Ethical Tech and Privacy: Combating data hesitancy
Author Krupa Solanki  | 

Collecting data to determine trends and patterns has clear benefits, but data hesitancy among employees can be a real roadblock. A key reason that many corporates have tended to lean away from data-driven strategies is because collecting data can often feel intrusive. Studies demonstrate that employer/employee trust has been eroded over the past years and more specifically that employees do not trust their employers to hold personal data about them, even where it might be used for their benefit in Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives. Such distrust is not novel, two years ago, Barclays were forced to roll-back on an initiative where they installed software that monitored workers’ activity on their computers to gain data on productivity, following backlash

Similarly, in 2016, British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph 2016 installed heat and motion monitoring devices under employees’ desks to gain data on which seats were occupied in a bid to be more sustainable. However, the devices were removed within 24 hours following backlash from staff who believed they were being spied on. Both case studies clearly demonstrate that employees may be hesitant to accept software or technology which collects data on their workstyles. Saying this, many of the issues surrounding hesitancy are borne from poor communication and inadequate change management. The problem is not in the data collection itself, but rather in what is being collected and what is communicated back to employees. Employees are often the last to know about these initiatives which, as demonstrated by the Telegraph employees in 2016, breeds the sentiment that they are being spied on or subject to unnecessary surveillance. Furthermore, lack of clarity and transparency about what exactly is being collected and why can further breed resentment. For any company looking to pursue the benefits of a data-driven workplace, there are four factors that might assist in combating data hesitancy amongst employees:

1. Transparency: As with most management of change, employees must feel that they are part of the decision-making process, or that they have been consulted or had an opportunity to voice feedback. Furthermore, installing technology or software that can collect data without providing a reasoning for doing so can seem draconian and inevitably leads to allegations of ‘big brother’-style surveillance.Leadership should be transparent and clear on their objectives for collecting data and communicate that plainly to their employees. Often the truth is less terrifying than imagination; frank communication on what is being proposed not only brings people along for the journey, but it also helps to highlight potential roadblocks and issues before the, often expensive, solution is implemented

2. Anonymity: All data collected should be wholly anonymous, with dual or triple anonymity applied to the data sets. Companies wishing to pursue a data-driven workplace strategy tend to be concerned with a holistic snapshot of the company and what can be improved. By corollary, there is no need to collect individual, granular data which can be traced back to employees. Assuring employees that data is anonymised, and ensuring that it is, is key to combating data hesitancy as it situates the individual as a small part of a bigger picture. Where there is a danger that leadership are tracking and monitoring individual employee, concerns about what the employee will do with that specific data begin to emerge. At any rate, such individual, identifiable data is not necessary for a data-driven workplace strategy, which looks at the company as a whole, and makes decisions based on the sum total of what is being presented.

3. Purposeful: A key way that leadership can lose employees to data hesitancy is in asking for data that holds no purpose or value. This leads employees to believe that something sinister is occurring. For example, when conducting a workplace survey on technology tools that might be helpful to certain roles, there is no need to ask for data regarding what sex or sexual orientation that person is. Doing so merely alienates the user and returns a high statistic that they will either incorrectly complete the form or refuse to do so. Making sure that all data collected ties into a higher objective or purpose, which is communicated to the employee, is essential

4. Value proposition: There is a simple reason that upwards of 90% of i-phone users have provided their face or thumb print to apple to gain access to their phone: Ease. If the user feels that they are being given something back in return for their data, or that their data is being utilised for something that brings them tangible benefit, they are less likely to feel hesitant towards collection of that data. By providing a good value proposition for employees, leaders will be able to combat data hesitancy and gain better benefit of accurate and freely given data. Leadership should consider how user data and how it has been used might be communicated back to employees. This ties in with the transparency piece as it helps users understand that the data has not been collected for nefarious reasons, rather it has been utilised for the benefit of the users. Leadership might also consider forms of communicating user data back to users such as information radiators or dashboards. At Deloitte in Canada, an employee dashboard details a range of informative data such as which floors in the building are less busy or what the wait time at the IT bar is. On the quirkier end, the dashboard also shows employees what their coffee consumption has been. This small act of communicating data back to employees brings huge value as it demonstrates how the data being collected is being utilised