Is your HR Department overstepping the ethical boundaries of Employee Data Usage?

22 January, 2019

Is Your HR Department Overstepping The Ethical Boundaries of Employee Data Usage?

Ethics in the workplace is broadly defined as the prescribed standard of conduct that people in the workplace should adhere to in their work relationships.

However, ethical issues in businesses have always been complex and blurred. With the emergence and advancement of new data technologies, this has simply exacerbated the unclear boundaries.

The advancements of technologies in the workplace, particularly in the HR department, has allowed employers to amass and analyse large volumes of employees’ data. These employees’ data can easily be extracted through text contained in company documents, email exchanges or instant messaging in office or even via social media.

The need to collect employees’ data was primarily driven by the obligation to ensure legislation or contractual compliance within the organisation. Additionally, employees’ information are collected for HR administrative matters as well, such as payroll, taxes filing, salary disbursement and for record-keeping in certain cases of legal matters.

Today, it has dawned upon corporations that these vast amounts of valuable data can actually pave way to a whole new avenue of management opportunities within the HR domain. HR professionals can conduct predictive analysis on the turnover rates of employees, track employees engagement and performance levels and provides insights to top management on the entire organization’s workforce activity.

Naturally, these game-changing “workforce analytics” are bound to create a lot of excitement, anguish and debate within the workplace. While both the HR department and organization are certainly reaping numerous benefits, there are still ethical concerns to address. After all, this involves collecting employees’ personal information, albeit at their discretion.

Nonetheless, consider these scenarios as to what the HR department can do with employees’ data as opposed to what the HR department should do. If you find that your HR department has been put in several of these situations, perhaps it is time to raise the red flag.

Who knows who?

The HR department use employee data to outline a network of relationships among employees or potential talents. From a HR perspective, this is indisputably an invaluable tool. Firstly, the HR department can identify employees who might be related to each other without declaring it. This can then allow them to step in to prevent any unwanted conflict of interests within the organisation. Secondly, knowing second or third degree connections’ of employees can allow the HR department to expand their talent pool.

However, ethical conflicts in these situations can arise – particularly when these analysis identify sensitive personal relationships that could ultimately compromise on the employee’s job or worse, the other party’s job as well.

Who is next to quit?

Predictive analysis on the organisation’s turnover rates is definitely a powerful tool. It helps the HR department better prepare for resignations and start looking for potential candidates earlier. In turn, this can help save the organisation time and cost spent looking for replacements.

However, such in-depth analysis on the organisation’s turnover rates might result in employees feeling uneasy and a sense of constantly being under scrutiny. Additionally, it might result in managers jumping to conclusions too quickly about their employees when it could simply be a fleeting moment of disengagement.


Unintentional fodder for gossip

Given that employees’ data involves a lot of personal and highly confidential data, handling these sensitive information requires a lot of caution and attentiveness. Additionally, the HR department has to ensure that robust security protocols are in place to prevent any unwanted data leak to outsiders. If you suddenly find certain sensitive information of yourself being publically available, perhaps it is time to question the robustness of your security measures.

Lack of communication

As the HR department is collecting these sensitive and personal information about the employee, it is imperative that the HR department are transparent in communicating with employees on the usage of such this data. Ideally, there should be regular communications such as mailers, talks to educate and inform employees on what the HR department and organisation intends to do with these information collected.

If you are not even hearing a peep from the folks at the HR department, it is time to start questioning them.

The opportunities in data analytics, particularly workforce analytics, are limitless. Ultimately, there is a fine line between using these information for the organisation's needs without compromising on ethicality. The HR department simply has no choice but to tread this fine line of balance.