Amazon’s data-driven staffing a trend

Amazon isn’t the only company that is using data on employees to improve productivity.


A New York Times article published over the weekend portrayed Amazon’s work culture as “bruising” and “Darwinian” in part because of the way it uses data to manage its staff.

The article depicted a work culture where employees are constantly pressured to deliver strong results on a wide variety of detailed metrics which the company monitors in real time, while also encouraging staff to praise or criticise colleagues.

The story has led to an outcry on social media.

Amazon’s chief executive officer Jeff Bezos has written to all staff saying the article doesn’t accurately describe the company culture he knows.

But experts say this kind of data-driven staff management will become more common as technology continues to transform workplaces.

“Every company is somewhere in the process toward using data to get a better handle on who their top performers are and to understand where people stand,” John Challenger, the chief executive of outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas said.

Companies are moving away from traditional annual human resources reviews and evaluations towards a more data-driven approach with more frequent feedback and other metrics.

Consulting firms Accenture and Deloitte both say this year they will revamp their performance review processes, and will adopt a more data driven approach.

Tech companies have been even speedier in applying data analytics to staffing.

Google uses data to put together optimal-sized teams for projects and to decide on effective leaders.

Paul Hamerman, a human resources analyst, says the future may mimic what California-based Glint Inc. is offering clients, including music-streaming site Pandora.

Glint sends Pandora employees “pulses” or short surveys about how they are feeling and how they feel about their job.

Glint chief executive officer Jim Barnett said the surveys allow executives to monitor the health of their employees and see how the company is faring in real time.

Another of Glint’s clients, Marketo, increased staff levels after using data from the pulses to see that women in one department were ranking their work/life balance substantially lower than expected.

The downside to a data-driven approach is it can seem “Big Brother-ish” to staff.

But Glint said the surveys that the company sends out have an 80 to 85 per cent response rate.

“Employees tend to be willing to share,” Barnett said.