CXO

How to collect worker data without creeping out your employees

Collecting some employee data can be beneficial, but it can also leave employees feeling violated. The key is being upfront about the collection and open about the results.

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Image: iStock/maxsattana

It's long been known that companies can track employees via wearable devices. Earlier this year, TechRepublic covered an AI tool called Vibe that has the capability to assess employee morale via Slack communications.

"Information about employees has been gathered by companies from the very beginning," said Michael Gretczko, principal at Deloitte and general manager of employee social media portal ConnectMe. "What's different now is that there are so many avenues to digitize and analyze this information because it is no longer in paper files."

Gretczko said that new data-gathering abilities can allow companies to modernize their HR functions. "(Companies) can get a better feel for what makes their employees happy, and also gain insights about employee preferences and interests that can help optimize performance," he said.

Gretczko said that in a Deloitte survey, 71% of companies reported that they viewed employee analytics—using data to measure, report and understand employee performance — as a high priority in their organizations.

Data-tracking can be great for companies, but it can also make employees feel like their privacy is being violated. Gretczko emphasized the importance of transparency about how employee data is being gathered and used. "As long as the information is being used in a fair, legal and consistent manner, and companies are transparent with their employees about the types of employee data they collect and how they use this data, our clients tell us that the employees are supportive of the process," he said.

SEE: Electronic data retention policy (Tech Pro Research)

Here are some ways to do this in order to maintain employee trust:

Be upfront with employees and tell them exactly what information is being collected and how it's being used.

Many fears are simply fear of the unknown. When employees are involved in initiatives like data gathering and understand precisely how the company intends to use employee data and for what purposes, and these purposes are not threatening, employees are much more welcoming of the process.

Give regular feedback about what the company has learned from employee data so employees feel included.

The worst thing you can do is initially talk with employees about a data gathering project, and then never get back to them about it. Managers should invite HR to a periodic staff meeting to review the project. HR can also also publish results of employee data gathering in the company newsletter or on the corporate intranet.

Periodically review the company's privacy policy with employees.

Even employees who are comfortable with data sharing and social media-style personalization get nervous when the company collects data on them. For this reason alone, managers should annually review the company's privacy policy and ongoing data collection objectives with staff. This is especially important for managers who, like their employees, get so immersed in work that they forget about the peripheral HR stuff.

SEE: Electronic communication policy (Tech Pro Research)

Showing employees how the data gathering is benefiting them.

Employees expect to see something come out of the data gathering that benefits them. If a data gathering program doesn't deliver on this promise, the rumor mill could begin to churn and employees could begin to think that the company is using this data against them.

Gretczko said that Deloitte uses an employee data gathering and analytics system, and people seem to be comfortable with it. "What is important at the start of an initiative like this is to let employees know in no uncertain terms that the the data collected about them is to facilitate better communications and responsiveness, and to improve life at work. It will never be used in performance evaluations," he said.

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About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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