Factories have several existing mechanisms, such as anonymous complaint boxes, for workers to report their grievances or suggestions. However, they don't provide regular updates on status of their complaints, actions taken etc. We utilise a new wave of external technology-enabled tools that are now being rolled out for worker voice.
Will workers be open to sending an SMS or downloading a mobile application to talk to their managers? Is there a business case to this?
WOVO is a worker engagement technology platform designed by Labor Solutions. WOVO allows workers to anonymously submit messages (questions, grievances or suggestions) via SMS (or the WOVO smart phone application) and management to respond to, manage and gather data about these from an online dashboard. We got on board to run a randomized controlled trial evaluation to test the business and social impacts of this tool at two Shahi factories. Our evaluation was restricted to the SMS service. In our baseline survey we found that only 50% of workers own smartphones. This combined with low literacy (54% completed high school) did not favour the introduction of a mobile application.
As part of the research design, we randomly allocated the workers to two groups:
The fact that the ‘control’ group was also able to avail WOVO limited our ability to draw causal inference. However, increased participation of workers from the treatment group (owing to formal enrollment and encouragement) helped drive differences in utilization and estimate the impact of the program.
We found that the treatment group had absenteeism rates that were 3-4% lower than the control group during the treatment period.
In addition to the quantitative findings from our experiment, we also interacted with Human Resource managers in the two factories to understand their experience of implementing and using WOVO. We found that low literacy is a barrier to using an SMS service, and that workers sometimes prefer to talk face to face with or call factory managers. Further, the existing responsibilities of specific floor managers need to be leveraged to troubleshoot and increase the speed of this communication process. We also heard that usage of WOVO increased once workers started trusting the service. In fact, managers felt that this tool brought workers closer to the management. They underscored the need for an incentive system to encourage managers to execute a tool properly. They all endorsed the need for such tools in all factories. However, external tools present a huge cost barrier due to high subscription fees. Thus while there is buy-in from management to implement such a tool, for companies like Shahi that run over 60 factories, having their own tool that leverages the local ecosystem makes more business sense. This is where we stepped in to develop a tool from the ground up which you can read more about here.