How big data can create a more positive company culture for younger generations.

To satisfy the needs and expectations of the digital-first generations, businesses are turning to big data.We’re just not as happy as we used to be.

Happiness levels are falling across the country, and it may be worst at work. Research from workplace analytics platform Teem suggests 48 percent of workers are unhappy in their current jobs. Even more worryingly, depression among younger generations—the business leaders of tomorrow—is on the rise.

This is especially important to employers because businesses with a highly engaged workforce can experience up to a 17 percent increase in productivity. That’s one reason business leaders are starting to look beyond traditional surveys and workplace feedback forms to technology and big data analysis to better gauge and improve employee well-being.

Smart Office Design

The average full-time worker spends 8.56 hours a day at work, so making sure your employees are comfortable and happy in their workplace environment is vital. One recent study shows the happiest employees have greater control over where and how they work, marking a new era in workplace design.

To satisfy the needs and expectations of the digital-first generations, businesses are turning to big data. One startup, Humanyze, is using people analytics by collecting real-time biometric data on employee movement.

Armed with this information, businesses can rethink their office design to reflect how and where employees prefer to work on different tasks: in social break-out areas, private rooms to aid concentration, or hot-desking.

Ninety-seven percent of millennials in the U.S. own a smartphone and expect to be able to control their lives from the palm of their hand. Looking at an example across the pond, The Edge building in Amsterdam allows employees to do just that.

Its smart design and integrated mobile app gives employees total control over their working environment, allowing them to personalize the temperature and light levels in their chosen workspace. The app even remembers how they take their coffee.

Boosting Group Dynamics

Some workplaces have started collecting data on employee interactions and policies that influence productivity. Hitachi’s employees wear badges containing happiness-measuring sensors that collect data on employee movements 50 times a second.

Using these metrics, Hitachi has invented “Human Big Data”, an algorithm that measures the happiness of its workforce. By examining fluctuations in happiness levels, Hitachi can make alterations to daily work schedules to maximize productivity and staff well-being.

By applying data science to the people side of business, organizations can examine and adjust their culture policies to boost productivity and employee morale, as people will feel their personal needs are being valued more by their place of work.

Improving Job Roles

The pairing of personal data—people’s skills or assets, productivity, and preferences—with intelligent systems is also influencing employment models and improving job roles.

By using technology such as workplace wearables that generate data linked to job performance, productivity, and professional satisfaction, employers are learning how to better connect their employees with work they’re best suited to.

Still in the early stages, intelligent systems will be used more frequently in the future to analyze projects, break them into smaller tasks, generate new job roles, and recommend team members who are best suited to tackle certain parts of projects.

This makes sense in improving workplace happiness, as the more suited someone is to a role, the more likely they are to enjoy and excel at what they do—and be loyal employees.

Personalizing Employee Benefits

That’s one reason business leaders are starting to look beyond traditional surveys and workplace feedback forms to technology and big data analysis to better gauge and improve employee well-being.Maintaining employee loyalty is even more important as employee retention grows as a major HR concern. Sixty-four percent of millennials expect to leave their current organization in the next five years.

Big data offers the promise of significant advances in the design and delivery of benefits programs, which can improve a business’s ability to attract and retain the best talent—and contribute to staff happiness.

To attract and retain younger generations, companies are expanding their employee benefits programs to provide options more targeted to their specific needs. For example, student loan debt is often one of the greatest concerns of this cohort. In fact, 80 percent of student loan borrowers would value assistance from their employer.

Some businesses are leading the way by providing student loan repayment assistance as part of their benefits program. Financial services company Fidelity provides eligible employees a subsidy of up to $10,000 toward repayment of their student loans through its “Step Ahead Student Loan” assistance program. The program also offers employees access to online tools to help them better manage their debts.

Businesses that want to compete for the best workers must adjust their benefit offerings to suit the demands of the millennial and Gen Z workforce. Big data can help companies tailor both the design of their benefits programs and how information is communicated to younger generations about the needs benefits serve, the gaps they fill, and the value they offer.

Identifying your Rockstar employees

Big data can help HR leaders identify top-performing employees more efficiently and quickly. By combining traditional HR data—employee demographics, performance data, sales data, and customer feedback—employers can gain a clearer picture about individual employee performance and the factors that influence this.

With these insights, companies can better reward top performers and help them develop their career paths, as well as create a more informed profile to look for when recruiting new employees.

The human element will always be important when it comes to decision-making in the workplace, but big data can help yield insights business leaders are currently unable to access. Whether it’s a change in break times or the need for more tailored benefits packages, by taking advantage of big data services, companies can boost productivity and morale. Not only will this result in a lower turnover rate and higher profits, it will,most importantly, lead to happier and healthier employees.

Rob Hecker is Vice President of HR Global Total Rewards for Colonial Life and Unum. Colonial Life is a market leader in providing financial protection benefits through the workplace, including disability, life, accident, dental, cancer, critical illness, and hospital confinement indemnity insurance.