by Paula McDonald, Paul Thompson and Peter O’Connor
A new study has revealed that 27% of employees have witnessed their employer using online information to ‘profile’ job applicants. Approximately 55% of organisations now have a policy outlining how profiling can and should be used as an organisational strategy.
Despite its increased practice however, most employees are not comfortable with being profiled. Over 60% believe they have a right to a private online identity that should not be accessed by employers. But only 40% of those surveyed reported they manage their social media activities with their current employer in mind.
What is profiling?
Most of us have probably ‘googled’ someone to find information about them. Perhaps we searched for information on a potential flatmate, a new colleague, or even a new boss. With the aid of an internet search engine, we can easily learn important details about people (e.g., their appearance, lifestyle choices, professional affiliations) before we meet them. Perhaps more controversially, employers can learn whether they seem like the ‘right’ kind of person to hire? This is known as profiling: the collection of online information for the purpose of monitoring and evaluating current and future employees.
The practice of profiling is not without controversy, with recent commentaries questioning the legitimacy of the practice. In particular, although personal information is publicly available, some have objected to its use based on employees’ rights to a private identity. In other words, there is some question as to whether profiling employees is a legitimate practice or whether it oversteps the boundaries of privacy.
To investigate this question from the perspective of employees, we conducted a survey study of 2000 employees across a range of occupational groups in Australia and the UK. We used this sample to determine the extent of profiling, the outcomes of profiling and the attitudes of employees towards profiling. We also looked at whether profiling depended on industry and profession and how often organisations defined the parameters of profiling in their policies.