, “Design Thinking Comes of Age”, Jon Kolko highlights a core set of principles that one must keep in mind while building a design-centric culture.

Focus on users’ experiences, especially their emotional ones:

Create models to examine complex problems.

Use prototypes to explore potential solutions.

Tolerate failure.

Exhibit thoughtful restraint.

Now traditionally HR solutions are structured as programs or processes. But that has to change and leaders have to now think as if they are “solution architects”.  A good architect will have a complete picture of not only the new part being designed but also the implications it has on all existing parts of the employees current work.

Because “design is empathetic, it implicitly drives a more thoughtful, human approach to business” (2)

Behavioural Economics is one of the major drivers in how organizations design their customer experiences. Now those principles can be adapted to the design of Employee Engagement and workplace experiences.

Design thinking relies heavily on an understanding of how people actually use a particular technology or go through a particular process instead of an assumption of how they “should be using it.”

For example, some of the questions HR teams might ask when designing a culture of Recognition are:

What motivates employees at work?

How do they see themselves aligned with the organizational goals? What do they value?

How do they express those values at work?

Finding answers to questions like these, coupled with the design principles listed above is the key to designing world-class employee engagement architectures. It is not easy, but the rewards flow for a very long time when done right!


  • Beware the dangers of FOMO: More isn’t necessarily good, Psychology Today.
  • Design Thinking Comes of Age, Harvard Business Review
  • DesignThinking, Crafting the Employee Experience, Deloitte Insights.

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