Artificial Intelligence and Employee Engagement: Connecting the dots

With the explosion of learning analytics, rapidly growing IoT landscape and advanced Machine Learning capabilities, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an imminent breakthrough disruption in employee engagement. We explore how organizations can experiment with AI tools to proactively sense problems and recommend solutions to boost engagement.

As Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to find greater inroads in almost all aspects of our daily lives, one can only begin to image its impact on the corporate world. Organizations, whether large or small, are continually looking at ways to leverage AI in some form or another, and with the rapid pace of technological advancements, there is no better time than NOW for organizations to fully embrace the promise of AI to their advantage, especially to address the global crisis of ‘employee engagement’.

With global organizations vying for (the same) top talent, the competition for talent is at its peak. So, when a top talent resigns within few months of hiring, it only beckons the onset of a HR crisis, one that is deeply entangled with employee engagement, and raises the question – how can Artificial Intelligence address this?

Josh Bersin, Founder of Bersin by Deloitte and global industry analyst, says, “Turnover is so painful with this job market that companies are realizing- I’ve got to take better care of my people or else I can’t grow.”  This goes to highlight the criticality of the issue on a global scale, and Bersin believes AI could be the missing piece of the employee engagement puzzle.

According to a McKinsey Global Institute study, organizations have already invested close to $40 billion in AI, with 90% of the resources going to research and development, and the remaining 10% spent on implementation.

“AI is finally starting to deliver real-life business benefits. The ingredients for a breakthrough are in place. Computer power is growing significantly, algorithms are becoming more sophisticated, and, perhaps most important of all, the world is generating vast quantities of the fuel that powers AI—data,” the study states.

However, whether AI can make employees more engaged (or happier even), remains to be explored.

Employee Engagement: A Longstanding Crisis

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees are actively disengaged in their workplaces. This global phenomenon has far reaching economic consequences, amounting to a whopping $7 trillion in lost productivity.

With almost 67% employees ‘not engaged’ at all, it certainly is a cause for concern as the figure reflects majority of the employees that are indifferent towards the organization, either due to lack of time, lack of motivation, lack of appreciation and so on.

According to Jim Harter, Chief Scientist-Workplace Management & Well-Being, “In a nutshell, this global engagement pattern provides evidence that how performance is managed, and specifically how people are being developed, is misfiring. Most of modern business relies on annual reviews to provide feedback and evaluate performance. And yet the new workforce is looking for things like purpose, opportunities to develop, ongoing conversations, a coach rather than a boss. They see work and life as interconnected, and they want their job to be a part of their identity.”

Experts believe that the fast pace of technological disruption is part of the engagement crisis. And, Bersin explains, “Jobs are being created, jobs are going away. It’s hard to find a company where something disruptive doesn’t happen every year or two.”

Despite of expert opinions, lot of HR professionals are still intimidated by the advent of AI in HR. According to Jeanne Meister, Founding partner of Future Workplace and author of The Future Workplace Experience, “There’s a fear factor around AI. Many people in HR don’t understand what the strategy is for using AI to improve the employee experience.”

So, how can AI truly help boost employee engagement?

AI and Employee Engagement

Different organizations have differing definitions of employee engagement, yet there are many common aspects found in those definitions, including- employees that are enthusiastic, driven, self-motivated and growth oriented and more. Above all, an engaged employee finds a purpose and some meaning in his or her work.

However, organizations often limit employee interaction to annual reviews and performance assessment activities. And, it is rather impractical to expect deeper insights into engagement issues merely through such limited interactions. Moreover, different organizations have different metrics to gauge employee engagement, while engagement differs from one employee to another, and a ‘one size fits all’ solution just won’t work.

Furthermore, traditional motivation tactics and conservative approaches to increase employee engagement are no longer viable in today’s competitive corporate landscape, and neither do they produce the expected results. Approaches like employee surveys, special committees and limited data analysis do more harm than deliver actionable insights through genuine responses.

Hence the advent of AI is a welcome change in the way organizations approach engagement. AI will enable organizations to modernize their processes, right from on-boarding and performance management to talent development.

Here are a few ways in which AI can help increase employee engagement and deliver a positive experience-

  • Predictive Analytics & Behavior Mapping

Learning & Development (L&D) is a major enabler of employee engagement. Majority of global organizations value L&D as a critical aspect in developing and retaining talent by offering professional development and career growth. Using AI-powered data analytics or predictive analytics, organizations can develop personalized training programs, aligning them with different employees’ learning patterns and needs, and achieve a better synergy between the training programs and employee engagement. AI can aid employees in real-time by creating adaptable training courses to help them better engage on-the-job. Some organizations are also leveraging ‘AI as a service’ to deliver training as an instructor for training programs that are largely computer-driven.

AI can also help HR to glean employees’ quitting tendencies by offering predictive insights and employee behavior maps. Using AI, HR can develop more personalized and accurate responses to avoid such circumstances by addressing the employees’ issues. Besides, those employees who feel valued by the organization often stay motivated and help the business grow.

  • Chatbots

It is being predicted that 85% consumer interactions will take place without a human by 2020, while 80% of organizations are set to use chatbot automation by 2020.

Communication is a key aspect of employee engagement. The explosion of social media and messenger apps has forever altered how we communicate, and Chatbots leverage this approach by engaging us in a more conversational and informal way. When used effectively, Chatbots offer can make employee communications much more interactive and collaborative. Integrated Chatbots in the organization’s communication systems will also go a long in improving performance management.

By incorporating a Chatbot into the L&D initiatives, organizations can leverage Machine Learning (ML) and natural language processing to boost learning outcomes. Advanced AI technology, the likes of Watson from IBM, can be used as teaching assistants to address learners’ high-level and more pressing questions much more efficiently. The most common Chatbot use cases can be seen in popular brands like Starbucks who use Facebook messenger bots in their order and delivery process.

  • Responsive & Real-time feedback Tools

Real-time feedback, whether small or large, good or bad, is a gateway to understand what’s going on in the employees’ minds, how are they feeling, what are they talking about the organization, their likes-dislikes in the workplace, etc. Using AI-powered responsive platforms, organizations can collect real-time feedback from their employees and address any queries or issues right there and then, without having to go through an entire feedback process that is a time consuming as well as resource-heavy task.

Advanced AI tools use sentiment analysis to give better insights into the employees’ workplace mood and their general satisfaction with the work and their colleagues, flagging even the smallest of issues faced by employees to address them the moment they arise.

  • Collaboration tools

AI-powered tools can save leadership positions from decision fatigue that often arises from teaming up employees that work the best together. Taking the employee data and using machine learning and predictive data analysis, managers can easily cull out employees suited best to work together, thus driving engagement due to a more cohesive workplace.

Collaboration means meetings, and time is often wasted in matching everyone’s timings, which ultimately results in lack of productivity and engagement. AI can take care of such menial tasks by looking at calendar availability and giving suggestions on whom to collaborate with for their expertise or otherwise. Thus, by delegating such tasks, AI can enable managers and team members to focus on more meaningful work, which will drive better engagement.

Using AI-powered tools for talent and performance management, monitoring productivity, boosting learning and development programs, building capability and predicting trends, and identifying critical issues in real-time, the possibilities and potential of AI for employee engagement are nearly limitless.

However, AI technology is still in its latent stages and some AI-powered engagement tools seem more practical to put to use than others. AI-powered tools like Chatbots and behavior mapping are presently being used widely. Yet, there is no doubt that Artificial Intelligence will bring about a major shift in our workplaces, and soon. Advanced AI algorithms will take a strong foothold in the global corporate landscape and enable HR and L&D professionals to better understand employee behavior.

The invention and adoption of advanced technologies has seen us go from one revolution to the other, which is a cardinal testament to our ability to adapt and adopt. We have certainly welcomed and embraced Artificial Intelligence in all its potential and all its glory, to not only adapt as individuals but also transform the global organizations into technology-driven enterprises. And, making it all possible are the millions and millions of employees that are driving the businesses, and it is most imperative for organizations to value employee engagement as the key to a highly successful business. 

So, Artificial Intelligence is here to stay, and for good. But are you ready to leverage AI for employee engagement?


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