Human Resources

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A Look at How HR Can Help to Ensure Data Security

If you’re not accustomed to thinking of data security as an HR issue, it’s time to think again. While it’s tempting to consider data security as the sole purview of your organization’s IT department, the fact is that data security is not only about technology, it’s also about people. And it’s precisely this human element that tends to be the weakest link in cases of data breaches.

Despite significant advancements in domains such as information security research and cyber detection tools, human error continues to play a major role in situations where sensitive data is compromised. Employees routinely put organizations’ data at risk—intentionally or unintentionally—by failing to comply with data protection policies: this might involve actions such as regularly forgetting to change a password, losing a device that contains sensitive information, using unsecured channels, bringing blacklisted applications into work, or performing work tasks on public networks. And these aren’t just occasional oversights. According to the Verizon 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report, a remarkable 63% of confirmed data breaches involved the use of weak, default, or stolen passwords.




High Stakes

It’s particularly important for organizations to do all that they can to prevent data breaches given that the stakes are so high. A 2017 study sponsored by IBM estimates that, on average, the total organizational cost of a data breach for a US company is a staggering $7.35 million. Furthermore, there are other costs associated with data breaches that are harder to quantify, but no less devastating, such as the damage to a business’ reputation. A 2015 global survey conducted by Gemalto revealed that nearly 64% of consumers worldwide would likely discontinue doing business with an organization that had experienced a breach involving the loss of financial information.

So what is the role of HR in all this? Essentially, it’s up to HR to handle the “human element” by championing data security to employees and company personnel across the board. Through proper planning and attention, HR can work to make data security a key part of a company’s culture, encouraging employees to buy into the security process from their first day on the job. In addition, HR can work behind the scenes to help develop and implement data security policies that are effective and easy to understand and follow. As outlined in a recent article from the Society for Human Resource Management, some of the actions that HR can take to lead the way when it comes to organizational data security include the following:


Knowing Who Is Hired

The first step in keeping personally identifiable information or other sensitive data safe is staying on top of the people who will have access to it. This means thoroughly vetting all candidates for jobs that involve the routine handling of sensitive information, such as positions in payroll or finance, a task that HR is perfectly positioned to carry out.


Keeping Track of Equipment


A surprising number of data breaches arise from problems with physical equipment: that is, the loss or theft of company devices that contain confidential information. In order to avoid this, it’s essential that HR keep proper records of what equipment employees are given. During the onboarding process, a checklist should be created that details all of the equipment and devices that each employee receives. The list should be regularly reviewed and consulted when an employee leaves a company in order to ensure that all equipment is returned.


Training Employees to Recognize Issues

Some situations that can lead to data breaches—such as sophisticated phishing scams that take the form of e-mails which appear to have come from someone in the company—are not always easy for employees to recognize. HR can help to mitigate this by leading training and awareness-building exercises on topics such how to identify scams and what to do if a scam is suspected.


Encouraging Employees to Speak up


When a data breach or attempted breach occurs, employees may be tempted to ignore or try to conceal it, particularly if they feel they are at fault. However, it’s vital that employees understand how important it is to speak up. Situations can often be addressed in a timely manner if they are raised immediately. In addition, early detection can help employers to fulfill particular obligations, such as providing certain notices that are mandatory in cases where data may have been compromised.


Crafting Comprehensive BYOD Policies

If companies allow employees to use their own devices at work—an increasingly popular phenomenon known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)—it’s essential that comprehensive policies are in place to protect sensitive information. In order to achieve this, HR can team up with other relevant departments to craft clear and precise language around steps that can be taken if a device is lost or stolen, and what can happen if an employee leaves the company. It’s also vital to ensure that policies are in place that allow for a device to be remotely wiped in case of an emergency.


How to Expand Benefits Packages to Recruit and Retain Top Talent

While salary traditionally has been considered the big draw in attracting talent, to compete for employees in today’s culture, companies should give benefits a central role in their recruiting strategies. Employees often place great value on non-salary benefits such as health insurance and flexible schedules, and employers should carefully think through what benefits they want to offer and how they will market those benefits to potential employees. This can be especially important in attracting and retaining millennials, who have a different viewpoint on what constitutes an appealing job than previous generations.

Large technology companies, in particular, are rethinking benefits. Matthew Gregson, senior vice president of Thomsons Online Benefits, described their philosophy to HR magazine.

“There’s a significant focus on supporting employees’ life goals, their wellbeing and giving them a great experience in the workplace, and those things are manifest in the culture,” he said.


Prioritizing benefits


A recent Randstad U.S. survey, which polled more than 750 employees, reveals how important good benefits can be to employee job satisfaction.

Only about 40 percent of employees surveyed said they were satisfied with their company benefits, and only about half of the employees surveyed even knew about all of their benefits. Almost all of the respondents preferred benefits that would increase their quality of life.

Some of the survey’s results indicated that good benefits—especially those sponsored by the employer—could more effectively attract talent than a high salary. More than 65 percent of respondents said that the quality of benefits and perks determined whether they accepted a job offer, and 61 percent said they would take a lower paying job if it offered good benefits. About 40 percent of respondents said that they were thinking about leaving their current job because the benefits were poor, and 55 percent had quit a job when they found a new job with better benefits. Respondents listed health insurance as the most important benefit, followed by early Friday dismissals, the option to work remotely or integrate a flexible schedule, and onsite perks such as a gym.

In a talk at the 2018 Society for Human Resources (SHRM) annual conference, SHRM CEO Johnny C. Taylor argued that human resources departments should provide leadership in areas such as benefits and compensation, training and development, and creating an inclusive workplace culture—otherwise, he said, companies may outsource these functions. As HR departments set the tone for a company’s image and benefits, they will play a key role in whether their company can successfully recruit quality employees.


Beyond salary


Here are some workplace benefits that can enhance a company’s image and reputation as it seeks to attract the attention of top talent.

Student debt pay-down plans: The Randstad U.S. survey showed that about 40 percent of respondents ages 18-24 wished that their companies offered student loan repayment assistance.  This benefit can be significant for recent college graduates, whose student loan payments may be tying up money they could use for a down payment on a home or car.

Employers can offer student loan repayment benefits by contributing money each year toward an employee’s student loans. Because of their age, millennials aren’t as interested in top-of-the-line health insurance plans as older employees and are too far removed from retirement to prioritize an employer-matching 401(k) plan. For them, student debt repayment plans can be a major draw, as this benefit has a more immediate impact on their monthly budget.


Flexible work schedule: All workers, but especially millennials, aren’t as interested in jobs that require them to sit at a desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Many value independence and control over their own time, and workplace flexibility allows employees to have a say in their work schedule.

For many employees, this means the ability to occasionally work from home, which can be especially important for parents who need to be available during the day sometimes to care for a sick child or attend an event at their child’s school. Other types of flexible schedules include flex-time, which requires a set number of hours and workload each week, but gives the employee the option as to when to complete the work. Compressed workweeks similarly allow employees to fulfill a 40-hour workweek in four 10-hour workdays.


Professional development: This benefit can be especially important for drawing young, ambitious employees who want to develop their careers and move into higher positions. Companies that offer mentorships, training programs, educational opportunities, and team-building events show potential employees that they are invested in their learning and success. This kind of culture also promotes a sense of purpose and can be especially important in retaining millennials, who tend to job-hop if they sense a better opportunity lies elsewhere. In addition, investing in training and development can create well-trained, knowledgeable company leaders who become longtime, loyal employees.

Current low unemployment rates mean that many labor markets are tight and competition can be fierce for good employees. Companies that translate what potential employees want and value into an appealing benefits package—whether it includes premium health insurance or free lunch—will stay a step ahead in the recruiting game.


How to Get Disengaged Employees Back on Track

The stereotypical image of a disengaged employee is easy enough to conjure: a lackluster performer who does the bare minimum, takes no pride in his or her work, and doesn’t seem to have any ambition for future growth or progress. But, as is the case with all stereotypes, the reality is far more nuanced and complex. With research suggesting that disengagement can affect a whopping nine out of 10 employees, it’s clear that even top-tier employees can go through periods of feeling unmotivated and disenchanted with their work situation. This disengagement can manifest itself in a variety of ways: perhaps a previously punctual employee starts showing up late for meetings, or a usually conscientious employee begins turning in assignments with errors, or a once inventive employee hasn’t come up with any new ideas in a while.

In order to avoid unnecessary turnover, it’s vitally important that HR leaders pay attention to these warning signs that an employee is checking out, and take proactive steps to re-engage them and re-ignite their passion for their work. Some of the most effective tactics to try include the following:


Reach out and listen.


The first and most important part of solving the problem of employee disengagement is to have an honest and respectful conversation with the employee to find out what’s going on. Perhaps there’s a particular stressor in the workplace that you can help him or her deal with? Does the employee have an idea of what he or she needs in order to feel inspired but hasn’t known how to ask for it? Is a problem in the employee’s personal life taking a toll on his or her work? Start by asking these questions, and make sure you’re truly listening to the answers.


Let them know someone is watching.

One surprising thing that can cause employees to withdraw and disengage from their work is the sense that they’ve been left entirely to their own devices. While it’s true that no one likes a manager constantly hovering over their shoulder, it’s also true that no one likes to feel that nothing they do, good or bad, is ever noticed. Having a word with the employee’s direct manager or supervisor can help ascertain whether lines of communication and performance feedback between manager and employee are as open and dynamic as they should be, or whether the manager needs a reminder to take a more active interest in the employee’s work and progress.


Show your appreciation.

Of course, the best way to show employees that someone is watching them is to recognize the hard work and effort that they put in. Showing appreciation for a job well done is something that people neglect to do far too frequently—often because employers mistakenly believe that the only way to show appreciation is through financial rewards. However, this simply isn’t true. Showing appreciation can take on many forms, from publicly recognizing an employee’s contributions at a company meeting to awarding extra paid time off to a personal thank-you from the CEO.


Deliver new opportunities.


If an employee’s performance is going downhill due to a lack of engagement, you might be tempted to give that person fewer responsibilities, but in fact, you should be doing just the opposite. Boredom is one of the main ways that employee disengagement manifests itself, and employees become bored when they don’t have enough challenging and stimulating work to do. To help employees get out of their ruts, break up their day-to-day routines and give them an entirely new task, project, or even role based on skills you know they have but don’t often have the opportunity to use.


Set goals together.

A helpful way to refocus the attention of employees who have been drifting is to set goals together. Hold a collaborative brainstorming session to come up with a unique way in which they could contribute to a current or future project and then seal the deal by setting a firm deadline. By going through this process together, you’ll give employees something tangible to work towards, and because you’ve asked for their input, you’ll gain additional buy-in from them, and they will feel more invested in the results.


Let them in on the big picture.

Similar to the disengagement that arises from the feeling that no one is watching, employees can also become unmotivated when they feel like nothing more than cogs in a bigger machine, with little sense of the higher purpose of their work. As an HR leader, you can help give employees a better idea of the company’s strategy and more insight into the decisions that are being made at the board and executive levels. Understanding the broader goals regarding where the company is heading can help employees re-engage, particularly if they have the opportunity to give input on those goals during staff or strategy meetings.


What Is Evidence-Based HR? (And Why Is it Important?)

According to a 2017 article from the Society for Human Resource Management, a recent survey conducted in the US revealed significant discrepancies between practices that HR professionals believe work well and practices that research has shown to be effective. For example, as the SHRM article goes on to describe, some US firms, along with many European employers, use handwriting analysis as an assessment tool during the hiring process, but studies have shown that handwriting has no bearing at all on an individual’s job performance.

This disconnect between belief and reality is understandable. After all, the HR field as a whole has long relied on anecdotal information, industry or workplace trends, and pure instinct. However, it’s also a clear sign that HR needs to start basing its practices on better information. In this age of big data, many different fields, including HR, are finding that it’s no longer possible to function effectively without the support of proven facts. Consequently, leaders are looking for better ways to back up their decision-making processes. Welcome to the world of evidence-based HR.

What is evidence-based HR?


As its name suggests, evidence-based HR is a newly developing practice in which HR departments evaluate any decisions or processes against research and information that can help determine whether the decision is likely to lead to the desired outcome. According to the Center for Evidence-Based Management, an independent non-profit foundation, there are four important sources of information that can be used to support HR decisions.

The first source is research and findings from empirical peer-reviewed studies that have been published in academic journals. The second is data, facts, and figures collected from the organization itself. The third is the experience and knowledge of the practitioners involved in the decision-making process. The fourth and final is the values and concerns of any stakeholders that might be impacted by the decision.

In addition to drawing on the right sources, it’s important to know how to consider and interpret information. For example, if a study is used in support of an upcoming HR decision, the study should be applicable to the case in question, and the results should be specific rather than generalized. Information should always be assessed against the relevant contextual details of a particular situation, and it’s best to avoid over-utilizing a single source. Supportive evidence is most effective when it comes from a number of different sources, especially given that experts on a particular topic may have their own agenda.

Why is evidence-based HR important?

In today’s fast-paced, highly competitive, and increasingly globalized corporate world, there is less and less room for HR decisions that are poorly considered or that don’t have the best possible chance of succeeding. For example, a company that bases its employee onboarding practices on what was always done in the past, rather than on methods that have been experientially proven to be effective, may have a higher employee turnover rate than is desirable because new hires don’t feel properly integrated into the organization.

These types of situations may unnecessarily cost companies time, money, and effort that could have been better spent elsewhere. Adopting an evidence-based HR approach cannot, of course, guarantee that decisions will always work out. However, it does ensure a solid, fact-based foundation for those decisions to be built upon.

A look at evidence-based HR in action.


If your organization is considering implementing evidence-based HR decision-making, there are six key steps to follow:

    1. Asking—Explaining a practical organizational issue in question form.
    2. Acquiring—Methodically and thoroughly searching for and gathering pertinent evidence (in the form of the sources mentioned above).
    3. Appraising—Assessing each piece of evidence and gauging its trustworthiness and relevance.
    4. Aggregating—Compiling the evidence and looking at it as a cohesive body.
    5. Applying—Using the information from the evidence to drive the decision-making process.
    6. Assessing—Evaluating the decision’s outcome.

For example, if an organization wanted to use an evidence-based approach to reform its performance management system, here is what that might look like. First, HR team members would meet with key stakeholders, such as each department’s supervisory team, and discuss particular pain points and concerns with the current system. This discussion would also involve the development of a number of design principles aligned with the stakeholders’ goals.

HR would then review relevant literature and expertise to get more information about questions related to these specific design features. For example, are there studies that definitively show the impact that monetary bonuses have on improving performance? In addition, gathering organizational data will help HR better understand the legacy system and its evolution over time.

All this data, research, and stakeholder input can then be used to develop a plan for a new performance system. When the plan is finalized, the new system would then receive a small-scale testing phase, with time for changes and corrections, before a full implementation. Finally, a thorough evaluation plan would be prepared to provide an assessment of how well the new system is meeting its intended objectives after a certain period of operation.