Since COVID-19, HR vendors have been increasingly creating tools that attempt to analyze employee behavior. The latest is from HCM vendor Ceridian: its "burnout dashboard" is designed to identify employees who may be disengaging, lacking motivation or souring on the workplace.
The new dashboard utilizes the World Health Organization's classification of burnout as an occupational syndrome. The indicators include depletion of energy or exhaustion, mental distance from one's job, negativity or cynicism about the job, diminished professional efficacy, or a dwindling sense of professional competence.
"Their performance -- either self-perceived or externally perceived -- is low," said Brittany Schmaling, a data analyst at Ceridian, which reported $1.2 billion in revenue last year and is based in Minneapolis.
By aggregating data across its HCM platform, Ceridian evaluates an organization's "work energy," which it defines as how someone shows up for work, such as engaged, disengaged, overextended, ineffective or burned out. Employees who show a high degree of cynicism, for example, may be detaching from their organization or role. A key indicator of burnout is the frequency of sick leave usage. Schmaling said burnt-out employees are 50% to 60% more likely to take a sick day.
Some indicators of burnout include changes in work patterns, such as failing to complete tasks and meet deadlines in as timely of a manner as an employee used to, along with that employee's level of engagement. The tool can also analyze groups or departments to see if there's a pattern of overwork, she said.
"Burnout doesn't just impact your work; you bring that home with you," Schmaling said. She said that helping employees with burnout has implications for improving an employee's life as a whole.
Although the tools used in productivity monitoring or burnout analysis are intended to help employees, they could have the opposite effect, said Ridhi Shetty, a policy counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology's privacy and data project in Washington D.C.
She said burnout tools could penalize underperforming workers rather than support those experiencing work fatigue. It could even put some workers at greater risk of injury if they feel pressure to work faster.
Brittany SchmalingData analyst, Ceridian
These tools may affect manual laborers more than those who work at desks, leading to "disproportionate ramifications for workers who are already marginalized," Shetty said.
Employees should know when these tools are in use, Shetty said, but it's a question of "what kind of notice is sufficient to ensure workers understand what they are being subjected to." And once workers know, "what actions can they take?" she added.
Schmaling said the vendor has discussed the ethics of its burnout dashboard, and it is giving guidance to "help employers think about how to help and do what's best for their employees." It also believes that the employees should be notified of the tool's use.
No national law requires employers to notify employees of monitoring, but some states, notably California, have mandated notification.
Burnout is costly for businesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed the annual cost of burnout in 2015 at more than $226 billion annually.
Risk of employee backlash
Natalie Pierce, chair of law firm Gunderson Dettmer's employment and labor practice, said monitoring tools could be helpful for employers looking at workplace patterns that may, for instance, point to unmanageable workloads. But employers must also consider the risk of employee backlash.
Employers don't want to recruit the best talent only to see them leave because of trust and transparency issues. If employees don't like the use of monitoring tools, employers may ask whether the tool is worth using, she said.
Employers that provide clear, explicit notice to employees about the management tools they are using, as well as how they are protecting privacy, can mitigate the risk, Pierce said.
Phenom People, maker of a talent experience platform based in Ambler, Penn., doesn't have a burnout tracking tool, but it looks at some measures that can indicate fatigue.
For instance, if an employee with a few years of tenure isn't taking advantage of other opportunities in the workplace, such as advancement possibilities, stretch assignments and working on their career path, that could be a sign of low engagement and a reason to follow-up, said Kumar Ananthanarayana, executive director of product management at Phenom People. Another information source is the check-ins between managers and employees.
Ananthanarayana believes more extensive monitoring of employees could hurt morale. But showing employees their growth opportunities, for instance, may "help them be more engaged and reduce that burnout from that perspective."
Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget Editorial. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.