Is HR Tech going a step too far in predicting performance?

By Scott Thomson – COO, Links International

We were quoted in an article yesterday on Human Resources Online about smart employee ID badges that can now predict employees’ performance.

As an award-winning HR Outsourcing provider in Asia, we are naturally fascinated by HR technology and how certain practices and technologies can help to elevate HR’s role in the business. So when I was approached to comment on this article, I was quick to respond.

Rather than just allowing an employee access to a certain department, ID badges now have much more potential and are able to collect data regarding an employee’s movements, physical state and even voice patterns, allowing companies to make better decisions based on performance predictions. Human Resources Online quotes the CEO of employee analytics company Humanyze as saying that “within three or four years, every single ID badge is going to have these sensors.”

Human Resources Online asked us a series of questions about this topic. Here are my responses:

1)In your professional opinion, do you find it likely that companies will start asking employees to wear such ID badges within the next few years?

I think it is important to break the badge’s functionality down into two separate pieces – movement tracking vs recording of conversations.

Movement tracking

Movement tracking is already starting to become acceptable in the mainstream and a number of companies already track employees’ movements with a view of improving employees’ health. For example, Fitbit does a lot of work in the corporate space in terms of group health and wellness programmes with a view of boosting employees’ health with Fitbit challenges etc. Tracking of employees’ movements while they are at work is a lot less intrusive than the recording of conversations and is arguably more acceptable by employees, as it has an easy link to benefiting the employee in terms of their improved health.

Recording conversations

Whether the recording of conversations becomes acceptable in a workplace depends on a number of factors, including the industry and function of the employees, demand for the employee’s skillset etc. For example, in the fast food industry, this is probably going to be slightly more justifiable and easier to implement given the high frequency of verbal client interactions and high supply of labour than in an office environment, which may be based on email interactions with clients and more in demand skillsets.

However, there is absolutely no chance that these conversation recording badges will take off in mainstream office environments in Asia in the next four years. Typical office-based employers already have a lot of data available to them that they can make use of that is easier to analyse than voice and less intrusive than recording conversations. For example, the analysis of employees’ email records to gauge strength of client relationships based on frequency of emails, whether people are cc’d on the email, what language is used, and so on, versus recording work conversations and personal conversations that may not even include email communication with the client. In addition, it’s going to be a big hurdle for an office based employer who is trying to attract and retain the best staff to tell their high-skilled employees, who are in high demand, that they now want to listen to all their conversations. Email analysis will be the big area of focus in the next four years in offices in Asia, as most companies in Asia are still yet to make use of this information.

2)What benefits do you envision?

Ensuring that employees are maintaining a minimum level of activity during the day has a number of health benefits for employees, but is also great at boosting productivity in the work place. For example, there has been a lot of research into the benefits that increased blood flow has on productivity, ability to deal with stress, boosting creativity and so on.

Assuming the employer can accurately analyse the voice data (i.e. separate out internal work conversations, external work conversations and personal conversations), then potentially there are benefits in terms of improved service levels for the employer. However, the key question for the employer is: what are the benefits for the employee of having all of their conversations recorded? Perhaps a tenuous link to their ongoing development at best? And if so, at what cost?

3)What problems do you foresee?

As per above, the obvious and massive iceberg here is respecting the employee’s privacy and separating the employee’s personal and work lives.  In addition, given the large number of recent high profile data leaks and the huge amount of data that daily voice communications would include (compared with email), there is a massive obligation and risk for an employer in terms of the security of this wealth of personal information.

The article on Human Resouces Online nicely sums up what I’m sure a lot of people think about this topic, that employers can just talk to their staff!

If you have any questions regarding HR technology and how you can overcome common HR challenges, please do not hesitate to contact us.