Co-founder and CEO BioBeats
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The AI workplace: how to balance employee trust and data security

Technology – and in particular artificial intelligence (AI) – are completely revolutionising the way we work and offer the potential for improvements, but they have to be used mindfully and concerns about data security and employee trust must be addressed.  

25th Mar 2020
Co-founder and CEO BioBeats
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workers on a laptop and tablet with concept illustrations of technology floating nearby
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Barclays recently reversed its decision to enforce a new type of monitoring software that watched every second of an employee’s day. If a team member was deemed not to be ‘active enough’ on their computer or taking too many breaks, they were sent an automated report. The company openly spoke about how the aim was to increase productivity and improve output, but overall it was deemed to have a detrimental effect on employee wellbeing.

The process was met with much contrition, with many staff members feeling disinclined to perform at their best level, and being of the opinion that the system was a hindrance to creativity.

Innovations should be created to increase support and with the specific aim of improving the mental health of every employee.

If implemented incorrectly, technology has the potential to cause more harm than good when it comes to employee wellbeing. Technology such as this can create a perception that the company lacks trust in its people, which in turn lowers morale and increases paranoia.

It’s clear, however, that on the whole technology can be a force for good in the workplace. Technology has allowed for flexible working, video calls across the globe, real-time conversations and improved efficiency, changing the way we all work forever.

Technology alone won’t automatically create the perfect workplace, however. How such advancements in tech are implemented, used and personalised for each employee is equally important.

Honest feedback

Artificial intelligence, for example, can make all of our lives easier and more convenient thanks to its ability to process big data. AI can indeed help with productivity if personnel data is aggregated and then analysed for the general good of company culture, after all, a happy workforce is a productive workforce.

The aim of a considered wellbeing regime should be to evaluate mental health in the workplace and assist teams in feeling more energised, thus leading to enhanced creativity.

This can be done by harnessing health data, such as heart rate and sleep patterns, plus human insight via apps and wearable devices. Plus, it’s proven that the use of data and AI can assist teams, and help workers to feel more resilient. In fact, a pilot programme showed that the use of a wellbeing app and wearable reduced stress-related absences to zero and a lowering in overall absences by 31%.

The last thing a business needs is reticent employees. Honest feedback helps companies to move forward, two-way dialogue is essential. If people feel like their back is against the wall, you might end up seeing increased presenteeism, over-working and increased cases of burn-out – all of which good HR teams should be trying to avoid, especially as recent research shows that time away from work due to stress-related illnesses costs UK businesses a staggering £45bn.

Technology to support and motivate

It can be easy for businesses to ignore the potential impacts of monitoring programmes and simply focus on collecting more data than ever. With the increasing pressure surrounding data privacy, the net result will be increased legislation to protect employees from over-eager observational techniques.

Innovations should be created to increase support and with the specific aim of improving the mental health of every employee.

I like to think that HR teams around the world can look at the Barclays example and take lessons from it, implementing HR-based technology in a way that supports employees and motivates them.

With wellbeing playing a much larger part in productivity than ever before, deploying a system that seems heavy-handed may look to have short-term gains, but in the long-term could become a wellbeing nightmare. Ultimately, a balance between employee trust, security and data collection must be found, and I believe that considered use of AI is the way forward.

Interested in this topic? Read The socially responsible business: using technology ethically.

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