What story does your employee data tell?

In human resources, data analytics can seem like the type of subject that is only relevant to massive Fortune 500 companies with a big technology budget. Not true! When you hear “data” or “data analytics,” don’t be afraid.

All employers big and small have a core set of data at our fingertips that can paint a picture about our employees and workforce. Through a few simple pieces of information about each employee, you can start to look into succession planning, recruitment, compensation, or training and development.

From the point of hire, any utility has a minimum of two data points about each employee: date of birth and hire date. That’s simple enough to start looking at the tenure and demographics of your utility’s workforce to forecast succession planning or develop other strategies.

Mel Palmer, manager of human resources at Lincoln Electric System in Nebraska, noted how tracking this information by role and department helped her notice that a majority of a certain employee type was retirement-eligible. From there, LES prioritized learning to better prepare for developing talent that could potentially fill those roles when needed.

Starting from the data can help you to develop a strategy. Sometimes the data can spark simple, helpful ideas for focusing on the people you have now. You might already know if you have a growing emerging workforce, but crunching the specific numbers may help you to see if you have the right programs in place to support them. Employees often want growth opportunities and ways to connect. If you notice you have a number of younger women, you might want to see if there is interest in starting a women’s affinity group.

Exploring turnover can tell you whether it is happening in a particular department or job category, if there is a problem with a specific manager, or if training is needed.

Finding the data to support your story of turnover and retention might be as simple as looking at compensation. Looking at salary information against industry or regional ranges is a helpful exercise in knowing where your pay falls. If you look at a salary band for everyone, and how each salary compares to the midpoint of the band, that gives you a big picture of your pay practices. It is a quick calculation that can show you and your utility’s management whether you are on par (or not).

Palmer regularly confers with her counterparts at other regional utilities to benchmark benefits and share other information, and she engages a compensation consultant every few years to check the market pricing for utility and non-utility-specific roles.

There are plenty of tools available to benchmark benefits, from surveys about what other companies are covering to reports that detail how much health care cost employees typically take on. Even if you don’t control benefits decisions for your employees, it is helpful to know where you stand, and it might help in negotiating with benefit companies during renewals.

Data can also help with recruitment. For example, if you are interested in tracking or increasing diversity, you could ask people to self-identify when hiring. You can use this data to see if your recruiting is diverse, or if you might want to rethink efforts to get a more diverse pool of applicants. Do you have historically black colleges in your area you can recruit from? Are there diversity job boards you should consider posting to? Are there professional associations geared toward diversity that you can develop a partnership with?

Data collection doesn’t have to be a big, onerous task. And you can do it without having to invest money and time in a complicated system. There are affordable, lightweight systems you can use to track this data — even a simple spreadsheet can work. You might already have programs that track employee data, such as a benefits enrollment system. 

Everyone who pays payroll has some form of a human resources information system, or HRIS. So much of HR is tied to finances and budgets, and there’s data in all of that. Collaborating with your financial team is extremely important. Ask if there are ways that you can pull data from the payroll system, or if there are fields you can add and track on this system. 

Even utilities that can count their workforce on their hands can benefit from stepping back to look at the complete story. You might have a good picture, but pulling the numbers might change your mind or help you see something that wasn’t as clear.

Have more questions about HR analytics? Ask the HR listserv to see what your peers are doing and using.