The future of AI and employee wellbeing25.06.19
Director of Employee Wellbeing
Historically, most workplace wellbeing initiatives have failed in the long-run. Overall, employers tend to assume that employees know exactly where and how to find all the information they need to make better wellbeing decisions, which is simply not true. Or, if the initiative is just not relevant to the individual, it can have an adverse effect on engagement.
Most workplace wellbeing fails because it is designed for the workplace, not the worker. Rather than focus on reducing health spend as the end goal, employers should focus on influencing employees’ behaviour.
Designing wellbeing for humans
This may sound obvious, but we don’t always design the experiences someone has at work, including their experience of our wellbeing plans. Wellbeing must be meaningful; it needs to be designed for humans. So, we need to consider our employees’ end goal – what are they really trying to achieve?
Harvard Professor Theodore Levitt famously said, “people don’t want to buy a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.” But we should take it even further than that. If someone goes to buy a drill, is their final goal to make a hole? Or, is the goal to put up a bookshelf? If that’s the case, the goal is in fact to have somewhere to put their books. Understanding what these real issues are is called design thinking.
The age of overload
The workplace wellbeing market is saturated; employers are confused as to what they should and shouldn’t be doing to better their employees’ wellbeing. The solution for many is to invest in multiple technologies. But this brings with it a host of separate issues.
We have become addicted to our personal technology; our laptops, smartphones, tablets – whatever we can get our hands on. On average, we spend 10 hours a day in front of a screen. That’s 152 days a year, which is 33 years of our life scrolling, liking, viewing, clicking.
So how do we reach people in a way that will really resonate with them? How do we avoid adding to the overload but also create a meaningful experience at work?
Right now, employers are guilty of adding to this technology overload with multiple email systems, chats and data systems, plus individual platforms for benefits, payslips, discounts, holiday requests; the list goes on! How can we better surface the right information to our people and help them change their behaviours?
I believe that one of the biggest issues with workplace wellbeing is that we aren’t using psychological insights to change behaviour or form habits. AI, however, is making huge strides in learning our habits, then steering us towards new ones; making us engage in technology routinely.
Convenience is key
AI is helping consumers to spend more. Cognitive sites take consumers through a much smarter funnel, allowing them to buy before user fatigue starts to kick in or the user gets distracted. The idea here is that AI uses machine learning to learn more about the consumer and what they want. Digital consumers have become exhausted by an endless stream of unsuitable product choices. If they can find an online solution that is able to recommend products they’ll enjoy, they are more likely to stick with that solution. All of this drives repeat and frequent visits back to the platform – which helps to form habits.
As humans we are getting more and more used to convenience. As it becomes easier for us to shop and travel, we will expect the same personalised experience at work.
AI is changing wellbeing
In wellbeing in particular, AI is already having a huge impact. In Japan, scientists have even developed software to detect early-stage cancer, and one AI system can diagnose skin cancer more accurately than dermatologists.
When it comes to financial wellbeing, the possibilities keep coming. For example; when we shop, we're basically creating data - this information has been leveraged by advertisers and retailers for many years. But this same data can also be leveraged to analyse our spending activities and identify potential opportunities to save money, to recognise unhealthy spending habits. Humans are subject to emotions and biases, factors which affect our decision-making. AI algorithms are not subject to these same biases. They won't be swayed by a Black Friday deal, or the all-too-easy-to-fall-into 'a few quid here won't really matter' mindset. The ability to objectively focus on numbers and calculations alone means AI is more capable for long-term decision-making.
AI in the workplace
AI metrics can also identify patterns, referred to as cognitive insights. They can accurately process large troves of highly detailed employee data, while improving upon their predictive analytics for work behaviours and patterns as time goes on. Taking their inspiration from home assistants like Amazon Echo, businesses can gain insights into the personalities of individuals, and then learn how they react to stimuli, or how they prefer to receive information.
Chatbots and knowledge management
Love them or hate them, chatbots are here to stay, and they’re helping people to learn, while always learning themselves:
- The availability of chatbots has been shown to improve learning and actually users have been shown to be more engaged with a bot over a human because it is perceived as being less intelligent than themselves.
- Learning via chatbots has been revealed higher engagement in a subject in a school environment.
- In fact, 72% more schoolchildren engaged in a subject when they learned via a chatbot compared to traditional self-learning.
- Bots can give you an answer to a question and direct you to further learning or resources. You aren’t required to read through the material first to find your answer. (Probably won’t use this example, but my mum told me that she was putting together a document for one of her classes recently, and she Googled ‘old faces’, and most the results she got were just porn.)
- But most importantly, research shows that people disclose MORE finance-related stressors to a chatbot.
Now, we’re not saying that employers should be looking into what people say to these chatbots, but this kind of technology is on its way, and it’s going to revolutionise the way our employees take care of their own wellbeing. Digital healthcare is readily available. Instant responses to questions about our physical, mental and financial health is already being called for, and employers could, very soon, be answering this demand with a simple, intuitive tool that delivers an exceptional employee experience… watch this space.
Gethin is a psychology graduate who has been helping some of the world’s largest organisations to improve their employee experience and wellbeing for almost two decades. The last 8 years have been spent working as part of the senior leadership team here at Benefex. As a frequent writer and speaker on employee experience and employee wellbeing, Gethin has been featured in The Guardian, The Huffington Post and The Financial Times as well as major HR, Reward and Pensions publications. Gethin is also a regular keynote speaker and guest lecturer at events, and a founding member of the Engage for Success Wellbeing Thought Action Group. He is also listed on the Employee Engagement Powerlist and one of Cardiff Life’s ‘One to Watch In The City’.
In 2018, Gethin published his first book - the 5 star rated Amazon HR bestseller ‘A World of Good: Lessons From Around the World in Improving the Employee Experience’, which has gone on to inspire HR and Reward teams at some of the world’s best known brands.