From our Thought Leader Contributor, EY.

By: DeJeana Chappell, Principal, EY Workplace Strategy Consulting Leader and Katie Koncar, Manager, EY Workplace Strategy Consulting

In an ever-evolving working world, all aspects of the employee experience, including the physical office and workplace experience, must be delivered through a human-centric lens.

As the connection between employee experience and organizational performance continues to strengthen, companies have become more intentional in examining their business models for opportunities to achieve positive people outcomes. This has an impact not only on how leadership teams are structured, but also in how the workplace is designed and the experiences it delivers.

The question that is critical to ask and solve for is whether the physical work environment contributes to a more fulfilling employee experience.

The shift from C-suite to E-suite

An organizational shift is taking place as leadership moves from a traditional C-suite model to an experience-focused model, one we’ve coined as the “E-suite.” The result is an uptick in experience-focused executive roles such as chief wellbeing officer; chief purpose officer; chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer; head of workplace experience; and head of customer experience, to name a few. Additionally, 61% of leaders surveyed by the Wall Street Journal¹ employed a chief experience officer or equivalent in 2017, a figure that grew to 90% in 2019.

Timeline of some newly introduced experienced-focused executive positions

In November 2021, the EY organization introduced its first Chief Wellbeing Officer, Frank Giampietro. “We started to think about the mindset shifts we needed to go through and we kept coming back to a number of things, and one of them was the idea of making wellbeing a business imperative,” Giampietro said, explaining the rationale behind the move. “It became clear we needed leadership guidance around that, an executive-level presence to make sure the conversation stayed [a priority] at the leadership level.”

Companies are investing in roles that aim to bring structure and accountability to both understanding and meeting the needs of employees. Organizations that prioritize employee experience, both culturally and in how they provision employee workspaces, have seen significant business impact and a clear linkage to positive business outcomes.

Organizations are no longer solely focused on historical value drivers, such as profitability, productivity, and market growth, but rather measure their success on the holistic employee experience. In this emerging employee-focused world, companies are doubling down on the belief that an effective organization stems from an engaged and satisfied workforce by investing real dollars toward those objectives.

A shift to experience focused value drivers

Research shows that high-performing employee experience organizations have a 16x boost in employee engagement, as well as a 40% higher level of discretionary effort,² 22% higher profitability and 21% higher productivity.³ In the aftermath of the pandemic, this heightened focus on employee experience has emerged as a key driver to balance external pressures as new working models take shape. In fact, 89% of employers responding to the EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey indicated they are looking to make moderate to extensive changes to ensure both the safety and wellbeing of their employees. The voice of the employee is now stronger than ever as companies encourage and activate employee feedback by leveraging insights and acting across all levels of the organization.

High-performing, experience-focused organizations realize increasing strength of their organization (McKinsey & Company, Gallup)

From a corporate real estate perspective, these developments are influencing a new approach to the role the workplace serves in an organization. Companies that are thoughtful about their physical work environments can identify new ways to provide value, support productivity and facilitate continuous engagement that boosts employee attraction and retention. Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) recently convened a webcast to consider the evolution of the workplace, the employee experience and the shift in leadership focus from the C-Suite to the E-Suite. EY US engaged leaders from a range of businesses and organizations to discuss these trends and what it means for the future of work.

We have identified three key themes that illustrate how organizations are rethinking their leadership model to better serve the needs of their people. Here’s a look at what’s changing and how different companies are approaching the shift from a functional and operational perspective:

Theme No. 1 — Relevance of the E-suite

Organizations have undergone significant change in the past several years due to many factors such as the pandemic, the Great Resignation, labor shortages, changing priorities and shifts in ways of working, to name a few. A heightened focus on employee experience has emerged as a way to balance these external pressures. In a previous EY webcast on employee experience, polling results from 1,700 respondents noted that “Motivating employees to make them more engaged and productive in a hybrid environment” is top of mind when considering employee experience. Today’s employers face a continuously evolving work environment in which change has become commonplace.

One of the participants in the latest webcast, a global restaurant brand, utilized a collaborative team to come together across technology, operations and leadership, engage in dialogue and clearly define the company’s commitment to its people. The leadership team recognized “a fast and immediate need to bring people together safely and productively,” said a workplace experience leader at the company.

“My role and the experience role really shifted to thinking through what does that look like?” the leader said. “What does it look like to ask people to come to an office location while supporting the physical and emotional safety they need to feel? We believe the in-person variable is nonnegotiable for certain activities. So, if we make that nonnegotiable, how do we make sure the physical workplace is corresponding to that and is giving people what we’re promising?”

Employers need to be able to see their business through the eyes of their employees so they can make informed decisions when change needs to be addressed. These environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues have become priorities across all industries, and leadership teams need to be ready to respond authentically and proactively.

“How do we ensure the metrics we’re setting out as a people organization are then also measured and evaluated from an experience perspective?” the leader at the global restaurant brand said. “That pandemic shift, that shift in our real estate strategy, all came together to say this role has to sit at the epicenter of a lot of different service type functions within the organization. So we started to bring together all of those different capabilities and objectives to then support people in space.”

The E-suite is a response to the new way work is getting done and the value organizations have placed in their people. Employers that can embed awareness of the employee experience into their business model should make a deep impression with both existing and prospective employees.

Rethinking organizational success metrics

Historical value drivers, such as profitability and productivity, might be reprioritized as organizations reimagine what success looks like in this new era of work. A recent survey by WTW found that transformative employee experience organizations are 90% more likely to report lower annual turnover than their industry peers.⁴ The EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey also found that only about half of employees believe their company has a sustainable employee experience.

Thumbtack, a modern home management platform, also took part in the webcast. Thumbtack uses net promoter scores (NPS) and employee satisfaction and retention, but places the greatest emphasis on measuring an employee’s level of connectedness and their sense of belonging.

“Connection isn’t built simply on proximity,” said Alysia Young, Senior Director, Employee Experience, at Thumbtack. “It’s not as much about being in the same place as someone as it is about getting intentional about the connections you’re making.  When you prioritize and put intention around connection, it helps to form really meaningful bonds and it exponentially increases what employees get out of that time together.”

Another aspect of the C-suite to E-suite transition is the idea that employees generally feel a greater sense of connection to their organization or the broader community when their social values are reflected and represented. In an employee survey by Qualtrics, 70% of employees would recommend their company as a great place to work if their values aligned to the organization.⁵ Organizations can begin to drive value alignment by fostering environments that support employees’ hierarchy of needs.

The city of St. Louis is working to strengthen its programs around diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), both in the community and within its own ranks as an employer, as indicated by Chief Equity Officer Dr. Vernon Mitchell, another of the webcast participants.

“The biggest thing with regard to these initiatives is making sure that voices are being heard and that you’re displaying those voices in real time to the stakeholders that are involved,” Mitchell said. “They see the impact, they begin to develop a new type of trust, and you can begin to transform both culture and community in real time.” Companies that can establish a belief among employees that leadership understands their work and the challenges they face can create a stronger sense of purpose and alignment that can carry employees forward during difficult times.”

Theme No. 2 — Employee and workplace experience

Flexibility in the workplace has become table stakes. Companies that never considered flexible office environments prior to the pandemic are now looking at strategies to deliver on new ways of working. This creates new growth opportunities for companies like Industrious that are in the business of providing flexible workspace for companies and/or employees. “It’s all about maximizing utilization,” said Rachael Gursky, Senior Vice President, Customer Experience, at Industrious.

“It’s not how often an individual is going in,” Gursky said during the webcast. “It’s how are you getting the most value from the amount of space that you have. It involves working closely with design and construction to help inform how do we make our spaces more effective as workstyles change and as we roll out new products.”

Industrious recently rolled out new offerings that provide customers even more flexibility to come in on the days that they want.

“We learned the employees who were signed up on behalf of their company really wanted more options for greater privacy when they came in,” Gursky said. “From that, we were able to introduce the ability to rent a private office for the day. We’ve been incorporating those feedback loops into our product evolution.”

At Thumbtack, employees were looking for a space that allowed for more casual interaction and conversation. It’s a design approach that is gaining traction as companies look for ways to make the employee experience more vibrant. Thumbtack’s library concept includes a hospitality-focused venue that offers space for people who need to focus on their work, as well as another zone in which employees can socialize.

“It was time to rethink what type of physical space we needed,” Young said. “We’re invested in the ‘why’ behind workplace strategy. We completely reimagined what the walls of the workplace should be and from there, we’ll use data to take the next steps.”

Generational differences

The EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey found that there are generational differences regarding the importance of the office and workplace design. Gen Z sees office design as a key driver to be in the office, while baby boomers view design with less importance. The challenge for employers is to create a place, and an experience, that has value and provides compelling reasons to make the trip into the office.

“The reason we come into the office has changed,” said Ryann Neal, Vice President, Workplace Experience, at Wells Fargo, and another of our webcast participants. “We’re not building space because we have employees who need a place to work. We’re building space around why employees are coming to work or why they want to come to work.”

Historically, financial institutions and law firms were private office-heavy and generally more traditional in design. There is tremendous opportunity for an elevated experience, given new ways of working, increased generational comingling and cultural shifts happening in more traditional organizations.

A company’s brand and its workplace can be used to facilitate connection to its organizational mission. LinkedIn found that in a global survey of talent leaders, 53% would invest in employer branding if they had unlimited budgets. Investments in employer branding outranked investments in new technology (39%), better sourcing tools (38%), candidate experience (30%) and training for recruiters (29%). A key factor in employee experience is to deliver a workplace aligned to the brand, especially when that brand is a major retention tool.⁶ The feedback loop and linkage is even more critical in supporting the end-to-end employee and customer experience.

At the aforementioned global restaurant brand, leaders are now more explicit in talking about their brand, what it stands for and what that means for employees. The company is using iconography as leaders discuss values with employees, as well as when they are out in the field recruiting.

“How are you embedding that into your recruiting process?” the company’s workplace experience leader said. “What is happening when you bring people in to interview them that signals those six values, that makes them understand the tangible nature of those values?”

The company also creates moments for people to interact with the brand and to have experiences that remind them of what goes into working for the company.

Experiences are created all the time in so many different ways. Companies that are constantly evaluating, talking about and living their experiences will have opportunities to create new moments that enrich what it’s like to be part of their organization.

As hybrid work has become more commonplace, one of Mitchell’s priorities in St. Louis is ensuring that employees who work remotely are viewed through the same lens as those who are in the office each day.

“Somebody who is not physically there is just as important as someone who works in the office,” Mitchell said. “When we’re thinking about performance evaluation, it’s coaching managers to recognize the bias in teaching remote leadership skills. The hybrid work environment is a pathway to creating sustainable trust with your team.”

Theme No. 3 — Culture and productivity

The EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey found that 83% of employers agree that the pandemic has accelerated the need for extensive changes to rewards policies encompassing compensation, wellbeing, flexible benefits, time off and more.

The workforce has ever-evolved; a shift to rewards and benefits is crucial (EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey)⁷

At Industrious, Gursky noticed that its NPS metrics had taken a dip. They determined three reasons for this shift:

  • People are going to the office less frequently – Where workers once went to the office three to five days a week, it was now between one and three days. Thus, there were fewer opportunities for the Industrious team to build strong connections with members.
  • Comparing work to home – Workers were no longer comparing their experience at Industrious to their last corporate office setting. They were comparing it to the experience of working from home. An effort needed to be made to provide “comforts of home” so that it would compare favorably to being at home.
  • Less tolerant for a long commute – Industrious has adapted its perspective on expansion and site locations, going into smaller communities where people have a shorter commute.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, the pendulum swung dramatically in favor of the employee. Things have started to normalize a bit, but the evolution of the relationship between the employee and employer continues to grow and evolve. Whether it’s mentorship, hiring practices, benefits programs, financial resources or the way in which employees transition from one work setting to another, these are all things that need to be thoughtfully evaluated.

Open lines of communication and opportunities to gather feedback are critical components of the culture at Thumbtack, Young says. “One of our values is say what you mean,” Young said. “Another is choose teamwork. And when I think about these two values combined, I really think it enables our employees to lean in to give the hard feedback, to say what’s on their minds, to give the opinion, even if it’s an unpopular one. And to do it with the best of intentions, knowing they are really leaning on teamwork and doing it for the greater good of the organization and their peers.”

“There is a structure to employee engagement, surveys and reporting on feedback. And everyone participates, from employees to leaders at the top of the org chart,” Young said.

“When I first joined Thumbtack, I think I had only been there about a month and I joined a virtual all hands,” she said. “And our leadership team was on the call doing their annual 360 reviews. Literally on the call, sharing their entire 360 review with the entire company. All of their strengths, all of their areas for improvement. And I was just dumbfounded, here was our C-suite telling the entire company all the ways they could be substantially better. It just reinforces trust and that culture of transparency, and culture of authenticity. For teams that don’t do surveys, don’t be afraid of them. Just set the expectation up front; you can’t action on everything, it helps build this incredible culture of trust.”

At the EY organization, Giampietro said everyone has an opportunity to learn and grow as the employee experience is shaped and reshaped in their organization.

“If we go directly to our folks working together and give them the tools to have conversations about setting new norms and behaviors, they actually know the best way to take care of themselves as a group,” Giampietro said during the webcast. “We often talk about wellbeing as a team sport, and that’s really what we mean by that.”

Key takeaways

Here are some key takeaways that have emerged in the transition from the C-suite to the E-suite:

  • “People first” has to be more than a slogan – Employers need to back up their messaging about creating a better employee experience through continuous dialogue and initiatives that amplify the voice of their people. Embed it in the culture of your organization, and take steps to create engagement that goes both ways.
  • Study your peers – Observe what other companies are doing, even those outside of your industry. It doesn’t mean you have to act on what you learn or try to replicate what others are doing, but it can help inform your thinking going forward.
  • Be ready for more change – The workplace is continuing to evolve. Hybrid work is here to stay, but it will continue to evolve. Organizations need to be ready to evaluate change as it occurs and pivot when necessary.

As business leaders accelerate the pace of transformation, those who take deliberate steps to manage people through the change are 2.6x more likely to be successful. Employee experience is 136% better for people in enterprises that successfully transform.⁸

The pandemic changed the rules for work and life around the world. The hope is obviously that there won’t be another similar event to deal with, but there will be more change and disruption. It’s imperative that employers continually keep an ear to the ground, keep in touch with their teams and be ready to make adjustments to their employee experience to protect their culture and the foundation upon which their organization is built.

Article references

  1. “Some Chief Experience Officers Want to Make Their Jobs Disappear,” Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2021,
  2. “This time it’s personal: Shaping the ‘new possible’ through employee experience,” McKinsey & Company, accessed September 19, 2022.
  3. “Building a High-Development Culture Through Your Employee Engagement Strategy,” Gallup, accessed September 19, 2022.
  4. “2021 Employee Experience Survey,” WTW, July 20, 2021,
  5. “Employees who feel aligned with company values are more likely to stay,” Qualtrics, April 25, 2022,
  6. Global Recruiting Trends 2017: What you need to know about the state of talent acquisition,
  7. EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey.
  8. Transformation Leadership: Humans@Center research, EY and University of Oxford Saïd Business School, June 2022.

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