Could Employee Experience be your next career move?

20 February 2023

Comma Partners, the internal communications specialists, is holding a series of career sessions for IC pros throughout quarter one.  The first of these sessions focused on the Employee Experience, a new discipline that might hold the potential for a new and exciting career path for IC pros.  They gathered experts in the field and practitioners who had already made the transition from IC to EX.

What is EX?

For a definition of EX, we turn to Nicholas Wardle from Brand Experiences who is already a respected name in this emerging field.  He describes it as ‘the entire relationship between employer and employee.  It encompasses every interaction and touchpoint within the organisation and its stakeholders at every stage of the employee lifecycle’.

Isn’t this HR’s world? 

You may be thinking, but I thought this was HR’s space – and you would be right. ‘Traditionally’, says Nicholas, ‘HR have been seen as the umbrella term for all people related activity and it’s true to say that now the most senior person in a people role is a senior HR person – usually an HR Director or Chief People Officer.  But I think IC people have a brilliant skill set to drive EX because IC people are people people.’  And in many cases, IC pros already work closely with HR colleagues and get involved with many elements of the employee experience, e.g., EVP, D&I, well-being, benefits, change transformation.  Taken together, these strengths and current involvement in people-related activities, make them excellent contenders for the top job. 

Why is EX growing? 

According to a recent LinkedIn research report, EX is one of the top 5 growth roles in the US. So why is that? Many of the reasons seem to be off the back of the pandemic when people re-evaluated what was important to them personally and professionally.  The result?  Many decided they expected more of their employers and wanted to see them take more account of their intrinsic values.  Improving the employee experience – from start to finish – is one way of addressing this – making it a great journey from advert to exit for everyone.  But it’s not going to be a ‘one size fits all’.  People want to be seen as individuals with individual preferences.  A blanket HR policy is not going to hit the mark.  If we want people to be more productive, we need to treat people well and listen to their wants and needs.  People have different values post-pandemic, and we have a more complex workforce where one size will not fit all. The more switched-on companies are recognising this and realising that they need to put as much attention into the employee experience as they have the customer experience.  No longer will a once-a-year survey or jamboree tick the ‘engagement’ box.

Why IC people make good EX

From the research Emma Bridger and Lee Smith have carried out at The EX Space, and listening to Emma James (Moto Hospitality, in-house) and Caroline Tierney (Home, agency) who have both transitioned from IC to EX, they agree that IC pros have a great behavioural and technical skillset for EX.  All of which are totally transferable.  They quoted: being articulate, grounded in reality, good collaborators and facilitators, knowing their audiences and listening to what they say, hearing what is not said, thinking outside the box, connecting with people, joining the dots.  IC pros are also close to managers, already working with them to improve communications and engagement with their staff.  

Making the transition from IC to EX

For both Caroline and Emma, they have been fortunate enough to find organisations that believe in putting people first, but they have also taken risks and moved out of their comfort zone to be in their EX roles.

Emma’s transition into EX came about because she took the opportunity to take on a range of IC, engagement and HR related activities.  This extended her experience and allowed her to see how various elements could better fit together.  Her advice for anyone wanting to get into EX is, ‘hustle in on HR projects to get exposure to other elements that are part of the employee experience, such as reward and recognition.  You also have to link EX and CX and prove to senior leadership why colleague experiences are important.  Then you have to look at how it is being done right across the whole life cycle.’

Doing IC and EX together can come with its challenges.  For Emma, she finds EX more strategic, and IC more reactive, and it can sometimes be difficult to balance the two.  But she has no doubt IC pros are ideal candidates.  

Caroline from Home was fortunate in finding a company which put people first.  ‘I was completely inspired by the message – doing work that makes people feel better for being at work. It was an opportunity to do things differently – to go beyond the message. In my 15-year career, I had done all the big IC things multiple times.  I was in corporate land and on a trajectory for my boss’s job when I realised I didn’t want it.  I wanted something with purpose.’

Here she describes what she does now: ‘I sit on the strategy team – a range of HR and IC people – and I am an EX strategist.  We encourage our clients to reflect and listen to their people and to think more broadly about the problems they are trying to fix and to run research before they act.  I spend a lot of time running focus groups, interviewing CEOs, bringing people together, doing in-depth research to give people a real voice.  Our obsession is people.  Some of our programmes are 3-to-5-year cultural transformations. This is big career defining work.’

Comma’s take on EX

‘EX seems to be made for IC pros,’ said Comma’s Director, Andy Macleod. ‘It ticks all the boxes in terms of skill sets and, importantly, it’s an area where they can have real, value- adding impact. 

‘That’s why we are extending our recruitment offering into EX.  It’s fantastic to be able to offer alternative, career options for the incredibly talented IC network. IC pros are some of the most innately switched-on folks out there, they see and hear everything from the ground up and from the top down – the good and the bad.’

‘As a recruiter’, he said, ‘In the last 6 to 12 months I’ve seen the early signs of people who are Heads or Directors of Internal Comms who have added EX into their job title.  There is a mix of reasons as to why people have done that.  A large proportion have added it on because it feels like the right thing to do.  Others, like Moto and Home are truly getting much more involved in EX and delivering on it.

‘It will be interesting in 2023 to see how it develops.  Can people be Heads of Comms,  Engagement and Experience, or is it a separate role depending on the size of the business?  Whichever way it goes, IC pros can influence it and drive it.  Caroline Tierney gave some good advice ‘research EX, get in front of the Board and show them why and how they can deliver a great EX’.  If you don’t someone else will.

Published by Comma Partners

February 2023

A note from Home…

At Home, we’re all about helping you to create world-class employee experiences. And what better way to do that than to hear from employees themselves? That’s why we’re handing over our annual employee experience research to the people. This is work, Reworked.
If you are part of the working world, we want to hear from you! Take part now to receive early access to the report in full. 

We’re also offering companies who share Reworked with their whole organisation an insight report benchmarked against our global network. Email to find out more.

A note from The EX Space…

Join Lee Smith and Emma Bridger on Wednesday 21 February – they’ll be introducing ‘EX Archetypes’ and chatting through the research they’ve been doing around EX roles.


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