Engagement, employee experience and well-being at work: there is no app for that!

The COVID has put the human being back at the heart of companies and if nothing allows us to say for how long or to distinguish today what is a matter of deep convictions or simple communication tricks, the least we can say is that there is today a real market for those who accompany businesses in these directions.

The huckster’s paradise

As I predicted this summer, the post-covid enterprise has supplanted digital transformation in marketing and sales discourse. A godsend for marketers who were starting to reach the end of the digital transformation thread, especially since customers were becoming more mature and it was more and more complicated to sell them anything and everything.

LinkedIn has its qualities and faults but it is an excellent thermometer of hot topics and practices of the moment. As far as practices are concerned, the situation I described a year ago has not changed and has even worsened: B2B marketers and salespeople are more and more out of touch, their behavior is borderline tolerable and I can’t stand to see my feed turned into a succession of surveys and emoticon garlands. One day I’ll have to put things straight once and for all, even if it means displeasing some people.

As far as topics go, one thing is clear: the number of people coming up with a magic tool that will allow me to take care of my employees has increased exponentially since the health crisis began.

I can’t count the number of apps that are supposed to re-engage unmotivated employees, to take care of the mental health of employees, to develop the soft skills of managers who largely proved during the crisis that they lacked them and so on.

And I have no doubt that many companies are jumping on it because it corresponds to a current preoccupation and strong injunctions from the general management.

But let me tell you something: it won’t work.

The smokescreen of “digital care” in HR

Such applications have two advantages: the first is that they materialize a will to do things, the second is that they allow programs to be conducted faster and on a larger scale than without them. And that’s it.

The tool can be a symbol, send a message, but it is not self-supporting: if there is no real organization in place behind it, if the company does not adapt or change to achieve the objective, nothing will happen.

Let’s take the example of feedback applications that have been around for a while now. What makes the difference between a successful and a failed deployment? The application? A bit… I’ve seen some with such a usability or that were such a labyrinthine system that I didn’t give much hope of their appropriation by managers and employees. What was decisive was what the companies did with the feedback!

When such applications are introduced, employees behave in one of two ways: either the novelty effect plays out and there is a certain enthusiasm, or they are suspicious (it’s not the first time they’ve been promised something that hasn’t been delivered) and wait before playing along. But in any case, in the long run, they only play the game if their involvement is followed by effects.

Does the company take feedback into account? Do we see things changing and improving? Same questions for managers. Worse, does the person who gives negative feedback suffer the consequences?

When you want to generalize a feedback culture, the company must be ready to receive and process these feedbacks. This implies an organizational dimension and, above all, a cultural dimension.

This may seem obvious, but too many think that the app will do, if not everything, at least most of the work, when it is only the last element of a system that is not going to be set up and run by chance.

I once asked a HR manager who was all proud of the upcoming launch of the app that was going to revolutionize his company “and if a manager doesn’t handle feedbacks or even asks his teams to never report anything negative, do you reframe him, sanction him? Answer: “Oh no, you don’t”. Guess what? After a real craze, the use of the system quickly faded away due to the lack of managers willing to play the game.

Employees want the real problems to be addressed

Another trendy topic today is the mental health of employees. This topic is addressed by coaching applications, meditation and other even more surprising things.

But then again, as an Oracle study shows, employees believe in robots to improve their mental health, but not in the way you might think. They want robots to help them with complicated and stressful tasks, which is the cause of the problem, not to play the role of psychologists. In short, they want the company to deal with the real problems, the root causes, and not just put on a band-aid.

I will quote once again this article from the BBC:

But it’s not as straightforward as workers receiving new benefits, then easily finding improved mental health. As these programmes roll out across companies, the reality is that it’s more complicated to address wellness with employees, and that these adjustments may simply be the tip of the iceberg for keeping employees safe, healthy and happy

Do I want classes on meditation? Yes. But do they move the needle on the stuff that matters, that will actually change the way an employee feels? No,”

But while those are nice extras, she says that what employees really require are measures that address the root causes of their need for mental health help in the first place. 

Here it is not especially a question of app, but the logic is the same: employees do not want any more devices that divert attention from the real problems, yes, that allow their employer to think that a small band-aid will exempt them from treating the root cause of the pain.

Again the same article:

All you have to do is ask your employees what they need. And they’ll say, ‘I need to work less hours. I need to be compensated enough to pay for childcare and groceries and to meet my needs. I need more resources at work to do my job. I need to feel safe when I need time off. I need to not be afraid that I’ll fall behind’

And there’s unfortunately no app for that.

The technological solutionism dies hard

I wrote this post in reference to a current observation but it is unfortunately an old problem that has been applied in the past to a number of subjects and will be applied to others in the future: technological solutionism.

If the digital industry is the source of many advances, it, and especially its marketing, has succeeded in instilling in a deep and lasting way a misleading idea in people’s heads: the one according to which all you need is an app and the push of a button to solve all the problems of the world.

It is an attitude that consists in wanting to “fix” or improve any situation through technology without taking the slightest interest in the human factor that caused this situation, without questioning its root causes, without questioning the consequences of the solution. In the end, this also means “twisting” the problem so that it fits into the solution, even if it means not solving the problem and creating a new one.

Apart from the companies that already have the thing in their DNA and take the subject by common sense, there is a strong chance that many companies that are going to use technology to put the human at the center of the company are only putting an app at the center.

Image : no app for engagement by Krakenimages.com via Shutterstock

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
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