Meta’s future of work director says employee data will shape HR strategy

As HR evolves, future of work leaders will need to balance data collection with ethical consideration, explains Meta leader.
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· 4 min read

Whether forecasting a baseball team’s odds of making it to the playoffs or a region’s rainfall for fall, this much is true: Data is king. The same can be said about understanding employees—just ask the people analytics teams tasked with tracking and forecasting workers’ behavior.

Within these departments is a growing number of leaders focusing specifically on the future of work. Job titles related to the future of work have increased by 60% since early 2020, according to LinkedIn data provided to Forbes, with companies including LinkedIn, GitLab, and Microsoft adding such roles to their ranks. Meta’s director of future of work, Kelly Monahan, believes these roles will be key to HR’s long-term strategy.

Zoom out. Emilio Castilla, a professor of management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, defines people analytics as “a data-driven approach to improving people-related decisions for the purpose of advancing the success of not only the organization but also of individual employees.”

The field got its start in the 1950s when Simulmatics, a data science firm, used an IBM computer to predict election outcomes. Called the “people machine,” it has been described by Harvard academic Jill Lepore in MIT Technology Review as “a computer program designed to predict and manipulate human behavior, all sorts of human behavior, from buying a dishwasher to countering an insurgency to casting a vote.” While computers have gotten faster and analytics more sophisticated, according to Lepore, consumer analytics, and now people analytics, can be traced back to Simulmatics.

Predicting human behavior is valuable, and HR teams are taking note: The people analytics sector is expected to grow 14% YoY between now and 2030, per Grand View Research. Yuan Hou, people analytics strategy manager at HubSpot, told HR Brew that people analytics has “become the engine of decision making, because knowing this data gives teams an edge to win,” adding that “repeated human behavior is really the most predictive thing of future human behavior.”

What’s the future like? Things aren’t looking like Westworld quite yet, but computers are well on their way to predicting employee behaviors and reactions to environmental changes.

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Meta’s Monahan, who stepped into her role in December 2021, said future of work analysis and predictions have been discussed for about a decade, but only among consultants. A former future of work researcher at Deloitte with a PhD in organizational leadership, she’s seen this shift as companies including Meta have brought future of work researchers onto their people analytics teams.

In her role, she’s constantly exploring data and figuring out how to translate it into action. “It’s very much an HR function, but we partner throughout the business. How can you make your workforce more flexible? How can we make it a more meaningful experience?”

Humans needed. From analyzing absenteeism and turnover to gauging employee sentiment and forecasting resignation rates, the amount of calculations and analysis that people analytics teams can run is nearly endless. Despite this, Monahan said, people are still at the core of the functions. Humans need to decide what data to pull, and how to tie it to the bigger picture and present it to other business units.

“There’s a very human process throughout all of this,” she explained. “We are not monitoring, [but] we’re listening to employees and trying to understand their sentiment and preferences so we can design more meaningful work as we think about the future.”

Ethics, she added, are also critical. A future of work leader “could run any analysis if you wanted to,” she said, “but that is actually not ethical.” Analysis of some data, like that from individual employee emails or wellness wearables, may violate ethics and could erode the employer–employee relationship. To solve this, she said, Meta works solely with anonymized, aggregate data and “no one would ever take individual action based on data that’s being collected.”

This is not a Her type of situation. Computers don’t (yet) understand ethics or love.—KP

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @Kris10Parisi on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Kristen for her number on Signal.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.