What is employee sentiment analysis and why does it matter?
Est. Read Time: 3 min.
Studies repeatedly show that one of the greatest factors in employee disengagement is employees feeling like they aren’t being given enough opportunities for professional growth and advancement—or enough recognition.
With 85% of employees disengaged at work, now more than ever, it’s vital that HR departments take steps to really understand what their employees are thinking, saying, and feeling. That requires data. And to gather and understand that data, many forward-thinking HR teams are turning to employee surveys with built-in AI tools to analyze the true meaning behind their words.
Whether you call it employee sentiment analysis, opinion mining, or something else entirely, one thing is clear—this approach is more than just a buzzword. In fact, it might just be the answer to the employee engagement problem.
Working in the knowledge economy
Companies have always placed a high value on customer opinion. According to a report from the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR), in 2012 alone, companies around the globe spent almost $40 billion on paid market research. And that number has only gone up in recent years.
“Of this mind-boggling annual spend, an inordinate amount—around $25 billion—is dedicated to online survey administration and analysis,” writes Matt Charney, executive editor at Recruiting Daily, in Sentiment Analysis & the Future of Work. “Gartner [predicts] that companies could spend up to $100 billion a year in market research by 2025.”
While companies are eager to increase spend on customer data, recognizing the return on investment, many still lag behind in applying the same level of structure and resources to their internal programs. But as the stakes become higher and employee turnover rates climb, it’s increasingly clear that performance reviews and annual surveys aren’t enough to get a true pulse on your organization anymore.
“In the knowledge economy, data is both the fundamental currency and the single most valuable asset for pretty much every business and brand out there,” says Charney. “HR needs to realize what marketing has long known: people data represents the most significant driver of your brand, your business, and your bottom line.”
Defining employee sentiment analysis
With businesses starting to recognize the importance of gathering and analyzing employee data on a regular basis, you might have heard the term “employee sentiment analysis” getting thrown around a lot lately. But what exactly is it?
Simply put, sentiment analysis is an approach that involves gathering large volumes of opinions and feedback to capture, quantify, and measure brand perceptions. In the case of employee sentiment, this relates to the way an organization is run and how workers feel about it. Feedback can be collected through both standardized and open-ended surveys and is often used to monitor these perceptions over time.
“Sentiment analysis is more than knowing how employees feel or what they’re saying about you when they talk about your brand in public,” explains Charney. “Sentiment analysis requires a systemic strategy for mining opinions en masse as unobtrusively as possible while transforming that data into actionable insights and aligning it with business outcomes.”
It’s simple in theory, but there can be obstacles to collecting and making sense of all this data. For one thing, many companies have blind spots that leave them unaware of certain issues. The unfortunate truth is, employees may feel uncomfortable being completely honest with HR, even if their feedback is anonymous. This can leave companies unwittingly working from incomplete or inaccurate data sets.
One way to minimize the effects of this issue is to disregard data sets that are too small to yield meaningful results. Surveying only a representative sample of employees won’t tell you what the bulk of your workforce is thinking, even if the survey size is technically statistically valid. People are more complex than that—they’re not just numbers on a page. In order to gauge what the overwhelming sentiment of your workforce is, you need to hear from your workforce as a whole—and frequently.
Obviously, this is no small feat, especially if your company is exceptionally large or your HR team particularly small. Even if you do have the time and resources to gather and review data from hundreds or even thousands of employees, how can you be sure your analysis is accurate?
That’s where AI comes in.
Introducing sentiment analysis technology
To collect employee sentiment data at scale, many companies are turning to employee sentiment analysis software that’s powered by AI and machine learning. This technology allows them to quickly and easily send out open-ended surveys that let employees answer in their own words. From there, natural language processing (NLP) tools can rapidly review every answer, analyzing the sentiment behind the words and providing a detailed report to HR and managers.
While this technology provides HR with many sophisticated solutions, it’s not a complete replacement for face-to-face communication. It may still struggle to interpret things like sarcasm, jargon, and qualified statements, and complex mixed opinions (which humans often have) are hard for it to understand. But the beauty of machine learning is that the tools grow smarter the more information you feed them.
“The more time and data any NLP-based machine learning instance has to work with, the better its results are going to be,” explains Charney, “so in this case, early adopters actually have an advantage over laggards.”
Practice makes perfect. But that doesn’t mean these tools aren’t useful in the meantime—if they’re used correctly.
Become part of the conversation
Far from replacing human insight, employee sentiment analysis software is designed to complement it. These tools take care of the more time-consuming aspects of data analysis while providing HR teams with deeper insights that they might otherwise have missed. That means HR is never going to become obsolete—it’s only going to get smarter.
Don’t guess what employees are feeling—measure it. Learn more about employee sentiment analysis software.