Using Emojis To Monitor Emotional Well-being In A Remote Work Environment
One of the main challenges to emerge during the Covid-19 pandemic has been to onboard new hires, as the remote working environment that has dominated in so many workplaces made it difficult both to make the connections that are so important to success and also to understand the culture of a workplace.
What’s more, data from Hostelworld’s Work From Anywhere survey found that around 50% of employers had introduced new remote and flexible working policies in a bid to attract and retain the best talent. With nearly all respondents favoring at most a hybrid work style, the results suggest that remote working is something managers will have to get to grips with.
A key facet of this changing managerial landscape is the need, and ability, to gauge the emotional well-being of employees. For instance, OC Tanner’s Global Culture Report reveals that burnout levels have risen by 15% as a result of the pandemic.
Indeed, the survey of 40,000 employees from around the world revealed that in the most toxic cultures, burnout is as high as 81%. The severity of burnout was underlined in 2019 after it was classified as an occupational disease by the World Health Organization, and the implications of it for employers is considerable.
For instance, the report found that people suffering from burnout not only take far more days off than normal to avoid the pain of work, but when they are at work they’re so filled with dread that they significantly underperform. What’s more, in a worrying sense of foreboding of the “Great Resignation” that has gripped the labor market in recent months, nearly half of respondents said that they had nothing more to give to their job.
“Workers have been dealing with the immense emotional, social and financial challenges brought about by the Coronavirus fallout, and so many will be suffering from anxiety at best and severe burnout at worst,” the company says.
Traditionally, managers might be able to gauge the emotional state of their team simply by spending time with them in a face-to-face environment, but virtually this is much harder to do. They can’t see people’s body language or whether they exhibit bursts of anger or laughter. Video calls are often a poor substitute as we behave in a stilted way when on camera.
Research from the University of Michigan ponders whether emoticons might help. The researchers set out to develop a strategy that could not only help them to better monitor the emotional well-being of teams but also to better predict their behavior at work.
To help them, they monitored the use of emojis in online communication to act as a proxy for the emotions of employees, with the emoji use then enabling them to accurately predict the dropout of remote workers.
Obviously, in a remote-working environment, it’s very difficult to pick up on the kind of emotional clues that can be intuitive in a face-to-face setting. Even video calls are no real substitute as evidence suggests that we spend most of the time on video calls looking at ourselves rather than our companions.
As such, the Michigan researchers were looking at what nonverbal cues might be available within online communication to better allow us to communicate our own emotional health and interpret that of our colleagues. They gathered data from GitHub’s remote worker communications, which contained information from millions of posts made on the platform.
They then used machine learning to track how emojis were being used in any conversations teams were having about work assignments, with the system then trained to predict when developers might be about to drop off of a project.
The data revealed that around 5% of posts on GitHub contained an emoji of some kind. It also emerged that some emojis were clearly used more frequently than others. What’s more, the type of emoji used differed depending on whether the communication was work-related or non-work related.
Obviously, people use emojis for very different purposes, so the team then attempted to assign a sentiment score to each emoji. For instance, a smiley face was given more weight than a checkmark emoji. The analysis found that people who regularly use emojis to signify emotions would have better emotional health, regardless of whether the emojis they used were positive or negative. This then translated into higher engagement and less likelihood that the developer would leave the project or the platform.
Indeed, so strong was this link that the researchers were able to predict the risk of developers leaving with 75% accuracy.
“You can make fairly accurate predictions of whether people will drop out just based on how they use these pictographs,” they explain. “You don’t even need to look at their work productivity or the actual words they say—just look at how they use emoji.”
If remote working is to be a feature of our working environment more and more in the years ahead, then it’s vital that managers develop their ability to understand the emotional well-being of their team. The research suggests that emojis may be a valuable tool in that quest.
“If you can track the emotions of your employees or your co-workers by how they use emoji, then you can identify early signals that they may be experiencing mental problems like burnout,” the authors conclude.
This content was originally published here.