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The Role of Big Data in HR And How it Helps Improve Your Workforce as a Whole

Big data has become a big part of everyday life, accelerated with the advent of the smartphone and social media. We are constantly submitting information that gets turned into data that can both help and hinder our lives, depending on how that data is used – this is one of the reasons cybersecurity has become such a hot topic in recent years. 

What exactly is big data? 

Big data has been defined as… extremely large data sets! Big data has also been defined as the exponential availability and increase of data in the world. It usually requires scalable architecture for analysis, storage, and use. Big data has also been described as a volume of data exceeding a petabyte – in other words, more than one million gigabytes. 

Where does big data come from? 

Image source: Accelerate Agency, Data source

One of the big sources of big data is social media. You probably guessed that. With so many people on Facebook, Instagram, and other sites and apps, social media holds a veritable plethora of data. Every action, such as a view or a like, a search for “how to find royalty free music” or an upload, or even a private message, adds to the pool of big data. 

Other examples of big data include things like sensors placed around cities gathering information on temperature, humidity, number of cyclists in an area, and number of cars on the motorway. Security cameras are a type of sensor most of us would be aware of. 

Customer feedback is another source of data, as well as electronic appliances connected to the internet. Smart TVs, the GPS on your phone or in your car, generate data. Online shopping, business transactions, and banking… generate data

How is big data being used around the world? 

Big data is being used EVERYWHERE, from education to transport, health services, and even recruitment. Data is just information, and the more of it we have, the more of it we can use to improve the state of different services and the world as a whole. 

Of course, it can also be used to harm the environment when it is used by industries that pollute, or which encourage any kind of unnecessary consumption of goods. It all depends on how you use it!

So how can Big Data help in HR? 

Big data can help in such a huge range of ways across so many different industries, and HR is no different. Let’s dive in! 

1. Higher levels of employee engagement 

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Employee engagement plays a big role in the success of any organization, and the recent increase in working from home has made it harder to assess whether employees are fully engaged. With the option to turn off your camera and stick with emails for every communication need instead of using office phone systems, it can be hard for managers to gauge how engaged their colleagues are. 

In the past we may have relied primarily on employee engagement surveys, hoping that they would answer truthfully, but big data offers a lot more information than these types of questionnaires. Big data, and its analysis, make it a lot easier to identify who is performing really well, and who is beginning to lose motivation. 

This can make it easier for employers to intervene with mental health or simply practical support for those who need it, as well as reward and acknowledge the top performers. Big data helps employers to intervene before the start of a downward spiral becomes a full-fledged burnout or an employee quitting. It also helps employers to be the wind beneath the sails of both high and average performers. 

The sort of data that can be analyzed might include KPIs (key performance indicators), target completions, sick days, and more. Some companies will monitor how their employees spend their time on the internet, but that could easily backfire and make employees feel micromanaged, monitored, and unhappy. A lot of employees appreciate being trusted and judged on their results rather than how much time they spent by the working-from-home version of hanging out by the water cooler. 

2. Improved work scheduling systems and planning 

Scheduling tools, task management apps, and attendance monitoring programs all use data and its analysis to improve the way work is planned and managed throughout the days, weeks, and years. And with continuous integration (CI), developers can regularly update these systems to suit your needs (check out CI meaning here). 

These tools can help avoid scheduling conflicts as well as allow employees to plan around each other and find a work-life equilibrium that suits them. And this in turn is also likely to keep employees happy and improve retention rates. 

Planning tools can also help with appropriately allocating staff to different projects on the basis of skillset and support needed so that you get the right people working on your convolutional neural network vs neural network workshop, for example. 

You don’t need 10 cooks in a kitchen, but you might need a head chef, a sous-chef, and someone to bring the ingredients and carry the pizza out to the customers. Being able to deploy the right people in the right numbers to different projects improves efficiency and optimizes effort. 

3. Finding the strengths and gaps within your workforce 

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Big data can help you analyze your employees’ CVs and training courses in order to figure out who knows what, and what skills your team might be missing. Perhaps you have a Coordinator who also knows first aid or a policy officer who also knows how to use R or Python. Analyzing your employees’ strengths can help you to better utilize their time and knowledge without needing to outsource work to external contractors. 

This also allows you to identify genuine gaps in knowledge and to narrow down these gaps to the very specific things you need as an organization. So instead of “we need someone who knows how to develop”, it might be “we need a developer who knows R and can answer the question ‘what is stack overflow’ without confusing us”. 

Finding these gaps can also help you to write a very detailed job description including all of your absolute requirements, instead of leaving it too vague.

4. Improved employee retention and happiness

With so many people leaving unsatisfying jobs lately, and a strong desire for the option to work from home factoring into employee satisfaction, big data can help you to understand when people are the most productive, as this is sometimes a sign that they’re happy. 

Big data can also help you to find the sweet spot in hybrid working between working from home and working from the office so that people don’t feel dragged out unnecessarily or stuck inside against their wishes. You can also get a hybrid integration platform to help with managing workloads. 

People are complex and don’t always express their desires clearly, so big data can help with understanding general trends about what makes people happy, such as privacy in open plan offices, and being productive without putting anyone on the spot. 

You can also use big data to figure out what a fair salary would be for your employees, as well as expected pay rises to keep employees healthy, well, and free from the temptation to jump ship. 

5. Optimisation and simplification of hiring processes 

Among the many things HR can help you do, rooting out inefficiencies is a major one. By analyzing big data, you can see which key phrases and words people search for and interact with when looking for jobs. You can find out which of your hiring ads, or which proposal executive summary example is the most successful and figure out why! 

Big data can also help you to root out any language which might be putting off particular demographics from applying. It can also help you to figure out the best questions to ask in an interview, as well as with scheduling interviews and choosing your interview panel.

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Big data can also help you with streamlining your onboarding process by figuring out which training methods are the most effective, both in terms of employee satisfaction and speed of learning, and becoming integrated into the team. So instead of getting new recruits to sit and watch multiple training videos, perhaps the data will suggest that something more interactive is better, like job shadowing, or some combination of different methods. 

6. Better understanding of future trajectories and opportunities for staff and company

Big data can help you to see how the company has evolved in the past in both detailed and simple analyses, which is very useful for making future predictions about the organization. 

This includes ways in which you might contract or expand, and parts of the organization you should invest more time and money in. Perhaps you want to make online magazines going forward and this is something a couple of your staff members can work towards. 

By figuring out which departments are bringing the most value to your company, and which ones might need some assistance, you can decide whether you need to hire more people, or offer some training in an area that might bolster your standing in your field.

7. More informed managers and team leaders

Information is power and the more information your managers and leaders have about how their colleagues function and what they need, the better they can manage them. This can include interpersonal things like their engagement levels and happiness, as well as things like budgets they might need for their different projects. 

Big data can also help with setting the best work objectives for the individual employee, which help them grow professionally and are also an asset to the organization. Sometimes personal and professional objective plans can seem a little vague or random, so basing these on clear data is more efficient and useful to everyone involved. 

Basing decisions like how to divide up work between employees on data rather than habit, personal preference, or how things have always been done is likely to be much better for morale, productivity, and a sense of fairness.

Companies can become entrenched in particular ways of doing things over the years, especially when some employees have been around much longer than others. Using data keeps things fresh and invigorating.

8. Clearer rationale for rewards and benefits 

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If you can see the numbers about how well your staff are doing, and are able to usefully analyze what those numbers mean, then you can also offer rewards and benefits to your staff on the basis of data. Again, this is a way to be objective and move away from personal feelings and biases. 

You might feel that someone who has been around a long time deserves a reward for loyalty, but perhaps you’re missing out the person who’s added the most value in terms of innovation, or the people who have undergone the steepest learning curve in recent months and learned how to review a mobile app with ease and gusto.  

Big data can help you to see the value in more than the obvious or the traditional.

Decisions rooted in information, not gut instinct 

Some organizations make the mistake of rooting too many decisions on gut instinct alone, which is dangerous because it’s not an objective way to go about things. Perhaps half of your staff want to keep the old logo colors because they’re the ones they’ve always known and associated with the organization, but perhaps the data suggest that those colors are a bit drab or they don’t perform well when the public is surveyed. You want to choose the best promotional material for your business!

Or perhaps you have somewhat stuffy and outdated policies that are the deciding factor for how things are done in your organization, but the data would suggest a different course of action. The data is like that honest, neutral friend who will tell you the truth and steer you the right way in your endeavors. And that’s as true in HR as it is in other parts of organizations and society. 


Emily Rollwitz – Content Marketing Executive, Global App Testing

Emily Rollwitz is a Content Marketing Executive at Global App Testing, a remote and on-demand app testing company helping top app teams deliver high-quality software, anywhere in the world. She has 5 years of experience as a marketer, spearheading lead generation campaigns and events that propel top-notch brand performance. Handling marketing of various brands, Emily has also developed a great pulse in creating fresh and engaging content. She’s written for great websites like Airdroid and CEO Blog Nation. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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