The Edward Snowden of HR: How Privacy and Employee Data Collection Can Co-Exist Peacefully in Your Organization

by Laurie Ruettimann | Posted | Industry Buzz

The Edward Snowden of HR: How Privacy and Employee Data Collection Can Co-Exist Peacefully in Your Organization

There isn’t an HR professional on the planet who hasn’t looked an employee in the eye and thought, “Man oh man, I am being lied to.”

From a request for intermittent sick leave to a shoddy attendance record, human resources professionals around the world are asked to swoop into difficult conversations — often when it is too late — and advise supervisors and managers on how to navigate the tricky waters of employee relation’s issues.

And there is a great myth in the global workforce that your local HR lady is working with the National Security Agency — with advice from Edward Snowden and Julian Assange — to mine through terabytes of employee data and fire anyone who ever expresses a hint of dissatisfaction in the workforce.

That’s just not true

While there are greater opportunities to watch employees and measure worker productivity, it’s rare to meet a human resources professional who is proficient on her iPad — let alone a cloud-based data-monitoring tool — and can leverage big data to do anything more than balance an annual merit budget.

So when you see a story like the one from France where IKEA has been accused of spying on its employees and cranky customers, you should know that it is an anomaly. Those actions are atrocious, but they are very uncommon. When spying does happen, it generally springs from a consortium of players such as legal officers, risk managers and external vendors who are experts in busting workplace scams.

Like everything else, HR is often the last to know

Human resources professionals do have some power, though. They sit on a treasure trove of valid, relevant, and meaningful employee data. So how does a talent acquisition professional or a local human resources generalist get smarter about analytics while respecting workplace privacy?

1. Stop thinking about big data. Focus on audacious goals. If you can dream it, chances are that your company has the data to determine whether or not you can do it. From filling a dozen requisitions in a new office to embarking on a revised learning management strategy, you probably have employee data that can predict whether or not your strategies will be successful. Go find it.

2. Create a data transparency policy. HR leaders can partner with chief technology officers to outline how workplace monitoring occurs and define how organizational data will be used in the evaluation of performance.

3. Champion the role of an internal data ombudsman. Where do employees go when they feel that data has been misused or misinterpreted? An ombudsmen can provide an impartial point-of-view but also provide peace of mind to your workforce.

4. Understand the benefits and risks of BYOD policies. Since the start of Blackberry's business woes, many HR departments are finally allowing employees to carry one mobile device instead of a personal and professional smartphone. Your HR team should work hand-in-hand with IT specialists to understand the benefits and risks of container technologies versus business application virtualization services.

5. Fire anyone who misuses policy. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. If someone misuses her access to data, it’s important to send a quick message that reckless behavior will not be tolerated.

Finally, the best thing HR can do when dealing with employees is to assume good intent. It’s easy to believe that someone is always trying to con you. Many times, you may find you were right in that assumption. But when in doubt, look to data and technology to help you see the forest for the trees.

Your turn: What do you think is needed to ensure balance between privacy and employee data collection? 

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