Employee data can create more questions than answers

Gathering as much data as possible isn't the key to understanding an organisation's health, according to employee measurement and insights lead at BP Laura Hammett

Speaking at a London HR Connection event at the Cass Business School, Hammett said that collecting a mass of employee data can often create more questions than answers.

“Whenever we talk to our clients they tend to tell us that they want more data; but what does more data really mean?" she said. "It can often mean more questions, more variations, and more for employers to try to get their heads around. When you start asking for too much information you can move away from getting more insights – and just get more ‘stuff'.”

However, while a lot of data might be overwhelming, Hammett went on to explain that weekly surveys as well as yearly ones can help organisations make sense of trends. Sending out an employee survey every week might sound excessive but it can spot particular patterns. When we were going through modernisation there were definite changes among employees that you could spot through looking at the data,” she said.

These fluctuations can often prove how resilient organisations are. “Leaders will often fixate on whether employees are confident about the future of a business. But the thing to take from data is that the effects of big changes in organisations on employees are not permanent," she said.

"Employee engagement might drop, for example, if a staff member reads about their company's poor financial performance [in the press], but that can very quickly rise again a few days later. The difference is that while taking pulse surveys weekly might be helpful, you do not have to report on it weekly.”

Commenting on the ethics of employee data, James Tarbit, senior director at employee engagement agency Karian and Box, added that people will usually be willing to provide data if they can see the benefits. “Especially for the younger generation, they are willing to give up their data to an extent if they know they will benefit from it," he said. "But employers need to be very clear about what they are asking and what they are offering.”

Ultimately data alone cannot provide the answers for employers without proper analysis, Hammett continued. “It’s really important to understand that data cannot give you all the answers. It does not matter how good the technology you are using is, if you do not have someone who is able to interpret it," she said.

"It’s also really important not to spend an extortionate amount of money on technology if you are not sure exactly how it will work and what you’ll gain from it."