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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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How technology can hamper employee engagement


This article was written by Gary Cattermole, co-founder and director of The Survey Initiative, a staff survey provider specialising in employee engagement.

Much has been made over the past 12 months on how technology can improve employee engagement in the workplace. Social media has become the latest trend with Yammer offering something quite unique to the world of internal communications. Gamification has also been heralded as the latest technique to improve data collection. New technologies can help spur on growth and development, but what are the effects on employee engagement when technology is being used in increasing measures to report on an individual’s behaviour?

Society has long bemoaned the fear of living under ‘Big Brother’, but for some workers this has become a reality, and is often undermining years of good work put in place by HR professionals to increase levels of employee engagement.

So what’s going on?

The majority of these problems do not stem from organisations going out of their way to be ‘Big Brother’; it’s more of a bi-product from the introduction of new technologies.

I recently heard about an organisation that had fitted new tagging equipment into their field based vehicles. The employer wanted to ensure they knew where their employees were in case they broke down, or to view their location if another job came up nearby – which, in itself, seems sensible. As the new technology was rolled out, employees were informed of the changes and why they were being implemented – again, the right thing to do.

However, as the technology evolved it provided the operations team with new services and tools, enabling them to alert each driver if they had been too heavy on the brakes or had driven too fast. The operations team thought that this would be a great way to help save the company money and to help reduce accidents on the road, so there were very strong commercial and responsible reasons for doing this, but all of the drivers with this new technology have become incredibly angry as they felt someone is – ‘checking up on me all the time’. None of the team was informed why the company had made the switch; and to be told by text message that they had driven too fast, or slammed on their brakes had really begun to annoy them.

Many other employees from a vast range of industries have also complained that their smartphones or iPads have geo-location added as standard, and again feel that they’re not trusted to go about their daily business without someone wondering if they had popped to the shops, or picked the kids up when they should have been at a client meeting.

These are just a couple of examples of how technology can erode good levels of employee engagement in weeks. As ever, happy employees are ones that feel respected and trusted to do their jobs well. With the onset of more technology being available to companies to help them reduce costs and increase productivity, departments are going to have to work together much more closely to analyse the impact on how new technologies will be accepted by their employees.

My advice is simple: put yourself in the shoes of your people. How would you feel if you received a text message from your employer telling you that your brakes had been used too fiercely? Is that likely to endear your people to your organisation or frustrate, de-motivate and disengage them?

When it comes to employee engagement ‘trust’ is paramount; technology, even when implemented with the best will in the world, can very quickly erode trust that took years to build. Technology can certainly help businesses, but if the process of implementation is not fully thought out, or if it morphs into something more ‘Big Brother’ as the capability of the technology is improved, then you run the risk of greatly undermining employee engagement.

Take time to review the use of technology within your own organisation and consider your staff’s skillset and needs before making major shifts. Listen to what your employees have to say, is technology being used in the way it was intended, or are you in or moving towards a situation where technology is undermining the relationship you have with your people?

One Response

  1. Technology too low touch…

     One mistake I see companies make over and over is to believe that technology will somehow improve human interaction functions, and I don’t believe that works. Technology is great at MOVING information, not MOVING emotions, and therein lies a lot of the limitations of social media.

    The problem is technology "looks" like it will help. It’s intuitively sensible until one starts to understand the psychologies of trust, motivation, and the need for HIGH touch interactions.

    Robert Bacal

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

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