20 Jun

Digital Ethics in HR: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should

In a world that’s evolving faster than ever before, many would agree that it’s hard to keep up with the new conventions and guidelines that come with technological change.

As HR leaders, in order for us to optimise the access we have at our fingertips we need to be aware of some of the key challenges and mitigate their risks. Our previous posts have described the technology and capability now on offer to HR professionals – and the extraordinary amount of data we have access to.

What’s more, with this zeitgeist of disruption and agile competition comes the urge to move at breakneck speed, whatever the cost.

It’s that particular ‘cost’ which is of interest to us in this article. It’s that same cost that can negatively impact many, many people in the workforce despite the positive macro gains being achieved.

In this post, we are going to consider the key 5 issues related to ‘digital ethics in HR’

1. Regulation

Technology is still affectively unregulated. There are global issues related to human rights at work – constantly being watched, being monitored. We know of a lot of people who carry two phones now, their work phone and their personal phone for this reason.

Regulation comes about from an imbalance of power and governments are currently tightening regulatory regimes around privacy and use of data. Let’s consider the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which is a regulation by which the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission intend to strengthen and unify data protection for all individuals within the European Union (EU). This is a major effort to attempt to protect people, and workers, from the pervasive effect of technology. Australian businesses are also impacted and you can understand your obligations here.

What are you doing to protect your people’s privacy?

2. Bias

Technology is not immune to hidden biases, it doesn’t stop at a political border which means that unconscious bias creeps in to the algorithms via the coding process, and the selection of data then flavours the outcome of the algorithm. Be careful of what is being measured and how it is being measured. A simple example is that when assessing productivity, it is easy to miss people, particularly women, working disjointed hours.

3. Lifetime link

At a philosophical level, we should have the right to be forgotten. However, once something is in social media it is permanent, and you don’t have control over it. The issues with negative consumer ratings are well known. We are not far away from a world where employers may be able to access every piece of data available on us and those records will connect to you for the future of your foreseeable life.

4. Protecting our people

HR has a responsibility to ensure that people’s data is not misused – there is a new code of conduct that we need to start adhering to. Let us pose a hypothetical situation – if a vendor told you that with access to your employee, productivity and customer data, they could sell you software that could tell you who was on target to experiencing mental health issues in your organisation – would you buy it? Would this data help you support staff; could it be misused? Would your people want you to have insights at this level, even if it was to help them?

5. Accepting the fate of displacement

Salesforce stresses that its goal with Einstein is to help people focus on what matters, not to replace them. This is a concept that Constellation Research refers to as Augmented Humanity. The idea is to uncover insights, predict outcomes, recommend next-best actions and automate routine, manual tasks that keep people from being more productive.

The outcome of the current pace of change makes displacement a certainty. We will all need to look for innovative ways to address unemployment. Some countries are entertaining social safety nets and some corporates have begun the process of helping their staff redefine their careers.

The role of Human Resources in a future where the above issues come to fruition is easy to see. People, organisations and workforces will be tested, manipulated and revolutionised unlike ever before. Lest we forget PageUp and Facebooks woes.

Thus, we urge you to work into your plans a strategy and a consideration for the ethics that come with innovation and disruption.

Take the mantra of innovate or die – the question is – should we be creating so much data without thinking about the power of that data? HR needs to understand data management, how people processes work, the power of data and the prevalence of that data.

Authors: Jo Billling & Stella Voules