As jobs change and more tech-savvy 'Millennials' enter the workforce, employers must respond with new approaches to attracting and retaining talent. 

Employees and their attitudes to work have been researched from every angle. The findings rarely change: more engaged employees are happier and more productive; disengaged employees are trouble, eroding company profits and jeopardising relationships with customers. 

For a variety of reasons widespread disengagement prevails (a 2013 Gallup survey claims 80% of workers are disengaged). Some pundits blame outdated ‘scientific’ management theory, which treats employees as components of an industrial machine. Others look in the opposite direction and seize on colourful examples of so-called progressive workplace practices (think Google’s slide and Infosys’s bowling alley) as the best way to turn the situation around.  

However, until recently, these discussions have failed to consider a real and growing problem facing employee engagement – technology. Just as the rules of engagement between consumers and brands have been redefined by mobile technology, employee expectations of workplace efficiency and ‘connectedness’ have shifted to reflect the digital experiences that define our lives.  

On this front, Gartner points to the emergence of ‘personal’ cloud. Employers, they say, will increasingly be challenged to address their workers’ expectations of collaboration tools and ‘connectedness’ as the personal cloud continues to evolve and intersect company IT.

However, this emerging challenge should not overshadow trouble deeper down. Legacy technology continues to hinder the enterprise. These systems work well for recording data and performing functions like payroll, compliance and audits, but are notoriously difficult to access and navigate. What’s more, there’s no easy way they can be integrated with higher-level workplace productivity tools and applications, or the cloud. Consequently, accessing data and sharing knowledge is notoriously slow and difficult, and it drives workers crazy. 

A global survey of business executives by consultancy McKinsey & Company highlighted that nearly 80 percent of senior executives believe effective coordination across product, functional, and geographic lines was crucial for growth. Yet only 25 percent of executives surveyed described their organisations as "effective" at sharing knowledge across boundaries.

With so much room for improvement, where should we start? There’s no escaping fundamental motivators – things like salaries and scope for career progression. All the technology in the world won’t improve engagement if workers believe their rewards are unfair or opportunities for career and personal development don’t exist. 

However, any HR department worth its salt will know what needs to be done on these fronts, which brings us to technology. In my experience, there are critical junctures – moments of truth – in an employee’s working life that define the quality of their relationship with an employer and shift the needle on engagement. And in each of these ‘moments’ technology plays a crucial role.  

1. Recruitment and on-boarding: How quickly does the new hire know what to do and feel part of the organisation?

Do they have quick access to tools and information that let them work and develop new knowledge, autonomously? When the on-boarding experience is poor, employees start on the back foot and are set up to fail. 

2. Collaboration and help: Is it easy to get help and support?

My computer’s broken – how do I raise a ticket? How do employees tap into help and ‘intelligence’ to get back on track? Are there tools to find and collaborate with the right people to get help? 

3. Growth: Do employees have a clear view of a career path?

And are there guided learning and performance management systems that support career development? 

4. Separation: Good workers may return.

Are there systems designed to manage ongoing contact with alumni? Are these relationships kept alive? Each stage in this lifecycle roots to technology. Workplaces that understand employee needs and support them with good technology will establish a climate for better engagement. The converse is also true.  

Understanding workers has always been important, but now it must command a position in business strategy that brings it to the boardroom table. 

As jobs change and more tech-savvy 'Millennials' enter the workforce, employers must respond with new approaches to attracting and retaining talent. And just as workplace motivations evolve, technology will introduce new forms of engagement that will help companies to connect with employees in ways that are more rewarding. 

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