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Balancing Big Data and "Big Brother" in the workplace

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Balancing Big Data and "Big Brother" in the workplace

New report reviews opportunities and risks of next-generation human capital analytics.

Recent advances in human capital analytics have allowed innovative organizations to leverage real-time workplace data into significant competitive advantages. Yet the same technology can easily be perceived as "spying" on employees, eroding trust and undermining any gains achieved in efficiency and engagement.

"New data sources available today can give employers unprecedented insight into the strengths, weaknesses, and dynamics of their workforce," said Mary Young, Principal Researcher, Human Capital at The Conference Board and a co-author of a recently-released report on the risks and opportunities arising from HCA.

"New data sources available today can give employers unprecedented insight into the strengths, weaknesses, and dynamics of their workforce." 

"From real-time sentiment polls to email header and calendar analysis to electronic sensing, new technologies help companies identify the behavior patterns of top performers, help other employees improve, and spot emerging issues so leaders can address them quickly. But they can only do so if employees understand why the company wants to collect additional data, agree to participate, and trust that this information won't be used against them. "

Among the report's key insights:

  • Trust matters. Any HCA initiative is only as powerful employees' willingness to share personal information and not mask their true thoughts and feelings for fear of being identified or punished. Big Data magnifies the old maxim: garbage in, garbage out.

  • Legal requirements aren't insurmountable. With properly designed opt-in and anonymization protocols, even companies operating in countries with tough data-protection rules can leverage next-generation HCA tools legally and profitably.

  • Context and use case matters. Before collecting and analyzing new kinds of employee data, companies must establish a clear business case—one understood not just by legal and privacy officers, but the entire workforce. 

  • Aggregated—not individual—data is the goal. Despite employees' understandable fears about "Big Brother" surveilling their workdays, the actual value of next-generation HCA lies not in tracking any specific person's behavior, but in the picture it provides of overall workforce dynamics. By anonymizing and aggregating employee data, companies can overcome privacy concerns, meet legal requirements, and gain real-time insights about their workforce and even emerging issues on the marketplace.
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