How HR can build employee digital trust through workforce data strategies

Bob Easton on responsible workforce data strategies

Business leaders and HR will need to implement responsible workforce data strategies if they are to build the employee trust that will help generate sustained revenue growth, according to Bob Easton, chairman of Accenture Australia and New Zealand.

At a time when companies in Australia are increasingly using available workforce data to drive greater value, Easton said responsible leadership is the key to building employee trust.

“Trust is the ultimate currency – it’s the path to innovation and fuels growth by unlocking people’s potential,” he said.

Trust has evolved from a soft corporate issue to a quantifiable metric with bottom-line impact on revenue and, ultimately, growth through competitive agility, said Easton, who explained that leaders must put employee and consumer trust at the heart of their business strategies.

Easton said HR leaders have an important role to play in the process of building employee digital trust.

“The important thing is to engage people in the design of these systems, establish the right governance structures, and understand what elevates employee trust – such as offering employees the ability to opt-in,” he said.

“By involving multiple stakeholders and being aware of the impact to employee trust, leaders can make more informed decisions based on a fuller understanding of the issues and implications.”

Easton was commenting on the release of new Accenture Strategy research which took in 1400 C-level executives and 10,000 workers across 13 industries and countries (including Australia), which found that globally, US$3.1 trillion ($4.3 trillion) of future revenue growth is at stake for large companies, depending on how their workforce data strategies affect employee trust.

“Trust is the ultimate currency – it’s the path to innovation and fuels growth by unlocking people’s potential”

Companies that put in place responsible data strategies could see revenue growth up to 12.5 per cent higher than that of companies that fail to adopt responsible data strategies.

However, the response of business leaders to the workforce data challenge varies widely, according to the Decoding Organisational DNA report.

Nearly one-third (29 per cent) of the surveyed Australian executives said they are holding back from investing as much as they would like in workforce data-gathering technologies due to employee sensitivities, while approximately the same number (32 per cent) are investing anyway and figuring out how to do it responsibly as issues arise.

“It is clear that Australians are seeking greater control and transparency over the use of their personal data, evident through the upcoming Consumer Data Right and upcoming banking regulations,” said Easton.

“This also extends into the workplace, however, and it is imperative that executives take a responsible approach to workplace data while achieving new business value, developing stronger digital trust.”

The research report also found that 55 per cent of respondents said their organisations are using new technologies to collect data on their people and their work to gain more actionable insights – from the quality of work and the way people collaborate to their safety and wellbeing.

Further, 25 per cent are very confident that they are using the data responsibly, while 54 per cent of workers think that the use of new sources of workforce data risks damaging trust, and 67 per cent said that recent scandals over the misuse of data makes them concerned that their employee data might be at risk too.

The good news is that 86 per cent of workers are open to the collection of data on them and their work, but only if it improves their performance or wellbeing or provides other personal benefits.

More than half of Australian workers (55 per cent) would exchange their work-related data for more-customised compensation, rewards and benefits, and 58 per cent of Australian workers would do so for more customised learning and development opportunities.

“It is imperative that executives take a responsible approach to workplace data while achieving new business value, developing stronger digital trust”

A framework for responsible use of workforce data
To help ensure that employees’ concerns are met, the research suggested a three-step framework for the responsible use of workforce data.

1. Give control, gain trust. By giving employees far more control over their own data, organisations will not only gain their employees’ trust but also benefit from a greater flow of workforce insights with which they can improve performance.

Some 73 per cent of employees surveyed want to own their work-related data and take it with them when they leave their jobs – and 55 per cent of C-level executives are open to allowing them to do so.

“Empower workers with greater control of their own data. 70 per cent of employees say that in return for their permission to collect data, employers will have to give them control over how it is used,” said Easton.

“Give employees the ability to see, manage and even delete their own data when appropriate. Ask for consent when possible and when it makes business sense.”

Easton recommended considering allowing employees to co-own some of their work-related personal data to achieve the needed trust of their workers.

“Organisations must also design in benefits into data collection systems to earn the trust of employees,” he said.

2. Share responsibility, share benefits. To create benefits for all, leaders must share responsibility across the C-suite and involve employees in the design of workforce data systems.

Today, fewer than one quarter (24 per cent) of businesses co-create data system designs with employees, although more than one third (39 per cent) plan to do so.

“Build a governance system to ensure responsible use of workplace data and technologies with one accountable C-level executive supported by an executive coalition,” said Easton, who noted that only 16 per cent of leaders say a C-level executive is accountable for ensuring that workplace data and technologies are used in a responsible and ethical way, even though a further 38 per cent say they are planning to make a C-level executive accountable soon.

“Give employees the ability to see, manage and even delete their own data when appropriate”

“Leaders should also involve others in the external ecosystem who might have access to employee data through ‘as a service’ agreements (for example, software-as-a-service), and consider creating an internal ethics review board that include ethicists,” he said.

3. Elevate people and use tech responsibly. Companies need to use artificial intelligence and other technologies to provide employees with more growth opportunities and improve fairness and diversity.

The research found that 75 per cent of employees said that having reliable data gathered by new technologies will improve fairness in pay, promotions and appraisal decisions.

“Fix the unintended consequences that tech creates,” said Easton.

“Companies can use AI to open more opportunities for growth and development of their workers. 91 per cent of CXOs say using AI to identify people’s hidden and adjacent skills would help them reskill and retain displaced workers.”

AI and data systems can amplify bias but, used correctly, can also combat bias, said Easton, who observed that 75 per cent of employees say having reliable, factual data gathered by new technologies would improve fairness in hiring decisions.