United Kingdom

Understanding employee resilience: how employee listening tools can provide better insight

Jeff Fox

The need for a resilient workforce has never been more pressing – the last twelve months are testament to that.

Resilience is about adapting to potentially difficult or challenging situations; it’s about adjusting to change, with wellbeing more-or-less intact. But for employers to even begin to improve workforce resilience through the use of good health and wellbeing strategies, they need to first ascertain what the issues are:

  1. What are their employees struggling with?
  2. What are their concerns?
  3. What are their worries?

In essence, employers need to listen to their people.

Traditional surveys are one way of doing this: set a series of questions and provide multi-choice answers or space to write in a response. Except science has shown this isn’t always very effective, nor accurate. 

What people say doesn’t necessarily align to how people feel.

Just using traditional surveys which ask people to either strongly agree or strongly disagree with certain statements is a flawed approach. It doesn’t reflect an accurate picture of the workforce in terms of how people are feeling or how they believe they should respond and so recommendations which come out of the survey can be wrong, too.

Instead, next-gen employee listening tools can accurately assess how an individual is feeling rather than relying on what they’re saying, so can be much more effective. It’s like the iceberg analogy; surveys may be able to get at the tip, but they don’t get under the waterline. These newer surveys do just that. But how?

Utilises neuroscience methodology

Unlike traditional surveys which ask participants directly what they think about a given topic or issue, next-gen employee listening technology like Aon’s Reflection, use neuroscience practices, based on 30 to 40 years of academic research.

In some ways, these tools can seem a little counterintuitive because individuals are instructed to either press the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ key in response to a series of positive affirmations – this is where it gets clever. Imagine you’re told to respond ‘yes’ to the affirmation: ‘my workplace provides excellent coffee’ except you don’t agree with that statement. Neuroscience tells us that individuals will have marginally slower response times when we don’t agree with a statement. It’s these response times which help provide the key to how an employee is really feeling below the surface – just like the iceberg.

When presented with an affirmation, your brain’s neurons start to fire up literally in milliseconds. You are more cognitively predisposed to align to statements you agree with, so you’ll be quicker responding to those statements. The technology measures whether there is a marginal difference in response times.

Ultimately, the technology is monitoring the unconscious response to assess how they’re feeling rather than what they’re saying.

Removes participant bias

There can be a real issue with participant bias with traditional surveys where employees often try to second guess what their manager or employer may want them to say rather than what’s actually true for them. It may not even be conscious, but on some level, participants may be thinking, ‘who is going to look at these responses? What will my manager think? What’s the right answer?’.

We may live in the modern world but arguably we are of primitive minds: we have a lot of biases naturally built in which helped us survive for thousands of years. So now, when we respond to things, cognitive processes can sometimes get in the way, we may be too strategic in how we answer questions. There’s a tendency to answer questions based on how we perceive our employer wants us to answer them.

Next-gen employee listening technology removes this issue completely: it doesn’t ask participants directly what they think or feel about a certain issue, assessments are made purely on response times.

Compare and contrasts for richer data

But there is still a place for traditional surveys, especially when they are used alongside next-gen tools.

Comparing and contrasting the differences in results between the two methodologies can be really powerful.

Where sets of responses from both types of surveys are closely aligned, with next-gen tools backing up traditional surveys it shows that what employees are saying is actually the same as what they’re feeling. But if, on the other hand, there are massive deltas between the two, employers will know they’ve got a problem they need to address.

Ultimately, next-gen tools are about ‘getting below the surface’ to ascertain how employees are really feeling without asking them potentially uncomfortable questions like ‘are you happy with your pay band?’ or ‘how supportive has your employer been over the past year on a scale of 1 to 10?’. These tools help employers understand the true picture of employee feelings. It can show employers where their workforce is currently in terms of resilience and what the pinch points may be; this then can help drive health and wellbeing strategy because they’re starting from an authentic position based on powerful and accurate data.



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