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    People analytics through tech is on the rise. Is your privacy safe?

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    PBLINK Editor 15, December 2020

    The function of HR is to empower employees to reach the peak of their potential and maintain high levels of productivity. The idea is simple enough, but controlling something as vacillating as productivity is a mammoth of a task. 

    Thankfully, the age of analytics and AI has brought precision and accuracy to a lot of tasks too complicated for human beings to tackle effectively at a large scale. People analytics is one such discipline. 

    With digitization of workplaces, which has enhanced dramatically since COVID-19 forced the world to work digitally from their homes, there is no shortage of data pertaining to an employees’ working behavior. Managing people through technology and data analysis can be a game-changer for the future of HR and talent management.


    But with every benefit that technology brings, it leaves behind new problems in its wake. In the case of people analytics, the most serious problem that has reared its head is that of privacy. 

    The Relationship between People Analytics and Privacy

    The end goal of people analytics is to ensure that organizations function as well-oiled machines that maintain optimum levels of effectiveness at all times. To achieve this goal, people analytics can leverage data related to employee’s behavior to develop insights and prepare data-driven strategies for enhancing an organization’s overall effectiveness.

    Obviously, the data that is needed to understand existing problems in organizational efficiency has to come from somewhere. In the context of HR, it comes from the actual people i.e employees responsible for performing tasks routinely in the workplace setting. This implies that any talent management system that relies on people analytics must establish pervasive monitoring and surveillance tools to acquire the necessary data for people analytics. 

    One of the many effects of COVID-19 is the increase in workplace surveillance, as employers scramble to implement digital tools to keep watch over their employees working remotely. While these measures can help improve productivity, it’s very easy to go overboard with employee monitoring, leading to micromanagement and increased stress on the employee, ultimately affecting their performance for the worse.

    The pandemic also led to a surge in VPNs  as online security and privacy requirements increased with work from home directives. This suggests that the workforce is privacy-aware and are driven to take measures to keep their privacy safe from potential leaks. 

    Although many VPN services like ExpressVPN offer a lot more than just privacy, as highlighted in reviews of the service, it is undeniable that privacy remains one of the topmost concerns for people since events like Cambridge Analytica took place in the recent past. 

    These facts show that privacy isn’t something that most employees would give up easily. And herein lies the challenge to the establishment of wide-scale people analytics measures. 

    Respecting Privacy in People Analytics Contexts

    The adoption of surveillance tools and technologies has become more normalized since the world went into a lockdown due to coronavirus pandemic. Although these technologies are considered almost necessary for helping prevent the spread of the virus, there is a certain level of skepticism surrounding the possibilities of misuse of these tools for more invasive purposes than initially intended.

    The same fears exist in organizational settings. There’s alway the possibility that surveillance and employee monitoring tech obtained today might later become tools that violate employee privacy. This is a dilemma that all organizations must confront. While people analytics is fully prepared to be deployed and put to good use in promoting effectiveness of an organization, the policies and frameworks for privacy protection and data handling are still far from ready.


    As such, HR departments have a much bigger responsibility that extends beyond implementation of people analytics. Any equitable people analytics system must be bound by policy frameworks that fully appreciate the ethical implications of the technology and ensure the protection of employee privacy as well as consent. 


    People analytics can only be fully successful if it has the support and acceptance of employees themselves. If these measures are forced upon the workforce, it’s likely to erode the trust that employees may have for their organizational leaders. This is why it is imperative that HR departments understand that the real challenge isn’t introducing people analytics technologies in an organization; rather, it is ensuring fair and just utilization of such technologies while fully respecting employee privacy and data protection rights.


    People analytics offers unprecedented analytical capabilities for enhancing organizational effectiveness, but the technology comes with necessary trade-offs that might require employees to sacrifice some of their privacy. 

    Although absolute privacy is incompatible in a digital world, it is possible to strike a balance that is mutually favorable to the employee as well as the employer such that effective utilization of technologies like people analytics don’t get in the way of privacy that every employee has a democratic right to.

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