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How to find out what employees really think

Mark Rowh | Nov. 10, 2011
In the past few years, savvy companies have been using text analytics software to analyze positive and negative phrases appearing in social media and other electronic posts to figure out what customers think about their products, service and policies.

In the past few years, savvy companies have been using text analytics software to analyze positive and negative phrases appearing in social media and other electronic posts to figure out what customers think about their products, service and policies. For example, firms in the travel industry can monitor comments posted on websites for users' opinions about hotel properties, or perhaps about specific features such as housekeeping or food service.

Less well-known but a growing reality is the use of this "sentiment analysis" technology by companies to gather information about their own employees. Vendors of text analytic software confirm that clients are now using these tools to gauge employee sentiment, although users aren't yet willing to talk publicly about internal applications.

Why are companies venturing into this area, which at first blush might seem fraught with privacy concerns?

Reasons for mining employee communications vary. One of the most basic is dealing with litigation. In a court case where thousands or even millions of emails must be combed for threads of information, the power of analytic software can help make an onerous task less burdensome. Offering greater promise may be more broad-based applications such as mining emails, intranets, surveys, internal portals and performance review systems to gain a clearer picture of employee sentiment and engagement. ( Employee engagement is the extent to which an employee is enthusiastic about his or her work and committed to furthering the organization's goals.)

"Any textual form of expression can be analyzed," says Elizabeth Charnock, CEO of Cataphora, a Menlo Park, Calif., firm providing analytics software, "including public forums like Yahoo Finance."

For instance, a routine review of emails might reveal that among staff assigned to a specific project, the number of negative words or phrases has increased significantly over a three-week period. That might alert managers to revisit the project's status and spend more time communicating with key staff and addressing their concerns.

Gauging Employee Satisfaction

If used judiciously, this kind of analysis may provide a more effective tool for assessing key factors such as job satisfaction than internal surveys or other traditional methods. In mining unstructured data, HR leaders and management teams can obtain insights on the degree to which employees are engaged. By gaining a clearer picture of employee sentiment, companies may identify areas where employees are dissatisfied and design strategies for enhancing engagement and in turn, improving productivity, employee retention and customer service.

Clarabridge, a Reston, Va.-based provider of text analytics software, notes in a white paper that the happier employees are in their jobs, the more likely they are to engage positively with management, peers and customers.

 

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