There is one department shouldering much of the stress as employers continue to embrace hybrid working – Human Resources (HR). HR teams are now a corporate priority, as companies are learning that sustaining a positive work environment is vital for an organisation’s success. For example, a report by the American Psychological Association found that 89 per cent of workers at companies that supported wellbeing initiatives reported being more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work. By contrast, half of those working at companies with little-to-no support for wellbeing said they intend to leave their job in the next year. In other words, the Great Resignation is apace, and now is a critical time to put the employee experience top of the HR agenda.
The HR tech conundrum
While hybrid working is giving employees more flexibility to manage their day as they would like, the lack of in-person meeting makes it harder for employers to ensure each employee has a great experience. As a result, many companies have become reliant on tech tools and data collection to assess the quality of their employee experience.
Access to these tools and data sets is critical to measure employee wellbeing. But make no mistake: employers must use them to both keep an eye on the current health of the organisation and identify trends and patterns over time. These trends allow employers and HR departments to take action to retain employees and improve their wellbeing.
Unfortunately, many HR tech tools are currently used to surveil employees. For example, algorithmic productivity tracking tools track the activity of individual users and provide personalised reports to managers and leadership. This can be problematic from an employee experience perspective. A recent report even stated that tracking employee productivity through AI was damaging for employees’ mental health, resulting in all party parliamentary group combining forces to create an ‘accountability for algorithms act’, which will be designed to regulate the use of AI in the workplace.
Luckily, some HR tools are applying this technology in a different way and are focussing on understanding the employee experience and the conditions that staff need to thrive. So, how can organisations ensure the applications being used are improving staff wellbeing and increasing employee retention, rather than negatively impacting employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
Tracking employees is wrong
As businesses scrambled to transition to home working, there was an increase in algorithmic productivity tracking tools, which track the activity of individual employees closely by recording keystrokes, hours spent active online, or tracking GPS and email. In these cases, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms to track employees is problematic and can be detrimental for employee’s health as it can undermine trust and commitment amongst staff and increase pressure, stress and burn out.
The tracking of individuals in this manner is also short sighted, as the UK is now facing The Great Resignation, where record numbers of employees are leaving their organisations in search of better balance for themselves. If this employee exodus has taught us anything, it’s that competition for talent is intense and employees are aware that they hold the cards as much as employers do.
As an employer, companies need to motivate people to continually choose their organisation. This means prioritising and evaluating the types of HR tools they use. Organisations should prioritise tools which improve the employee experience and engage with employees in a sensible, caring and respectful way. Once organisations do this, the HR platforms they implement are more likely to be used in a way that impacts employee experience more positively.
Using HR tech to improve employee wellbeing
If we flip the coin, HR tech tools have a central role to play in helping organisations invest in their employees’ wellbeing. Used wisely, tools that help HR teams and employers gather better data around employees will help shape, fortify, and continually optimise a people strategy. These include metrics such as employee engagement, relationships with managers, friction or lack thereof and career fulfilment – all of which were traditionally recorded once a year in an all-encompassing employee survey. This format is no longer suitable in a digital-first world where employees’ voices can – and should – be heard regularly.
Today, we are able to provide much closer support to employees and help address pain points much faster through technology. Data-based tools have replaced traditional employee surveys, offering a platform based on AI and machine learning that automatically measures and gives qualitative insights into how the employees of an organisation compare to set data points. Tools can then identify at-risk employee groups and suggest immediate measures. The system automates which questions should be sent to an employee, based not only on their previous answers but also on the patterns and learnings. For example, there is a matrix of triggers that typically lead to a departure and platforms can recognise these when a team member displays behavioural patterns in their responses that are like those who have left their position in the last 3-5 months. These triggers typically include several factors such as stunted career growth, compensation, lack of personal development, tenure, disengagement, unclear communication, or a sense of futility.
It’s worth clarifying that these surveys should always be anonymised to maximise employee engagement and provide workers with a safe space to express themselves freely. These anonymised survey results should then be presented at the group and organisational level — never at an individual one, which would beat the purpose of creating an open environment in the first place.
Once the AI-powered tool has gathered the data and analysed patterns, employers can use these trends to work with HR to figure out how many people are quitting, where the highest turnover risk is, why they are leaving, and how to minimise the triggers that lead to employees leaving the company. Using this aggregate data, HR and business leaders can also create a data-driven, employee-first strategy to develop and retain talent.
When used effectively, AI HR tools can be a positive force for checking in on employees to see if conditions are trending towards burnout, high turnover, or sickness absence. Organisations can then use this insight to create accurate suggestions on how to rectify this situation before the employee decides to leave. This form of intervention is particularly vital to safeguard mental health and wellbeing with a more distributed workforce and decreased face-time.
The future of work
Remote and hybrid working disrupted almost every industry and the rapid uptake of AI and algorithm tools that track individual employees closely have come under criticism.
By utilising AI tools which rely on anonymised, valid data, and aim to give employees a means to voice their perspectives, organisations can not only fix issues before they snowball but also significantly bolsters productivity, understand staff and optimise their people strategy.
While it’s clear that recruitment will always be an important part of HR’s mission, it shouldn’t be in response to employee exodus that could have been prevented with efficient and frequent employee surveys. Instead, recruitment should be focused on growing headcount in organisations that promote employee wellbeing and work-life balance, safe in the knowledge this sentiment is shared by their workforce.