Paid time off (PTO) doesn't sound like the most interesting part of an HR executive's job, but in 2020, Matthew Hamilton, vice president, people analytics and HRIS, at Birmingham, Ala.-based Protective Life Insurance Company, had PTO on his mind.
At Protective Life, which has 3,700 employees, part of Hamilton's job requires him to extract, examine, evaluate and present important employee data in order to discover insights, interpret the findings and communicate salient patterns of data to be shared with company leaders.
Like many companies that increased their focus on health and well-being during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, executives at Protective Life encouraged their employees to rest and recharge as they adjusted to working from home during the lockdown.
Since the pandemic, the number of remote workers at Protective Life rose from 20 percent of employees prior to March 2020 to 60 percent today. The remaining 40 percent are either hybrid or in-office workers.
"The company's leadership was very vocal with our employees and managers in 2020, telling them to use their PTO," Hamilton said. "We urged managers to encourage employees to use their time off for their own mental health and well-being. Even if they couldn't go anywhere, we told them to take a staycation."
Employees' health and well-being wasn't the only reason Protective Life's managers encouraged their workers to take an extended break from their work schedules.
Company leaders wanted to prevent large numbers of unanticipated absences toward the end of 2020 as employees sought to use remaining PTO, which might have disrupted business operations.
"Another potential problem was if employees were poised to lose their PTO during 2020, they might request to carry over more time than the company's current PTO policy offers," Hamilton added.
As the issue of employee PTO became more urgent, Hamilton's curiosity grew. "We began our in-depth PTO analysis in mid-2020, mainly at the time focusing on utilization and the pandemic," he said.
To launch the PTO analytics initiative, Hamilton leveraged employees' time-off data from UKG Pro, the company's human resource management system. The data was taken from employees who had worked more than a year at the company.
The data was fed into Visier's cloud-based people analytics tool, which brings together business data and people data and has built-in data management along with artificial intelligence capabilities.
The software's ability to transform raw data into an analytics data model helped Hamilton meet his goal of analyzing PTO utilization versus voluntary resignations to see if there was a connection between the two. "We saw a clear story there. The higher the average amount of PTO hours used, the lower the resignation rates, and the lower the amount of PTO hours used, the higher the resignation rates. When we looked across large groups of employees that's what we saw," Hamilton said.
Inspiration to analyze managers' influence on their direct employees' PTO decisions came after Hamilton read a Twitter post by April Koh, chief executive officer at mental health startup Spring Health. Koh wrote that when she announced her PTO for the rest of the year to her team, they announced theirs immediately afterward.
In the fall of 2021, Hamilton set about comparing the average amount of PTO used by employees against the amount used by their direct managers and found that among those managers who used more of their own PTO, their employees on average did the same. Conversely, among managers who used less of their own PTO, on average their employees used less of their PTO.
"The entire purpose of this analysis was to be informative to our leaders, not to drive or track activity through it in and of itself," Hamilton said. "I can't just turn all of that data and dump it on managers. They would not know how to consume it, what to prioritize or how to make sense of it."
Currently, Protective Life's analytics platform allows company leaders to continuously monitor employee PTO trends. Hamilton added that successful people analytics projects must include the right data to share with the right audience. HR managers and people analytics leaders should also effectively communicate a story to those with whom they are sharing data.
Using People Analytics Effectively
According to data from Deloitte, companies can do more to reap the benefits of their people analytics efforts. While 74 percent of organizations frequently gather people data, only half (49 percent) frequently perform prescriptive activities such as providing insights.
Deloitte's research also found that while more than 81 percent of organizations frequently produce reports, only 21 percent do the same for building models that can support predictive analytics.
While software from SAP's Tableau, ChartHop, Microsoft Power BI and other people analytics platforms have helped organizations perform analyses that previously required advanced statistical skills, there are barriers facing people analytics efforts.
Stacia Garr, co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread Research, a Woodside, Calif.-based HR research firm, said people analytics teams often present the results of their analysis only to be told by company leaders that they don't believe the results.
There's also the ongoing difficulty of selecting, cleaning and integrating data, but these problems pale in comparison to others.
"Sure there's the challenge of data and data integration and all that stuff, but obviously for folks that have advanced technology and resources to support them, the data is sometimes the more solvable challenge," Garr said. "It's the people and the politics and the alignment that can be a much bigger problem."
Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami.