Unlocking the Potential of Employee Engagement With Technology, Data, and Games


Employee engagement is like a coiled spring with enough potential energy to propel an entire organization, but efforts to improve engagement often peter out like a Slinky at the bottom of a staircase. 

So how can companies achieve stronger results in this area? Some consultants suggest that better data and artificial intelligence may hold the key. 

What Lies Ahead

Companies are dissatisfied with current approaches to employee engagement, according to Ken Oehler, who heads the Global Culture & Engagement Practice at Aon Hewitt. He said results tend to be fleeting when organizations rely on the usual levers of engagement, such as better communication, but technology can improve the process. 

Engagement is becoming a process of understanding the employee "journey," and not simply doing a survey, according to Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP. "Just as we study ‘customer journeys,’ it’s time for HR to study the ‘employee journey,’" he said. 

In the future, organizations might record video of employees instead of conducting surveys, and a program could transcribe the footage, code it for indicators of engagement, and then flag employees who are unengaged and at risk of leaving, according to Oehler. 

Testing New Technology

The use of AI with respect to engagement remains mostly theoretical, but there are many pilot programs in play to test new technology, according to Matt Stevenson, partner and leader of the Workforce Strategy and Analytics group at Mercer. 

For example, Stevenson said, there are mood badges in development—similar to Fitbits—that attempt to determine an employee’s moods and engagement levels through their biometrics. 

However, one of the challenges is that AI requires an abundance of information to function properly. "The algorithms are very good, but you need a lot of data to make it work," Stevenson said. 

Organizations still lack the necessary employee data, according to Oehler, but he said they will eventually amass enough information to use AI to drive hiring and engagement. 

He said Aon Hewitt developed a 15-point personality test and found that three facets in particular consistently predict levels of engagement: positivity, drive, and collaborativeness. 

The assessment includes individual feedback to employees, while management receives aggregate data. This information typically prompts a more informed conversation between managers and employees, Oehler said. 

Who’s Game for Engagement?

Using gamification can help drive desired behavior, according to Stevenson. Organizations can create apps with interactive features that help to drive certain behaviors, he said. 

Globant has gone this route with StarmeUp, which applies the idea of social media to the corporate environment, enabling employees to provide recognition for their peers by rewarding them with a star for their performance. 

The IT and software development company developed the interactive platform as it grew to 6,500 employees in 14 countries, because it wanted a program that would align with its corporate values, according to Guibert Englebienne, co-founder and chief technology officer at Globant. 

The company has also used data from StarmeUp to determine how workers are interacting, who has high potential, and who might be at risk of leaving, Englebienne added. "People who use StarmeUp for sending and receiving stars are five times less likely to leave the company than those who don’t use it at all," he said. 

Over the next several years, more organizations will turn to technology to manage employees, according to Oehler. "In using AI for engagement, we are out on the edge of a real sea change. We are just barely scratching the surface," he said.

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