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Tools of engagement

How digital strategies are helping companies win employee hearts and minds

By Riva Froymovich

To understand how companies are using digital technology to improve the human experience of work, ServiceNow interviewed a half dozen Chief Human Resources Officers at companies leading those efforts. This is the first of four articles in a series.

  • Technology can enable changes that lead to more engaged employees
  • Leading companies are investing in tools that give employees more autonomy
  • Improving the onboarding experience has a high correlation with employee retention

Companies have struggled for years to find ways to win over large factions of disengaged workers. New research suggests they’re making significant progress.

The percentage of U.S. workers who say they’re enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace stands at 34%, according to Gallup. That’s the highest figure since 2000, when Gallup began reporting the numbers. Equally important, the percentage of employees who report being actively disengaged is now 13%, down from 20% in 2007.

Several factors are likely driving the trend: Gallup, for instance, cites the low unemployment rate and higher turnover rates from people starting new jobs. 

ServiceNow’s 2018 survey of Chief Human Resources Officers suggests that improved employee experience may also play an important role. In recent years, many CHROs have experimented with new digital strategies, not just to keep people engaged but to nurture relationships with workers at every stage in their careers. 

Work is changing. Employees want access to the same type of technology at work that they use in their personal lives. Many want the flexibility to work from home. Others want the chance to step away from work altogether, but hop onto exciting projects that may arise. As organizations struggle to retain and attract the best talent across different generational groups, talent leaders must work to evolve corporate cultures and invest in digital tools that improve the human experience of work.

Here’s how several companies that participated in the survey are trying to keep the engagement stats trending in the right direction.

At McDonald’s, independent franchises are embracing digital technology to help attract and retain people who are looking for convenience and flexibility in their working lives.

“Digital natives have grown up with technology, so they have certain expectations when they look for jobs and arrive at work,” says Paula Coughlan, corporate VP and chief people strategy officer.

Coughlan asks her team questions, such as: Will this technology make it easy for them? What will help them fit work around their lives? Will this help them develop and progress?

McDonald’s has begun testing a number of digital initiatives in several countries, including: an app that gives restaurant workers the option to independently manage and swap shifts; a digital job application that can be completed in one minute; mobile‑enabled on‑demand training; a virtual shift tool that allows restaurant shift leaders to simulate running a shift and handling decisions they need to make in a restaurant environment; integration of hiring processes with social platforms like SnapChat.

At Singtel, Southeast Asia’s largest telecom company, HR leaders are taking a similar approach to maximize engagement and minimize busywork. Singtel employees can now use a chatbot called Luis to deal with HR‑related queries, and a mobile app for HR services, including learning and career development.

“We don’t have a choice,” says Singtel’s Group CHRO Aileen Tan. “We’re trying to make the workplace as digital for employees as in our daily lives.”

Changing workers’ first impressions

Ausenco, a global engineering company headquartered in Brisbane, Australia, has discovered the importance of improving employee’s experiences during the first six months on the job.

Neil Trembath, the company’s chief people and technology officer, says that if new hires aren’t successfully onboarded in those first 180 days, they’re likely to quit. That’s why technology is a key part of the employee experience. “I don’t think of them separately,” he says.

Humana, the U.S. health insurance giant, is targeting the same trend. The company deploys “welcome agents” who reach out to new hires within 24 hours of accepting an offer and also uses digital tools to get their accounts, equipment, and other needs set up before they arrive on their first day.

The company onboarded more than 10,000 new hires in 2017 with a satisfaction rate over 95%, says Tim Huval, Humana’s CHRO. Getting there required a disciplined approach. First, Huval’s team did a capability assessment to identify areas that would provide the biggest lift to improve company culture. They also stood up a digital team, called HR Digital, that could partner effectively with IT and other groups. The team defined a “minimum digital experience” for employees, and then partnered with IT to determine the tools to make it happen.

As all of these initiatives seem to suggest, it’s not so much the new digital experience that matters; it’s the impact on the human one.

Riva Froymovich works at the intersection of communications, technology, and social impact. She was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and is the author of “End of The Good Life: How the Financial Crisis Threatens a Lost Generation‑‑And What We Can Do about It.”

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