Workforce data collection risks damaging employee trust: Accenture survey

In a typical day in the office in 2019, your employer might be collecting a lot of data about you.

Perhaps you use a time tracking tool, or log in to the CRM to log information about customers. Maybe you wear a Fitbit that sends data back to the company’s benefits program to provide incentives around healthcare insurance. Maybe there are even some surveillance tools in place, such as cameras or sensors that detect your presence.

All of that can add up to the feeling that you’re being watched, and that doesn’t help engender trust in an office environment. In a recent global survey of 10,000 workers and C-level executives across 13 countries conducted by professional services firm Accenture in October and November 2018, attitudes around workforce data were explored.

At a time when phrases like “surveillance capitalism” are appearing in headlines and massive data breaches are resulting in tech executives being hauled in front of Senate committees, employees are more concerned about data collection.

“When the workers completed the survey, more than half think the use of workforce data risks damaging trust,” said Debra Giesen, managing director of talent and organization at Accenture Canada. “The recent scandals over the misuse of data makes them concerned over the misuse of data.”

In Canada, 70 per cent of executives surveyed said they are collecting data on their employees. That’s slightly higher than the global average, at 60 per cent. Yes only 24 per cent of those Canadian executives are “very confident” they’re doing so in a responsible way.

Given that, it’s no surprise that 57 per cent of Canadian workers think that new sources of workforce data risks damaging trust. While almost nine out of 10 workers are open to collection of data about them by their employers, that comes with the prerequisite that it improves their performance, well-being, or provides clear benefits. More than six in 10 workers say they’d exchange more of their work-related data for customized compensation, rewards, and benefits.

So it seems that if employers want to pursue workforce data initiatives, they’ll have to strike the right balance of doing so where the benefit is clear to workers.

“It’s not about surveillance,” Giesen says. “This is about using data in the right ways and good ways.”

Accenture offers a three-pillar framework to guide its customers in their efforts. Giesen shared some of its principles.

3 pillar framework for workforce data success

1) Give employees control and build trust.

Employees want to own their workforce data and take it with them when they leave their jobs, Accenture’s survey found. Organizations should be asking them to opt-in to any such programs.

“How can employees co-own that data with their employer?” Giesen asks. In doing so, employees have the opportunity to make the data more relevant. “They can say ‘Hey, I have this additional skill that isn’t captured here.”

Being transparent about what data is being collected and why it’s being collected is key to building trust.

2) Share responsibility and benefits.

A member of the executive team has to bear responsibility for the workforce data initiative and involve employees in the design of the system. Accenture’s survey finds that at present, only 30 per cent of businesses are doing this, but that one-third plan to do so in future.

“Many organizations think about having a chief ethics officer, but we don’t see a lot of this today,” Giesen says. “We’re going to see organizations move much faster to put one in place.”

3) Elevate people and use tech responsibly. 

Companies should use artificial intelligence and other technology to provide employees with more opportunities for growth, and to ensure fairness and diversity, Accenture advises. About three-quarters of employees surveyed said that reliable data gathering will lead to improved fairness in pay, promotions, and appraisal.

As an example, Giesen points to AI technology that can detect gender bias in job descriptions. Or the ability to create hyper-personalized services and experiences for employees.

“We talk about tech for good and using tech in responsible ways, this one is about thinking through that, Giesen says. “If organizations get this right, the value of the benefit here is huge.”

Accenture’s report says $3.1 trillion USD of future revenue growth is at stake globally for large companies, depending on how workforce data strategies affect employee trust. Firms that use responsible workforce data strategies could see their revenue grow u to 12.5 per cent higher than those who don’t.

Where employee data lives

Most enterprises house data related to their employees and their performance in a human capital management (HCM) software platform. Here’s a look at the major players in that category from


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Former editorial director of IT World Canada. Current research director at Info-Tech

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