People Analytics and HR’s thirst for employee data

I’m sure after my talk last week many of you are hovering somewhere on the creepy/cool borderline when it comes to how Human Resources uses your employee data (and greater web footprint). I would like to stress that your data is primarily used to improve the employee experience from talent acquisition through termination (what’s referred to as the “Employee Life Cycle”) and can help improve process efficiencies and cut costs. Just to be clear, this isn’t a 1984 type situation for 99.999999% of companies and the vast majority of data is viewed on an aggregate level to protect individual employees privacy. Remember, the goal of HR is not to be the wardens or principals overseeing employee actions, but rather help…

It’s important for me to start this post off by reinforcing the notion that employees are HR’s top priority and that employee data is most frequently collected to HELP employees, not hurt or punish them. The reason for this is because I’m going to be writing about a very hot trend in HR called People Analytics (aka Workforce Analytics aka Talent Analytics aka HR Analytics). So what is People Analytics exactly? People Analytics is a lot like what I discussed last week in class: it’s the use of HR and organizational data, as well as data from external sources and other technology to develop actionable insights to improve workforce planning. But even though this has been a bit of a buzzword in the HR community for nearly a decade, People Analytics has huge business implications that can cut across different fields and industries.

The People Analytics process is the same as much other data analytics/scientific study processes as shown in this diagram.

An explosion of People/Workforce/HR Analytics firms have popped up over the last few years to assist companies with these efforts. Prof. Kane actually gave us an example of a People Analytics firm project about a month ago in class that Humanyze conducted. To summarize, through the use of GPS wearable devices and productivity tracking (I hope you can see why I started this post the way I did now, right?), Humanyze discovered that employees who sat at lunch tables of 5 were more productive than employees who sat at lunch tables of 3. The hypothesis? That those sitting at the 5 person lunch tables interacted with more people and thus it improved employees’ ability and opportunities to collaborate. The company tested out the hypothesis by converting all lunch tables at one of their locations to include 5  people and sure enough the office it was implemented in saw an increase in employee productivity across the board. How cool is that?!

Humanyze has catapulted this concept as a standard practice within their greater Workforce Analytics product offering. They state that by Optimizing your Workspace clients can “create physical and virtual work environments that benefit people, performance, and productivity.” Given that most people carry around a GPS tracker with them 24/7, is it such a stretch for employees to be willing to wear a magic band at work so we can study their movements to improve productivity, collaboration, convenience, and (most importantly) make the office an even better place to work? Personally, I’m very much a “Sign me up right now!” person, but how would you feel about it?

Ok, so maybe you’re not a “Track my movements for the sake of science” person (to each their own), but how do you feel about your computer activity? One way many companies have begun to tip their toes in the water of People Analytics is through Microsoft’s Workforce Planning tool. The Microsoft Office suite is by far the most popular enterprise software application ever developed. Microsoft 365 now offers even more analytical capabilities given its integrated shared drives that connects users across its applications (Word, Teams, Excel, Outlook, etc.). Many users see this individually through the MyAnalytics digest emails, inline suggestions, and Insights Outlook add-in. For those living under a rock (or in the Google Suite), here’s an example of the MyAnalytics digest emails:

So how does this relate to Microsoft’s Workforce Analytics platform exactly? Well, if we know Microsoft is capable of gathering this data to help individual’s improve at work, do you really believe this data couldn’t be repurposed to help a business gain insights into the ways employees interact with each other, conduct their work, or spend their work time online? THIS is where Microsoft’s Workforce Analytics platform comes in. The platform aggregates employees data so that organizations can run top-down analysis on employees online collaboration habits to better understand network patterns and behaviors. The major selling point for this platform (other than that most firm’s already use the 365 Suite so it’s a simple addition from an implementation perspective) is its emphasis on not only how employees spend their time, but who they spend it with. With the vast majority of companies working remotely during the pandemic, the acceptance of more hybrid office models, and the increasing computerization of office work in general, employees online networks and behaviors can be just as telling, or even more telling, than what can be viewed in “real-life” by managers.

FYI just because your organization has MyAnalytics as part of their Microsoft 365 package, does not mean they also have Microsoft’s Workforce Analytics platform. However, they could and generally speaking would be under no legal obligation to inform you since anything located on a work computer/email/product application is the property of the firm (so I suggest trying to keep your personal and work emails/laptops/etc. as separate as possible!). While platforms to help understand the network effects and habits of remote workforces has exploded during the pandemic, I don’t see it or the greater People Analytics trend dying down anytime soon. I hope if you’ve learned anything from my presentation and this blog post is that the HR of today and of the future will take and use as much of your data as possible to improve employee operations. However, please keep in mind it’s typically done to make you a better worker and have a better work experience (not to be a creepy stalker or get you in trouble for buying that pair of shoes when you should have been finishing up that spreadsheet your boss asked for).

8 comments

  1. Nice post! I think the bigger challenge faced by most HR is not whether/ how to collect the data, but how to derive value from the data to help employees once they do. If they can do that, I think most employees will be on board

  2. Very nice post Lisa. One question I have is, not necessarily at Clean Harbors, but in general HR what happens if there is a false positive with the data? For example because an employee is active on a site the company assumes they are looking for a new job. I remember you giving the example in class that LinkedIn isn’t used in this way because it is a “professional networking” site however I am sure some HR departments see activity on it as a threat that the employee will leave. Also the caveat to my poll answer is “I would definitely say yes for a Starbucks or Amazon gift card.”

    1. lisahersh · ·

      Thanks, Sam! Good to know you can be bribed with the promise of coffee or online purchasing; I’ll be sure to keep that in mind in the future ;)

      The way most companies approach this is by giving certain factors more weight than other. So a company could use LinkedIn as clue to an employees risk of departure but might only assign it a weight of .05 vs Indeed being a risk factor of .8 (given that Indeed’s sole purpose is to find a job). I think it’s also important to note that if a “false positive” occurs, there’s often no harm in the intervention effort. For example, if an employee really isn’t at risk of leaving the company – is an HR Business Parter reaching out to said employee to get feedback on their employment experience such a bad thing? While AI, and People Analytics in general, helps companies identify patterns, its the human component of interpreting that outputs meaning, developing improvement initiatives, and implementing those interventions that requires human-based insights regarding the potential consequences of specific actions and acting in accordance with that.

  3. sayoyamusa · ·

    Excellent post, Lisa! I’ve learned a lot from your arguments including the great presentation last week! It will be beneficial for all employees if HR people use data analytics tools appropriately. Still, I’m on the creepy side about the idea of using employee data, but don’t get me wrong! If you were in the HR managerial position in my company, I can swear I would be definitely comfortable and happy to say, “sign me up!” The thing is I don’t trust HR staff of my company because they seem to focus on controlling employees, not helping us…maybe the organization is not so matured yet. I’ve realized that the first step for HR to utilize employees’ data is build solid trust. They should be open and reliable, telling the employees their good intentions just like you!
    I’ll have a meeting with HR director of my company just tomorrow, so I can discuss various stuff with him, showing off my updated knowledge! Thank you for sharing your deep insight.

    1. lisahersh · ·

      Please let me know how that conversation goes! Would love to hear about it :)

  4. williammooremba · ·

    Great post Lisa. One thing I wonder about is long term implications like this for activities like performance evaluations. For a lot of my annual performance reviews while there may have been some easily measurable quantitative baselining specific to my job, a lot of the qualitative evaluations were somewhat subjective. Whether or not I am an able to engage well with my team came up in a lot of respects on my managers at the time judgement. I suspect some of that will continue, but I wonder if more and more will become based on data from people analytics. I could see an evaluation stating I spend too much checking emails or not enough time expanding my work network. I very interested to see if long term people analytics has an impact on employee evaluation metrics for some of the currently less measurable areas.

    1. lisahersh · ·

      Thanks, William. I think how the data and metrics are used on an individual employee level, and specifically in terms of performance reviews, will be really varied from company to company based on each organizations culture, as well as from employee to employee based on job role/type. For example, sales performance metrics are already a huge component to most sales peoples pay structure and performance review conversations. While I do believe metrics will be increasingly emphasized in performance reviews of the future, I think companies have to be smart or employees will feel like “Big Brother” is always watching them and that lays the groundwork for a horrible workplace culture. Personally, I like the idea of managers using direct reports employee data to provide a more individualized development strategy rather. For example, if an employee is only communicating with members of the team (both online and face-to-face) but doesn’t have a lot of contacts spread out through the organization, it might be a good idea to assign them to more cross-disciplinary projects or encourage them to attend company wide functions and introduce them to key players in other departments to improve their internal network.

  5. lourdessanfeliu · ·

    Very good post and follow up to your presentation! It is very eye opening the amount of data employers collect, I find it interesting to see how the information is used to improve employee experience. I get the MyAnalytics results every week, and I find it very creepy how they track how many chats I have and with who, how many emails I ready, send.. they even monitor how many meetings I join on time vs late! I am curious to see if my work uses the work force platform to use the data for potential improvements.

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