There is no doubt that technology helps companies strengthen their position within an industry. But there is now a growing concern that it also keeps workplace person-to-person contact to a minimum, negatively impacting on employee engagement.
The value that employee engagement plays is well-established, with a vast amount of research showing productive, creative and revenue boosts for companies willing to invest in it. A Dale Carnegie survey estimated that companies with engaged employees can outperform companies who do not by 202%, while a Workplace Research Foundation survey found that just a 10% increase in engagement can translate to profit increases of $2,400 per employee.
However, several surveys from Gallup have indicated that the rate of employee engagement is struggling to reach a comfortable level. In fact, according to their 2016 Employee Engagement survey, just 13% employees globally have said they feel engaged at their work, leaving 87% feeling not engaged – that translates to just 1 in every 7 employees in the office.
The reaction from most employers is to turn to technology in the hope it will reverse the trend. But does this response really work? And is technology part of the problem?
‘Person-To-Person’ Still Important
The idea that person-to-person contact remains crucial is reflected by recommendations coming from app firms themselves. In Sweden, Celpax created a feedback tool that allows employees to show their mood. It’s a simple matter of clicking on either a happy green face or a sad red face.
The advantage of the format is that the least engaged are not asked to complete a questionnaire – they only need to indicate whether they are happy at work or not. Once companies observe a trend, they arrange a face-to-face conversation with the employee to learn more, something that Celpax insists is vital.
“The value comes from sitting down and talking to people about what is really happening,” Celpax’s co-owner Rebecca Lundin told Ranconteur.net in an interview this year. “In workplaces where these face-to-face conversations are happening, they have the happiest mood. It is very important to have face-to-face feedback because it is important to see facial movements in response to how they take that feedback.”
Technology Eroding Trust
Technology does bring positives to the workplace. It can be used to track and learn about employees, analyzing how individual employee work progress and project achievements. As a result, employers can see where individual staff members are excelling and struggling, and thus provide relevant support.
Technology can also strengthen workplace relationships, allowing employers to use data to identify which experienced staff to match new employees with to help move them forward. It can even help to build transparency within a company by making feedback from employees easy.
But there are several key issues that arise from an over-use of technological devices and apps.
- Privacy Concerns
- Employee-Employer Relationship Under Threat
- Never Off Duty
An issue that is already important to all technology users, privacy tends to be at the front of workers’ minds when apps and other forms of interactive technology are part of their every working day. The biggest concern is clearly the idea that employers are observing them. In fact, it is a growing trend with online recruitment company CareerBuilder stating that 60% of employers in the US check the social media of job applicants before hiring them. It represents a major jump from 43% in 2015. Meanwhile, 41% of employers admitted to using social media sites to research current employees.
It’s only logical that employees who realize their data is being gathered and monitored would fail to be impressed. But it’s not just the fact that their data is being gathered, it is also the integrity of the gathering process and the security used to safeguard the data. In 2016, a survey carried out by the Irish Computer Society revealed that 55% of Irish organisations had suffered data breaches over the previous 12 months, while in 2015, encrypted personal details of over 300 civil servants were sent outside the system.
Such breaches only erode confidence in an employer and, consequently, employee engagement. In fact, research suggests 70% of employees who lack confidence in senior leadership aren’t fully engaged.
The fact that employees rely so heavily on technology devices provided by their companies means many feel unable to escape work. In fact, in an employee engagement study carried out by US recruitment agency Randstad, 45% of US employees admitted the felt obliged to check-in to work after office hours, and 26% felt guilty when taking a vacation. The result is to encourage stress, develop a disgruntled workforce, and diminish productivity.
It’s considered a very real threat by some companies in Europe. In Germany in 2011, Volkswagen took steps to ease the pressure on their staff by stopping its Blackberry servers from sending emails to staff who were off duty, while since January 1 this year, workers in France have a legal ‘right to disconnect’ through new employment laws.