Curbing Employee Stress Requires a Multi-Pronged Approach




PHOTO:
Drew Coffman

Anxiety and burnout are all too often cited as reasons behind the current exodus of employees known as The Great Resignation. With April being Stress Awareness Month, it’s time organizations took a deeper look at the way not just company culture, but technology and procedures are impacting employees’ health. More importantly, what steps can organizations take to alleviate the problems and pivot towards a Great Retention?

Employee stress not only impacts an individual’s well-being, it also hits your company in ways such as delays in meeting deadlines, missed revenue opportunities, harmful mistakes and bad customer service. 

Tips for Measuring Employee Sentiment

You’ve likely already decided that employee feedback is a good starting point, and it is. However, obtaining authentic and genuine opinions can only be accomplished in a strategic way. A manager asking subordinates about their feelings on work matters won’t always unravel the truth — it will heavily depend on their relationship, especially at a time when 50% of workers believe their boss does not value their opinion. Remember, people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.

With that in mind, I strongly recommend engaging the services of a professional organization that can carry out confidential internal surveys to gauge sentiment, gather comments and get a true picture of what’s happening among employees — especially in a hybrid/work from home model where physical signs can be easily missed. It can be a real eye-opener and is worth the investment. Some things you think you’re great at may even be regarded as detrimental. We at ABBYY employ a third-party employee engagement specialist to provide feedback on how we are doing for this exact reason. It was a huge step in the right direction and gave us continuous data on feelings about the company in terms of flexibility, management structure and style, opportunities for growth, tools for completing jobs, autonomy and more.

In fact, feedback was the catalyst for change when a large percentage of employees highlighted the importance of a business ethos of “giving back.” This led to the introduction of a volunteer paid time off program last year, which gives staff two days annual leave to volunteer at their local charity or raise money for projects that are close to their hearts. Within months, more than 100 employees had taken advantage of the initiative to do everything from working at food banks to rescuing donkeys. Another successful new initiative was our ‘Friday Recognition’ tradition, which gives staff of all ranks a chance to give anyone kudos for work well done through our internal corporate social network, or even ideas or praise — no matter how big or small.

A chance to express ideas is another important factor in employee morale. An overlooked reason behind The Great Resignation trend is people leaving to set up their own company, with the Business of Formation Statistics showing a large increase in the number of applicants since the start of the pandemic. This is why listening to new suggestions and being receptive to change is crucial.

Related Article: How Companies Are Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

Use Technology to Help Alleviate Stress

As a chief innovation officer, I am always looking at ways that technology can help employees improve their role and alleviate stress. We’re now living in a digital-first world so meeting the needs of staff — of all ages — is key to success.

Digital transformation, accelerated by the onset of the pandemic, has helped make many jobs easier with robots augmenting a lot of mundane and repetitive tasks. However, not everyone has got it right.

Managers are far less happy with their company’s digital competence — with only 58% declaring they were well-prepared, compared to 82% of the C-Suite according to recent research by my company. Maybe this is because a much higher percentage of those at the top use sophisticated tools such as AI and low-code/no-code (37%) compared to less than a quarter of managers. If this kind of disparity is felt between managers and the C-Suite, imagine the potential impact on lower ranking staff. Has your company analyzed exactly who has access to modern tools to improve their job? The same survey found that 52% of employees agreed using AI-powered software that understands data like a human would make their lives easier, 41% said it would provide more time for creative tasks thereby being more motivated, while 31% said it would help them be more responsive to customers.

And don’t forget about meeting diverse needs. Another survey by my firm found that the upheaval of WFH and hybrid working has impacted different age groups in different ways — revealing that older employees coped better with the switch. While this may seem a good thing, it indicates that businesses need to focus on improving the experience for younger generations if they want to keep staff and increase their company’s resilience and ability to thrive in the future. For example, 61% of digital natives said company processes and technologies made their job more challenging compared to only 36% of those over 55. More worryingly, more than half of young executives (55%) were so frustrated with tech and processes that they admitted wanting to leave their job — compared with only 11% of baby boomers.

Younger employees want to work for a company that is innovative, forward-thinking and provides next-generation tools. But it is also crucial to understand which technologies can improve productivity and where they will have the most impact. Gartner estimates that by 2024, 75% of large enterprises will have four or more low-code development tools for IT application development and citizen development initiatives, so it’s imperative for organizations to offer new programs and training that will upskill their staff to work with the new AI tools being introduced. An innovative company also keeps a competitive edge through superior operations and improved customer service.

To achieve a happier workforce, business leaders need to properly evaluate personal sentiment in a professional way. It’s crucial to keep open lines of communication, be transparent about your business plans, the challenges ahead, and how you intend to lead the market, so they feel part of your development and your future and can see opportunities for growth. However, having the right technology at their fingertips is the leading factor in ensuring your employees are less stressed and can perform their job with ease.

Anthony Macciola is Chief Innovation Officer at ABBYY, a Digital Intelligence company, where he leads the company’s AI vision and strategy. He holds more than 45 patents for technologies in mobility, text analytics, image processing, and process automation, and advocates their use for changing the future of work, improving the customer experience, maintaining business continuity, and achieving process excellence.



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