The amount of employee data, management information and analytics available to HR today is truly astounding. And it could be argued that the more information HR has about its people, the better it can support them. But how much is too much? All the data in the world won’t solve human problems but it can help set strategies and ensure you are in the right place to help. Leaders knowing their employees, recognising the signs, talking to them and being there to offer support and trust; that is the true strength. James Malia looks at how far tech can take you today when it comes to employee wellbeing and what you need to be doing to help ensure you get the balance right.
Technology provides us all with instant access. It provides us with simplicity, ownership, knowledge and now, more than ever, connectivity. It’s moved the world on beyond recognition in a ridiculously short period of time. I’m still in my forties and it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was issued with a phone card as a company ‘perk’ so I could call my manager. My kids now whinge about ‘glitching’ in a game because there was a microsecond break that I can’t even see (I used to have to wait an hour to load Chucky Egg and even then there was no guarantee it would run). And yet while all this is happening, we’re also becoming more open about our emotions and feelings – ironically, often prompted by wellbeing technology to allow it to happen. But don’t for a minute think that we’ve sold our soul to technology, it’s still the personal approach that trumps all.
I work in Fintech and specifically in financial wellbeing. By definition, we connect with thousands of users each year on devices and use AI to understand their personal situation and offer guidance and advice (with some great success I might add). We also provide employers with a stack of MI to help them understand their employees’ financial concerns, areas of need and goals. However, for both the user and the employer all of that data can only get you so far. For example, when we talk about goals and aspirations the tech often needs support to get the message across. The ‘action’ bit becomes more personal. For instance, speaking to a real life adviser for more guidance or expertise or, as an employer, delivering support, webinars or tutorials with real people gives it the personal touch. We’ve all made a purchase or decision based on liking someone or a gut feeling and not just what the tech is telling you. Data will never ‘understand.’ It won’t know that when an employee says “I’m fine” that they don’t always mean it. It won’t realise that “not bad” isn’t necessarily good; it’s just “not bad.”
I know that we need data. I know that for any organisation it’s a vital ingredient in employee engagement, wellbeing and satisfaction. However, it’s still just that, an ingredient; it’s what you do with it that matters. Give the same ingredients to three people and you will get three different meals. It’s the same with data. If used poorly, or not at all (and yes that does happen), then it’s worthless. I once insisted our MI reports were discussed in person by my account managers with their clients. MI is a chance to celebrate what’s being done well but also a chance to highlight what and where we need more human interaction – a training need for managers, an education session for different demographics or even a shift in culture.
As leaders, managers and co-workers, we all need to connect with our people. We need to read our people and we need to watch out for them. I know it’s easier when we are face to face so you can see body language, catch up over a coffee or read the room. However, even on Zoom or Teams you can read people. The one who’s smile normally lights up the Zoom with not even a grin today or the quiet one looking distracted or leaving the camera off. One on one chats ‘just for the sake of it’ can make all the difference. Not formulaic but more impromptu and if you ask how someone is, mean it, listen and discuss. Letting someone know they are valued and appreciated is human. How it makes them feel most certainly is and, right now, we all need a bit of that more than ever.
It’s not rocket science; it could even be as simple as the difference between sending an email or a handwritten letter. Sure, not for the routine everyday stuff but getting a letter that you know someone has taken the time to think about, write and post is fabulous. Even when I used to send round bonus letters to my teams (a positive moment for all), I personalised each of them and thanked them for something specific they had achieved. It took a day, but I hope made it personal and certainly wasn’t just results/data driven.
So yes, data and technology are huge as they provide us with information to allow us to act – with human, measured and considered action. Make sure your tech is simple, relevant and fabulous and yes, make sure the data is detailed, insightful and actionable. But please don’t tell me that all you need is the data. Save that for the company accounts; this is still human resources not automated resources after all.