Author: Sarah Krouse
It’s not just email. Employers are mining the data their workers generate to figure out what they’re up to, and with whom. There’s almost nothing you can do about it.
Your employer may know a lot more about you than you think.
The tone of your voice in a meeting. How often you’re away from your desk. How quickly you respond to emails. Where you roam in the office. What’s on your computer screen.
To be an employee of a large company in the U.S. now often means becoming a workforce data generator—from the first email sent from bed in the morning to the Wi-Fi hotspot used during lunch to the new business contact added before going home. Employers are parsing those interactions to learn who is influential, which teams are most productive and who is a flight risk.
Companies, which have wide legal latitude in the U.S. to monitor workers, don’t always tell them what they are tracking. When executives at McKesson Corp. wanted to know why some of its teams had higher turnover the pharmaceutical wholesaler last year worked with a people analytics startup to examine data on the sender, recipient and timing of over 130 million emails—not the content of the messages—from more than 20,000 U.S. employees to see what dots it could connect about relationships.
The analytics firm, TrustSphere, found that teams with lower turnover typically had a diverse mix of internal connections up and down the chain of command inside the company and with external contacts, while teams with higher turnover had stronger relationships outside the company and weaker relationships with colleagues at their level or lower inside the firm. McKesson says it only looked at groups of workers, not individual employees out of respect for worker privacy and opted not to disclose the analysis to employees at the time because it did not look at email content.
“The beauty of what we’re getting out of this is information to make our teams function better,” says R.J. Milnor, vice president, workforce planning and analytics at McKesson.
McKesson has not yet determined what changes it will make as a result of the findings, but has considered adopting a more open office plan to encourage more discussion between employees. It is also exploring ways to predict which teams are at risk of losing members based on their relationship patterns.
It’s not just emails that are being tallied and analyzed. Companies are increasingly sifting through texts, Slack chats and, in some cases, recorded and transcribed phone calls on mobile devices.
Microsoft Corp. tallies data on the frequency of chats, emails and meetings between its staff and clients using its own Office 365 services to measure employee productivity, management efficacy and work-life balance.
Tracking the email, chats and calendar appointments can paint a picture of how employees spend an average of 20 hours of their work time each week, says Natalie McCollough, a general manager at Microsoft who focuses on workplace analytics. The company only allows managers to look at groups of five or more workers.
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