Building trust key to best use of workplace data

04 February 2019 5 min. read

Employees are more concerned with being monitored at work than ever, with a host of new digital technologies making it easier than ever before to gather their data and analyse their workplace behaviours. According to a new report, however, if companies use workplace data to improve the working lives of staff, rather than berate them, productivity could boom.

Leveraging workplace data to decoding organisational DNA can yield a host of positive business benefits. At the same time, there is a major difference in growth rates for companies depending on how they do this. If they keep employees on-board, and gear data towards improving life for them, rather than to harry and heckle them, a company can enjoy as much as a  12.5% advantage over those who lose trust. Globally, this could make a $3.1 trillion economic difference.

According to a new study from Accenture, 62% of businesses are using new technologies and sources of workforce data extensively. However, this trend is increasingly unnerving workers across the world, who fear that the collection of their data is being used to crack down on behaviours not deemed profitable or productive, but may well be essential to surviving the average working day. In the UK, for example, a TUC study found that 56% of UK workers believe they are monitored by their boss at work, with surveillance data being used to set unfair targets and "take away autonomy."

The risks go both ways

The research found the forms of surveillance that are least acceptable to workers were facial recognition software and mood monitoring at 76% against, monitoring social media accounts outside work (69%), recording a worker's location on portable devices (67%) and monitoring of keyboard strokes (57%). With reports of using data to police activities such as toilet breaks continuing to dog large companies such as Amazon and Aviva outsourcer Teleperformance, fears of how future surveillance may look for UK employees were further provoked by the news Sky News staff will now be subject to a Panopticon of online observation, as the activities of staff in the company’s newsroom will soon be broadcast live, non-stop, on an internet television service.

As the pushback against such employment practices continues to pile pressure on companies which are supposedly vying for recruits amid a so-called talent shortage, the reputational damage alone is enough to put some firms off pursuing workplace data gathering further. Only 30% of business leaders are very confident that their organisation is using the data in a highly responsible way, suggesting many would hold off on their efforts for fear of the damage it could do. 

At the same time, despite the perceived risk, as the rewards of workforce data can be so high, some companies are even willing to tap into it at the risk of irresponsible behaviour. 49% of business leaders say that, in the absence of sufficient legislation to guide them, they would still press ahead with using new technologies to collect workforce data without taking additional measures for responsibility.

The Data Trust Dividend: The Impact of Workforce Trust on Financial Performance

While employees have concerns, however, they are overwhelmingly in favour of the practice, if the data is collected responsibly and benefits them. Accenture found that 92% of employees are open to the collection of data on them and their work in exchange for an improvement in their productivity, their wellbeing or other benefits. Ultimately, then, it all boils down to how the information is collected, and what it is used for, that can make all the difference for the use of workforce data.

If companies build trust in the workforce, Accenture believes they will create value for both individuals and the business as a whole. At the same time, damaging trust by recklessly reaping data from staff for use they are not consulted on can damage productivity – the opposite of what bosses who will use these tactics are actually hoping for – with a global value of $6.1 billion potentially forfeited by companies failing to heed Accenture’s warning. For those who do adopt responsible strategies, at the same time, the trust dividend could be worth more than a 6% increase in future revenue growth.

Eva Sag-Gavin, Senior Managing Director of Accenture's Talent & Organisation Practice, said of the findings, “Organisations are concerned by ethical challenges… We recommend three areas of action. First, give your people more control of their own data to build trust. Second, revolutionise governance, by replacing top-down approaches with genuinely shared responsibility. And finally, if companies can use workforce data to improve the lives of their people, they can use it to boost creativity, productivity and long-term business results. This is not just about mitigating risk, it’s about elevating employee trust to levels we’ve never previously seen before.”

Related: How organisations can manage stress in the workplace.