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Author's profile photo Duncan Scott

Workforce Analytics: With Great Data Comes Great Responsibility

By Duncan Scott, Solution Architect, SAP SuccessFactors

Over the past decade, Workforce Analytics solutions have become increasingly flexible, allowing organizations to review data not just from HR or Financial systems, but from areas previously unlinked to workforce efficiency.  Consider the following: ten years ago, visionary organizations were looking for linkages between manager tenure, employee engagement rates, and sales results.  Several findings showed that employing longer-tenured managers often led to a more engaged salesforce, which in turn led to greater sales numbers than similar stores with junior managers.  At the time, combining tenure, survey, and sales data was game-changing, and it helped to influence talent decisions across the US and the world.

Today, those kinds of analytics are table steaks for many organizations…but there’s also an ever-growing set of data at our fingertips that’s fundamentally changing the questions we can ask. Here’s an example: at SAP, every few months we have a “Health and Wellness” challenge, where teams across the globe don their Fitbits and Apple watches, and compete to see how many steps a team can average in a month. It’s fun, teams get competitive and can send inspirational (or playful trash-talking) messages through an app, and it helps people get motivated to walk around the block during their lunch hour.

These challenges have had huge success at SAP and at many other organizations, but from a data perspective, a curious mind on a Workforce Analytics team may have a few potentially slippery-slope questions.

“Do we see an increase or a decrease in productivity from these teams during the challenge?”

“Amongst similar teams, do we see a positive or negative correlation between average number of steps and quality of work?”

Or, if your device captures this:

“Do we see that teams that average more sleep each evening have higher productivity/efficiency rates?”

The thing is – I’m genuinely interested in these kinds of questions!  I’d love to know if the Greeks had it right, and that exercise during the day yields a sharper and more productive mind.  I’d love to know if there’s a point of diminishing return; maybe teams that average 13,000 steps each day is the gold standard, and teams that average greater than 13k start to decline in work quality.  And wouldn’t it be interesting to know how we can quantify the duration and quality of our sleep to see the correlation on business performance?  For a team of accountants at the end of a quarter, how much do we see the number of errors go up when the hours of sleep go down?

All super interesting!

But I’m left feeling…conflicted.  A recent Chicago Tribute article put it bluntly: as organizations provide incentives (like 30% off health insurance!) for their employees to participate in these kinds of challenges, only 9% of health wearable participants would be comfortable sharing heart rate and sleep data with their employers.  As these kinds of initiatives become increasingly mainstream at companies, and as the rewards for participating make the programs less optional, is there a line that those in HR should not cross?

What are your thoughts on what that line should be?  Wellness data is just one example of the kinds of previously “personal” data points that are becoming more transparent to the companies where we work, so if you have another angle, like reviewing “frequency of LinkedIn updates,” or anything else, I’d love to get the conversation started here.


To access a new HBR report, “HR Analytics: Busting silos and delivering outcomes” and to learn more about how SAP SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics can help HR become a valuable player in strategic decision making, visit here.

You can also learn more from customers and experts at SuccessConnect in Las Vegas taking place August 29-31 at The Cosmopolitan.

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