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What can the financial sector learn about employee engagement?

Barclays ‘Big Brother’ software incident shows financial sector still has a lot to learn about employee engagement 

By Bryce Davies,General Manager UK, Workforce.com

The news of Barclays decision to scrap its recently introduced staff tracking technology, gives them and many financial organisations across the UK an opportunity to sit back and reflect exactly on how they want to treat employees. The high-profile nature of the complaints against the software and Barclays’ decision to scrap it, also highlights how important making the ‘right’ decision, when it comes to HR software, is from both a financial and reputational perspective.

The workplace has changed and businesses need to change too

The last decade or so has seen a real shift in employee expectations of how, when and where they work, with a huge increase in flexible and remote working. This has been encouraged by the introduction of innovative technology. This change means that the UK workplace, across all sectors, is a very different place to what it used to be, with businesses having to ensure that they are following this trend and offering the flexibility that is demanded by many in the workforce.

Therefore, when implementing new technology that impacts the way that employees work, employers have to be very careful. Introducing software that covertly tracks employees every move, as Barclays did, was always going to be a challenging task, and one that was going to have a negative impact. Businesses can no longer treat employees with the level of blasé that they might have done in the past.

Introducing technology has to be done sensitively and for the right reasons

The implementation of any new technology that impacts employees has to be communicated very carefully. Without involving the employee in the process of choosing and installing the technology you are very likely to get a negative reaction. The more an employee understands when and why the solution is being implemented, the more likely you are to secure buy-in from them.

The software Barclays implemented was designed to measure employees ‘effectiveness’ by monitoring the time that they were away from their desks. If employees were felt to be away for too longer a period of time, they were sent a warning. The nature of this solution means that any communication at any point through this process may well have still ended in a negative, but the conversations would have highlighted staff resistance and possibly brought about an alternative, more acceptable solution.

When considering HR software, organisations should also be approaching from a positive position, and not introducing it for disciplinary reasons. Ensuring that employees are being used in the most efficient ways, freeing them up to focus on key parts of the business rather than areas of less importance, whilst highlighting where employees might need support or extra bodies, is absolutely where HR software can play an important role, whilst reassuring employees that it is a positive change in their work life, rather than a negative.

 Reputational as well as internal damage

As we have seen in the Barclays example a lack of communication with employees and the introduction of HR technology for the wrong reasons can lead to real problems. Gaining back the trust of your employees is difficult enough as well as starting the process again is a painful experience for all. This is only from an internal perspective. The reputational damage caused can also be hugely detrimental. Employees now have direct and quick access to all areas of the press, and stories like these can break quickly and spread uncontrollably. This can have damage an organisation’s reputation both in terms of potential employees but also partners and investors.

What is the right approach?

Ensuring that any technology introduced to a work environment reflects the culture and changing demands of employees is fundamental to its eventual success. Although it sounds obvious, many organisations seem to forget this when going through the pitching and procurement process.

The way we work and engage in a workplace has, and continues to, change at a rapid pace. Flexible and remote working is becoming the norm, sitting at desks from 9am till 5.30pm is a thing of the past. Those companies that remained fixated with outdated methods of working, whilst enforcing the workforce to comply with such an approach will continue to struggle to maintain a happy team. Organisations that introduce technology that helps employees, makes their working life easier and more efficient, whilst providing managers insight into where change might be needed are certainly on the right track.