Article: On the neuroscience behind a great employee experience: Oracle’s Shaakun Khanna

Talent Management

On the neuroscience behind a great employee experience: Oracle’s Shaakun Khanna

In an interview with People Matters, Shaakun Khanna argues that catering to employees’ emotional quotient and keeping them informed about key developments and strategies make them feel more aligned with a business.
On the neuroscience behind a great employee experience: Oracle’s Shaakun Khanna


The future of work is still evolving. And companies are experimenting with different ways of engaging and improving their employee experience strategy. While technology has been central in the emerging hybrid world, companies must map how employee priorities and needs are shifting. In this exclusive interview, Shaakun Khanna, Head of Human Capital Management Applications, Asia Pacific, Oracle Corporation, speaks about the six emotions that play a primary role in employees’ assessment of their workplace experience.

1) You’ve been interested in the evolving theme of the interdependence of technology and psychology, particularly neuroscience. Why is it important to design, execute and strategise employee experience in these terms?

Though we are aware of the fact that neuroscience as a scientific concept and employees are entirely different subjects, and it is difficult to build a connection between both of them, it is extremely important to acknowledge that we, as human beings, do not operate beyond our nervous system. Whenever we talk about an experience or an interaction, whether it is driven by technology, a human being, or an external stimulus, our nervous system invokes chemical reactions. Certain endorphins get released and define our behaviour, feeling, and thinking at that specific time. Therefore, neuroscience is a fundamental factor to consider. This also indicates unpleasant experiences that trigger a non-productive behaviour of a human.

Over the last few years, especially post-pandemic, we have seen a number of discussions around depression, especially at work, that's nothing but a neurological reaction to a particular situation for a prolonged period of time. Keeping this people’s change in behaviour, we have identified six critical domains of professional working. This can be looked at as six emotions that play a primary role in employees’ assessment of their workplace experience, which are Emotions of Being heard, Being connected, Being able, Being empowered, Being involved, and Being unique. It's our nervous system that invokes the right or wrong kind of endorphins, creating a good or a bad employee experience. Therefore neuroscience, technology and employee experience are important aspects to consider and understand well to design and strategise a good employee experience at a company.

2)    We’re at an uncertain time in the global economy, with companies instituting hiring freezes and even, in some cases firing employees. You’ve spoken at TechHR 2022 on the importance of keeping employees informed and empowered; how can companies do that effectively now? 

If we look deeper, with employee priorities shifting and this categorical transformation gradually changing the relationship between an employer and an employee, there is a gap that is widening inch by inch every day. And the fundamental problem in the human aspect of the workplace is to do with the required levels of emotional resilience or emotional quotient of employees. This is where the role of an effective leader comes into play where he/she can listen and address that through effective workplace policies and also implement the right technology to balance employees’ emotional quotient. 

These days many businesses are focusing on empowering employees by providing an experience that caters to their emotional quotient and keeps them informed of all the key developments and strategies that make them feel more aligned with a business. Several companies are already addressing these issues by improving employee skill sets, providing freedom of work, ensuring mental wellness, allowing them enough space to maintain a work-life balance, undertaking employee initiatives, and creating engagement platforms, among others. Organisations are enabling these transitions with the role of technology itself, and that’s where solutions providers like Oracle come into play. HR technology plays a critical role here in supporting HR leaders and in making informed decisions. With cloud-native applications and embedded capabilities like AI, ML and Data Analytics, CHROs can get a comprehensive and holistic view of their entire workforce and make strategic decisions based on data-led insights. In a nutshell, the key is to identify the gaps and deploy appropriate solutions to manage the talent force and create a positive & healthy environment for employees. 

3)    Even as companies experiment with offline collaboration and navigate different modes of hybrid work, what’s the role of technology in ensuring that there’s hyper-personalisation to treat every employee uniquely? 

Among different key aspects of delivering the desired employee experience, technology plays the most pivotal role. Earlier, technology was more of a slave to mankind, but now we as humans are becoming slaves to technology as it takes a role of a decision-maker. At present, technology plays a critical role in helping employees overcome their lack of emotional resilience. This lack of emotional resilience can manifest in different factors, which could result in workplace stress, depression, and all sorts of undesirable work for workplace behaviours and with every employee individually.  

Technology is all about building a platform that empowers and treats each and every employee uniquely. Companies are taking initiatives to address growing problems related to employee resilience. Whereas AI has also enabled a change between employees and technology at work, which is strengthening the role HR teams and managers are playing in a big way in terms of attracting, retaining, and developing talent. AI is also assisting HR teams in analysing traits based on data-backed insights about reasons for employees' exits.

4)    When you look at the power of emotions and their impact on the workplace. What is your advice to leaders and managers who are leveraging technology extensively?

It is true to accept the fact that technology has taken a centre seat at workplaces today, but it is also important to understand that employee experience cannot be directly associated with only the organisation’s technological capabilities only. Digital infrastructure does add to the overall employee experience, whether in the right direction or the wrong direction. We need to keep technological capabilities and employee experience as two subjects. If my HR system is not working with full efficacy while I'm working from home, there is a possibility of feeling like not being able to perform, and then my frustration is about my inability, and not necessarily the technology, and that is creating that kind of emotional impact. 

Similarly, it's important for every manager and supervisor to look at their employee’s experience as a set of human experiences that invoke different kinds of emotions, and technology-driven emotions are just one of them. On the other side, we as individuals are spending a lot of time surrounded by the digital ecosystem, not just as an employee but as a customer too. This leads to a subconscious comparison between various digital experiences that we have as a customer and as an employee. Today, it is important for organisations and business managers to acknowledge the customer side of these experiences is far superior to the employee side of experiences, and this type of difference creates dissatisfaction. It's not just about HR experience; it's about the total back-office experience. Usually, more interactions with us occur as a customer, but our time spent is more as an employee. Hence, for organisations leveraging technology in the workplace, it is important to provide a good experience in terms of technological interaction. Leaders should realise that if our back office experience is not good, then we are creating bad emotions more often than good emotions, which is not an ideal outcome. 

5). What are some of the exciting new trends that are going to reshape how technology is going to be useful in the future?

The work dynamics are changing steadily, and with this, new working models driven and supported by technology are emerging. However, the new way of working in the post-pandemic era has altered employee expectations. The meaning of success has evolved for them, work-life balance has become central, and more and more people are seeking the ‘right feelings’ at the workplace. We can see Analytics as another trend, crucial in presenting insight into work behaviours, employee interests, the propensity to volunteer, etc. 

While talking about sectoral shifts, healthcare is one of the sectors witnessing numerous workforce-related challenges in attracting skilled talent, managing complex scheduling structures and employee growth. Healthcare organisations need technology-driven solutions to streamline these internal processes, and they will be more inclined to invest in them. To support front-line workers, Oracle has recently introduced specialised HR solutions for the healthcare industry as part of Oracle Fusion Cloud Human Capital Management (HCM) at the Oracle CloudWorld (OCW) event. 

Furthermore, on the recruitment and talent front many organisations are struggling to scout for appropriate talent. They would need more support from Assessment technology and Big Data Analytics to select the right talent. At OCW, Oracle has also introduced a new talent acquisition solution, Oracle Recruitment Booster, which has built-in consumer-grade capabilities and can attract the right kind of talent just like any commercial. It can be implemented to set up an internal talent marketplace for our customers to help increase their hiring base. 

Lastly, digital skill development is becoming an important aspect of business and CHROs discussions. Since employees today want to develop their professional careers, achieve new skill sets, and build meaningful connections. Therefore, digital skilling will continue to be the topmost priority for companies, and they will invest more in learning programs and workshops. 

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Topics: Talent Management, HR Technology

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