When Nothing is Really Something

1 Jun

When Nothing Really is SomethingIt’s one thing to look at your HR data and see information that requires your attention. A purchase order request; a contract that’s about to expire, or an employee with a negative vacation balance.

But have you ever tried to identify an HR activity that should have happened – but didn’t? That’s not nearly so easy. Consider a monthly HR task which the vast majority of your employees complete. You don’t need to know about all the employees who completed that task; rather, you need to know about that small number of employees who failed to complete that task.

This is a case where the absence of activity is exactly what you need to know.

It’s unfortunate but true that often the most important information for an HR organization doesn’t concern what has happened, but rather what hasn’t happened. Employees who have not received their reviews, staff who have not taken their mandatory drug tests, or managers who have not taken required certification courses are all good examples of HR business activities where “inactivity” is key.

Some inactivity scenarios in HR are easier to address than others because they have specific dates associated to them. Activities such as an employee’s “next review date” or their “last drug test date” typically utilize individual, date-specific fields within your HR solution. In those cases, it’s not too difficult to run a report or query where your date-sensitive selection criteria retrieves only those records where the “next review date” is within ‘x’ days, or the “last drug test date” is more than ‘y’ months old.

The difficulty occurs when there is no such date field associated with an action that should have occurred. For example, an organization might offer training classes on employee safety. These courses might be on such subjects as CPR, hazardous waste handling, and fire prevention methods. Employees might be required to take one or more of these courses on a periodic basis, such as monthly, quarterly, or yearly.

And as important as it is to see who has taken these courses (and when), it is even more important to see who hasn’t taken them.

The problem is the absence of data to report on. And the best way to understand this is to imagine this information stored in a file cabinet. Imagine that you open a drawer and reach for all the papers filed under “Last Year’s Safety Course Attendees”. These papers might show that 60 (out of 100) employees took such courses. Unfortunately these papers don’t help us to see which employees didn’t take those courses.

So how do you go about reporting on data that just isn’t there?

The answer is “by cross-referencing”.

Cross-referencing is a two-step process, and is typically the only way that “absence of activity” can be reported on. In the above example, before you’d reach for the stack of “last year’s attendees”, you’d reach for a separate list of all employees.

Then – and only then – could you cross-reference that list of “all employees” with the list of “last year’s course attendees”. You would identify any employee that had zero course registrations for last year, as that would be a staffer who has not taken any safety courses – exactly what you’re looking for.

Most importantly, cross-referencing should be an automatic process within your HR solution. Just as you can configure your HR solution to automatically tell you when certain critical activities have happened, you can similarly automate the process whereby you are told about things that have not happened.

Because in the HR world, nothing can really turn into something.

 

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