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Employee Data: A Guide to Responsible Use

Cybersecurity breaches have become widespread enough in technology news that consumers are concerned about their data privacy – and companies are highly concerned as well. But as a recent Harvard Business Review points out, both policies and efforts regarding employee data lag far behind consumer data.

Employee data capture must be handled responsibly.

It’s not that employee data isn’t being harvested and used. Roughly 62% of organizations say that they are using data on employees extensively, according to a report by Accenture. Eighty percent of companies say they use the data to grow their businesses. But, significantly, HBR indicates that just 30% of business leaders in companies using employee data feel they are using it responsibly.

Approximately 90% of employees are willing to let companies gather data on them, as long as they benefit in some way. But companies do run a risk of gathering data in a way that employees don’t see as beneficial to themselves. Indeed, business leadership runs approximately 6% of their revenue growth if they lose employee trust, because that loss of trust is likely to manifest itself in engagement and morale.

What actions can business leaders take to ensure that gathering of employee data is done responsibly and in a manner employees feel benefits them? HBR suggests three methods.

Giving employees control of their data can improve morale and trust.

One. Grant Employees Control of Their Data

The first is to give employees the same control of their data as consumers are increasingly getting.

Here’s an example from HBR. A division of Schlumberger monitors employees with cameras, and the data are analyzed using artificial intelligence (AI). The data capture is not used to monitor the performance of any one individual, but to find patterns that could heighten productivity. The data has been used to institute more breaks of shorter duration, for example.

However, the division allows employees to see their own performance data if they desire.

Two. Use Checks and Balances

Having a strong system of checks and balances is imperative. To do this, businesses should consider making a C-suite level executive responsible for data policies. Currently, only 20% of companies have a person of that level accountable for employee data privacy. Forty-eight percent report planning to create such a position.

It’s also a good policy to have a committee with oversight. JPMorgan Chase, for example, groups its human resources, legal, and risk team heads to consider data use.

Three. Use Employee Data Positively, Not Negatively

Employee fears of data use center around the possibility that it will be used either punitively (expectations of working faster, for example, when employees may not see that as being achievable) or of it being overly proscriptive (monitoring when and how they can leave their desks, for example). Overt monitoring can kill morale.

But, of course, data use has plenty of opportunity to make employees’ lives better. At a Florida hospital, for example, nurses and patient aids are outfitted with sensors capable of monitoring where they go and how often patients’ rooms are visited. The sensors are used beneficially – to make the stocking of needed supplies more efficient and to ensure coverage during shifts.

The potential benefits need to be shared with employees to promote buy-in and appreciation of data capture.