Do Your Employees Tell You How They Really Feel?

Chances are they don’t – even if you invite them to share their thoughts anonymously. There are so many reasons why we filter what we say: compassion, embarrassment, self-preservation, fear, denial. So how can you ever get to the truth of the matter?

How can you know how your employees really feel?

In the wake of Covid-19, leaders are facing their greatest challenge ever. With the old order turned upside down, connecting with employees has never been more important and urgent, yet at the same time, it has never been more difficult. As a responsible manager, who cares about the wellbeing of your team, you need to understand the truth about your employees’ current emotional and mental state, so that you can support them through the coming months and possibly years.

The isolation of home working and uncertainty over job security are manifesting complex feelings for employees that are unlikely to be observed during online video calls. Being deprived of vital human contact and connectivity, we are missing the subtle elements of body language and moods that would previously have flagged problems to us.

Even before the pandemic, workplace stress and mental ill health were far and away the biggest cause of absence from the workplace, in the UK. In 2019/20 work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health and 55% of all days lost due to work-related ill-health, according to the HSE Annual Statistics report, published in Nov 2020. Despite this, organisations have traditionally been poor at spotting problems early on and even worse at introducing proactive, preventative measures. Failing to spot the early warning signs that your employees mental health and stress levels are moving into the red, will mean it’s the devil’s own job to turn that around.

We are likely to be hit by a tsunami of mental health problems as 2021 evolves, making a bad situation even worse.

The traditional way is, of course, to ask employees questions by running a survey and, until now, that has really been the only option available. But there can be real pitfalls to using ‘explicit’ methods to find out how people ‘implicitly’ feel, and here’s why:

Asking people direct questions works well providing the respondent knows the answer and is prepared to – and able to – tell you. But our emotions and feelings are not generated by conscious explicit thought processes; they are complex, automatic and nonconscious reactions that are implicit by definition; we only become consciously aware of our emotions and feelings after they have already formed: we don’t say “I think love” or “I think fear”, we say “I feel love”, and “I feel fear”. 

the nonconscious mind is active every waking moment of our lives… each perception we have, each conclusion we come to, relies on the processing of hundreds of thousands of pieces of nonconscious information.”

Dr. Robert Williams, psychology researcher and lecturer

A study published by Lachman, Lachman & Butterfield: Cognitive Psychology and Information Processing, revealed that our conscious thinking, perceiving, and learning accounts for only a small fraction of our total mental activity, with the rest being entirely nonconscious. 95% or more of everything we do (possibly as much as 99%), is driven by our nonconscious brain, which shapes our personalities, skills, habits, emotions, attitudes and feelings. Traditional questioning will only ever reveal the tip of the emotional iceberg, so the big question is:

How can leaders tap into the nonconscious brain to understand their employees’ real emotions and feelings?

Implicit Reaction Time testing, or IRT, has been used for many years by psychologists and neuroscientists to study the nonconscious part of the brain, commonly known as System 1. The Implicit Reaction Time method uses priming techniques to fire concepts automatically in the individual’s mind and then get that individual to complete an unrelated task very quickly – typically in around 600 milliseconds – and before conscious thought processes kick in. How the individual feels about the prime, will affect their speed of response to the task.

Through working closely with neuroscientists and psychologists, we at Truthsayers®, have developed a unique platform – Neurotech® – that also combines data science, technology and machine learning to harnesses the power of IRT. In simple terms, Neurotech® measures the time it takes for individuals to respond to set tasks and then runs the responses through algorithms. The outcomes allow us to know how strongly or weakly the person feels about the concepts being tested.

Neurotech® combines traditional explicit surveying methods with implicit technology to provide a truly 360° picture, providing the nonconscious, truthful answers that organisations need to really understand how people feel as well as what they say.

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Priming is something that happens every day in our lives and comes in many shapes and forms. Simply asking a question like “what do you think about the payrise?” will automatically fire neurons in the brain relating to how you feel about it. However, that doesn’t mean to say you’ll actually say how you feel. How many of us have been asked by a manager “You do trust me, don’t you?” and answered, “Yes”, when we really felt “No”?

Truthsayers® has already partnered with Aon the world’s largest employee benefits company, one of the Big 4 global business consultancies and a host of other consultancies specialising in the areas of Workplace Stress/Mental Ill health, Diversity, Inclusion and Equality, Organisational Culture, Risk, Health & Wellbeing and Employee Experience and Engagement. Since the beginning of the first UK lockdown, Truthsayers® has surveyed more than 100,000 employees. The insights that companies have received, have fundamentally changed the way they approach their relationship with their employees.

A drastically altered landscape lies before us and fresh thinking is needed if we are to re-build successfully and care for those who are the lifeblood of our organisations. Brave leadership in this new order requires better and more accurate methods of assessing the true state of employees’ mental wellbeing, so don’t wait – the time to act is now, before the great wave hits.

About the author

Andy Dean has built and led companies bringing discoveries in Neuroscience and how the brain works into the commercial world for the last 12 years. He has pioneered the use of commercial reaction time Neuro tools, making these accessible and easy to use for businesses across the globe. The culmination of this is the building of Truthsayers® Neurotech® people analytics platform combining Neuroscience, Psychology, Technology, Data Science and Machine learning which quantitatively compares what people say with how they actually feel, enabling some of the world’s leading organisations to understand employees and customers in ways they’ve never been able to before.

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