Viewpoint: People Analytics Shifts from Engagement to Productivity

Josh Bersin By Josh Bersin July 27, 2017
Viewpoint: People Analytics Shifts from Engagement to Productivity

​Over the last decade, HR departments and businesses have become better at collecting data about people. We used to know employees' ages, demographics, salary histories, performance ratings and training histories. We now can know where they are and where they've been, their e-mail and social communication patterns, their travel and hourly work schedules, and even psychographic information like their moods and heart rates. (This latter information can come from mood apps and wellness apps now hitting the market.)

In addition, companies can now study the behaviors of high-performers in greater detail to find out what percentage of their time is spent in meetings, how many e-mails they send to clients or internal staff, and even how much physical movement they experience each day. (One company has studied the factors that drive engagement and found that physical movement is one of the biggest drivers of employee happiness.)

Thanks to many vendors of e-mail systems, messaging systems and core HR systems, we can now easily build organizational network analysis graphs that show who is communicating with whom, generate vitality reports that can reveal why some people are getting burned out, and create reports and dashboards that show who might be overworked or underutilized in the workforce.

To put it simply: People analytics has moved from a broad focus on employee engagement to a laser focus on employee productivity.

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

Think about the most important issues we have in HR: Are we hiring the right people? Are we developing leaders in the best way? Are we training people to be safe and productive? Is our culture promoting performance and engagement? Do people feel included and that they are treated fairly? Are our working conditions flexible, productive and supportive enough?

All of these questions go well beyond the topic of "employee engagement" and now cover topics like readiness, productivity and performance. And these latter topics are what an organization's CEO and senior leaders care about.

This shift, from a focus on "employee happiness" to "employee performance," is both appropriate and positive for the HR profession in general. I have always believed that happiness (or engagement) is the result of a great work environment, meaningful jobs, and a sense of business purpose and customer value. So now, rather than try to measure something that seems fleeting and a little hard to understand, we can really measure what drives results, and that makes analytics more important than ever.

One of the senior vice presidents of HR whom I interviewed early this year told me that managers and senior leaders have access to two dozen standard metrics for every employee, team and department around the world. They can see when a group has high turnover, low performance ratings, excessive compliance violations, overbudgeted travel and other important metrics—at the click of a button. These "people measures" are business-relevant, useful and highly actionable. This is what we should all strive for.

What does this mean for HR? People analytics is no longer just a "fun and exciting project." It's now business-critical, mandatory and must be supported well. You should have a data security team, integrate data carefully, invest in scalable tools and deliver data directly to line managers. And your entire HR team must now understand what a median, mean and standard deviation are all about.

When Deloitte launches our new High-Impact People Analytics research this fall, we'll show you how the HR world has dramatically changed over the last few years. Let me just summarize with a single idea: People analytics is even more important than you have probably realized, and it's now one of the most important mandates for everyone in the HR profession. 

Josh Bersin is founder and principal of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP. He is a published author on the Forbes website; is a LinkedIn Influencer; has been quoted by Bloomberg, NPR and The Wall Street Journal; and speaks at industry conferences and to corporate HR departments around the world. Contact him on Twitter @josh_bersin and follow him at

As used in this document, "Deloitte" means Deloitte Consulting LLP, a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. Please see for a detailed description of our legal structure. 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.



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.

Move your HR career forward.

Apply for the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP exam today! Applicants now have the option to test from home.

Apply for the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP exam today! Applicants now have the option to test from home.



HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.