Employee retention isn't what it used to be. Between employees sticking around for an average of four years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, along with veteran staff choosing early retirement and "quiet quitting" taking root in some organizations, it is more important than ever to know exactly how employees feel about working for the firm.
HR needs a way to find out what their employees' concerns are, spot danger signs, recognize signs of burnout, identify indicators of job dissatisfaction and prevent employees from jumping ship to rivals.
This is where sentiment analysis comes in as part of artificial intelligence (AI) in HR. Insight into employee sentiment helps HR and management assess job fulfillment and reconnect better with the workforce.
"AI's sentiment analysis feature can be valuable in helping HR teams gauge how employees are feeling at any given point in time," said Sameer Maskey, founder and CEO of AI talent platform Fusemachines in New York City.
For example, HR teams can run comprehensive surveys to understand how employees feel about their workload and growth trajectory, the company culture, their teams and managers, and even certain global events that may lead to polarizing workplace conversations. These surveys can also feature questions posed to understand how employees feel about the way their company responds to their feedback and concerns. AI can then turn these varied data sets into insights. Similarly, by comparing the data with historical inputs from within their organization as well as industry data, AI systems can predict quit-rate contemplation, burnout and the overall state of employee satisfaction.
"AI systems can also be trained to identify words or phrases that express dissatisfaction—be it in e-mails, work group chats or public employee forums—and raise red flags accordingly," Maskey said. "Using these insights, HR teams can stay a step ahead and launch initiatives that boost employee morale and foster engagement."
Not only can AI sentiment analysis process vast troves of unstructured and structured data to gain an overall sense of the prevailing winds within the organization at large, but it also can be harnessed at a personal level to gain insight into the state of mind of the individual employee. This empowers management to better connect with the workforce.
Training and skills development are further areas where sentiment analysis may add value. AI can help HR teams better understand which departments are expressing the most demand for growth and learning, for example. Armed with this data, HR teams can plan and conduct more targeted and effective reskilling, training and upskilling programs. It can also keep their finger on the pulse of areas such as career advancement or career stagnation, and flag valuable employees who could benefit from a bigger challenge or a wider sphere of influence.
"Since AI can help predict quit-rate contemplations, HR can easily track the kind of skill sets that will inevitably be most in demand over a specific period of time," Maskey said. "Management and HR can use sentiment analysis to stay one step ahead with regard to the organization's state of employee engagement and satisfaction."
Such insights can be leveraged to prioritize employee initiatives, such as learning or engagement activities. These predictive capabilities offer the opportunity to plan ahead for employee turnover and to have a better understanding of hot-button issues within the organization.
Sentiment analysis also can reveal how a company is perceived internally and externally. According to Mercer's 2022 Global Talent Trends Study, around 80 percent of C-level executives believe it is crucial for companies to be more open and easier to relate to.
"Companies that fail to listen to their employees and other stakeholders and … to perpetually adapt will lose the ability to raise capital, attract and retain talent, and stay relevant," said Ilya Bonic, head of strategy and career president at Mercer. "Relatable organizations are coming off mute on what they stand for and making it a priority to set good work standards that reflect the values of their stakeholders in a changed world."
The report suggested several ways in which organizations could foster relatability. These include:
- Adapting to changing values of customers, employees and investors.
- Partnering with employees: "People no longer want to work for a company; they want to work with a company," Bonic said.
- Delivering on total well-being: offering rewards to employees for their efforts, launching initiatives to minimize burnout, reskilling, developing careers and fostering mental health.
"Employees are more stressed than ever before," Bonic said. "Companies could be doing more in terms of offering a holistic and inclusive well-being strategy that meets the needs of a multi-generational and diverse workforce."
Drew Robb is a freelance writer in Clearwater, Fla., specializing in IT and business.