You haven’t been neglecting Bob, the quiet, friendly web guy on your team. You see him around the office, or on team calls. You have regular catch-up meetings with him. And if there’s a problem, he knows where to find you – because as a good HR manager, you make a point of being easily accessible for all employees.
Not that in Bob’s case that’s been necessary. He never voices any grievances or worries. He’s reliable and hardworking and upbeat.
And then one day Bob rings in sick. His doctor has signed him off for a month with stress and anxiety. For the last year, Bob has been quietly going through a mental health crisis.
As Bob’s HR manager, you feel that somehow you should have known. But how could you have done?
The Unknown Employee
Every year, there are many thousands of cases like Bob’s — diligent employees who don’t want to burden managers with their wellbeing issues, who were brought up to believe in just getting on with it. It’s a strategy that works well until it suddenly doesn’t, when unresolved issues can escalate into a major crisis.
For HR managers, Bob represents the extreme end of a more general and persistent problem — how do you really know how the people in your teams are doing? After all, if someone presents as doing well, it’s human nature not to look any deeper. In his biting poem The Unknown Citizen, W.H. Auden put it like this:
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
Now add hybrid working.
The rise of remote and hybrid working has only exacerbated this long-standing issue. As managers, we simply cannot know what lies outside the webcam’s field of view, or what happens when the team call ends. We may have no indication, for example, that an employee is struggling with a chaotic home situation, or simply a physically uncomfortable space.
Our own research has made clear that although hybrid working is an excellent solution for many, not everyone is thriving on it. Hybrid workers showed a far greater variation in their mental and physical wellbeing than their office-based colleagues. While some hybrid workers flourished on their new routine, others struggled to adapt.
Data-based apps — a way into wellbeing?
At the heart of this problem is the fact that with some employees, opening any sort of dialogue about wellbeing is a challenge. After all, despite an ongoing destigmatisation, it’s still an area which many employees find hard to discuss. HR managers must navigate choppy waters, trying to gauge how things are really going without being intrusive or prying.
Against this backdrop, new technology may provide a gentler way to begin the wellbeing conversation. Using ART Health’s Omics app, for example, managers can receive aggregated, anonymised employee data on a range of physical and mental wellbeing parameters, as well as cognitive performance indicators.
This is particularly useful for flagging up potential wellbeing problems for a team or office, but it’s also a way into wellbeing discussions that is more objective, less personal — and for some employees, considerably less threatening. To be clear, this doesn’t need to involve sharing aggregated data: it’s the fact that these parameters are being measured that helps both employee and manager broach wellbeing, and break a complex issue down into discrete chunks.
Adding hard evidence to hunches
Data-gathering technology has another advantage for managers: it gives them objective evidence about how their teams are coping. Let’s say your team’s productivity has dropped dramatically over the last month. Is that because of the nature of the recent projects, or because the team is frazzled and burned out? Is there really a certain vibe in the office, or is that your managers’ radar malfunctioning? With data gathering technology like Omics, managers now have the hard evidence to confirm or disconfirm their hunches.
Adding to the human touch
Of course, no amount of tech is going to replace human insight into your employees — knowing what team someone supports or their kids’ names is something best left to real interactions between real people. But what data gathering can do is to fill in some of the gaps and perhaps help those nice, quiet Bobs to access the support they need.
ART Health Solutions is a wellbeing consultancy, providing effective, science-based wellbeing recommendations. Our bespoke solutions are generated by gathering data directly from the organisation and its employees. For all enquiries, please contact our friendly team.