Should you be worried about HR analytics?

Wendy Melville explains how HR teams can use employee data to their advantage

Let’s face it, Big Brother is watching you. With security cameras on practically every street corner and the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s perfectly normal to get concerned about who has access to your data and what they are using it for. But we’re not living in an Orwellian nightmare just yet. 

Data has become a touchy subject for companies themselves, especially in the wake of the introduction of the GDPR. However, companies shouldn’t see the regulation as a cause for widespread panic – rather, they should view it for what it is: an acknowledgement of consumer rights regarding their data privacy.  

We know that our data can be used to influence us – the number of personalised ads we see on the internet shows how data is used to show us more of the things we like. But can this power be used for good? The answer is yes, and the likelihood is that your HR department are already doing just that. But with great power comes great responsibility.

With more diversity in the workplace than ever before, it is impossible to create a universal wellbeing strategy that will help to support and engage all employees at every company. This doesn’t mean that you should stop offering rewards altogether; it just makes HR analytic tools a requirement for effective engagement. 

These tools allow for the collection of data, your data. Scary, right? Not really. An ethical HR department will appreciate both the legal and moral implications of collecting data on staff members and would never ask for anything other than anonymised aggregated data. Essentially, they will only be able to see the top line figures, the number of employees that use a certain service, and common reasons that they are using it.

We offer usage data from our benefits platform to HR departments which can be used to improve their employees’ financial, physical and mental wellbeing. Our customers are able to see the total amount their employees have spent on discount vouchers collectively, and how much these vouchers have saved them, to see which benefits are more valued by the employees.

Using our reports, a HR department might see, for example, that 30 per cent of staff have accessed the EAP helpline, and that a fifth of these calls were related to financial stress. Therefore, they may consider making financial education or access to financial support available to all staff, using this data to shape your benefits strategy in the future.

This all helps tailor the benefits offered, to choose options that resonate and are actually desired by the workforce. 

We always err on the side of caution when it comes to employee data – as should any company that has access to employee data. For example, companies with 50 or fewer employees don’t receive access to the anonymous aggregated data that larger companies can view, just in case they are able to deduce who the numbers correspond to. We also never reveal the spending habits of individual employees, the specifics of EAP usage, or the content of virtual GP consultations. This information stays with the provider of the service. 

Ultimately, responsibility lies with both employers and service providers to ensure that the data is protected and remains anonymous, and to be transparent about what is collected. Through being safe and sensible with this data, companies and employees can create a personalised employee benefits strategy which makes for a happier and ultimately more productive workplace. 

Wendy Melville is head of marketing at Personal Group