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10 Tech Disengagement Warning Signs (and How to Address It)

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    Tech disengagement is a symptom of cognitive overload that turns the software and hardware that should help against us. When it strikes us at work, it triggers a windfall of negative consequences. Read about the top 10 warning signs of tech disengagement and how you can stop them.

    Even if you’re not very familiar with the classic comedy movie Office Space, you’ve probably watched a GIF of Ron Livingston, Ajay Naidu and David Herman pulverizing an unassuming copier.

    As outlandish as the scene seems, it’s a fantasy that percolates in more employees’ minds than you think. In fact, 77% of workers get frustrated by outdated technology at work, according to a 2021 OnePoll survey commissioned by Paycom.

    The phenomenon that our workplace software is against us — tech disengagement — can sour an otherwise great employee experience. And when talent reject their tools, tech disengagement negatively impacts a company’s:

    • culture
    • operations
    • compliance
    • retention

    Let’s examine how tech disengagement works, its 10 most common warning signs and how you can unwind their effects in your organization.

    How does tech disengagement work?

    Tech disengagement occurs when the hardware or software that’s supposed to make our lives easier fails. It’s a symptom of cognitive overload, an issue that rises when the demands placed on our working memory exceed its capacity.

    We can experience tech disengagement when too many tools bombard us or if the software we need to use doesn’t work. Regardless of how we arrive at tech disengagement, it can lead to:

    • misusing our tools as intended
    • developing inefficient, inconsistent and insecure workarounds
    • avoiding certain tasks that rely on our tech outright
    • poisoning the work culture HR seeks to enhance

    Basically, any digital experience employees interact with can trigger tech disengagement. While it might surface differently across industries, it has the power to disrupt any workforce.

    10 warning signs of tech disengagement

    No universal form of tech disengagement exists. Think of it like frustration in general: It’s a familiar feeling, sure, but we all express it differently. Even so, tech disengagement isn’t so inconsistent that you can’t spot it — especially when it goes unchecked and runs rampant.

    Consider these 10 common warning signs to determine if tech disengagement has taken hold of your people.

    1. Employees filling out paper forms

    One clear indication of tech disengagement is employees reverting to the process their workplace software was supposed to streamline. For example, an ancient time-off request form still makes its way to HR despite employees’ access to a time and attendance app.

    While easy enough to spot in isolation, widespread and unnecessary paper use speaks to a systemic issue. Maybe a specific manager has missed too many of their team’s requests due to the tech’s inconsistent notifications, or maybe they intended to approve time off only to not confirm their decision.

    And when it comes to paper forms, it’s never as simple as filling out a document and uploading it to a greater database. Someone — usually HR — has to manually input the document and check it for errors. Without the seamless flow of data from one step to the next, mistakes can and likely will happen.

    2. Incomplete and inaccurate tax documents

    Tech disengagement quickly turns into a legal concern when it forces HR to reconcile physical tax forms. Take something as common as the Form I-9. You may already know that every U.S. employer must complete the documents for their people. But with frequent, uncorrected errors, a business could face penalties of $272 to $2,701 per violation.

    A similar concern could be applied to other routine tax forms that must be accurate, including:

    3. Jokes or complaints about faulty tech

    Faulty projectors, choppy video chats or an employee’s missing address can seem laughable, but it’s not the kind of humor that fosters a friendly environment. Behind the endless jokes and outbursts of frustration lies an issue that taints workplaces.

    You can reasonably suspect a rising wave of tech disengagement if you hear lines like:

    • “Oh, the benefits software didn’t complete my enrollment. Who needs health insurance, anyway?”
    • “Hey, this app finally approved my PTO request — from six months ago.”
    • “I need to log in again to complete my training? You know what. That’s fine. It’s not like I have a job to focus on or anything.”
    • “Yeah, I could dumb my way through this terrible tax software, but the HR people are probably bored. This’ll give them something to do.”

    Tech disengagement is no laughing matter. If a poor digital experience is a consistent punch line in your organization, it’s time for hard-to-use tools to exit stage left.

    4. Increased stress among employees

    Bad or too much tech may seem annoying at first, but it can eventually cascade into something detrimental. Gallup found 44% of employees experience a lot of stress during work. On top of this, a staggering 98% of HR pros have felt burned out in the last six months, according to a Workvivo survey.

    While tech disengagement isn’t the sole source of stress for most employees, frustrating software can compound it. Before you jump to any specific conclusions about the source of your workforce’s concern, take a long, hard look at your tools. After all, they could be what’s routinely harming employees.

    5. Sticky notes with login and password info

    If employees need to consistently rely on sticky notes and pieces of paper to remember their login info, it could mean that an overabundance of tech is actively disengaging them. Even worse, it means sensitive data is regularly out in the open. One misplaced note or an inopportune visit can trigger a breach — further harming the trust employees have in their organization.

    6. Employees refusing to use their tech

    Perhaps one of the most obvious warning signs of tech disengagement is the most direct. If employees don’t use their tools outright, it could mean something about their experience is driving them away. The tech could be difficult to understand or filled with glitches that reset or fail to preserve basic edits like address changes.

    And when employees refuse to use their tech, HR must pick up the slack. Just think about this troubling stat from an study commissioned by Paycom: 1 in 3 HR pros say they enter 80% to 100% of employee data, even though their company uses self-service software.

    Tech disengagement doesn’t just force HR to overcompensate, either. In some cases, the phenomenon can cause organization to fumble (or miss) fundamental processes. At the very least, employees who refuse to use their tech nullify HR automation and set their organizations back years — if not decades.

    7. Influx of questions to HR

    Employees inevitably ask questions, and it’s natural for HR to provide answers. However, when tech disengagement strikes, the department could see an avalanche of basic inquiries.

    Ideally, self-service software helps employees find the answers without consulting HR. But if their tech doesn’t help them find what they need, where else can they turn? Tech disengagement has the power to normalize a spike in basic, time-consuming questions like:

    • “Where can I access my most recent pay stubs?”
    • “How do I submit a time-off request?”
    • “Could you provide me with a copy of my insurance policy number?”
    • “When is my required training due?”

    A new hire could reasonably ask these questions, sure, but they should rarely come from established employees. If they do, it’s likely because their tech isn’t providing the answers.

    8. Company policies not followed

    Imagine you just updated your employee handbook. It includes guidance for a smart-casual dress code, a revised break policy and new security standards. You make a formal announcement, provide employees with instructions about how to access it and then wait.

    Jump ahead a month, and you notice almost nothing has changed. Employees still wear formal business attire, routinely work through their lunch breaks and continue to share passwords through email. It’s as if you never updated the handbook at all.

    And maybe you did waste your time, given your document storage software makes it hard for employees to navigate past the handbook’s cover. If employees are jaded by their tech, it’s unlikely they’ll adhere to any policies you convey with it, even if they would genuinely benefit them.

    9. New hires quitting during the onboarding process

    Tech disengagement isn’t just a problem for current employees. A slow, clunky or otherwise uncomfortable onboarding experience can push talent away before they can even immerse themselves in their role.

    For example, how would you feel if your new company’s HR software couldn’t reliably:

    • retain direct deposit data
    • let you easily add dependents
    • store changes to address and contact info
    • advance through required new-hire training

    For some, it could be enough to revisit other job offers or apply somewhere else entirely.

    10. Negative online reviews about your hiring and onboarding processes

    Frustration doesn’t happen in a vacuum. If your company develops a reputation for deploying hard-to-use tech, current and former employees alike won’t just tolerate it.

    Between sites like Glassdoor, Indeed and LinkedIn, people have no shortage of outlets to share their lackluster work experiences. If you notice a wave of bad reviews consistently attacking your company’s digital tools, tech disengagement could be at a critical level.

    How can businesses address tech disengagement?

    It’s never too late to stop tech disengagement. And no, that doesn’t mean you have to accept it for what it is and find some new way to wow employees. In fact, the answer is likely easier than you think.

    If tech disengagement results from your people feeling overwhelmed, wouldn’t it make sense to remove the unnecessary and consolidate what functions matter to them most? Consider a single software that makes it easy for employees to manage their:

    Meanwhile, HR doesn’t have to overcompensate for a lack of tech use. Since the right tech automates the flow of data from one tool to the next, HR pros can put needless data reentry and long nights at the office to rest.

    Beti®, Paycom’s payroll experience, is a prime example. In a single software, it automatically flags errors, then guides employees to fix them before payroll submission. Beti lets employees know their pay is right, while your company avoids the burn of costly corrections like:

    • direct deposit reversals
    • manual checks
    • general ledger voids
    • rushed wires
    • fees for corrections and adjustments

    Overcoming tech disengagement may seem like a complex puzzle, but remember: Simplicity holds the key.

    Read our white paper to learn more about the effects of cognitive overload, tech disengagement and how to overcome both issues in your workplace.

    DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.