Qualtrics seeks to broaden picture of employee engagement

With new tools for correlating employee engagement at with other data, the software vendor hopes to make it easier for managers to retain workers.

What if 28 per cent of your staff were planning to quit within the next year, as Qualtrics found in a recent survey?

That kind of turnover may be typical in fast food joints, where working conditions are such that staff come and go as quickly as the orders, but if you need employees to gain several years of experience before they can make a significant contribution to the business, it’s concerning.

Such turnover is not an inevitability, though: There are things managers can do — and times they should do them — to improve engagement, turning an employee thinking of leaving into one keen to stay.

That, at least, is the theory at Qualtrics, which has been crunching the numbers from its employee engagement surveys and combining them with data from HR systems, collaboration tools, and other sources to form a more detailed profile of an employee’s attitudes that it calls Employee Experience ID. And it will use those profiles in a new tool it launched today: Employee Journey Analytics. 

This aims to identify key moments when employers can make a change to employee attitudes — on hiring or onboarding, for example, or when they return from parental leave or get a new work PC — by looking at aggregate Employee Experience ID data across the enterprise.

That might seem like something for the chief HR officer to deal with, but because so much work is done with and through IT systems today, CIOs have a key role to play at two levels: in integrating experience management systems, whether from Qualtrics or others, and in ensuring that workers have a positive experience of enterprise IT systems. Surveys won’t fix problems for CIOs, but they could help identify them.

“The CHRO and a CIO have risen to be the two C-suite personas that, first of all, touch every employee and, second, are having the largest impact on employee engagement and retention,” said Brad Anderson, Qualtrics’ president of products and services.

As an illustration of CIOs’ potential influence on retention, Anderson said that Qualtrics’ research found employees who said their technology enables them at work are 158 per cent more engaged and have a 61% higher intent to stay with a company beyond three years.

Privacy concerns

Forrester’s principal analyst for employee experience, David Brodeur-Johnson, expressed concern about the privacy implications of being able to drill down into an employee’s survey responses and their correlation with workplace events.

Historically, the Qualtrics platform has enforced limits on privacy by not allowing managers to slice data down to groups smaller than six or eight people, preserving the anonymity of individual responses, Brodeur-Johnson said.

“In aggregate, that type of thing is really powerful, but if it gives managers the power to establish an individual’s response to each one of these things, and it can be used in a punitive way, that we think is dangerous,” he said.

CIOs have a stewardship role to play here, he said: “CIOs … have an opportunity to establish some expectations for how that information is going to be used. Does it follow their data governance policies, their cybersecurity policies? Are they opening the organisation to any risks that may not be foreseen by others, in HR or elsewhere?”

This must be balanced with the opportunity to play an enabling role, he said: CIOs who support the correlation of this kind of data can be “seen as more of a strategic partner to these kinds of initiatives to gather more insight around employee experience.”

Competitive field

Qualtrics, majority owned by SAP, is not the only vendor trying to offer a clearer picture of what makes employees feel how they do, and help employers act on it.

Earlier in the month, Oracle announced an addition to its Oracle Fusion Cloud Human Capital Management suite called Oracle ME. This includes a feature, Oracle Touchpoints, that captures and tracks employee sentiment, and recommends next actions to managers based on the feedback gathered.

Workday, too, is building similar features into its SaaS offering. It acquired Peakon, a gatherer of real-time employee sentiment data, in January 2021 and is using that data to deliver recommendations to managers, either as a standalone tool or integrated into its broader HCM platform.

Meanwhile, Momentive (formerly SurveyMonkey) has added APIs to its core survey platform to exchange data with Salesforce, Teams, and other enterprise applications, enabling it to deliver a broader picture of employee engagement for analysis in tools such as Tableau or Microsoft Power BI.

The problem today, Anderson said, is that, “Organisations have many different ways that they listen, but it’s all fragmented.”

To address that problem, Qualtrics is collecting and consolidating far more than just employee survey data in its quest to figure out what makes workers tick. 

To build its Employee Experience IDs, it’s also hooking into HR systems to see an employee’s position in the hierarchy, recent performance reviews, and key life events such as a return from parental leave; expense management systems to identify frequent travellers; Microsoft Viva to understand the working patterns of teams; and IT service management tools to see how many support tickets an employee files and how quickly or well they are resolved. Qualtrics itself does that through an integration with ServiceNow, for example.

Thanks to its October 2021 acquisition of Clarabridge, Qualtrics can also analyse the sentiment of employees’ comments, not just in surveys or support tickets but also in the public channels of chat platforms such as Teams or Slack, Anderson said. 

So far, Workday can only perform such sentiment analysis on the feedback explicitly provided in the free-text fields of Peakon surveys.

Managers can click on an employee profile to see the ups and downs of their engagement with the enterprise, and click on individual data points to see details of the interaction.

Employee Journey Analytics, meanwhile, offers an overview of sentiment, either for the whole company or groups of employees, around various interactions — onboarding, IT support, returning from care leave. Dashboards present the strength and direction (positive or negative) of sentiment in graphical form for all employees or subsets of them to help HR departments formulate action plans around the areas most critical to employee engagement.

Early feedback

Anderson said that a multinational retailer testing the new features found that when managers sent new hires a text message or email before their first day of work, staff were more satisfied and less stressed in their new jobs than new hires who received no such message before starting.

Of course, box ticking is no substitute for empathy: Employees need to feel those messages are authentic, not automated, and managers need to follow up if new hires have questions or concerns.