How To Use Data in Workforce Management

Across the U.S., a growing number of cities, counties, and states are using data across agencies to improve management and make decisions—and HR professionals in particular stand to gain much from this data to help drive staffing and other strategic decisions.

With that in mind, we’ve written a white paper for UKG, that takes a deep dive into both the benefits and challenges of using data, with real-life examples of how it can be instrumental in building resilient HR operations. We’re really proud of this particular piece of work, as it combines two of the things that we’re most passionate about in our research: the public sector workforce and the beneficial use of data. So, here’s a shameless plug. If either of these are areas about which you care, we suggest you do more than read this post – look at the report as well.

For instance, when state and local governments effectively track turnover data, they can uncover the kinds of patterns that help them identify people who are most likely to be running out the door in the immediate future. Similarly, by measuring the distribution of overtime among employees, entities can ensure fairer distribution of overtime – and avoid the kind of overuse by individuals that can lead to fatigue and even burnout.

Another area in which data are increasingly being utilized by well-run HR offices is to uncover inequities by assessing and comparing the demographic makeup of a workforce to reveal potential biases in the hiring process.

For example, as we wrote in the report, “Several years ago, an analysis of overtime in one growing southwestern city was inspired by a female employee’s complaint that she was being denied opportunities for overtime work, compared with other employees in the city’s predominantly male utilities division. Data confirmed the validity of the female employee’s story. A review of overtime distribution for all the individuals working for the same supervisor showed that her overtime level was 400 hours less than the next lowest overtime-receiving employee of the gas and electric division.”

Of course, merely collecting data doesn’t mean that positive changes will necessarily follow. Careful analysis and management response help turn gritty numbers into action.

Here’s an example from the report: One public sector employee was often absent, which ticked off her colleagues who had to pick up the slack. But supervisors hadn’t really noticed the problem until they analyzed a database that showed employee sick leave data.

Things could have ended there, with a reprimand and a note in a personnel file. But the next steps were what mattered. When the data was disaggregated, it turned out that this employee was missing work on alternate Wednesdays. As we wrote, “Her supervisor discovered that her children had a half-day of school every Wednesday, and she had fallen into the habit of calling in sick when she didn’t have someone to pick them up, rather than drawing attention to herself by regularly asking permission to leave the office at noon. Understanding the problem, the supervisor proposed a solution — come in to work at 7 a.m. on Wednesdays instead of the normal start time of 8:30 a.m.; then work until noon.”

Employee and supervisor agreed that the missing Wednesday afternoon hours would be made up through extra time worked on other days — either by staying late or coming in early. Happy ending: The rest of the employees were no longer angry. Productivity went up as did morale.

There’s little disagreement that the careful and deliberate use of data in HR can make an enormous difference in ways like this. But that doesn’t mean every agency in every city and state are jumping aboard the spreadsheet bandwagon. Challenges abound including insufficient funding, insufficient training and the lack of access to the appropriate software.

That said, we’d make the argument that money spent on this kind of work shouldn’t be described as an expense, but rather as an investment in the smooth functioning of the public sector workforce – the folks without whom all the great policies and practices in the world aren’t worth a hill of beans.

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