Technology is not the solution to a bad culture

Employee engagement specialist Matt Phelan, co-founder and co-CEO of The Happiness Index, warns technology can never right the wrongs of a bad culture.

You may be surprised to hear the co-founder of a rapidly growing HR technology business say this, but I believe technology should never be the answer to your people strategy.

Of course, I’m a huge evangelist for where technology can help, but let’s not overstate what it can achieve. Not to diminish technology’s importance but I do encourage you to think of it as an enabler rather than a solution.

Balancing work and tech:

Bad technology is impacting company culture

How technology can be used to protect and enhance mental wellbeing

People vs technology: managing technological change

In your personal life, buying and wearing a Fitbit won’t make you faster. But it does give you some useful data to help you improve your
running times. It can form part of your wider running strategy.

The same is true for technology to help your organisation with wellbeing, mental health, and employee engagement and happiness.

Everyone’s needs are unique. A first jobber who’s keen to explore the big city will feel differently from an experienced employee who is going through menopause. Needs differ from person to person, and they also change throughout the employee lifecycle.

Global factors are also at play. At the beginning of 2019, nobody knew that a global pandemic would reshape our lives. Similarly, at the start of 2021, a major European conflict seemed highly unlikely. When big news breaks it will impact your people worldwide.

People will find it hard to concentrate, focus and do their work. Empathy for fellow humans is what makes the people you employ amazing. Ignoring how your team feels about external events will only make it worse.

Understanding what your people need and when they need it is where technology should be used.

In the early 2000s there was a trend to supply employees with beer fridges and ping pong tables. Today the trend is to offer apps to employees on everything from wellbeing to mindfulness.

These apps can be amazing and part of the answer, but blanket offering them to employees will not fix the root cause.

Remember: there are no blanket solutions to organisational problems and tech won’t change that. Life, work and organisations operate in an ever-changing ecosystem and your people strategy needs to adapt and change over time.

So, how can you cater for everyone when everyone is different?

Our organisational neuroscience and data shows there are eight key neuroscience themes that drive happiness and engagement. Four elements link to engagement: meaning and purpose, personal growth, clarity and enablement. And four elements link to happiness: safety, freedom, relationships and acknowledgement.

Together they help you truly understand how your people are thinking, feeling and behaving. Which of these are the most important will be different for each individual human. They also differ over time and location.

So, the question we should be asking of our technology is: can it help me understand my people’s needs so I can create an environment where they can thrive?


Matt Phelan, co-founder and co-CEO of The Happiness Index


Check out more from the 2022 Technology Supplement: Technology with purpose here.