People analytics: simple ways to use workforce management to increase productivity

HR analytics is a hot topic amongst professionals managing large resources. Operations, human resources, and resource planning are now reliant on analysing trends in big data.

Amongst human resource professionals, analytics are an invaluable tool to tackle some of the headline issues facing businesses and organisations. The application of HR analytics or ‘people analytics’ to company processes is a key way of improving employee performance and maximising profitability, as well as retaining a satisfied and fulfilled workforce.

Enhancing productivity is not simply a case of hiring more staff

It is very easy to see productivity in simple terms: what volume of work can be expected from a certain headcount?

Resource scheduling is a key issue for many industries, but fully effective resource scheduling is not just a case of ensuring that number thresholds are met and absences are covered.

There is no such thing as a ‘standard’ employee in a workforce. All employees have different skills, work rates, and patterns of productive time. There may be unexpected trends or correlations. For example, employees who have health and safety training may be more productive line managers than employees who have not had any external training. Agency workers may be most productive when put on a certain shift, alongside a certain number of non-agency workers. All of these things may not be immediately apparent to an observer, but can be deduced by analysing trends in productivity data.

These unexpected trends can often be the key between managing a workforce re-actively or pro-actively; and putting the edge over competitors by getting more out of the same workforce. 

…we all know what it feels like to have management breathing down our necks, and that it’s not the way to make people more productive.

Employee retention and engagement is now a high priority issue

The recent Uber ruling has been a wake up call for many in industries that have traditionally had transient workforces or high attrition rates. As well as demanding standard employee rights, many workers are expecting higher levels of engagement from their employers, and this works in both parties’ favour.

“Data analytics can be a key tool for ensuring your company is fulfilling its legal requirements.”

It is now up to HR professionals to be smart about the data they use to identify trends in employee engagement, before it becomes a problem. For example, something as simple as keeping track of lateness may uncover a spectrum of engagement issues. There may be a lack of employee motivation, or conversely, flagging recurrent lateness may uncover the particular person struggling getting in on time after the school run, so a more flexible approach to making up hours may be required.

Data analytics can also be a key tool for ensuring that your company is fulfilling its legal requirements. For example, using a model to track patterns of absence may highlight issues with absence for health or disability related issues, which may in turn highlight reasonable accommodation not being made by a line manager for that particular individual. If an employee is regularly absent or leaving early with a back complaint, it may be that the type of work they are doing will have to adapt. With union cases regularly citing the Equality Act 2010, it is important that companies stay ahead of the curve in ensuring they are acting in line with current legislation.

Case study: The Bradford Factor

The Bradford Factor was first formulated in the 1980s by members of the Bradford University School of Management as an absence management tool.

The Bradford Factor was conceptualised as a means by which to interpret employees’ patterns of absence, condensing all spells of absence within a given period into a single figure, representative of the fact that recurring short absences are more disruptive than single continuous periods of absence.

Bradford Factor = (number of unrelated absence periods)² x days absent

Most major employers now use the Bradford Factor to some extent as a guide to employee productivity and engagement, and to see where improvements can be made.

“Here at Capita, we refer to the Bradford Factor when analysing the productivity of our own staff. We understand that managing absence is key to improving productivity for many reasons, in particular measuring absence against the Bradford Factor helps us to see if there may be an underlying issues to absence which is perhaps work-related. In my experience, multiple short absences often also signify an issue for an employee which may not be health-related. We have a duty of care to our employees which also has a knock on effect for productivity.”

– Stephanie Coward, Business Director, Capita Workforce Management