A New Dance: Negotiating Employee Data

A New Dance: Negotiating Employee Data

Just as organizations and workers have begun to settle into new norms regarding where and how work is done, another practice appears poised for an overhaul: the use of employee data.

Rapid advancements in tech and AI are enabling explosive growth in the scope and volume of employee data being collected by employers. Added to the standard demographics and performance data are new inputs on skills, interests, behaviors, and interactions both within and outside work. As the market continues to afford workers more agency than ever before, organizations are increasingly motivated to be transparent partners who are willing to use employee data in ways that benefit workers as well as the organization.

At the start of this year, Deloitte put out a comprehensive report covering the many boundaries that are falling away from long-held norms in traditional work models. A broad shift is underway, in which organizations and employees are co-creating relationships (rather than companies dictating terms), and worker data presents a prime opportunity for negotiation.

The report, based on the Deloitte 2023 Global Human Capital Trends survey of 10,000 business and HR leaders in every industry from 105 countries, and on interviews with executives from top organizations, found that 83 percent of leaders believe that using employee data to create benefits for both the organization and its workers, and building employee trust and confidence, is “important or very important to their organizations’ success.” How many felt their firms were ready to make that happen? Only 19 percent.

While organizations begin to adapt, distinct and early advantage will go to firms that:

  1. Leverage data to benefit workers
  2. Embrace transparency
  3. Consider allowing employee control and possibly ownership of data

Make It Mutually Beneficial

In 2019, Harvard Business Review surveyed more than 10,000 workers spanning all ages and skill levels, and 1,400 C-level executives in 13 countries and 13 industries. The polling found that more than 90 percent of the employees are “willing to let their employers collect and use data on them and their work, but only if they benefit in some way.”

How can data be leveraged to benefit workers? A few examples:

  • Analyze performance data to drive changes such as scheduling shorter but more frequent breaks in order to reduce fatigue and increase productivity (as opposed to using surveillance and penalization tactics).
  • Leverage employee inputs on career skills, interests, and interactions to offer developmental opportunities or nudges toward open roles where culture matches employee values.
  • Understand worker and candidate priorities for benefits packages, benchmarking policies among competitors so you can make competitive offers, to support recruitment as well as retention.
  • Employ AI to recognize patterns in interactions and communications that indicate burnout risk.
  • Process calendar data to judge whether time spent in meetings is effective or excessive, and change the approach if needed.
  • Analyze email use (how much time employees spend reading and replying and at what times of day) to determine if communication requirements are overburdening employees.

Be Transparent

Across industries, many employees don’t know what data is being collected about them or how it’s used. Regulations protecting consumer data in the U.S. lag those abroad, and laws governing workforce data are even less stringent. To build trust with workers (and enhance organizational culture), be transparent about what data is collected, how it is used, how it is secured, and how long it’s kept.

Let Go a Little

Organizations traditionally have owned and controlled the employee data they collect, but that’s changing. Among respondents to the Deloitte 2023 Global Human Capital Trends survey, 61 percent describe their current data ownership structure as either shared or worker-owned. Some models enable workers not only to see their own data, but also to make entries regarding career data, interests, goals, and concerns, or to challenge incorrect inputs. Some firms have begun permitting workers to take their data with them when they leave.

Make It Official

With AI generating new ways to harvest data and draw actionable insight from it, worker data is fast becoming a more important asset, one that needs appropriate oversight. Some organizations are creating C-level positions, such as chief data officer, or designating task forces teaming human resources with legal and ethics leaders to govern data collection, usage, and security.

In conclusion, putting new forms of employee data to mutually beneficial use can create measurable value and generate actionable insights. Doing so with transparency and co-operation may improve not only an organization’s culture, but also productivity, worker engagement, well-being, and retention.