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Employee Data & Ethics - What Organisations Need to Know


In a digital world, the opportunities are endless - more so for businesses. The volume of data and information available for business research, customer targeting, is unbelievable and can work wonders for the organisation’s business growth. In fact, organisations now have the power to build a seamless experience at the workplace as well, with the help of employee data. By analysing how employees work and utilise their time, what their output is and much more, organisations can go into the depth of what drives success or failures for them. But this social listening at the workplace needs to be taken care of, responsibly.


Power of Employee Listening

Employee data is the most important asset HR has in hand. Available at their disposal, is data that reveals overall employee trends, what drives them, how productive they are, where their talents lie and many other factors that determine how growth can be achieved. But the first and foremost step to be able to analyse and translate, is listening. Observing employees and listening to what they are saying in today’s data-driven economy is extremely important. Something as simple as a survey not only engages employees but also gives insights on which strategic planning can be based.


Today, many organisations collect more data than ever on employees to make informed decisions. What helps are emerging technologies that add to the quality of the data which promotes continuous and real-time improvement. Azilen, an AI company, for instance, works on providing AI tools and services like Workforce Sentiment Analysis, Candidate Screening, Facial Recognition, helping organisations streamline their work environment. Especially as businesses today grapple to stay strong in the market, identifying employee backgrounds and knowing what motivates them is key. But such a large amount of rich data raises many ethical questions.


With Power Comes Responsibility

With businesses pursuing data-driven decision making, what follows is a significant amount of responsibility with the type of tools that capture not only employees’ thought processes but also with Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality tools used for training and biometric details from facial recognition tools, fingerprint scanning etc. Data points gathered from these sources come with their own benefits, but in scenarios like these, where does the organisation draw the line? Using employee data for better decisions should not translate into compromised employee privacy.


Let’s take the example of companies trying to monitor employee behaviour for any sign related to leaving the job. With the help of employee pulse surveys, the answers come straight from the employees. However, many organisations also make use of AI tools to monitor employee emails for such suggestive data. Although, this may not always be the case. It’s possible that someone is just having a bad day at work and that doesn’t necessarily mean that the employee wants to quit. In a situation like this, dependence on AI is not only an invasion of the employees’ privacy but can also yield misleading information. The same AI tool, on the other hand, can also catch abusive language on email - something that can potentially stop employees from harassing others in the organisation, a clear plus point. This contrast in how AI can be used brings us to the bottom line - Such issues at the workplace need to be solved with collaborative intelligence, a balance between artificial and human intelligence. Where AI picks up on the minutest details but cannot correctly analyse the reason behind it, is when human discretion comes into play - reinstating the importance of the HR team, people managers and others in leadership, knowing their employees.


That’s where the need to practice ethical data capturing comes in and putting across strong legal procedures around data capturing is the need of the hour. Moreover, it’s just as important to understand which platform to rely on depending on what suits the situation best. While drawing this line can be difficult, ensuring zero misuse is the organisations’ responsibility, and can be achieved with support - both legal, as well from experts who can study and analyse data.


Ensuring Ethical Use of Data

Responsible use of employee information should be every organisation’s top priority. It helps ensure trust amongst employees and also makes them feel comfortable. There are many steps that can be taken to ensure ethical use of data. For instance, companies can hire professional third party analysts rather than internal managers to gather and utilise the nitty gritty of the data collected in order to assure no personal information [marital status, family background etc.] is revealed. Also, it is important to ensure that the collected information is assessed equally for all employees, consistently to avoid unfair treatment.

Over and above all this is to set boundaries and give employees clarity on the purpose behind gathering data. Be transparent, explain the benefits and address any concerns that may follow. In the end, this is only possible if legal processes have been put in place to make sure this runs smoothly.


Data-Driven Growth Armed with Ethical Practices

In this data-led world, using technology to leverage information for the betterment of the business is challenging, no doubt. However, organisations must keep their actions in check in order to drive transparency amongst employees. At the same time, eliminating sensitive and personal information, and strictly using data related to the organisation’s growth is important. If done right, HR can not just leverage data to understand employees and boost retention, but can also drive organisational growth with the help of data-driven employer branding practices.


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