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How AI-powered Surveys Can Boost HR Insights and Employee Experience

Gone are the days of standardized engagement surveys and lackluster action on employee responses. AI can help HR professionals send the right survey questions to employees at the right time, and provide actionable insights on the next steps, writes DJ Das, founder and CEO of ThirdEye Data.

The HR industry was no stranger to digital transformation and AI adoption even prior to the pandemic. However, with the advent of mass work-from-home policies – many of which are here for the long-term – it is high time that HR professionals start to leverage these technologies to their full potential.

In this new age of remote work, business as usual, and in particular, employee experience, has been thrown into disarray. Workforces have been dealing with the mental and physical stress of a global pandemic, economic insecurity, and a lack of social connection. It is no surprise then that burnout levels increased last year, and more than 80% of respondents to this McKinsey survey said that the crisis was materially affecting their daily work lives. The same report stressed that making extra effort to listen to your workforce and effectively respond is paramount to their experience – something which is still true as we settle into 2021.

While the human touch of HR must always remain, there are fundamental ways in which AI can benefit both employees and HR teams alike. By leveraging AI to gather targeted survey data in a way that works for the employee, and then turning that information into actionable insights, companies can boost team well-being, improve engagement, and make better informed HR decisions.

But first, where are employee engagement and experience surveys going wrong?

The Traditional Survey Model Is Outdated

According to a report from Leadership IQ, only 22% of companies are getting good results from their employee engagement surveys. Poor results from surveys come from a number of factors: Leaders send them at the wrong time, they ask too many questions, and the questions are often irrelevant to the employee. And many of these questions do not produce answers that are actually actionable and measurable.

In fact, only 42% of the 3,000 HR leaders surveyed on their employee engagement surveys said that they are 100% willing to take action on each response they get. Meanwhile, 24% said they would act on easy wins, but not those that present a tougher challenge.

Clearly, many HR professionals are not taking meaningful action on the data they receive from engagement surveys, unsurprisingly resulting in unsatisfied employees. Especially for medium-large companies, gathering the most relevant information and working out the best course of action is no simple task. And for those teams that do act on these responses, many are acting on individual experience and instinct when it comes to next steps to improve engagement.

The Solution: In comes AI

Implementing AI into this process can not only improve employee experience. It also gives the HR professionals the insights they need to take more effective action, without spending hours parsing through the survey data manually.

An AI bot can deliver one-off questions to respondents that are timed at the right point, having been trained on historical data on when the employee is likely to be most available to answer. Using data on the employee, the bot will also make sure it asks the most relevant and accurate questions to that person. For example, after seeing that the team member has been consistently working late into the evenings, the bot might check in to see if the employee is feeling burned out or overwhelmed.

And for companies that really want to boost their engagement and employee wellbeing, the bot can periodically offer benefits as part of the organization’s wellness program. For example, a free yoga class for the yoga enthusiast, or tickets to a movie for the film buff.

AI can support HR at the other end, too. When all survey responses are collected, it can often be too big of a task to manually analyze them all and decide the best course of action. Self-learning AI algorithms can not only help HR teams understand the key trends and concerns that have arisen in the surveys, but they can also provide data-driven insights and advice for the next steps, based on what’s worked in the past.

Let’s take an example. An essential part of employee experience is growth and development within the role. The AI engine would be able to use data on the kinds of projects that a given employee has been working on, and make suggestions for future initiatives that would support their development. For example, a software engineer that has been working on Java-related projects for over a year might benefit from expanding their horizons and learning other programming languages such as Scala or Kotlin. Similarly, for technical team members working exclusively on on-premise projects, the AI might suggest cloud certifications in relevant areas.

Combine Humans and AI for the Best Results

One major benefit of leveraging AI in this way in 2021 is that many people might actually prefer speaking to a bot (64%, according to FastCompany), especially when it comes to issues of burnout and mental health. AI can be discreet and provide anonymized data that gives the HR team a rich data picture of employee mental wellbeing – and what they can do to look after it.

However, as with all AI initiatives, these data-driven insights must go hand-in-hand with human intelligence. AI cannot be trusted alone to manage employee experience; its actionable suggestions should be reviewed, and communications monitored.

There might be employees who feel more comfortable speaking to a human than a bot when it comes to certain issues. HR professionals should make sure they identify these team members and let them know that real people are always available to support their well-being.

Looking ahead, it is clear that there will be no going “back to normal” when it comes to the way we work, and by extension, the way HR departments must look after their employees. Integrating AI into employee surveys and using it to power decision-making can help companies ensure their team members feel heard, supported, and ready to flourish in their professional environment.