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Why The Culture Apps Aren’t Working - Liberty Mind

Why The Culture Apps Aren’t Working

Why The Culture Apps Aren’t Working

Since I started Liberty Mind I have been approached by many ‘employee engagement’ and ‘wellbeing apps’ who all want to offer me a slice of commission to pass on their shiny new app to my clients. 

But to this day I still refuse to be incentivised by any app company. Why?

Well, this is exactly why I’ve written this blog, because there are so many reasons, that in my opinion, the apps aren’t working.

Whether it’s a ‘pulse app’, a ‘survey’ or an ‘employee app’; it doesn’t matter under what context it has been created – I still see the biggest flaws in all of them. 

To give you some clarity on what I’m covering in this blog, I’m talking about both apps in the sense of digital apps on smartphones, and the traditional employee engagement web-based applications that have become prevalent in the world of culture. 

So before you part with your money, or believe that an app will fix all your culture problems, here are the things I want you to consider before you commit your business and your team to the journey. 

Everyone is Over Apps

I know that’s a sweeping statement, but I first want to draw your attention to the fact that apps don’t work for everyone. 

Even myself, who is as digitally and tech-savvy as millennials come; can’t stand apps. I’m a pen to paper kind of person, and to this day continue to use journals and notepads. 

Don’t get me wrong, technology has its place. But I believe in using it to enhance my productivity and efficiency, rather than replace methods that I find cathartic in my personal-development. 

What I’ve found when I’ve tried to use an app is that I just end up getting completely distracted by all the other notifications on my phone, or being drawn into unconscious social media scrolling. The temptation is too easy, and for me, my smartphone is more of a distraction than it is a helpful tool when it comes to my personal productivity. 

Of course, as a society, we love an app. As the saying goes, no matter your problem, “there’s an app for that.” 

In 2019 consumers downloaded 204 billion apps, and it’s estimated that in 2022 this number will rise to 250 billion. 

We may be downloading them more, but that doesn’t mean we’re actively engaged in using them regularly. The uninstall rate has surged in the past several years. In 2017, it was roughly 30%, and in 2018 this rose to around 50%. The number of people hitting delete just keeps growing. 

According to the latest data, more than 1 in every 2 apps that are downloaded is uninstalled within 30 days. We may be downloading them fast, but it appears we’re deleting them just as quickly. 

Unfortunately, apps seem to be doing a disservice to both people, and those who create them.

Users are almost brutal in their approach. If an app doesn’t appear to be working for them, it’s gone in an instant, and they can go back to the app store to find a better one. 

For app developers, the competition is fierce to capture users attention and remain engaging. There are now millions of apps in the app stores now all competing for the same users promising to provide the same solution to their problem. 

According to Gartner, less than 0.01 per cent of mobile apps will become financially successful. Yet apps continue to grow and be the ‘shiny new thing’ we’re all interested in. 

If books were the done thing to look successful in 2010, apps are now the new success token for aspiring entrepreneurs.

The truth of the data is clear, apps can be a novelty, and once that novelty wears off, we habitually go back to the things that were working for us in the first place.

Wellbeing & Mental Health Apps

It’s safe to say that wellbeing and mental health has become a priority for businesses. And at last! 

Mental ill-health continues to be a pandemic we just can’t seem to put a hold on. With 1 in 4 people experiencing some kind of mental ill-health per year, it’s no wonder that so many companies are trying to solve the problem one app at a time.

However, while the need is great and people’s sentiment heartfelt, apps are not the whole solution. 

According to research published in the journal, Evidence-Based Mental Health, there is no proof that 85% of apps accredited by the National Health Service actually work. 

From my personal experience, I find that most wellbeing and mental health apps are reactive, rather than proactive. They are there to support people when they are already on the tipping point of depression or severe anxiety. 

Wellbeing apps that try to promote a healthier lifestyle, or create a gamification style to encourage healthy habits, often just come across as patronising. Like none of us knew we were meant to try to get outside and walk every day or eat at least five portions of fruit and veg! 

On the other end of the spectrum are the mental health apps that try to support people who are struggling with mental ill-health. 

In my opinion, these apps are not getting to the root of the problem. 

Mental ill-health occurs for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it’s not until we can get to the root cause of that issue that we can fully provide a holistic solution. 

From life-changing trauma, financial stress, to workplace bullying. The apps can’t make these problems go away. Yes, they may encourage dialogue, but without actually speaking out about the root cause we can’t enable people to get the help or support they need. 

Mental ill-health isn’t a quick fix, and that’s what I feel many of these apps are trying to do. 

For businesses who adopt these apps, I feel at times like they’re trying to just tick the mental health box rather than look at alternative solutions that are not only more sustainable but provide more support for their team’s long term mental health. For example, providing regular mental health counselling for all individuals.  

Employee Engagement Surveys

I’ve been questioned on my dislike of employee engagement surveys so many times in conversations I’m starting to lose count. 

My first question to anyone who has implemented an employee engagement survey, or pulse survey as they are often known, is “what do your team think of them?” – You would be surprised at how many people haven’t considered this. 

Again from discussions I’ve had with teams who have to regularly fill out these surveys, the same “urgh” of disinterest is echoed throughout. 

The conversation is always the same, “We fill out these surveys, nothing gets done, and we already know what the problems are but nobody wants to call out the elephant in the room.”

It’s safe to say that many teams are disenfranchised by what the real effect is of them spending time on a survey where there is no clear outcome. 

Traditionally, many of these surveys happen every quarter – especially if you’re in a big, old outdated corporation. 

The trouble with doing them every quarter is that the data can be massively different and out of date by the time anyone comes around to taking a look at it and taking some action. I discussed this in more detail with the Founder of Friday Pulse Nic Marks on the Company Culture Podcast. 

A great example of this in action is 2020. If you had been working off data in March 2020, you would have been very misguided in your actions, as covid-19 changed everything. 

Instead, if you really have to do a regular pulse check of your team and how they’re feeling then a quick-fire pulse check is much more effective than a long drawn out survey.

My other problem with surveys, in general, is that it limits the dialogue between teams about what is working and what isn’t working in the company culture. The questions can often have a hidden agenda, meaning people don’t get the opportunity to voice their concerns about issues that are impacting their work. 

One argument I recently heard about the benefits of employee engagement surveys is that we need them to prove that culture is effective. Basically saying we need to justify to investors and stakeholders that culture is worth the money. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve come across many sceptics who don’t believe in the impact of culture, but I’m not working for them, and I don’t intend to. 

In my opinion, if you’ve got to constantly prove that culture is worth the investment, you’re either working in the wrong company, or you’re not serious about growing your business. 

There is plenty of data out there that shows us the impact of company culture on both business profitability and employability. 

We don’t need to be creating even more data and logic-based arguments for dinosaur investors, we need to be having the dialogue that culture is not just the best thing to do for the business, it’s the right thing to do for people – it’s ethical, it’s moral – not just good for the bottom line. 

Another question I often ask is why do you need a survey for your culture in the first place? 

This says to me that you haven’t got a great culture to begin with, because if you had built a culture of authenticity and open communication, you wouldn’t be trying to direct people with a survey. 

And aside from all these reasons I also truly believe that when it comes to company culture there are some things we cannot measure. Happiness is subjective, and also a fleeting emotion. None of us feel happy all of the time. 

In my opinion, it’s important to keep measuring what matters, but not to get drawn down the rabbit hole of surveying everyone and everything. 

Who Are the Apps Really For?

It’s funny, whenever I’m approached by an employee engagement company or a new app, I instantly look at their website to see what they’ve achieved. And do you know something, every time I do this I’m faced with the same thing…

Across all of the employee engagement survey websites and wellbeing apps, you see rolls of elegant testimonials from CEOs, directors and HR managers, all claiming how vital these apps have become. 

But shouldn’t we be hearing testimonials from the people actually using the products? 

Have the teams of these companies found the surveys helpful in addressing culture problems? 

Has the wellbeing app enabled any of their team to overcome depression or anxiety? 

Who knows, because not many people seem to be asking them. 

As a constantly curious person, and one who sees all dimensions of the world, not just through my rose-tinted glasses – I often wonder, who are these apps really for? 

Data is the new currency we’re trading in, and I can’t help but wonder if sometimes these apps realise they’re helping businesses to gain more personal data about their teams. Could it be for some that the data is more important than the genuine concern? 

This is an ethics field all apps and data services will have to work out for themselves.

Know Your ‘Why’

If I still haven’t convinced you that surveys and apps are not working, then I want to leave it on this note. 

No matter what you think you should be implementing in your company culture – ask yourself why? 

Why do you feel you need an app or a survey? What’s the purpose of it, and what are you hoping to achieve? 

Nine times out of ten I guarantee you there is a more holistic and team-focused solution  that can make people feel heard, and your culture stronger.  

If you want more information about building your culture, speak to me about my company culture coaching where I can support you and your team in moving together with purpose. 


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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.