Data has been driving decision making for decades, but amid the ‘Great Resignation‘ it is the people analytics behind employee behavior that has business leaders suddenly ramping it up a gear.
For Tomeka Hill-Thomas PhD, a global leader in people analytics, this time has never been more exciting as big businesses delve deeper into employee engagement, behaviors and motivations and the correlation in financial performance.
With more Americans choosing to leave their jobs that ever before and the United States currently in a heated job market, not to mention battling numerous supply chain issues post-pandemic, these motivations and forecasting future disruptions and the impact is hot property for businesses.
Tomeka recently moved from Ernst & Young where she was their data science lead to join leading American asset management firm Mercer as senior principal in workforce strategy and analytics.
She tells UNLEASH: “My priorities right now are pay equity and strategic workforce planning with a diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) focus.
“I am really excited about what we’re doing right now in the space, not least because it allowed me to use my statistical and analytical skills to really answer big business questions more objectively.
What we’re seeing right now is extraordinary! But essentially the people analytics piece brings more fairness into the world and that, as a result, can only be a good thing.”
Tomeka has been working in the field for over 15 years and has become a leading spokesperson on the business and HR benefits of people analytics.
“I was actually doing people analytics before there was people analytics believe it or not,” she reveals. “I started my career at a HR consulting company that was focused on investment. In that job looking at how people make decisions related to retirement was probably my first exposure to people analytics and it was similar to how we work today because it dealt with employee behavior and people behavior and the data behind it.
“I then worked at Ford Motor Company and while I was there I was poached by Ernst and Young for a people analytics role.
“It was an internal role, where we were able to do a lot of research on a wide range of things, such as performance reviews, global mobility, compensation… I used data to create models related to turnover prediction.
“There were a lot of Human Resource-lead topics that we tackled. But when this opportunity came up for me to look at pay equity and strategic workforce planning with Mercer, I was really excited about the role. So I decided to take the leap.”
People Analytics changes how we look at the pandemic
Tomeka says her biggest learning of the last 18 months amid the pandemic has been around employee experience and their motivations for jumping ship during the crisis.
“My biggest learning has been about turnover, and the motivations of why people were choosing to leave the company during this time. Because it isn’t always just about more money. We’ve learned that it’s about work-life balance, it’s about mentoring is about other things that are part of life and how it impacts our work.
“Business isn’t just about the understanding the finance books, it’s about the people who work for you. Because they all play into each other very distinctly.
People are very, very important in the success of a business and as long as people analytics are used to address specific business questions, there’s a lot to be gained by looking at it through this lens.
One of the biggest questions globally, and in America right now is pay equity as the market struggles with topics like a heated job market and the ‘Great Resignation’. D,E&I, Tomeka says, is also wrapped into that.
Diverse and inclusive workplaces drive employee engagement
“In the United States pay equity has definitely been a big driver of the past few months. Businesses want to ensure that pay is fair, across all their employees. The second biggest priority that most are looking at is the motivations to create a more diverse leadership, and making plans for that.
“Having a better understanding of turnover and predictions around employee turnover… who is likely to leave, who’s likely to stay and being able to come up with actionable solutions to help mitigate the risks related to turnover are all key right now.
“The final one for me is around wellness… making sure that employees are understood and heard and that their needs are being met right now on a wide range of things related to both their mental, their financial as well as their overall happiness in their working lives.”
Employee data helps HR projects
Tomeka believes in integrating employee data into HR projects to give a more rounded picture of the resulting impact on employees.
She says: “Probably the biggest project that I’ve ever worked on was creating a global turnover prediction model for two reasons. One was the data that we use, I’m very proud of the fact that I took an initiative to really better integrate employee data.
“Before that the data was very segmented, you had your core HR over here, your performance review over there, your D,E&I and another spot for your revenue etc.
“We really wanted to take a more holistic view of our employees from the day they start until the day that they left. So I spent six months working with a data ops person to create a more holistic data point where every single month a new record is created for a new employee.
“You saw changes in employees behavior, basically, in real time. If they moved to a new office, you saw that they were put on a new engagement, we saw that any of the sentiment surveys that went out, we would aggregate the results and put that in each time.
“So you saw the mood of the employees through real time. With that as our basis, we were able to use that information to create a turnover prediction model to pretty much have a better view as to what really were the motivations of why someone was saying and someone was leaving the company.”
The reasons behind the ‘Great Resignation’ aren’t what you think
The drivers of this trend are not always what you’d first imagine, Tomeka says.
“We saw a lot of interesting things… for instance, money was not always the sole driver as to why people were leaving. Equally money was not the sole driver as to why people were saying with the company. We saw other things that came into view that was really eye opening.
“Through this we were able to help our stakeholders create better actionable plans to mitigate some of the things that they wanted to address right away.
“Everyone was really excited that we were able to look at certain variables that no one had considered before. And it really gave new perspective to the talent in business stakeholders as to what was going on with their employees and how the business could plan for the future.”
You need data to drive change
People analytics is increasingly becoming a priority for diversity and inclusion projects and Tomeka believes the data is crucial for exposing and driving change.
“I think everyone understands and having diverse leadership leads to better performance in general,” she says. “So just having that basic understanding is a motivation for them to want to have a more diverse workforce.
“We can help leadership see that there are so many actionable solutions for retaining high performing women, high performing people of color. Then maybe help them come up with actionable ways of hiring, and changing their hiring practices so that it could lead to a better, more diverse leadership which filters into every part of the business. I think that’s probably one of the key things that I am motivated to do with the work that I’m doing right now.”
Tomeka believes a clear communications loop with HR leaders, the C-suite and CEO are key as people analytics increasingly influences at the highest level.
“I make it very clear that I am answering a business question that impacts the performance of the business,” she explains. “Once they understand that, even though we’re talking about people, they realize that this is impacting the financials of the business and this hooks them up almost immediately to invest in the result.
“I always make sure that whenever I’m presenting anything it is with a business perspective, and how it impacts or changes the business itself. By making sure that you’re answering business questions, that is the key to the success of using people analytics.”