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Survey Says: the Employees Are Not Okay

The employees are not okay.

At least, that's one of the takeaways from HR Acuity's Eighth Annual Employee Relations Benchmark Study. The technology platform released the results of last week, after surveying more than 250 organizations representing over 8.7 million employees globally, including nearly twenty percent of Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies. 

How not-okay are workers? Not-okay enough. Employee relations cases (ER) which require intervention from HR professionals have surged to all-time highs. Comparing the 2023 numbers to the 2022 shows a workforce that's struggling:

  • Performance issues (such as PIPs) increased from 40.1 cases per every 1000 employees to 43.6 cases, an 8.6% increase.
  • Policy violations (such as potential or actual violations or infractions of company policies including code of conduct, inappropriate use of social media, or substance abuse) rose from 35.9 to 48.3, a 34.5% increase.
  • Behavioral issues (such as issues or allegations related to unprofessional conduct, inappropriate behavior, bullying, insubordination, and conflicts between co-workers) shot up from 22.4 cases per 1000 employees to 30.7 cases, a 37% increase
  • Finally, discrimination, harassment or retaliation allegations climbed from 8.1 to 11.9, a 47% increase. As the report authors note, "Discrimination allegations soared to unprecedented levels, eclipsing the previous record set during the 2018 #MeToo movement."

So what's driving this upswell in workers' disruptive behavior issues? Seventy percent of organizations surveyed cited mental health challenges as the driving factor behind the rise in these HR cases.

An HR technology platform conducted the research, so it's understandable that there's a focus on the efficacy of data in detecting workplace issue trends and taking measures to reduce or eliminate these problems. One of the areas in which data can help the most is in substantiating the existence of the issue and what steps were taken to mitigate it.

As the report notes, "Lack of visibility into investigation outcomes not only obscures potential hot spots and problem areas, but also hampers our ability to identify trends, recommend follow-up actions and implement preventative measures."

Across six types of issue categories -- policy violations, behavioral issues, retaliation, sexual harassment allegations, non-sexual harassment allegations and discrimination -- a majority of survey respondents reported that most cases had no substantiations to support the case. (When cases are substantiated, it is most often done on the basis of legal definitions or policies.)

When reporting on employee experience technology, there's often an emphasis on how employee experience platforms can enhance engagement and productivity, and employee wellbeing is framed in self-care contexts like taking a walk or deep breathing. But as this survey shows, employee experience platforms and HR platforms can also look at the unwellness side of employee wellbeing -- and perhaps find ways to intervene for the sake of both the employee and the organization.