Next generation employee engagement tools

Forget the yearly engagement survey, a raft of new technologies means engagement can be a daily occurrence

Measuring engagement levels used to mean annual staff surveys and the ability of individual managers to assess how their teams were feeling about the organisation and their roles. But now employers can add a range of technology-based tools to their armoury. Using apps and devices to capture emotions, or social recognition and reward platforms, engagement levels can be continuously assessed in real time.

Availability of real-time data is already proving valuable for customer insight so it’s no surprise that some of this technology is also being used to monitor employee engagement. “Customer and employee data can and should be sourced with similar tools,” says Dave Ulrich, professor of business at the Ross School, University of Michigan, and a partner at consulting firm RBL Group.

But Jon Ingham, executive consultant at Strategic Dynamics, reckons traditional engagement surveys will continue to play an important role. He stresses that data should be used to change the way people behave. “Getting data more quickly and more regularly doesn’t really increase this insight and may result in moving from a strategic perspective to engaging in more short-term activities,” he explains. “However, I also believe that the technology-based, data-rich environments we work in do offer new and significant opportunities for engagement.”

Ulrich cautions it is easy to become more enamoured with the technology “than the impact the information will have”. “The [tool] should help provide better information and access to delivering better business results,” he adds.

HR magazine presents some of the hottest tools around.

Emotion monitoring devices

What do they do?

These simple devices provide an alternative and even quicker way of tapping into the mood of the workforce than online surveys. They can take the form of an app or a dedicated device. Here, employees will typically touch icons such as a smiley, sad or angry face, coloured buttons or a slider to indicate how they are feeling. This technology also provides analytical and reporting tools.

Examples: Celpax; emooter;

How do they increase engagement?

By providing an instant snapshot of the workforce’s mood, employers can quickly address any issues before they escalate. Rebecca Lundin, co-owner of Celpax, which has sign-ups from 43 countries for its free device, thinks “continuous” employee mood insights “fill the missing link” between HR and business operations.

“Leaders have fact-based conversations around what needs to be fixed in their company culture,” she says. “People find out things every day that help them improve at work.” Examples of this have included the discovery that dirty company cars “enrage” colleagues, reports Lundin. She adds: “HR helped factory managers readjust their SAP rollout due to the impact on the employee mood. Management can perform quick and agile A/B testing and see which employee engagement initiatives are most effective.”

The technology in action

Among Celpax’s UK users is Glasgow-based Solutions Driven, which reports a rise in engagement levels after using the product over the past four months. The international recruitment company shares data trends at its monthly employee meetings and requests feedback on areas that could be improved. “It is giving our team evidence that we do genuinely care about their mood and feedback and are taking an active interest in improving the internal mood when applicable,” explains its HR leader Shelley McGuckin. “We can also show a direct correlation between mood level and performance level.” McGuckin points to a recently held internal fun day where the mood level on the run-up to the day and afterwards was extremely positive.

Social recognition and engagement platforms

What do they do?

Provide a vehicle to ‘spread the good news’ of employee success to peers as well as managers. Crowd-sourcing, gamification, messaging and familiar social networking tools are all used to nominate and recognise the achievements of others. They can be accessed as a discrete portal or built into the company intranet and extended to the mobile environment. Some can directly connect to a reward system that enables individuals to redeem points to shop via their smartphones, for example.

Examples: Globoforce; TemboSocial; Jostle; WooBoard

How do they increase engagement?

Individuals respond well to their efforts being disseminated to wider audiences rather than remaining behind closed doors come annual appraisal time. It makes recognition much more of an everyday process. “This often results in idea-sharing where employees discover repeatable behaviours from their peers through the public nature of the recognition program,” explains Steven Green, president at social recognition platform provider TemboSocial.

Derek Irvine, EVP of client consulting and strategy at Globoforce, which provides a software-as-a-service (SAS) platform, claims the company is experiencing a UK rise in demand. “Companies are seeing the value of these programs in relation to improving their culture and achieving higher levels of productivity,” he says. “HR leaders can now see first-hand who top performers and influencers are and why, for better succession planning, flight risk assessment and leadership development.”

The technology in action

Karey Stanley-Boyd, senior manager of global recognition programmes at US-based TD Bank, which uses TemboSocial’s platform, says: “Our president and CEO Tim Hockey was concerned that, while the heroic stories were important, what’s really important is the little things that people do every day that enable them to connect emotionally with customers. And those are the things we wanted to share with each other.”

New generation employee surveys

What do they do?

Gather real-time and continuous feedback from the workforce in addition to or in place of annual employee engagement surveys. Questions can be tailored and targeted depending on an organisation’s needs and individuals can provide additional comments to back-up their answers. Typically web- or cloud-based, they are easy and quick to deploy, and provide dashboards and tools to help employers analyse and report on data.

Examples: Blackbook HR; Culture Amp; TINYPulse; QuestBack; SurveyMonkey

How do they increase engagement?

By providing a real-time pulse or snapshot of how the workforce is feeling, they enable employers to quickly respond to any problems and issues that may be affecting engagement levels. “The annual employee engagement survey or ‘giant pulses’ as we call them, aren’t doing enough to make employees feel engaged,” says B.J. Shannon, head of customer happiness at TINYPulse. “We enable them to identify issues before they grow.” He adds that the UK is fast catching up with the US in making use of these tools.

Paul Barnes, UK managing director of QuestBack, whose online insight surveys are used for employees and customers, reckons the real value can be measured in terms of business outcomes. “This is a change away from using notional engagement scores or external benchmark ratings [and] the difference is that the focus moves onto actual actions and their associated results,” he says. “Key metrics that we see include increased retention of core staff, more process change improvements (more than 200 in three years in one case), and better team productivity. More advanced customers are also linking customer data with employee data, to identify the incremental revenue generated by those more engaged employees.”

The technology in action

Recruitment advertising and communications agency TMP Worldwide previously carried out a comprehensive traditional employee survey but introduced a ‘pulse’ survey last year, using SurveyMonkey. HR director Liz Jewer reports that response rates to surveys rose by 16% this year while the overall engagement score has improved by 10%. “The good news is that we have also seen an improvement of 28% in response to the question: ‘I believe TMP operates in accordance with its values’ – one of the 14 questions asked as part of our pulse survey.”

She adds that in reaction to findings in the survey, TMP Worldwide re-introduced a Life Skills Bursary award programme, which is given to employees wishing to undertake study. “We’ve awarded them for a wide range of skills from coarse fishing to photography,” says Jewer. “We believe that allowing people to engage with worlds outside the immediate world of TMP can be of great benefit to employee engagement.”

Meanwhile, Bryan Adams, CEO and founder of internet marketing agency Ph. Creative, says listening to the results of TINYPulse surveys has become an essential part of his weekly work routine.

“Some mountainous business problems quite often start out as molehill-sized frustrations that can be easily avoided by listening, understanding and acting quickly,” he says. “The anonymity that protects the team means I’ve become accustomed to a whole new level of honesty.”

He adds: “I have developed more humility, patience and understanding since having this listening and engagement device and it’s become integral to the running of our organisation. I would like to think I’ve become a better leader since being able to listen to my team more frequently.”

This piece appeared in the July 2015 issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk