How can we improve employee wellbeing in the public sector with technology?
The past decade has seen awareness of employee wellbeing increase dramatically. This is a good thing – people are an organisation’s most important asset, and those that cannot recruit or retain will suffer. Still, while the situation is improving, our work to improve it is far from over.
This is especially true in the case of the public sector, which faces major wellbeing challenges often stemming from its size and breadth. Fortunately, there are technological tools we can use to help remedy.
The public sector faces many structural challenges
The unfortunate reality is that there is a large gap between our appreciation of the work the public sector does, and the investment we make in ensuring they have the wellbeing support necessary to do that job well. All us of appreciate the work done by our key workers, but the size of the public sector means the needs of individuals are often lost in the noise.
First, we must understand the sheer scale of the public sector. In almost every country in the world, the public sector employs vast swathes of the workforce – for instance, the UK’s NHS is not just the UK’s largest employer, but the fifth largest employer in the world. Scale alone would make it an extraordinarily diverse and challenging work environment, but the public sector is also home to many of the most hazardous occupations as well.
Police, firefighters and soldiers immediately come to mind, but healthcare workers, as was highlighted by the pandemic, also work in high-risk environments – to say nothing of the immense mental and physical pressure they are under. All of this takes a toll on the well-being of individuals, but today there are simply not enough reliable channels for those individuals to raise concerns.
We all recognize that there are resources shortfalls in these keys areas and amongst many other essential workers both in the public and private sector. Being proactive in wellbeing may well help address the problem of retaining these key people to avoid it getting any worse.
Data-led technologies can be a big part of the solution
Fortunately, we have many technological tools that we can use to help solve this problem. One of the challenges individuals face in raising concerns is identifying the right channels to raise wellbeing concerns before they become significant. So, we must be able to get information together at the right time and the right place so that the right decisions can be made – something anyone who is involved in the public sector will appreciate is often the greatest logistical challenge of all.
Here, we can use technological tools like digital employee surveys to quickly test sentiment and wellbeing, identify pain points, and give employees an opportunity to raise issues before they become debilitating. In this case, the scale of the public sector can actually become a boon. Once we’ve collected data on employee wellbeing, we can use data analytics to identify trends and potentially even predict future problems.
Of course, technology is just one side of the equation. We should combine this with more efficient HR processes like a subtle, open capability for people to share their stresses in a secure manner, as well as signposts for workers to reach out to their line managers and receive the correct service, advice, and support.
Technology is no magic wand – but it can help us tackle pressing issues
Technology can’t solve all our problems, but it’s an enabler – by applying technological tools we can reinforce the other, more ‘human’ work that goes into maintaining employee wellbeing, like therapy and designing healthy work processes.
When it comes to employee wellbeing in the public sector, it’s not a question of a lack of appreciation of workers – but simply not giving employees the right tools. And if we can’t recruit or retain the right people for those essential roles because of the nature of their job, and a lack of support, then we will all suffer.