For years, organizations have embarked on workplace wellness initiatives to help reduce healthcare costs, cut absenteeism, prevent employee burnout and keep employee productivity on point. Often these programs have offered third-party gym memberships or health and wellness fairs for employees to attend during lunch or while on a break.
It’s almost as if employers have been suggesting that nothing could be done to alter the stress of the workplace itself—that wellness could only be found away from the office or cubicle. The focus has changed today. Well-meaning employers have brought ping-pong tables and yoga classes into the workplace to demonstrate their commitment to a stress-free culture, but new research highlights a more effective path to keeping employees happy on the job.
It’s all about the technology they use to get their work done.
The Stakes for Stress Reduction Are Higher Today
Most of us have seen the recent reports from the World Health Organization that officially name employee burnout an occupational phenomenon. According to the WHO, burnout is a result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed and is a reason why people seek out health services other than an illness. Symptoms include energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job and reduced professional efficacy.
One researcher, Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, has even gone so far as to characterize today’s workplace as a leading cause of death. Whether or not you’re ready to paint that grim a picture, it is clear that competitive pressures are increasing for workers, especially in the contact center and other customer-facing organizations that must meet rising expectations from consumers to be “always on”—ready to serve at any time of the day or night through whatever channel the customer prefers.
Pfeffer suggests that wellness programs are merely an attempt to put a Band-Aid on the harmful effects of workplace stress without addressing the source of the stress itself. What can employers—and savvy contact center managers—do to make a difference here?
Supportive Technology the New “Holy Grail”
A new global survey of 34,000 individuals in 18 countries is instructive. “Engagement in the Always-on Era: How Humans and Technology Work Hand-in-Hand to Meet Rising Expectations” found a strong correlation between the provision of technology and happiness in the workplace, as well as reduced stress. The global study was conducted by Verint Systems in partnership with Opinium Research, LLC.
Sure, it has been an accepted tenet for years that employees are more engaged when they don’t feel as if they’re stepping back in time when they go to work. They expect the technology provided at their workplace to be just as sophisticated and easy to use as the technology that drives their personal lives. The study quantifies in no uncertain terms the benefits to companies that meet this expectation in today’s “always-on” world.
- 72% of people who have low stress levels at work say they have access to the technology to work productively.
- Almost two-thirds, 64%, believe that automation helps reduce workload and stress.
- 69% of employees believe technology will enhance rather than replace their jobs.
That last finding is especially significant. While previous studies showed reticence toward automation, Verint’s study shows that, in 2019, people are becoming more accepting of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) at work.
Rather than fearing that robots will replace them, the study found that 71% of people are in favor of using technology to replace manual and laborious tasks. That’s a huge shift in attitude over the past several years… and good news for companies implementing hybrid workforce strategies.
A Day in the Life: What the Technology Looks Like
What are some of the new tools that can ease an employee’s stress on the job and off? For starters, many of them are built on the understanding that the line between an employee’s work and personal life is fading. Example: A contact center agent goes to dinner for a “girls’ night out” with her friends when the topic of an upcoming beach trip arises. “When could you take a long weekend?” her friends ask her. “Can we pencil something on the calendar now while we’re all together?”
Before employee engagement mobile apps, the agent would have had to wait until the next day when she’s at her workstation to check her schedule, or to file a schedule or shift change request so she can take the trip with her friends. She would then spend more time texting or emailing her friends to let them know the verdict. With these mobile apps, however, she can whip out her smartphone at the table, check her schedule, trade shifts with a co-worker and likely get approval for her time off right there on the spot.
When the dinner concludes, she leaves her friends with the certainty of knowing she’ll be able to join them for the weekend at the beach. The apps not only make the scheduling process more convenient, but they also convey an important message that the agent’s employer is up to date and supports her life the way she wants to live it. It might sound frivolous on the surface, but in today’s marketplace where competition for well-qualified agents is fierce, this is powerful stuff.
Here are a few other examples of new technology tools that help employees work productively. Knowledge management apps are a far cry from the document depositories that once served as resource files for contact center agents to provide answers to customer questions. Today, they are interactive engines that retrieve focused answers from a range of channels within the organization. They recommend the best next steps agents should take to resolve a customer issue. They prompt agents to say certain statements to meet regulatory compliance requirements. That’s an important stress-reliever in today’s increasingly complex compliance environment.
Intelligent self-service tools automate more interactions to reduce the load on employees so they can engage more effectively in complex tasks, but that doesn’t mean the employees are left hanging to manage those tasks on their own. Customers can seamlessly transition a self-service session to an assisted service interaction on phone, email, chat or social media without losing the context of their self-service session, so the employee can see at a glance the history of what the customer was trying to accomplish. The result? Fewer frustrated customers. Less stress for the employees trying to solve their issues.
For contact center managers, new work management tools are game-changers, too. Managers can easily match work items to employee skills, see how much work has been completed by employees and know who needs coaching if they are not meeting expectations. It’s another way the new technology is taking today’s contact center to new levels of efficiency, productivity and yes, happiness.
Striking the Right Balance
This thirst for “always-on” service means that organizations continue to turn to automated solutions such as chatbots and AI to help manage the volume of inquiries. However, the research contains a warning for organizations that lean too heavily on these solutions. While the first preference for consumers is to manage their inquiry online themselves (34%), speaking to someone on the phone (30%) and going in store (29%) to resolve an issue are close seconds. Indeed, the research finds that human engagement remains key for important interactions that can impact a long-term relationship.
The message from more than 34,000 people across the globe is clear: The fear around technology at work is subsiding. There is an increased understanding that, while automation can free people to do more interesting and fulfilling work, it cannot replace all human engagement. Organizations must get this balance right to serve their customers and their employees optimally. The good news is that automation, once viewed as a threat to workers and their jobs, is now an ally which, when deployed correctly, can help employees be happier, less stressed and more productive.