Tech Is Transforming People Analytics. Is That a Good Thing?
Building a culture of trust, respect, and fairness to deploy innovative data collection
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed several challenges for HR managers and people leaders across companies worldwide. Some of the key challenges that people analytics and employee data collection could address include 1) health monitoring to recognize and control the spread of COVID-19, 2) employee mental and physical health and wellbeing (which have been adversely affected by the pandemic), 3) retention (in the midst of the great resignation), and 4) transitioning to work-from-home or hybrid home/office working styles. This article suggests several innovative ways to collect data to address these 4 challenges including tracking mental and physical health through wearables, using screen and computer monitoring to understand working patterns when working from home, and “track and trace” apps to track viral outbreaks. While these new ways to collect data about employees are indeed innovative, they all come with a bit of the “creepy” factor that we have discussed in class many times. The article and I both wonder: What kind of data is okay to collect and analyze? The article posits that companies should “adopt an ethics charter for people analytics that helps them to clearly govern what they should or shouldn’t do.” While I agree that there should be ethical considerations and guidelines when collecting data, I think a static document that “clearly govern[s]” exact dos and don’ts would be counterproductive to innovation among people analytics practitioners. As time moves forward, there will be an ever-increasing number of ways to collect data on people inside and outside of work. Employee’s (and society’s) feelings about what is okay versus what is “invasive” will also continue to evolve. Therefore, I think creating a static document would be too limiting and would make companies overly hesitant to adopt new technologies and data practices that may ultimately be good for employees. Instead, I think companies should put their energies toward creating guidelines that define the acceptable purposes of data tracking. Before a company collects any data and before they start thinking about how invasive the tracking will be, I think they should first clearly state how the data will be used and how it will help the employees. I believe the goal of people analytics should be to improve people within companies, so it is equally, if not more important to think about how the outcomes of analytics will be used than how the data itself will be collected. For example, the article references PwC using surveillance to track if employees were in front of their computers or not. Productivity is not measured by hours in front of the computer, but rather by work product and output. Therefore, it seems both creepy and unhelpful for PwC to know when employees are in front of their computers. This seems like data collecting for surveillance’s sake rather than for the sake of unearthing insights around working habits that can better support employees. The way we collect data and what is considered “creepy” will constantly evolve, but the goal of people analytics will not. Therefore, I somewhat disagree with the author and think companies should spend their time defining the goals of analytics versus the rules for data collection.
Student comments on Tech Is Transforming People Analytics. Is That a Good Thing?
Completely agree with you! I think that should be true about any type of data companies track, whether it is related to people or not. Collecting data for the sake of it will only make data meaningless. It is even more important when that data is seen as invasive. I have a friend that was sharing her smart watch data with her team only to create a “friendly” running competition with her teammates, until her manager started observing her location to see where in the office she was, similar to what PwC was doing. This was not even a company requirement, it was just her manager’s tendency to want to control. So I would add that aside of clarifying the goals, we should think who in the company should really have access to a particular set of data. Probably in most cases, it is better for the People Analytics team to have it and anonymize results by gathering trends as a way of removing temptations to use data in the “wrong” way.