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HR’s Secret Weapon For Combatting Stress: People Science
Paul Burrin

Many companies view stress as a necessary part of doing business, but HR and people leaders know better. There’s a difference between busy employees and stressed employees, and when it comes to stress, the research is clear: too much is bad.

Paul Burrin
To HR and People teams, stressed colleagues are often a sign that something is wrong – that employees aren’t being supported properly, that they’ve been given too many assignments with too little time to complete them, that they simply aren’t enjoying their work – a solution is needed, for business reasons as much as human ones.

After all, workplace stress has been linked to mental illness, increased blood pressure, and insomnia, and is a leading reason one in four Canadians quit their jobs – all these issues come with significant social and financial consequences.

Where to start?

Resolving to lower your employees’ stress is all well and good, but how do you combat stress in an effective way? Stress is often caused by a complex mix of company culture, workload, social, and personal factors. For example, if your employees are always responding to emails late at night or your managers prize presenteeism at all costs, then consider the need for stress reduction an opportunity to revisit such norms.

Other factors, especially social and personal, often aren’t under the HR and People department’s control, which can make addressing them less than straightforward. In the past, solutions were usually developed through a combination of gut feel and guesswork, as HR and People teams did their best to pick up on water-cooler chat and encourage their coworkers to open up. But there is a better way.

As with other lines of business experiencing digital transformation, analytics are gradually expanding their role in people management and the reduction of workplace stress, with many companies increasingly recognizing the value that HR analytics – or “people science” – can bring to their office culture by providing them with actionable insights. We already use analytics to optimize our relationships with consumers, why not staff too?

People science is more than analytics – it uses data science principles to help managers better understand employees and their behavior by not just mining and reporting data, but analyzing it, generating actionable insights to help them make better business decisions about their workforce. It helps their employers become People Companies.

Become a people company

People Companies use insights from People Science in everything they do. They use it to design workforce experiences, market themselves to candidates, and understand employees’ behaviour and motivations.

In a People Company, leaders get insight on what drives their workforce through People Science. They use data to develop stronger insights about their people and motivations. This can be used to make more informed evidence-based people decisions – and used for predictive purposes, so that managers can start to make more proactive decisions.

That said, effective People Science initiatives are often easier proposed than implemented. Sage’s own “Becoming A People Company” report found that although 83 percent of HR leaders believe that decisions involving colleagues should incorporate analytics, 92 percent of companies are struggling to gather the insights they need. Only 37 percent are actually using data analytics in the first place, and fewer than half of companies can secure same-day access to metrics such as performance levels, time-to-hire, or flight risks.

So how can your business buck the trend, effectively harnessing People Science to become a People Company?

First, by accepting that People Science is a journey, not an overnight destination, and that each company begins its journey at a different stage. Recognizing where your company is starting its journey is often the most important step; doing so makes it easier to identify the next step, and each step brings you one stage closer to truly using actionable insights to make business decisions.

Know your employees

For example, an effective people management system can be used to help employees learn their duties, receive assignment updates, and accomplish strategic objectives within a customized framework that both workers and management can use to keep track of their performance. By measuring their work against individual goals, organizational objectives, and colleague feedback, employees receive a 360-degree portrait of their strengths and weaknesses, and can adjust their goals and strategies accordingly.

People management teams, meanwhile, can use the insights generated by this information to, say, ensure that employees have reasonable workloads, since unreasonable workloads are the root cause in one third of burnout cases, and notify management of potential issues. By harnessing people science’s predictive capabilities, the people management team can help prevent the employee’s stress from turning into burnout, to the business’s benefit as well as the employee’s – according to one study by Forrester Consulting, adopting Sage People resulted in an ROI of 62 percent over three years.

There’s a reason the old adage advocates for an ounce of prevention over a pound of cure. Just as companies ultimately provide benefits for business reasons – happy employees are productive employees, and it’s more expensive to replace good employees than keep them – the returns for avoiding a burnout-fuelled crisis are far greater than picking up the pieces after. People science presents companies with that much needed ounce of prevention, by giving their people management teams the means to not only help their colleagues set goals, but invest in them every day.

Paul Burrin is Vice President at Sage People. Its cloud HR and people system helps transform mid-sized global businesses into people companies, masters at recruiting, managing and engaging talented employees.

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