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Want real HR change? Look to data and analytics

Deb Muller
Deb Muller
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, a technology solution that combines documentation, process and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world.

For more than a year-and-a-half, HR teams have been dealing with fallout from the pandemic, including seismic shifts in how and where work gets done and a transformed workplace that requires new skills and employee experience initiatives. HR also has been handling recent political and social upheavals that have significant implications for the workforce, including the #MeToo movement and demand for social justice and equality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter.

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Seventy-five percent of companies are using technology solutions for managing employee relations–an 11% increase from 2019–allowing them to create employee data repositories and gain better analytics capabilities. But now they must take the next step and use this data to drive decision-making, ensure access to reliable insights and effect meaningful change. Organizations need to rely on that data to establish goals and provide context for future direction in order to obtain leader buy-in and support. It’s also important to leverage the data to illuminate patterns and trends that require action in order to build trust with employees and address issues.

Without visibility into this deeper-level people data, the numerous pledges around DE&I and the investments companies make in employee training, mentorship, wellbeing, mental health and other types of programs won’t pay the expected dividends. It’s crucial to drive strategy with data.

Establishing Benchmarks and Committing to Transparency

Increasingly, employee relations metrics are likely to be shared with leadership, as our most recent Employee Relations Benchmark Study confirmed, reinforcing the value that employee-related metrics have across an organization.

For DE&I programs specifically, employee relations metrics are critical to understanding how you are progressing toward your goals. When combined with other HR data, such as tracking the salaries of all people at the same level within the organization to ensure there is no inequality or looking at diversity in terms of leadership roles in your organization, this information can help you understand where you need to focus and track progress along the way.

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Employee relations issues tend to arise when managers are ill-equipped to handle tough situations or give challenging, timely feedback. You can track the frequency and type of issue by location and manager and then connect that to other data points, such as employee engagement scores, unplanned absences or overtime data or even broader business-specific outcomes like safety incidents, productivity metrics and customer NPS scores. Seeing the big picture and correlations across HR and business metrics will allow you to have impactful discussions with your senior leaders as well as intervene early to offer management training and skill-building, mentoring or coaching. By boosting your managers’ capabilities, you can improve the work environment before you encounter morale or team performance problems.

See also: Save the date for the 2022 HR Tech Virtual Conference

Setting benchmarks and goals is the place to start. HR needs to get buy-in from managers and be fully transparent about commitments and objectives across the entire workforce. To build trust, hold the organization accountable and signal that you’re serious to employees, focus on transparency and open communication across all levels of the organization regarding where you are currently, how you compare to similar parts of your organization or other similarly situated companies, where you want to go and how you intend to get there. You’ve got to be prepared to act because, without action and accountability, the data you’re collecting has far less value.

Using Analytics to Improve Employee Retention

Retention is a key success metric to achieve several HR goals, including DE&I and career development for high-potential employees. Identifying and placing employees in the right roles is the first step, but keeping them on board so they grow professionally and contribute to company success is just as critical.

Connecting the dots across the entire employee experience is crucial to retaining the best people in today’s environment, aka “The Great Resignation.” We now have access to data that can help us proactively identify and investigate possible “hot spots” or potential toxic work environments that would previously have existed under the radar.

Most organizations conduct exit interviews to understand how they can improve employee engagement and retention. While there is value in this practice, the problem is you’ve already lost the employee. It’s far more impactful if you can understand the predictive indicators of attrition–the behaviors that could be early warning signals that an employee may be considering leaving your company. Understanding this enables you to be proactive, address the underlying issues and ultimately reduce attrition.

This is where ER and other business data take center stage. You can leverage this data to understand how employees are being treated, identify areas of inconsistency and surface leadership problems. Let’s say you have a high-potential employee reporting to a manager who has a recent history with employee complaints. You’d want the opportunity to proactively check in with the employee and better understand their level of engagement. Armed with these insights, you can work to address potential employee concerns and retain the employee.

ER data is also an integral piece of the puzzle to ensure that there’s no retaliation against employees who report issues like harassment and discrimination. By looking at reports of harassment or discrimination in relation to employees’ exit timelines, leadership can examine whether allegations are being handled effectively. If an employee leaves the company shortly after reporting a discrimination or harassment incident, that might suggest that the employee did not feel heard or supported after making the report, and leadership will have to re-evaluate the processes they use in handling these types of situations.

Employees who experience harassment in the workplace are likely to be affected in other areas as well, such as demonstrating diminished performance or productivity. Cross-referencing reports of harassment against performance data can allow you to detect patterns so you can ensure that your company is intervening where appropriate, providing appropriate support to the impacted employee and ultimately fostering a safe and healthy workplace.

Whether used to assess the relationship of harassment to turnover or to gauge the progress of other programs, data integration and analytics offer excellent resources for mitigating risk.

Using Data to Make the Business Case for Change

Nothing helps to substantiate your point better than data, which can be used to convince senior leaders to make investments that drive needed change across the organization. For instance, if high-potential employees are leaving because they are underpaid when compared to peers in the same role and in the same industry, data can make a compelling case for increasing compensation.

These insights can also provide context and ensure all efforts are on target–or point to the need for a change in course.

Don’t forget to integrate HR/ER data with business metrics to shed light on all of your people programs, giving you the tools to spot trends and identify risks that wouldn’t necessarily be obvious if you rely on a single data source. Going the extra mile to leverage data and analytics in a variety of ways gives you the power to follow up on commitments with action to create a safer and more equitable, diverse and productive workplace for everyone.