We are living in an era where data has become a commodity and a vital tool for making good business decisions. In the big data era, organizations have the power to leverage data in every part of their operations, including people management and workforce optimization.
Technology and management consultant and author Geoffrey Moore summed it up: “Without big data analytics, companies are blind and deaf, wandering out onto the web like deer on a freeway.”
To avoid being the hapless deer in traffic when it comes to employee data, it is important to manage the information responsibly and competently. A data-driven HR department is an empowered one.
Being a responsible data handler
Regulations vary across different jurisdictions, but broadly most employers are legally obliged to handle employee data carefully, respect privacy and only retain personal information for as long as necessary.
In the UK, for example, there is an extensive list of information employees can keep on employees – such as name, address, date of birth and qualifications – but permission must be given to collect sensitive data, including ethnicity, religion and political affiliations. This reflects EU rules, where companies need to balance employee consent and legitimate employer interest.
If you are unsure, it is worth checking out data protection regulations in all jurisdictions where your organization operates. Being armed with the right information is the right thing to do – and it can save a lot of expense and reputational damage, which can happen as the result of a data breach that compromises employee privacy.
Being a competent data handler
Handling data competently is as important as handling it responsibly. Indeed, organizations should strive to go beyond mere competence when it comes to handling employee data and aim for best practice data management. When this is achieved, employee data becomes hugely valuable in making smart decisions for workforce optimization and strategic planning.
The first step is to understand what employee data you can legally gather and ensure it is collected respectfully and confidentially. Then, it is important to gather data efficiently. For example, if you are taking an employee survey, keep the questions clear and simple.
Employee surveys also need to align with company goals. There is nothing to be gained from simply copying and pasting an employee survey from a website. All questions should be tailored to your organization’s needs. If you are running a manufacturing company where most workers are on the factory floor, for example, there is little point in including questions about office culture or desk layout. However, managers at such a company would benefit from asking employees about production line safety, comfort while performing physical work, and, especially in male-dominated workplaces, whether all employees feel respected at all times.
When onboarding new team members, make sure all forms are not intimidating or complicated. It is important to keep records up to date – there is no excuse for a bulging filing cabinet stuffed with hard-to-find paperwork when there are so many good digital solutions available.
Keeping paper files as a back-up is not a bad idea, especially if they are kept off site in case of a disaster, such as an office fire or water damage. However, technology means it is so easy to keep records updated, add new records, search records for relevant information quickly and easily, and access records remotely. As more people embrace remote working and the hybrid office, digital records can make data management easy from multiple locations. This is also useful for organizations that operate from different geographical areas.
Using data to its fullest potential
Once you’ve gathered data, it is important to know how to analyze it for good decision-making. Basic personal data can offer some information about your workforce.
Employee age is an example of a simple but useful data point. It can determine the average age of your workforce, and pinpoints issues, such as whether you can expect to lose staff to retirement in the coming months and years. When combined with length-of-service data, further insights can be gathered. For example, if a large number of employees are heading towards the time when many people have moved on from your organization, that can be a good opportunity to look at staff retention programs and training. When age data is combined with an employee survey, information about job satisfaction and whether members of your team can see a long career path in your organization come to light.
If you have taken an employee survey, the data gathered is only as good as its aggregation and analysis. The good news is that the technology to collate, aggregate and analyze is here already. These solutions will save hours of laborious manual data-processing work.
Using numerical scores in an employee survey, such as rankings from 1 to 5, will make quantifying data easier, especially when you use software to collate the results. Automation platforms that create easy-to-read charts make it easier to spot patterns and possible problem areas that need to be addressed.
Raw numbers alone, however, do not always give the complete picture so gathering qualitative data is important too. Allowing room in an employee survey for comments has multiple benefits. It empowers employees to have their say, it can help explain certain numerical results, and it gives employees an opportunity to raise issues that might not be mentioned in the survey questions. For example, an employee might score 4 out of 5 for job satisfaction, but if they can explain why they didn’t score a 5, it can shine a light on something that can be easily fixed. And if an employee enters a low score for job satisfaction, it is important that the reasons for this are highlighted so improvements can be made.
Employers should not be afraid of incorporating this level of candor into a survey – asking challenging questions can throw out challenging answers, but this beats the alternative of ignorance about situations that could escalate if they go unchecked. An empowered workforce where everyone feels they can speak freely can move mountains. If employees feel they can speak freely, their concerns will be acted on, and positive change emerges, the possibilities are almost limitless.
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