The July 20th Wall Street Journal featured several articles focusing on “people analytics", the many ways employers are monitoring, tracking, and gathering data on their employees. Sarah Krouse wrote “to be an employee of a large company in the U.S. now often means becoming a workforce data generator.” Krause then described companies and the many ways they gather “people data” and gave examples of how the data has been used to solve problems and increase efficiency. Here are examples of the types of data being captured and analyzed:
- tone of employees during phone calls and meeting conversations
- tone of voices using microphone-equipped badges
- tracking movement using badges
- audio recordings and transcriptions of “phone calls on mobile devices”
- video recordings of employee activities
- hours spent outside office logging into office
- content of emails, texts, Slack chats
- patterns and time on Internet
- frequency of chats and meetings between staff and clients
- profiles of how time is spent
- amount of time spent in meetings
- digital interactions
Some ways this data is used:
- “Classify employees hours as productive or unproductive.”
- Analyze turnover patterns
- Suggest ways for employees to build networks with customers
- Improve training
- Identify key influencers within the organization
- “Spot patterns and praise employees who go above and beyond by detecting, for example, workers who take their laptops home and work after hours.”
- Increase productivity, individually and in groups
- Identify informal networks through organizational network analysis.
- Identify “invisible stars.”
1. I understand there are jobs where people analytics software and devices are useful, for example, preventing workplace theft. But the extensive use described in the WSJ articles raises questions for me.
- How is the information being collected? How is it being protected? How reliable and valid is the data?
- How is the data being used? Do the people analyzing the data understand how to interpret it properly, understand the limitations on conclusions or insights?
- Are employees aware they are being monitored? Privacy is a concern that has been raised.
- What are the limits on the legal rights of employers to monitor employees? Where are the gray areas?
2. Leaders should use people analytics technology carefully and thoughtfully. Just because something can be measured does not mean it should be measure. This technology is work-centered more than people-centered even though it is human behavior being measure. There’s more to productivity than efficiency. There is also effectiveness. How does employing these technologies affect how employees see their employers or more importantly, their jobs? How does use of software analytics technologies affect employee engagement and meaningfulness in work? Trust is a big component of a healthy organizational culture. It would be interesting to see the relationship between degree of people analytics software and devices and measures of trust in organizations.
3. We need a more comprehensive understanding of people analytics software. What are the best uses, best industries? Where does it extend too far as to affect individual motivation and meaningfulness? Software analytics gathers data on people. We need researchers gathering data on the software analytics software and devices and the impact on organizational climate and organizational culture.
4. I know organizations where people are miserable, feel mistreated, feel they are human robots, and the solution from management is “If you don’t like it, quit.” Unfortunately there are often easy solutions to improve the work environment and effectiveness but management must actually listen to employees and care. Treating people with respect and dignity should be a hallmark of good management.
Chen, T. (2019, July 20). Three hours of work a day? You're not fooling anyone. The Wall Street Journal, p. B7.
Cutter, C. (2019, July 20). Finding the hidden stars: Holding the company together. The Wall Street Journal, pp. B6-7. (online title: "Finding the quiet employees holding the company together)
Krouse, S. (2019, July 20). The new ways your boss is spying on you. The Wall Street Journal, pp. B1, B6-7.
Image by FotografielLink. From https://pixabay.com/photos/analytics-computer-hiring-database-2697949/
© John Ballard, PhD, 2019. All rights reserved.
Decoding the Workplace “deals with principles and practices that are timeless . . . Is this a must-have for managers and would-be managers? Yes.” Academy of Management Learning & Education, June, 2018. Now in paperback.