Do's and Don'ts of Using Employee Data

August 06, 2019

Contributor: Susan Moore

HR leaders can follow 4 best practices to ensure responsible use of employee information and analytics in decision making.

Most of us are happy to share personal details with our employer if it helps us choose between benefit options, avoid safety and compliance risks or save time filling out forms. We are less comfortable if personal information is used to make decisions about work opportunities or pay. In the wake of high profile privacy breaches, organizations have become more vigilant about customer data, but are they giving due attention to employee data?  Methods used to collect data about employees are growing, and range from standard employee engagement and exit surveys to data mining of publicly available professional data and highly experimental employee monitoring approaches like microchipping. At the same time, the use of talent analytics is also expanding.

“ Transparency is the key to trust, and employers need to articulate the benefits”

"It raises new questions for HR about digital ethics," said Robin Boomer, Gartner Senior Executive Advisor, during Gartner ReimagineHR Conference in Sydney, Australia. "As your employees’ advocates, HR leaders can and should set and enforce employee data ethics principles for their teams and their organizations,” he says.

4 best practices 

HR leaders can get started by following these four best practices.

1. Identify and learn from key partners

HR, privacy and other leaders should be asking key questions of each other. What data is used and how? Who has access and where is the data stored? What policies and procedures are in place to protect our data? What regulations apply to us? It’s not a one-way learning experience, so make sure to identify and share learnings with other key stakeholders — from legal and compliance or data privacy organization, IT or information security executives, data and analytics team and other business leaders in sales, marketing and finance.

2. Articulate an ethics code grounded in culture

Take your organization’s culture statement and work out how it applies to your use of data. For example, if innovation is top of the list of cultural attributes, how does HR set boundaries on the use of data while still innovating in talent management?

3. Mandate clarity of purpose and intent

Gartner recommends using a checklist to determine if the use of employee data makes sense and fits within your ethical framework.

Pay extra attention if a vendor is involved. “Make sure you understand what data is being used and how the analysis works, and if you don’t, ask,” said Boomer. “Think through potential unintended consequences of using a vendor’s solution, as they won’t always do this for you.”

4. Communicate the what and why to employees

Employees are willing to share more than you think. In a recent Gartner labor market survey, only 4% said they would be unwilling to share data of any category. Most can see the benefit of personalized HR services using some level of personal data. Transparency is the key to trust, and employers need to articulate the benefits of the program for the individual employee, not just the organization. Make sure the information is factual, complete succinct and jargon-free. Involve employees in reviewing (and correcting) their own data. Then stay true to the original intent.

Gartner ReimagineHR Conference

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Recommended resources for Gartner clients*:

This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools, templates and advice available to Gartner clients.

Gartner for HR clients can read more in What a Digital HR Function Means for Data and Employee Privacy.

*Note that some documents may not be available to all Gartner clients.

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