Article: HR’s role in ensuring employee privacy

Employee Relations

HR’s role in ensuring employee privacy

Most companies today use multiple data collation and analyzing softwares. And more are lining up to jump on the bandwagon of data-driven decision making. But in these times, it becomes the responsibility of HR professionals to balance employee privacy with business needs.
HR’s role in ensuring employee privacy

The ambit of the technological application within business processes has, of late, started to grow exponentially. Data analytics is slowly becoming the bedrock of decision making in many leading organizations. Employees today find almost every activity being monitored, creating a data point for the company to collect data derive insights out of them. And there seems to be a strong business need to do so as well. Research shows that businesses using data-driven decision-making, predictive analytics, and big data are more competitive and have higher returns as compared to their other counterparts that don’t. As the incentive of using a data-driven decision making and using nuanced predictive analytics software has risen over the years, so have the number of employee activities that are monitored today.  

But as a manager, it is often critical  to understand the difference between collecting data to improve decision making and collecting data that invades employee privacy.  This thin line is often overlooked when it comes to monitoring employees to ensure performance and collect data on their behaviors and preferences.  The advent of newer technologies that keep a tap on employees at almost a 24x7 basis, calls for HR leaders to work closely with managers to build monitoring practices that don’t invade the personal space of their employees. The contractual power given to the employers in an employee-employer relationship makes it even more important for companies to be cognizant of the fact that they don’t overstep when it comes to extracting information from the employee.  Although court rulings and legislatures would soon provide a legal guidance on the issue, it is important for HR professionals to develop an internal framework that ensures internal monitoring processes don’t violate employee privacy. Besides a being ethically wrong, invading employee privacy on a regular basis would make the company more vulnerable to employee dissatisfaction and subsequently to high attrition rates. 

Research has shown that the characteristics of a strong and robust company culture can be defined by seven key areas: honesty, focus on performance, accountability, collaboration, agility, innovation, and an orientation towards winning. While employee monitoring may improve a company’s short-term ability to react flexibly to market forces, a heavy reliance on employee surveillance is likely to compromise feelings of honesty, personal accountability, and collaboration within an organization.

How can HR professionals then, ensure that their data collation and monitoring process does not end up invading employee privacy? The following ways might help HR professionals decrease their chances of doing so:

Build a culture of trust

Building a culture of trust is paramount within a company that depends heavily on collecting employee data to make decisions. The first step toward this is by defining a clear objective for the data collection and monitoring processes. To begin with, this would help HR professionals identify and remove the unnecessary channels of data collection within the company.  By establishing clear metrics that need to be assessed HR professionals help teams to ensure that the employee data being collected isn’t being used for unintended processes. Communicating the rationale of employee monitoring processes within the company also helps build an environment where the employees trust their employers with the information that they provide. 

Make processes as anonymous as possible

Introducing anonymity in the employee data being collected ensures that the responses reflect the reality more closely. This means that employees are given the scope to be more frank and present unbiased opinions. Privacy issues are minimized when the surveys require anonymous feedback. Rather than being doubtful of how or where their data would be used, allowing employees to be anonymous, gives them to confidence to provide information more freely.    

Give agency to your employees 

One of the most crucial factors in establishing a culture of trust within the company is to provide its employees with a sense of agency over the information they choose to provide.  A way to realize this in day to day working is by allowing them to give their permission to the collection of their responses for the given objective. Allowing the employees to either opt-in or opt-out of company surveys is a good way seeking their consent when it comes to providing data that cannot be collected anonymously.  This helps the employees in building a stronger trust in the company while allowing HR professionals to collect employee information with their consent. 

Employ strong data security measures for confidential data

Data security is increasingly becoming an important issue for many companies entering the digital age. As more and more processes are taken ‘online’ and performed using interconnected systems, the chances of data leaking from somewhere within the entire channel become even more realistic.  With the introduction of cloud based systems which provide real-time access to information also increases the chances of such information being used inappropriately. HR professionals need to strengthen their monitoring processes from end –to-end. This involves using strong data protection programs and streamlining the process of data crunching to remove unnecessary components within the chain that may allow data leakages.   

Use a trusted third party

HR professionals need to strategically deploy the usage of third party vendors when it comes to collecting employee information to make data-driven decisions. By doing so, they remove the scope of the company infringing employee privacy to a very large extent. Allowing third parties perform data cleansing, anonymization and aggregation creates layer protection where sensitive employee data cannot be misused by the company. Although this comes with the added caveat that the third party vendor undergoes a screening process to ensure that they are reliable in handling employee data and their channels to access data are leakage proof. Only then can using a third party help employees build confidence in the company and its practices.

Although surveillance, monitoring and especially data collection are soon to become industry norms for companies to perform better, HR professionals need to play an active role when it comes towards securing employee data. The implications of employee monitoring for business productivity are mixed, requiring HR professionals to play a much larger balancing role. This includes motivating and building a culture of trust within the company that allows employees to provide information more freely while also ensuring that the company doesn’t execute monitoring processes which might be unethical or not actively in the interest of the employees. It is important for HR professionals to ask themselves the difficult question when it comes to employee privacy. However, given the increasing pervasiveness of technology in the workplace, it would be irresponsible to use to avoid asking difficult questions.

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Topics: Employee Relations

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