Organisations need employee data to make informed decisions about how to design productive and effective work strategies. But how can we use data more effectively — and build trust with employees in order to do so?
When it comes to creating more efficient, engaged workplaces, digital data holds much promise.
In fact, recent research from Università degli Studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia showed that, among computer-based workers, a metric as simple as the quantity of clicks they made in their workday could be correlated with their level of engagement.
And there is strong hope that better data will enable managers to do much more than simply measure engagement, including fostering conditions for greater flourishing and creativity. But while many people seem to have little objection to sharing their data with the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world, sharing it with their employers is often another story.
This means it is imperative that employers build trust with their workforce about why they are collecting data and how they will be using it.
Read HRM’s article about what you need to know about storing employees’ data.
Rethink employee data collection
The increasing digitisation of workplaces means that there is a wealth of potential data points for employers to collect. James Healy, a Principal in Deloitte’s Human Capital Consulting practice, says the significant challenge for organisations becomes collecting the right data to make informed decisions.
“Most humans are not aware of what’s called the ‘intention-action gap,’” he says. “That is, we have every intention of doing something, but we don’t always go through with it. In most organisations, the gap presents itself in the form of an employee engagement survey to measure happiness and preferences.”
Healy cautions against using surveys, as they tend to reflect intentions rather than actions. They are also dependent on mood and other environmental issues occurring at the time the employee responds.
“People’s responses to surveys aren’t as accurate as people themselves – behavioural data is far more useful,” he says.
“Don’t ask people how they feel about hybrid working versus working from home – look at the swipe card data that tells you how often they came in.”
Healy adds that most organisations have a long way to go in how they manage data.
“Once you’ve met all data hygiene factors, one of the key things is to make the data as openly available as possible,” he says. “One of the great features of data science is that many opportunities are at the intersection of silos.”
“If you’re not able to figure out from the top down where those interesting insights are, democratise the data – open it up for people to look at.” – James Healy, Principal, Deloitte’s Human Capital Consulting
Generally, there aren’t that many surprises in localised datasets because HR specialists are usually across trends in their area and have an idea of what they are going to tell them.
This is why Healy says that the value lies in putting together datasets across workplace silos.
“For example, take HR data and put it together with the property data, which tells you swipe card information and gives information about building occupancy. Bring that together with IT department data that tells you which terminals in the office and desks have been occupied. And suddenly you have a much more interesting picture,” he says.
Transparency is key
“Data and insights shouldn’t be a closely guarded secret. Acting like they are can really hurt trust,” says Dorothy Hisgrove, Head of People and Inclusion at KPMG Australia.
“By democratising access to data and providing clear guidance on what data will be used for, we can encourage employees to be more comfortable to share their feedback and insights.”
In an attempt to lead the way, last year KPMG began providing all employees access to the data and comments received in their annual employee feedback survey.
“It was a bold move, but it has been received very well from the firm and has dramatically improved transparency,” says Hisgrove.
However, Hisgrove cautions that data is only as useful as it is usable and timely.
“Centralised data management can create bottlenecks in data insight generation that significantly reduce the ability to act on data while it’s relevant,” she says.
Listening to employees at regular intervals helps firms identify trends and emerging themes and act on them quickly.
“Timely access to data allows you to set targets from where you are to where you need to get to and measure the progress you are making,” she says.
Focus on your end goal
Information overload prevents data insights from being effective. Rather than focusing on the data, Healy suggests, focus on the question – and then find the data that can help you answer it.
“It’s far more productive to start by working out what insights we want in our organisation and employees,” he says. “However, this is a use case that is only illuminated by bringing together different datasets. If you’re not able to figure out from the top down where those interesting insights are, democratise the data – open it up for people to look at.”
After all, Healy reminds us, data can only do so much – organisations still need to be smart about how they use it. Invoking the aphorism of American astronomer Clifford Stoll, he says: “data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.”
This article first appeared in the May 2023 edition of HRM Magazine.
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