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Unlocking Employee Data: The Ethical Debate

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Unlocking Employee Data: The Ethical Debate

Employee data is a powerful tool for organisations. Our recent research – Talent Intelligence: Unlocking People Data to...

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Employee data is a powerful tool for organisations. Our recent research – Talent Intelligence: Unlocking People Data to Redefine How Workers Need to Work – proposes that employee data is the key to:

  • finding and retaining top talent
  • fostering productivity, performance and well-being
  • and driving agile, flexible attitudes toward human-to-human and human-to-machine collaboration that unlocks innovation

Read more about how employee data is redefining how workers get to work in my recent blog, here

People Analytics as a practice is rapidly picking up steam and if you’re not on board, you should be. Check out our assessment in the paper on p19 to see how your organisation fares. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a rookie – there’s one debate that you can’t ignore: the ethical and privacy concerns of collecting employee data.

As with any use of personal data, privacy issues are of the utmost importance, and this is no different with talent intelligence. A recent study by Insight222 reveals that a staggering 81% of people analytics projects are jeopardized by ethics and privacy concerns. For example, when The Daily Telegraph introduced sensors in 2016 to monitor space usage in its offices, with the goal of reducing its real estate footprint and lowering costs, it was forced to remove them a day later due to widespread unrest among the staff, who “resisted Big Brother-style surveillance in the newsroom.”

So how can your organisation tap into this treasure trove of insight without spooking your employees and risking reputational damage? Luckily for you we’ve got the answer. We’ve compiled six ground rules for the ethical deployment of talent intelligence…

  1. Abide by the give-to-get ratio. Every commercial transaction requires one party to give something of value to get something in return. This same principle applies to the exchange of data.
  2. The new T&Cs are transparency and clarity. That value must be communicated clearly and transparently with the employee. In times when trust is a necessity, can’t get away with blinding employees with hyperbole and over-intellectualized terms and conditions.
  3. Remember who owns the data. ‘Portability’ is hugely important. Employees own their data and have a right to download it and take it with them. For example, workers should be empowered to download their skills profile and take it to a potential new employer, as it constitutes an evidence-based aspect of their CV that provides proof of capability.
  4. Aggregate when possible. It’s vital that businesses do not assume unbarred access to all employee data. For example, behavioural data measuring employee concentration levels would only be ethically collected in the aggregate to determine, for example, whether certain locations in the office foster better focus levels, or the impact of the latest restructuring announcement.
  5. Don’t collect content. When organizations collect communication-related data – either virtually or physically – a basic principle is to never analyse what people are actually discussing. Understanding collaboration across a team requires knowing who is speaking to whom and how often, as well as behavioural measures such as respect or attention. What’s actually being said is of little value.
  6. Only ever if they opt-in. Taking part in data collection in the workplace must always be optional, not mandated. Organizations must clearly communicate the mutual benefit to encourage workers to take part.

Organisations are already reaping the benefits of unlocking people data in their organisation. At Cognizant we’ve successfully moved the needle Abide by these ground rules and you can successfully unlock people data in your organisation.

For more insights from our recent talent research, check out the full paper: Talent Intelligence: Unlocking People Data to Redefine how Workers Need to Work

For more on data privacy in the age of the algorithm, read our recent paper: Every Move You Make.


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