Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

Viewpoint: Data—Friend or Enemy?

A woman is holding a smartphone while looking at graphs on a table.

One of the biggest changes taking place in HR is how much the role of data is growing. 

Data are publicly available about an organization's employment brand. Companies publicize data about diversity. And we in HR have vast amounts of data about our employees.

OccupEye is used by companies worldwide to see if employees are at their desks. The system apparently uses heat and motion to reveal what percentage of time people are "working," and can be used to possibly help redesign the workspace.

As SHRM Online reported, this type of data is used to help companies reduce their real estate expenses, but of course employees wonder what else the data could reveal.

Data analytics is a tricky trend. Bersin by Deloitte has been studying the growth of people analytics for almost a decade. In our latest research being published this fall, we found an enormous jump forward in organizations' ability to manage and understand people-related data. We also discovered an alarming step backwards. While almost 70 percent of companies in our new study are now actively "consolidating, and integrating" data about their people, 12 percent are operating in a "fragmented and unintentional way."

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

Let me give you a hypothetical example.

Suppose you have an analyst who is studying the drivers of turnover. The analyst takes a bunch of data from your HR system to compare those who leave the company with those who stay. He or she may find that people who come from certain schools, have certain managers or perhaps have certain demographic backgrounds are more likely to leave. As a result, you may jump to the conclusion that "We should not hire from these schools" or "These managers are not doing their jobs well" or "People with these backgrounds don't fit here."

But you might be wrong.

It may be that turnover is high in these groups because a competitor is active nearby, or a certain reorganization took place in those teams, or a seasonal variation affected staffing. And your "findings" could be flawed, possibly even incorrect, because your data was poorly cleaned.

My point is that the stakes for employee data are higher than ever, and these 12 percent of companies that are "fragmented and unintentional" could really be putting themselves at risk. If you use data incorrectly and make the wrong hiring or promotion decisions, you could negatively impact business performance—or even worse, face a lawsuit. 

As important and exciting as people analytics has become, now is the time to be vigilant. Put in place a data quality council, implement security and privacy practices, and make sure IT is your partner.
Data has become important to HR. We don't want it to get away from us and possibly make our lives harder.

Josh Bersin is a principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, a research and advisory consulting firm in enterprise learning and talent management.


As used in this article, "Deloitte" means Deloitte Consulting LLP, a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. Please see for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte USA LLP, Deloitte LLP and their respective subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.


Was this article useful? SHRM offers thousands of tools, templates and other exclusive member benefits, including compliance updates, sample policies, HR expert advice, education discounts, a growing online member community and much more. Join/Renew Now and let SHRM help you work smarter. 


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.