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Taking on 2020: Four technologies to help employees weather tough times

Digital assistants and other tech help employees cope with pandemic-fueled stress.

By Barbara Darrow | October 2020


Taking on 2020: Four technologies to help employees weather tough times

By near universal proclamation, 2020 has been the worst year in not-so-recent memory. The COVID-19 pandemic and the damage it has inflicted to our emotional, physical, and fiscal health continues to reverberate nine months after the United States declared a public health emergency.

In that time, companies have laid off or furloughed millions of workers while also trying to minimize the stress on the employees who remain. Obviously, human resources professionals have a big role to play here.

“The pandemic has pushed HR leaders to the front lines, and one of the biggest issues they're dealing with right now is helping employees with mental health at work,” said Emily He, senior vice president of Oracle’s Human Capital Management Cloud Business Group.

“Our Oracle Cloud HCM suite can help them navigate this new challenge by providing powerful tools that give employees access to relevant health resources, keep them engaged and positive, and help maintain productivity in this new world of work.”

Below is a short list of tools that help businesses better manage the anxiety COVID-19 has wrought and, once conditions improve, ease the transition of furloughed employees back into the workforce.

Digital Assistant: Oracle Digital Assistant for HCM gives employees an easy way to ask questions about benefits that support their own physical and mental health. The questions can be conveyed via Slack, SMS, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, or WhatsApp, or can be spoken in natural language. The Digital Assistant then directs them to the best resources or contact.

Increasingly, talking with a robot—or bot—has become an effective way for employees to communicate. Recent research found that 68% of the more than 12,300 people surveyed actually prefer talking to a robot than their manager about work-related stress. Additionally, an impressive 80% of respondents said they were “open” to using a robot for therapy or counseling in dealing with anxiety. A robot was defined as an AI-powered therapist or chatbot counselor.

 

“The pandemic has pushed HR leaders to the front lines, and one of the biggest issues they're dealing with right now is helping employees with mental health at work.”

Emily He, Senior Vice President, Oracle Human Capital Management Cloud

Oracle Journeys: Employees who have not requested mental health benefits before may not be familiar with the internal systems and processes they need to use to access services. In today’s context, the Journeys feature, new with the Oracle HCM Fall Product Update, can help them navigate their employee assistance program to find the right physical or mental health options for their needs.

Journeys can also ease the re-entry of furloughed employees to the workforce by guiding them through safety, compliance, or other training needed.

More generally, Journeys can walk new hires through requisitioning a computer, setting up 401k or other benefits, fill in expense reports, and plan maternity leave.

Oracle Connections: One lasting impact of the pandemic is that companies have embraced remote work. Now, most of the workforce will be much more spread out than in the past. The good news is that it allows employees flexibility and increases productivity. The bad news: employees can feel more isolated and disconnected from their peers and managers. That takes its toll on individual employees and the corporate culture at large.

Connections, another Oracle HCM feature, lets all employees easily create and send introductory videos of themselves to colleagues around the company ensuring that people can get to know each other better.

Oracle’s He likens Connections to a Facebook profile for corporate use. It was designed to be nonhierarchical—any employee can share video with anyone else in the organization, “democratizing” communications. From a mental health perspective, Connections can open up opportunities at the company so people do not feel isolated or stuck.

80% of respondents say they are “open” to using a robot for therapy or counseling.


Workplace Health and Safety: This Oracle HCM module can automate the process of reporting COVID-19 infections among employees, ensuring that affected areas have been cleaned and that there are enough supplies to do so properly. It can be configured to align with local requirements allowing management to know when and how to notify public health authorities, and that those incidents are properly followed up.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that companies and individuals alike are better off if they build resiliency into their everyday structures and processes.

For companies, that means providing tools needed to foster good collaboration and services that are easily accessible. For individual employees, that means taking advantage of those tools and services to ease stress and anxiety.

This pandemic will not last forever, but there will always be a new challenge to meet down the road. And there is no downside in being prepared.

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Illustration: Wes Rowell

Barbara Darrow

Barbara Darrow is senior director of communications for Oracle. She spent 30 years as a reporter writing about technology and the business of technology most recently at Fortune magazine and GigaOm.