Sentiment Analysis and NLP are becoming the hot topic for Human Resources, ranging from the recruiting diversified talents, retention improvement, to more efficient hiring process. For example, this article (https://www.synergita.com/blog/sentiment-analysis-future-of-manager-employee-relationship/) claims that Sentiment Analysis could be the great measure to improve the employee engagement level across many organizations globally.
According to Gallup’s research, 85% of employees are not engaged in the workplace (Gallup; “State of the Global Workplace”). Another study suggests that, based on 2017 survey, 81% of employees consider leaving their jobs (reference: https://blog.smarp.com/employee-engagement-8-statistics-you-need-to-know). There is a study about the cost of disengagement of employees: approximately $450-500 billion each year is the total cost coming from the disengaged employees (source: The Conference Board). Not only just based on these figures but even intuitively, it is becoming bigger and bigger issue for human resource team how to build more close-knit team in the organization. But, how do we measure the engagement level of each employee? For both employees and HR team, it is a huge burden to conduct an employee survey, and gather and process the information. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that employees disclose their true motivation or engagement level in these surveys. Even under anonymous survey, employees could still get discouraged to provide the genuine feedback to HR and management (after all, why would I care about employee survey if I am disengaged and plan to leave the organization?)
Synergita, the author of the article, argues that AI-powered sentiment analysis could resolve these issues. For example, an AI-based sentiment analysis software can digest the text contents of continuous check-ins between managers and employees, performance review feedback, 360-degree feedback etc. The AI analyzes the text and grabs insights on whether the conversation was negative, neutral, or positive, and by how much level. The author adds that with the qualitative data, the organization can plan the training programs for both managers and employees, such as leadership training and skill training. The point for using the sentiment analysis is that i) the sentiment analysis encourages the employees and managers to give constructive feedback, and ii) the concerns are heard by the management. However, is it really the future of HR with no caveats?
For me, there are a couple of considerations when applying the sentiment analysis to employees’ daily check-ins or other day-to-day communication with the management.
- Validity of the Sentiment Analysis
If you simply apply the sentiment analysis to all the employees’ check-ins, it’ll give you the scores (let’s say, 1-100 ranging from negative to positive comments). But, it does not tell you “how meaningful the score XX is for employee A vs. employee B). If an employee A gives relatively optimistic comments, 40 could be a really terrible score, while for employee B, 40 might mean an excellent feedback considering his unique personality. The score provided by the sentiment analysis is not necessarily a good measure to be applied for each individual.
Further, sentiment analysis simply takes the average of the score. Employee C might provide 20 positive comments and 20 negative comments, and the score would get neutralized by taking the simple average of all the sentiment in a single conversation. Would this be the same as employee D’s 10 comments about very neutral things? Maybe a manager should listen to employee C’s negative comments much more carefully. However, it is difficult to identify this “employee C” by just watching the averaged sentiment score.
- Quality of Gathered Data
Another issue not fully addressed by the article is a privacy issue. HR department should carefully consider the trade-offs between the engagement transparency via sentiment analysis and the potential loss of genuine conversation between managers and employees. Obviously, we count on managers’ judgement when we have a closed 1on1 conversation with out managers. What if these conversations are ALL scripted and analyzed by the human resources? Could this be a genuine conversation?
So, the employee survey is dead?
Probably not. Below blog posted by Joshbersin (https://joshbersin.com/2020/08/is-the-employee-survey-dead-nope-its-becoming-smarter-by-the-minute/), gives some answers to above question. “Someday we’ll have enough AI to tell you what people at work. But right now I suggest it’s time to just open up our ears and listen.”