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January 28, 2019
Employee data: Productivity goldmine – or breach of trust?
By: Bob Easton

Just because we can harness workforce data doesn’t mean we always should.

This takeout from Accenture research released at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week provoked many conversations about the new trust contract between employers and workers, with the highlights explored in more detail below.

Trust is the currency of the digital economy

Recently, privacy breaches and the irresponsible use of data have damaged trust between brands and consumers. Now, the same issues are arising in the work place as organisations collect and use employee data to drive workforce productivity.

New technologies are allowing us to capture data on workforces and workplaces that can transform our understanding of how people work with each other and with intelligent machines. Just as the explosion of consumer data has helped to create entirely new business models and customer experiences, decoding workforce data can create massive opportunities. In fact, the research we just released at Davos (Decoding Organisational DNA) shows that 92% of Australian business leaders recognise that new technologies and sources of workplace data can be used to unlock value that is currently “trapped” in the enterprise.

But, the ability to collect precise information from the workplace is pushing business leaders into a moral grey zone where we’ll need to answer thorny questions:

  • To what extent should employees and managers be able to access or control the use of workforce data?

  • Should workers be granted ownership of data collected on them?

  • How can AI be trusted to make fair and unbiassed recommendations on fielding job candidates, reconfiguring teams or assessing performance?

  • Will the use of objective data result in taking meritocracy too far and lead businesses to undervalue hard to measure human qualities?

And what happens if we lose trust?

Our report shows that losing the trust of employees could significantly damage Australian organisations’ financial performance – potentially a loss of around 6% in future revenue growth. But it also reveals that 86% of Australian workers are open to their employers collecting data on their work if it helps to improve personal productivity and guarantee fairer pay and promotions. In fact, they are keen for data to be collected if, in return, it helps create customised experiences - from learning to compensation and benefits.

How to navigate the moral grey zone of employee data

Executives are entering this new territory without a roadmap because industry standards and policy regulations have not kept pace with the progress of technology.

As a starting point, we recommend:

  • Giving employees control of their data to gain trust. Trust accelerates the flow of data. But trust can only be earned by ceding a great deal of control to people, including letting them own their own data.

  • Replacing governance with shared responsibility. To avoid the risk of ‘surveillance capitalism,’ traditional top-down governance must be replaced by sharing responsibility with employees.

  • Using technology creatively to elevate people. Used creatively, artificial intelligence (AI), Blockchain and other technologies can improve fairness, security and control over data.

Workforce data has the potential to deliver a substantial productivity uplift. But this will only be possible if workers trust their employers to use employee data respectfully and responsibly.

Executives need to start building that trust now, laying the foundations that ensure they use workforce data in a responsible, human and ethical way.

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