How Data Can Make HR More Human

October 28, 2015

How Data Can Make HR More Human

The relationship between employers and employees has changed. Back in the mid-twentieth century, people would commit to just one or two companies throughout their entire careerand what the organization said, went. But as the job market became more open and competitive, and as people started to operate more like free agents, employees saw a steady increase in their bargaining power. As a result, organizations now need to work much harder to attract and retain their top talent.



So, what can the business leaders of today do to ensure their organizations are an attractive place to work?


Just like a lot of things in today's business world, it comes down to data. To build an organization where people actually want to come to work every day, management needs to have the right data to leverage what engages and makes employees feel valued.


How Valuable is Employee Data?


This is a certainly pressing issue. A 2014 research study from Gallup suggests that only 13 percent of all employees are "highly engaged," whereas 26 percent are "actively disengaged." In addition, Millennialsa notoriously hot-footed demographic with high expectations—are gradually starting to dominate the job market. If companies want to continue to grow, there is clear pressure for employee engagement to be not just an HR program, but a core part of the business strategy.


For management to make the best decisions about their employees, they need to be able to collect and interpret the relevant data about their well-being. The most committed leaders will capture sentiment in real-time so as to be continuously adjusting the work environment at a local level.


Tools and Sources of Employee Data


One of the most useful tools for gauging employee sentiment is, of course, the real-time engagement survey, which provides employers with real-time analytics on the health of their organization. Emotion monitoring apps, also present convenient ways for companies to tap into the mood of their workforce.

But there are many other types of data that can be used to understand what motivates employees. Google, for example, is famous for meticulously monitoring employee well-being. It collects and compares data sets from various sources, ranging from retention and attrition rates, responses to benefits, responses to pay increases, middle-manager feedback surveys, length of lunch lines, and even dinner plate sizes. They also hold regular focus groups and have a very hands-on attitude to management, which feeds important anecdotal information into the HR decision making process.


Applying Employee Engagement Data Within Your Organisation


To be constantly monitoring engagement data trends using feedback surveys allows for employers to quickly address any issues before they escalate. Also, in the long term, statistical employee data allows the company to make informed decisions about how to keep people motivated and inspired (and, as a consequence, how to keep making money).


How should this engagement data be applied though? As well as management drawing their own conclusions, a good idea is to share data internally within your company. By sharing data trends at, say, a monthly employee meeting, further feedback can be given from employees themselves on the areas that need improvement. Not only does this make management better informed, but the transparency also makes employees feel valued and more committed to seeing their organization improve.


Google "POPS" Department: A Case Study

Crunching statistical data (i.e. attrition rates, responses to benefits) should ideally be the sole remit of upper management, but this doesn't mean a dialogue can't be struck up with employees on what changes they'd like to see. Google's People Operations department, (or POPS for short) ran a "conjoint survey" in 2010 to figure out the best pay increase option.


It was a choice between two options: Would employees rather have $1,000 more in salary, or $2,000 as a one off bonus? Prasad Setty, head of POPS, outlines the results of the survey: "What we found was that they valued base pay above all. When we offered a bonus of X, they valued that at what it costs us. But if you give someone a dollar in base pay, they value it at more than a dollar because of the long-term certainty."


As a consequence of this finding, Eric Schmidt, the CEO, later announced that all Googlers would receive a 10 percent salary increase. Setty says people were overjoyed, and attrition to competing companies consequently declined.


What's The Future of Employee Engagement?


As organizations become more and more democratic, businesses will need to continue to find innovative ways of making their company an irresistible place to work. Data can certainly provide many of the insights needed; however, this is not to say that people analytics will replace the human decision-making process. HR is still about humans: data and algorithms simply arm these people with much more relevant information, so that they're capable of making smarter decisions.

The Authors: 

Hugh Tonks is the CEO of Thymometrics, a supplier of employee engagement surveys. He has more than 34 years of experience in IT in various roles, with a patent relating to Virtual Worlds. 

Connect with Hugh on Twitter @hugh_tonks or on LinkedIn.