People Leadership

Using Employee Sentiment Analysis in Performance Management

January 4, 2024

What is employee sentiment analysis? 

Humans aren’t machines. We can’t maintain the same productivity every hour of every day. We have good days and bad days, and this variance just means we all have an average amount of good work we can do in a given workday, but most days we’ll do a little better or a little worse than that average. For employers, it’d be nice to figure out not just the general trend—what a reasonable expectation is for a random day—but how much an employee can handle on a specific day. Sentiment analysis is an important piece of this puzzle. 

Sentiment analysis involves a simple survey employees answer about how they feel in that moment. These surveys usually involve a handful of questions about broad qualities like productivity, wellbeing, and energy, and employers typically collect the information daily. This simple information helps establish a granular picture of your workforce’s attitude on a given day, which influences how they’ll perform and interact. 

At one extremity, employers can use sentiment analysis to assign work with pinpoint efficacy, giving challenging tasks to employees who feel more confident and energized, while providing more routine but essential work to someone who’s struggling. Sentiment scores over time also provide valuable information on trends, helping employers identify seasonal shifts in mood, correlations between projects and attitudes, absences, and doldrums, and so on. Using these scores as basic data for more detailed discussions about performance helps you establish a common framework with employees, which makes such discussions more productive and effective. 

How to plan a sentiment analysis project 

Applying a high level of professionalism and attention to detail in these analyses is critical. A half-hearted or superficial approach can lead to costly mistakes. To prevent those mistakes, we’ve outlined a few common dos and don’ts to improve performance that can help you prepare for any employee sentiment surveys or projects you may have planned. 

There are many ways to encourage meaningful results from any sentiment analysis program, but simplicity and communication are the most significant. Simplicity in this case largely means standardizing survey content and automating its delivery and collection. The other aspect, communication, means helping employees understand why you want them to complete these tasks, and how you will use the results moving forward. Using a structured approach, a simple Change Communication Form and a Communication of New Policy Memo helps to organize the new information you’ll provide employees and help formalize the survey rollout. Consistent and clear communication matters because any new process or policy requires employees to understand it if it’s to succeed. 

If employees don’t know why you want them to complete employee sentiment surveys, they might give incomplete or misleading answers out of concern about how an honest response might be used against them. If an employee says they have low energy or feel terrible, will that become fuel for a disciplinary action? No employee wants to get in trouble, so if they don’t know how honest answers will be used, they’ll just provide the safest answer—whatever they think you want to hear. Clarifying what you’ll do with the information once you have it can ease employee fears and encourages the trust and psychological safety necessary to foster an open and honest culture. 

To see exactly how communication forms and our Performance Management tool can help your employee sentiment initiatives, book a free demonstration with our experts at a time that’s convenient for you. 

How to measure employee sentiment 

Finding meaning in sentiment analysis takes time. You’re looking for changes in trends more than for specific values, and trends need large sample sizes to develop. An employee who consistently reports their wellbeing as “neutral” with occasional fluctuations isn’t likely of concern, but one who usually reports positively abruptly changing to a persistent negative sentiment probably is. Assigning mental health training to leaders and supervisors can help them develop the skills to address the information they get from sentiment surveys. From immersive training scenarios to efficient fact-based presentations, our different training formats give you the option to support your workforce’s development the way they learn best. You can request a free training demo to learn more about how HRdownloads can help. Wellbeing and its effect on employee behaviour are important dimensions of mental health, and having more information about an employee’s state can help you provide better support. 

Comprehension is the key, though: for an employee, providing information about their flagging energy or poor wellbeing is a way of signalling to you that they need help. But help with what? Changes in energy, productivity, or wellbeing could relate to a chronic mental health issue needing accommodation, or could relate to an acute issue needing a less formal response, such as lack of support on a project. If an employee reports a sudden (and especially drastic) hit to their sentiment scores, they’re expecting you to act on that information. What should that action be? That depends on the employee and the circumstances behind the change in sentiment, so don’t make assumptions. Take the time to find the meaning behind the change by consulting with that employee. 

Not all changes are necessarily bad, either, and if an employee’s scores suddenly improve, you should investigate that, too. In these positive cases, your investigation should be about how you might replicate the success, or even just acknowledge and celebrate it. Employees might be less candid if you only respond to problems, so don’t neglect the high points. Again, though, don’t make assumptions. Open a dialogue with the employee and take their input seriously. 

Common mistakes in sentiment analysis 

It’s tempting to want performance management tools like sentiment scores to provide instant results, but acting hastily on the information received can lead to unintentional outcomes. The level of granular detail from individual surveys is good for identifying opportunities for early intervention, but that cuts both ways, and taking action may make employees feel singled out or micromanaged. Don’t overreact and don’t overcorrect. The point of sentiment analysis systems is to help employees volunteer information they think you need; the data should help open a conversation, not lead you to a swift conclusion. Performance management best practices can help guide leaders through the kinds of conversations they should have about performance. Implementing an Open Door Policy is a good way to remind employees that they have a meaningful voice. Effective performance management is collaborative and involves a dialogue among all parties. 

This kind of open dialogue is important, too, because performance management is not the only domain where sentiment scores are useful. Employees who report poor wellbeing or energy or who struggle to meet goals might be dealing with an issue requiring accommodation. Follow your Accommodation Policy in these conversations, and avoid assumptions. The more dogmatic your response, the less honest employees will be; the less honest they are, the less useful their responses and sentiment scores become. If you’re looking for details on an employer’s duty to accommodate, check out our Ultimate Guide to HR and Compliance in Canada for more information. 

Sentiment scores and performance management 

There’s no magic lens to read the hearts and minds of other people, but sentiment analysis can still clarify important information about your workforce. As part of a holistic performance management suite, sentiment analysis offers granular insight into employee moods and attitudes, along with broader trends you can correlate to overall performance. When you recognize that sentiment scores are only a part of effective performance management, you’re better positioned to make the most of their power. 

If you’re struggling to measure employee sentiment effectively or lack the time needed to develop the detailed communication forms or policy documents discussed above, request a free live demonstration of our services with one of our HR experts at a time that’s convenient for you.