The tech leader’s role in workplace well-being (podcast) | Deloitte Insights

Integrating tech and well-being The vital role of technology executives

04 November 2020

How can organizations sustain employee well-being in a world increasingly driven by and dependent on technology? By integrating technology in their wider well-being strategies, say Deloitte’s Jen Fisher and Anjali Shaikh.

“Right now, [we] roll out of bed in the morning, and before we’ve had our coffee in a lot of cases, we’re checking our emails, and that’s setting the tone for our entire day.”

—Jen Fisher, chief well-being officer, Deloitte Services LP

Tanya Ott: Sound familiar? The tech’s great and all, but is it good for you?

Tanya: I’m Tanya Ott and this is the Press Room—a place where we tackle some of the thorniest issues facing business today. Issues like how to support our team members to be the most effective they can be for the company and themselves. And increasingly, that involves technology.

Anjali Shaikh: Katrina is a data scientist.

Tanya: That’s Anjali Shaikh, the experience director for the CIO program at Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Anjali Shaikh: She gets a nudge to ask her if she wants to take a walk or if she needs a short break to reset her focus as she’s been really heads down and working. And that nudge is coming from sensing ear buds that are really looking at measuring her brain’s activity.

Tanya: They look like a set of Bluetooth earbuds, but they’re so much more.

Anjali: It’s technology that is helping analyze her stress levels or distractions and providing her immediate feedback to help with her overall well-being.

Tanya: Anjali, I have to ask. This sounds like total science fiction. Does that really exist?

Anjali: We’re not too far off. But it’s one example of a number of technology solutions, and whether it’s sensing brain activity or just looking at how long you’ve been logged on to a specific system, it’s not too far-fetched to think that we can start sending our employees these types of nudges through technology.

Tanya: I brought Anjali on the show to talk about these new technologies. And we’ve also got someone else here.

Jen Fisher: [I’m] Jen Fisher. I am the chief well-being officer here at Deloitte. And essentially that means that I am responsible for developing the strategies, programs, and culture around well-being for all 100,000+ of our employees in the US.

Tanya: So those thousands of employees are not currently outfitted with brain-sensing earbuds … but I asked Jen and Anjali for a few examples of what tech companies are already deploying for well-being.

Anjali: It can be as simple as productivity or getting an assessment of somebody’s overall stress level, looking at physical and emotional health through wearables. There’s technology that is looking at, when’s the last time you took a break? How are you feeling today? And reporting that back out to your leadership team so you can have a meaningful conversation around it.

Tanya: So, my leadership team would get I’m stressed today. Because my Monday’s been a little challenging. How are companies incorporating these things into their employee well-being strategies, Jen?

Jen: There’s no denying that technology is ever-present in our lives—in every aspect of our lives, including our work lives. Especially now in the middle of a pandemic, we’re probably more aware of it than perhaps we ever were before. And so, companies and individuals alike do need to look at the technology that we are using. There are a lot of vendors and a lot of technologies out there that are being designed to track different aspects of your well-being, provide you nudges, provide you feedback, and give you an opportunity to provide feedback to your leaders.

The other piece of the puzzle here is the everyday technologies that we’re using, the technology processes and the management processes that we are relying on, and how those are enhancing or detracting [from] our well-being. We all know what it feels like to have our technology not work or a frustrating process that you have to go through that takes a lot of time or that continues to crash or that isn’t intuitive. When we think about technology in the broad sense, yes, there are a lot of incredible technologies and wearables that are being developed and can be utilized both at the individual and the organizational level to enhance and track workforce well-being. But we need to think more broadly about having the right technologies in place and the right policies around technology and technology usage, because otherwise we’re living in this always-on, constantly connected society and world. And while that might be what we want, and there are certainly upsides to that, there are also downsides. And we all need to be aware of that as individuals, as professionals, and as leaders of teams.

Tanya: Well-being programs are often led by human resource professionals, but you argue that technology leaders need to be involved as well. What is their role?

Jen: Yes, they absolutely do. This is something that is really exciting and emerging. As we look to the future of work, technology is ever present. It’s not going away. What is the thing that we use to get most of our work done? It’s technology. And so, technologists and technology leaders have a significant role to play in embedding well-being throughout the strategy and the development and the deployment of the technology that an organization uses.

If you step back and think about a well-being “program”—programs typically sit adjacent to or on top of the way that we already work or [the way] we’ve worked for many, many years. Where the real opportunity—and it’s really exciting for HR and technology leaders to really collaborate in the future, or [collaborate] starting now—is when you are deciding, designing, and deploying new technology and new policies, thinking about how that impacts employee well-being and how you can embed well-being into the technology or into the work itself. Technology is what the majority of us are using to get our work done on a day-in and day-out basis. It’s how we’re communicating with each other. It’s how we’re connecting with one another. What we have learned over the last many years is that in a lot of ways, our technology is using us. We have not yet figured out how to truly design, deploy, and use technology in a way that enhances our well-being, although it can be done. I’m excited about the opportunity for the future to be in a world and in a work environment where the technology that we’re using is very clear on how we use it. It’s very clear on how we communicate with each other using it. It’s very clear on what the policies are and what technologies we use to complete what work. The clarity on those types of things will significantly enhance worker well-being.

Tanya: Jen, I wanted to follow up on that. You said technology is using us. What do you mean by that?

Jen: We don’t have a lot of boundaries around our technology, and the general employee population doesn’t necessarily have a great understanding of what technologies to use, for what purpose. How to best utilize technology to create boundaries for themselves. There are policies that exist around your standard working hours or what format or what program or what platform we use to connect with one another. The example that we started with in the beginning, right—technologies that may feel creepy, but do measure your stress level, your brainwaves, your energy level, so that you can understand when there are dips in your energy during the day, when you’re most focused during the day, because when you’re most focused you should be scheduling that time to get really important, focused work done. We can use technology to understand that so we can make better decisions about our work, about our productivity, and around our own well-being. Right now, [we] roll out of bed in the morning, and before we’ve had our coffee in a lot of cases, we’re checking our emails, and that’s setting the tone for our entire day, instead of saying, OK, wait, I want to use the technology to actually structure my day because I have an understanding of when I’m most energetic, when I’m most focused, when I’m most productive, when I see dips in my energy where I perhaps need to step away and take a break to re-energize, to get something to eat. And we can use this same technology that’s draining us to enhance our performance if we use it in a different way.

Tanya: Anjali, one of the words Jen just used was creepy. And George Orwell could certainly have a heyday with all the technology that we’ve got these days. How do you make sure the tech that’s created and deployed doesn’t either drive people crazy or just come across as very Big Brother?

Anjali: One of the biggest takeaways I found working on this report was that there is no one-size-fits-all type of solution. Technology is a tool, to Jen’s point, to enable well-being overall for an organization or as part of their employee strategy and partnering with business leaders and HR. But when you look at the role of technology and how you really come up with a solution that is going to work for various functions or areas of your organization, you need to think about what the overall strategy is and then also the business case that goes along with it. What are you trying to solve for when you’re talking about a well-being strategy that is enabled by technology? And how are you going to measure those outcomes?

One of the things that was pointed out in our report was while 80% plus organizations are really committed to a well-being strategy, a majority of those organizations don’t have a means to track or measure what that actually means when you think about the impacts of employee well-being within their organization. If you can use that data and what you are measuring and create a set of KPIs (key performance indictors), for example, to build that business case, it helps you further hone in your objectives around employee well-being. It also is important to make sure that the solutions and what you’re rolling out to your organization are inclusive of what and how your employees are working. Making sure that it is embedded within a toolset that you are using versus stand-alone, one-off solutions is really important, especially because technology is so available and we have so many different types of apps. To Jen’s earlier point, [we don’t want to get] overwhelmed by the various different types of solutions and systems that we have to log into or the 27 different types of passwords we have to remember for each different system.

When you think about a remote-first work environment and all of us working remotely today, really think about how can that technology help us as individuals become more productive while supporting our overall well-being through nudges or reminders and things like that, but also keep those boundaries intact. That all starts as a technology leader, at CIO, [that is] really understanding how you’re going to embed all those considerations into the design of that technology, like you would think about any other sort of requirements in starting to design that technology.

Tanya: You use the word nudges, which, of course, is key to this idea of behavioral economics, which looks at the choice architecture that we have. And one of the big things in that discussion is opt in or opt out. So, where do you two fall on whether employees should have to opt into this kind of thing or [whether] they should have to opt out of it?

Jen: It depends on the organization. What’s really important in these types of things is that the technology solution that you are using, like Anjali said, can’t be just stand-alone. It has to be part of a broader well-being strategy, a broader technology strategy. Employees need to understand why the technology exists and why it’s helpful to them and that it’s not meant to spy on them or collect data on them for nefarious reasons [or] to make judgments about them. It is truly to help them and the entire workforce and their leadership understand where their employees are when it comes to their own well-being. That’s a journey. You can’t just roll a technology solution out and expect everybody to gung-ho trust what’s going on, because we all come at this from a different place. It’s incredibly exciting. I’m a complete well-being technology junkie. I probably give way too much of my data away. But I love to learn about myself and my own well-being using technology. Then there are people that have a completely different point of view on that. You have to meet people where they are.

I don’t know if I have a strong opinion on whether you opt in or everybody gets opted in and then you have the ability to opt out. But if there are employees that are uncomfortable or don’t want to participate, there should be a way for them to do that confidentially so they don’t have to make a big deal about not wanting to participate, especially in the early days. I go back to how important it is to connect it to a broader well-being strategy, a broader technology strategy. What’s really important also is, in the design of all of these things, involving the employee. Don’t just decide something: “Hey, we’re going to do this or we’re going to roll it out and you must participate.” Engaging the employees and understanding their sentiment and their needs is going to help with adoption of any type of well-being solution, technology or nontechnology. Understanding your employees’ needs and engaging them in the process is going to be really important; otherwise almost any solution that you pick will ultimately not have the impact that you’re hoping for it to have.

Anjali: I agree with everything Jen said, and I’ll add that well-being, at its core, is very personal. So, the minute that you have somebody tracking your personal preferences around your own health or stress levels and productivity, it does get very personal. On the flipside, it can be very intrusive. Trust and transparency are key there. I absolutely will double down on Jen’s perspective on making sure that the voice of the employee is embedded into the design of technology solutions that are helping with well-being, to really make sure that you’re tailoring the experience to an individual’s unique needs. While you are designing it, make sure you’re considering the voice of the employee, but then continue to evolve the technology based on what you’re hearing.

Once you do design a solution and there is a trust factor established with the end user, you can continue to evolve and share data more broadly than you could if you had somebody opt out. If you give the user the option to opt in, see how the technology and data and everything is being measured through transparency and broader communication; it builds more trust than the inverse. The opt-in approach helps with building that trust with the employees.

Tanya: What you’re both essentially saying is that you’ve got to make sure that the employee experience is at the center of all of this. A lot of times when we think about these kinds of programs, and especially when we think about tech-based elements, we tend to think of knowledge workers, someone who’s sitting at a computer or running a program or on email all day. But the Hilton hotel chain deployed a solution for their entire staff, from corporate to guest services to cleaning staff. Can you tell us a little bit about what they did?

Anjali: They looked at how their team members defined well-being issues and what they considered to be most important to them. They actually went out and held a number of focus groups to hear from their front-line workers while they were thinking about the solution. A few of the key learnings that they came away with were, one, their employees, especially the folks that were in the hotels, front-line workers, they wanted one solution. They don’t want to log into multiple different kinds of solutions. So, they integrated [well-being] into their existing toolset. Two, they wanted to make sure that they created an environment where they were able to support the adoption of the tool. They wanted to create a champion network, so if one person who was using the tool found it very impactful, they could influence a hundred other front-line workers. They looked at the network that they were building across to make sure that the tool was going to be used. Speaking with the team from Hilton, what they realized was you can build the solution in a vacuum, but if you aren’t going to be able to include the voice of their employees and their workers, it’s not going to go very far and it’s also not going to get the traction, so at the end of the day, it might dilute the experience that they were aiming to incorporate into their well-being strategy.

Jen: Their platform is intrinsically motivated. And what I mean by that is it taps into the things that are personal to each person or each population of workers in order to inspire and change behavior, as opposed to winning a water bottle every time you get 10,000 steps. By the time you get the 20th water bottle, it’s no longer inspiring and doesn’t really ultimately change behavior.

There’s tons of research around that. And that’s where some of these technology platforms ultimately fall short—over time, you do need to tap into the intrinsic motivation of a worker to change their behavior over the long term. What they understood is that they have different types of workers. There are people who work at the front desk. There are people who work in the corporate office. There are people who do the housekeeping. And for each one of those groups of people and each one of those individuals, their day-to-day job is very different. So, how they engage with the platform and what’s going to be important to them is going to be very different. It’s actually a pretty interesting challenge to try to tackle with a single technology solution. But that’s why you have to think specifically, but also broadly. We’re not going to do one thing that’s going to impact every single employee across the board. It needs to be diverse enough in what it provides so that it is applicable to every single employee across the entire employee population and life cycle of the workforce.

Tanya: Let’s talk for a minute about how this plays out at Deloitte. Now, the company has got a well-being system as well. Why was it started and how does it work?

Jen: Vitals is an internally developed platform that pulls information from existing systems within the firm. Prior to the pandemic and [before we stopped] traveling, thinking about our specific employee population, it looked at how much somebody was traveling, how many flights they’re on, how many nights away from home they were, how many hours they were working, when the last time they took some time off or some PTO [personal time off] was. There are also some employee-reported stats that are in there, such as a battery indicator where you can indicate how you’re feeling through a red, yellow, or green battery. You can report if you exercised, what your commute time is, things that were, for our employee population, indicators or potential indicators of somebody that might be trending towards burnout.

The purpose of the platform itself is to [prompt] meaningful conversations between a coach and an employee. The coach can look at the data and the employee obviously has access to their data. It’s kept between the coach and the employee. When they have their regular check-ins, the coach can look at it and say, “Hey, you know, I noticed you’ve been on the road quite a bit or you haven’t taken any time off in several months”—using this data to have a meaningful dialog around how’s it going [so they can ask], “How is your well-being? And is there anything that I can help you with and help you manage?”

There are thresholds built into the platform. If they indicate that their battery is red, their coach will get an email asking them to do an immediate check-in.

Tanya: And that just points out, at least in this setting, there’s an actual human on the other side of it that’s involved in the process. You referred to the coach, which is a huge component of that.

Jen: Yes. And that is something that can’t be understated. Technology is fantastic, but a lot of this is largely dependent on the humans that are using the technology and how they’re using the technology.

Tanya: So, what’s next? What are the technologies on the horizon that you, too, are excited about or at least intrigued about?

Anjali: For me, there is an array of tools that is emerging both in the well-being space as well as the overall diversity and inclusion space. What’s really interesting for me, outside of machine learning and the sensing type of wearables, is how organizations are going to integrate some of these tools into the daily stack of technology tools that they already have. That becomes one of the biggest challenges, Tanya, to really sit down and think about, “Okay, what are employees using today, how are they using it, and how can we make it a seamless process to enhance the well-being and productivity of our employees versus making it a stand-alone technology using whatever the next shiny object is?”

Jen: The technology is going to get better and better in being able to track specific indicators of our health and well-being. You’re already seeing technologies that can track heart attacks and other types of health issues, which is fascinating and really exciting, perhaps in and outside of the workplace, for individuals to understand much more about our own health and well-being and how we work so that we can show up better in our own lives. That includes work. There will be new pieces that are relevant to the workplace and to the employers, all under the lens of investing in and helping to create and support a healthier and more well workforce. Because when an organization does that, they’re going to get a better work product. And the people that show up at work, regardless of the work that they do, are going to show up in a much different way than a burnt-out employee population.

Tanya: Anjali, Jen, thank you so much for the conversation today. You’ve given us a lot to think about.

Anjali & Jen: Thank you. Thank you, Tanya.

Tanya: Anjali Shaikh is the CIO programming director at Deloitte Consulting LLP and Jen Fisher is Deloitte’s chief well-being officer. That fictional Katrina with the brainwave-sensing earbuds comes from their report on integrating tech and well-being. You can find it at deloitte.com/insights.

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Amelia: The way we think about the human experiences is, we don’t wake up each morning and think, “I am the customer of this amazing cup of coffee I’m drinking right now,” or “I am an employee of this great organization that I’m going to work for.” We start our day as humans. We end our day as humans. And now, even more in this moment, we are really experiencing our humanity. So, the human experience that we really try to focus on, particularly as we see the acceleration of digital in our lives, is how do we be more human at scale? And how do we use the technologies to let us connect with each other in more human ways to demonstrate the empathy that creates loyalty and long-term business results, as well as just a greater sense of our common humanity?

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