Artificial Intelligence

Is your company using AI to monitor you while you work?

A report from CNBC explains how companies including Starbucks, Walmart, Delta Air Lines and more are using AI to track employee interactions.

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In the wake of recent technological advancements in artificial intelligence, the traditional workplace is undergoing a transformation in ways some might not expect. And some major companies are now employing AI to monitor employee interactions while they work. 

According to a report from CNBC, U.S. companies including Starbucks, Walmart, Nestle, T-Mobile, Chevron and Delta Air Lines, as well as European employers AstraZeneca and Nestlé, are using the startup AI data platform Aware to track employee messages on popular workplace apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and more. Aware CEO Jeff Schumann told the outlet that companies are using his platform to "understand the risk within their communications," by monitoring employee interactions and company morale in real time and bypassing those annual surveys.

"It's always tracking real-time employee sentiment, and it's always tracking real-time toxicity," Schumann told CNBC. "If you were a bank using Aware and the sentiment of the workforce spiked in the last 20 minutes, it's because they're talking about something positively, collectively. The technology would be able to tell them whatever it was."

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Aware confirmed to the outlet that it has collected over 6 billion messages that represent some 20 billion interactions from more than 3 million employees working at large companies. But Schumann estimates that about 80% of Aware customers use the platform for governance and compliance, to help reduce the risks associated with employee interactions.  

A representative from AstraZeneca told CNBC that the pharmaceutical giant doesn't use Aware to track employee sentiment or toxicity. Meanwhile, Delta said it uses the platform's analytics to gather feedback from employees and stakeholders as a way to monitor trends and emotions. CNBC said it didn't receive a response from any of the other companies previously mentioned regarding their use of Aware. 

Schumann added that Aware's revenue has spiked over the past five years by 150% per year on average, and most of its customers have roughly 30,000 employees. However, he noted that his company's AI models are simply making it easier to identify potential risks or policy violations and aren't involved in the decision-making process. 

"When the model flags an interaction, it provides full context around what happened and what policy is triggered," he told CNBC, "giving investigation teams the information they need to decide next steps consistent with company policies and the law." 

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Nonetheless, a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that 32% of employees who are monitored by their employer during the workday reported their mental health as being "poor" or "fair," compared to just 24% who aren't being monitored. Dr. Tara Behrend is a professor of human resources and labor relations at Michigan State University and she said many of these companies are making the mistake of implementing new technologies like Aware to manage remote workers. 

"It's a mistake because the tools aren't measuring what's really important — all the ways a worker is contributing to the organization and generating value," she said. "Our data has clearly shown that these productivity monitoring tools do not lead to better performance. They are counterproductive for the organizations that use them."