No One Expects the HR Inquisition!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

HR departments should embrace data analytics, provided safeguards are put in place

Personal data is the talk of the town. Whether it’s being used for advertising, marketing or political campaigns, details of your online behaviour are the resource of the future. Those rich in the commodity – Google, Facebook, Amazon – have been able to extract, refine, value, sell and buy data in volumes which may unsettle those who value their privacy and think the process opaque. Already, regulators have begun to react, and battle lines have been drawn.

You’ll probably remember the scandal earlier this year, when political marketing company Cambridge Analytica was accused of using dirty campaign tricks to benefit their clients. They collected over 50 million Facebook user profiles with the help of a Cambridge University researcher called Aleksandr Kogan, and his “thisisyourdigitallife” personality quiz. For those unfamiliar with the story, the quiz was said to be a research experiment to be used by scientists to build psychological profiles. A portion of this data was then used by Cambridge Analytica to build “psychographic” models, which were applied to influence American voters. Even worse, prior to changes in 2015, providing an app with access to the personal data on your Facebook profile could also enable it to access the data belonging to friends who hadn’t fully optimised their privacy settings. This caused many people to fear that their online usage information, interests and behavioural data are being used for nefarious purposes - thankfully, this isn’t always the case.

On the other end of the spectrum, new regulations, such as GDPR, are trying to give consumers more control over how their data is used, managed and stored.  Now more than ever, it is imperative for businesses to understand and respect consumer rights regarding their data privacy. Behavioural data is not just used by advertisers to make their ad spend more effective, data analytics offers HR departments a unique opportunity to significantly increase the wellbeing of their employees and improve benefits uptake, while still fully respecting the data privacy of individuals.

Employees’ needs have never been uniform, and with the rise of less traditional employment contracts, workplace diversity and geographically dispersed workforces, meeting employee needs has become a greater hurdle than ever. HR analytics can give HR department’s instant insights into what a workforce wants and uses, and when. Does this sound intrusive? Well it doesn’t have to be. Harvesting personal data without consent is both illegal and unethical, and the HR department knows this. Instead, HR analytics gathers collective data – allowing HR to see which benefits are popular, when they’re most popular and helps them work out why.

At Personal Group, we help HR departments improve their employees financial, physical and mental wellbeing through the responsible use of our platform’s usage data. This can be used to highlight benefits and services which most benefit their staff. For example, HR departments are able to see the total amount employees have spent on discount vouchers collectively, and how much these vouchers have saved them, to see which discounts are most valued by employees.

Alternatively, if they see that a substantial portion of their staff have accessed the EAP helpline, and that many of these calls were related to financial stress (again as a collective figure), they may consider making financial education sessions or access to financial support available to all staff, and ultimately redesign their benefits offering to better suit employee needs.

We also provide HR departments with aggregated data on the most accessed services, which can help them identify which benefits are most valued by staff as a whole. This helps HR professionals to tailor the benefits offered, choose options that their staff really want and assists them in shaping their employee comms strategy, ensuring the subject matter is as relevant and timely as possible.

Surveys have consistently shown that the majority of employees believe their employers are responsible for ensuring their overall wellbeing, and they actually welcome help to stay healthy.

We always act with caution when handling employee data and we never provide data from which an individual’s situation might be deduced; if the company we are providing Hapi to has 50 or fewer employees then we do not even offer access to the anonymous aggregated data that our larger clients can view. We also never reveal the spending habits of individual employees, the specifics of individual EAP usage, or the content of OnDemand GP consultations to HR departments. This information stays confidential and will not be revealed to the employer. 

Ultimately, companies should be doing everything they can to not only keep employees personal data safe but also to be transparent about what information they are collecting and what they are using it for. Some of this responsibility also lies with service providers to ensure that the data we handle is protected, secure and remains anonymous. Through being safe and sensible with data, companies can create a personalised employee benefits strategy tailored to each employee’s individual needs which drives both engagement and productivity, creating a win-win for both employer and employee.

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