Why happiness at work could be big business in India

With India’s economy taking a hit, could measuring happiness help companies bounce back? - Written by Gauri Kohli

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When India went into lockdown, Delhi-based Rajat Setia found juggling working from home with full-time parenting very stressful. “There were many instances when my little daughter would demand my attention, or where I had to leave in between official calls,” she says.

But for Setia, 31, who works as a marketing manager for Indian HR tech firm PeopleStrong, her employers happened to specialise in advising companies on how to measure their employees’ happiness. Now was their chance to practice what they preached.

Her company used feedback surveys and virtual townhall meetings with senior management, as well as interactive tools such as a chatbot, to ascertain the overall mood of employees. They then put measures in place to help those who were struggling speak up.

For Setia, this meant being able to tell senior managers that she was worried her parenting duties would mean she’d be excluded from important meetings and projects. Once she’d mentioned this, she says colleagues made a conscious effort to keep her in the loop and normalise her situation.

“Many times, whenever people heard my daughter’s voice during audio or video calls, I was made to feel comfortable with how normal this is and that I shouldn’t feel embarrassed,” she says. “That cleared a few doubts and stress.”

Indian companies have traditionally been hierarchical, with a top-down management structure. Open-door policies that allowed staff to approach bosses with problems, for example, were rare. Yet even before Covid-19, some employers were beginning to recognise that an engaged and contented workforce benefits business; research shows that happy workers are 13% more productive.

I was made to feel comfortable with how normal this is and that I shouldn’t feel embarrassed – Rajat Setia

India’s workforce is also undergoing a major generational shift, with more than 64% of its workers predicted to be between the ages of 20 and 35 by 2021. These young Indians are optimistic compared to their global peers, yet many are feeling the pressure of tight deadlines, job insecurity and ambitious performance targets. While they work long hours, many want more from work than just a good salary; coupled with the fact that they have higher levels of education and more employment opportunities than their parents’ generation, this means employers have to work harder to keep them.

Some firms are now realising that cultivating happier employees is both important and in their interests, and as a result have been trying to build a better understanding of employees’ needs and concerns. That’s created a market for firms offering employee mood analysis that draws on artificial intelligence, behavioural psychology and data science. Armed with this information, organisations then have a better chance of holding onto their top talent as well as managing attrition rates.

Technology at work

Once such company is Indian media firm House of Cheer. They teamed up with UK-based human insights company The Happiness Index to launch Happyness.me, a tool which analyses the thoughts and emotions of employees.

House of Cheer’s Namrata Tata explains that clients receive a “happiness audit” based on completed employee surveys. Companies can receive both an overall report on employees’ collective happiness and a bespoke “happiness quotient” which is measured via continuous assessment.

This assessment involves open survey technology that allows employees to give feedback 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The survey uses word clouds or other visual representations, as well as analysis of the average length and volume of comments from particular respondents. This data is summarised in real-time via simple dashboards that help leadership teams understand the current staff mood.

Yet a feedback survey might not be enough to assess the complexity of human emotion. That’s where having a conversation – albeit digitally – can be helpful. Amber, a chatbot developed by Indian analytics company inFeedo, is equipped with a sentiment analytics engine which can analyse an employee’s expressions and tone to determine their emotional state.

The chatbot engages with the workers regularly, and it’s up to the employee if they want to respond; there are no penalties for not taking part. Again, the questions asked by the chatbots are specific to each company and range from how satisfied staff are at work to schedules and rapport with managers and teams.

When it comes to understanding human emotion and happiness, technology cannot perform at the same level as a human – Kartik Poddar

Sportswear company Puma, which in India uses both surveys and chatbots to measure employee happiness, uses the initiative to create a culture of ongoing communication. “When employees feel heard, we build a culture of trust and transparency and that has a direct impact on our engagement and attrition percentage,” says Puma India and Southeast Asia manager Abhishek Ganguly.

It’s not just multinationals either; Myntra, an online fashion company in the south Indian city of Bangalore, uses a combination of biannual feedback surveys followed by extensive data analysis of employee responses along with a chatbot to reach out to workers.“[It] identifies unhappy employees who need more individual attention, helping the company to help prevent attrition,” says Myntra’s Sneha Arora.

Help or hindrance?

Yet even as employers cotton on to the benefits of engaging with workers’ happiness, there are concerns; extensive data collection brings up privacy questions, while staff may feel that sharing too much or voicing certain issues could harm relations with colleagues and managers. According to a survey by US-based employee experience company Limeade, 47% of workers who disclosed a mental health issue in the workplace experienced negative consequences.

Collecting information anonymously can help protect employees from any backlash but it’s not a perfect solution because doing so only captures the overall sentiment of the organisation rather than addressing issues at an employee level.

When employees feel heard, we build a culture of trust and transparency – Abhishek Ganguly

Kartik Poddar, chief business officer at AI company Haptik, also argues that despite sophisticated technology there is no substitute for the human touch. “Some organisations are… counselling people using chatbots, but the technology is limited and cannot truly understand the nuances of employee happiness,” he says. “When it comes to understanding human emotion and happiness, technology cannot perform at the same level as a human.”

But Prakash Rao, chief experience officer at PeopleStrong, believes that in an environment where employees are wary of voicing their issues, technology can play a vital role.“Artificial intelligence and machine learning tools like chatbots can identify patterns and trends of employee behaviour and highlight to managers and HR to initiate conversations,” he says giving examples such as staff not taking leave for a long period of time, continuously working long hours, being withdrawn and not taking part in celebratory events at work. He also thinks the automation of data collection allows for more capability than an overstretched HR department might be able to provide.

Right now, both companies and employees are going through the toughest of times as the pandemic continues to upend our lives. Experts predict the psychological fallout of Covid-19 will be significant. For a country like India where it’s thought nearly 200 million people have suffered from some form of mental health issue, this is a particular concern. Mimansa Singh Tanwar, a clinical psychologist in Delhi, says many corporate employees are experiencing burnout during lockdown. “[A] focus on mental and emotional wellbeing at the workplace still needs a lot of impetus,” she says.

Nurturing employee wellbeing will be key to getting firms back on track – which in the long term, potentially bodes well for the worker-happiness industry.

Source : BBC News