The Digital Employee Experience in 2021: what is the status?

HR Tech Trends

At the beginning of this year, major players placed their bets on the Employee Experience through acquisitions or their own developments. Think of the product launches of Oracle's Employee Experience Platform, SAP-Qualtrics (with also the insights of ServiceNow), Microsoft Viva (with the recent acquisition in voice technology, a heir of Belgians Lernout & Hauspie) and Workday that acquired EX-platform Peakon.

This dynamic that embraced the Employee Experience impacted the global HR Tech Market and even forces it to change.

During the first quarter of this year there was an increasing investor confidence in innovative payroll and Human Capital Management Systems in that HR Tech Market. These include capital injections of more than $100 million at i.e. Personio, Payfit and PapayaGlobal. Also, alternative rewarding is being picked up by corporate mobility Startups like Skipr and Mbrella.

In the Benelux we noticed some minor financial injections that could clear the path for some of these scale-ups:

What was particularly striking in our Benelux market is that recruitment technologies are constantly reinventing themselves. Think of the product launches of Minggo and 8Vance with their AI driven Marketplace for recruiters, the launch of Neurolytics (an AI video assessment) and the collaboration between AI technologies Traicie and Actonomy to match hard and soft skills - integrated in Carerix.

Let it be clear that AI and data help determine the course, yet we are still early.

In addition to recruitment, we also saw an increasing interest in everything related to skills: skills management, reskilling, upskilling, skills sourcing &matching. In the latter, the recruitment focus is shifted to the own workforce and an own talent marketplace can be developed.

A pre-summer rush in the HR Tech Market caused a typhoon of heavy investments:

  • Recruiting platform Phenom People raised $100M

  • Recruiting solution Eightfold raised $220M

  • Learning Platform Degreed raised $153M

  • Learning solution Eloomi raised $55M

  • Learning platform GoodHabitz got acquired by Prosus Group for a sloppy €212M

  • Talent Agility & Mobility Solution Gloat raised another $57M in Series C

  • Talent Operating System Beamery received a $138M investment of Accenture

  • Agile HCM System Oyster just raised $50M, totalling over $70M in funding this year alone

  • HR Analytics Solution Visier raised $125M, led by Goldman Sachs

That is over a Billion dollars for the Talent Marketplace of the future in less than 6 months!

The focus is no longer on the external labor market in terms of candidates, also the own workforce can be re-engaged through various learnings in times of digital transformation. Or, how learning will become the new recruiting.

Not only the investors, but also the various solutions have noticed this, and they respond to this conveniently. Examples are the joint venture between UQ-Talents and Nalantis – Uqalify or the collaboration between MeetRoger and FlowSparks to coordinate internal communication with e-learning.

Recruitment solutions are also starting to place the focus internally with candidate recovery or the aim of stimulating personal development and/or internal mobility. For example the new feature of e-assessment solution Thalento – Thalentme.

Telework Evolution

The need for a workplace that puts the employee first was already therebefore Corona and the entire teleworking story. It is not that our talent and skills shortage is suddenly solved with teleworking, on the contrary it makes it all a bit more challenging. What is noted is that the retention rates do not improve at all. In the bottleneck professions IT &Engineering, on average 70% are latently looking for a new job according to a recent Jobat survey about Talent Drivers - although it is not clear whether it was a general survey or among the visitors of their job (site).

What is clear is that companies had to draw the full map of digitization and had to start working remotely to remain productive at all. If companies also want committed employees who are motivated and engaged, who do not feel that they are being controlled but facilitated. Then one can only go along with the outlook that HRTech and the Digital Employee Experience is offering.

This had a positive impact on platforms that were already working on a solution and prompted others to set up a new startup in the fields of Learning Technologies, Employee Communication, Engagement, Culture, Well-being, or Project Management. I have already mentioned some, but also Jigso Listen, Wenite, Huapii, AskWaldo, Umangoapp, Teamify,, UseWhale, Gpal, Spencer, Speakapp, Alundi, Agisko and many others fit the picture of solutions that make this possible.


What companies bet on the most

According to a recent survey by Gartner, the need for upskilling and reskilling, learning critical skills and competences is priority number 1. Given the tightness of the labor market, this is not an illogical choice if one wants to improve operational productivity and continue to grow.

In combination with Analytics, AI, ONA or Natural Language Systems, an upskilling and reskilling strategy could already make a lot of difference there. In addition, it contributes to the creation of an agile organization, priority number 2. This is also confirmed in the market where these solutions appeared on the front, partly through teleworking.

What companies should focus on the most

Employee Experience is strangely priority number 5 and that raises the question of whether organizations do not underestimate its importance. It is directly related to priority number 1: skills and competences.

A learning path is an experience. The more personal the experience, the more efficient the process towards appropriate skills and competences. A positive experience is engaging and does not cause talent to drop out (retention). So, to solve priority 1, I think priority 5 will have to be addressed first. Otherwise, the efforts can at least be called optimal or efficient.

Another striking observation is that the ultimate business priority is to "optimize operational productivity", while "innovation for success" is ranked 5th. This seems somewhat logical in a pre-covid era, but if one wants to become an agile organization one will still have to embrace structural innovation and deserve to be at least a few places higher in the ranking.


In Belgium Hudson and Vlerick conducted their yearly HRBarometer, a priority vs. mastery HR research. The results are very different from the Gartner research, as probably also were the questions.

The first surprise is that HR has Industrial Relations, Compensation & Benefits, and retention under control. It is not a priority for HR, whilst - as told earlier - a recent research from Jobat states that almost 70% of people active in bottleneck positions are latently looking for a new opportunities. It also states that compensation & benefits alone does not cut it anymore to commit new talent. It seems like Belgian HR is living in denial or does not experience any problems.

Belgian HR also considers all its operational processes mastered and these must have full priority (of course). From selection & recruitment over wellbeing and engagement, to performance & talent management, L&D, and even cultural change. Belgian HR has it all covered according to the HRBarometer.

What HR seems to need is more agility, improvements in Digital Transformation and Strategic Workforce Management. The skills shortage, candidate attitude and poor retention rates does not seem to be a problem in Belgium that has an activity rate of 68.6%, an employment rate 65.1% and an unemployment rate of only 5.1% (lowest in years). Also, the vacancy rate for flex jobs is 16.51% and for regular jobs between 6.1% and 3.2%, depending on the size of the company. (Numbers to be found on and )

Now here comes the challenge: Belgian HR is also planning on mastering its processes and continue to improve their needs, without prioritizing HR Analytics, Diversity, Competence Management, Employer Branding or Preparation of the organization for stagnation or downsizing...

Didn’t someone said once: “Strategy without execution is a daydream. Execution without strategy is a nightmare.” ?

What are the consequences for employees (the employee Experience)?

In an ideal scenario, employees acquire a personal approach and the feeling that they are facilitated in their job, that one is involved in their work and appreciates that, that one stimulates (self-) development and enables productivity through maximum employability of talent and competences. For this, all solutions are available that collect the data to optimize that personal approach (see image, credit to Dione Hinchcliffe). This will ultimately benefit operational productivity, skills, and retention.

On the other hand, there is a danger that the same data will only be used to "optimize" the organization, without considering the Employee's Experience. This gives employees the feeling that they are being monitored and evaluated based on limited data. If one is not transparent about what data one uses and how one wants to use it, it is not inconceivable that this perception will be created. GDPR and ethical European recommendations already provide the necessary framework that the suppliers of the various technologies should embrace.

Employees will not only have to be aware of their digital footprint, but they will also have to be able to take ownership of it. A recent study by the KUL has shown that our labor market is evenly distributed when it comes to "more digitization" for or against. It will therefore also be important to inform (or retrain) opponents before we can speak of a successful digitization of the Employee Experience.



Hans Mangelschots

Business Manager HR Tech Valley vzw

Connecting the dots in HR as

HR Tech Expert – Independent Trusted Advisor - Maverick

In HR Tech since 2013 and always learning.