Nosy employers not welcomed by all

Employers are pushing to see staff social media data, saying it could lead to a better workplace experience, but employees are suspicious. 

Multinational professional services network PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) released research today showing data profiling could soon become commonplace in the workplace. 

According to PwC's report, The future of work: a journey to 2022, nearly a third of workers said they would be happy for their employer to have access to personal data, such as their social media profiles. 

By using data profiling in a way similar to advertisers and retailers, employers could better understand what motivates their staff, how to improve their wellbeing, and why people might change jobs, PwC said.

PwC partner and HR transformation specialist Debbie Francis said by 2020, Generation Y would make up half the global workforce, bringing with them looser attitudes towards technology and personal data. 

But HR student and member of Generation Y Lauren Humphrey was sceptical about the relevance of people's private lives to their workplace. 

"If [the companies] have proper processes in place such as staff satisfaction surveys and measurements of wellness, I don't see why they need social data," she said.

"What would having your social data really add in value to the business? As in, how will knowing who you went on holiday to Thailand with, and that you enjoy playing Facebook games when you get home, really benefit the business?"

Francis said employers would need to build trust with employees who hand over their data, and provide "measurable benefits" to ensure the exchange would benefit both parties.

CTU president Helen Kelly said there appeared to be nothing in the research to back up PwC's claim that younger people were more willing to share personal data.

Kelly said the people who were happy to share their Facebook profiles were likely to be people who didn't use social media and therefore did not understand how it could be abused.

"Most people don't want that part of their private lives available to their employers, and it shouldn't be," she said.

Kelly said she was also concerned about employers using technology to contact employees out of hours as this was likely to intrude on the time most people used to connect with friends and family.

"Employers don't own their workforce, they employ them," she said.

University of Otago Professor Paul Roth has researched and presented on workplace privacy, and said employers have always been curious about their employees' lives. 

"It even figured in 'scientific management' from the early 1900s onward," he said. "For example, the Ford Motor Company sent out inspectors to systematically collect information about ... workers' lifestyles and living conditions in the early years of the last century. 

"So there is nothing new in nosey employers, just the technical means of collecting such information have evolved with the times." 

His papers point out that companies hiring based on information found via social media could be risking violation under the Human Rights Act. 

Furthermore, it should be taken into account that users' social media content could be sarcastic, or referring to "inside jokes", or even entirely fake. 

"Of course there is a risk to employees' privacy, but the perils of social media should be well known by now by all," he said.