One Step Closer to Evidence-Based HR

Learn more about this newly hatched practice and its impact on performance

Before we set out on this journey, it is important to clarify what exactly is meant by “Evidence-based HR”.

Initially, in the 1960s “evidence-based” prefix was used in medicine; however, now it can be related to various fields such as education, criminology and management.

EBHR (evidence-based human resource) is the practice of identifying solutions and approaches that have a strong empirical basis.

We can simply say that all decisions made in EBHR are based on evidence (information).

Managing Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Management Eric Barends believes it’s “an activist thing”. He also adds: “Evidence-based practice is fighting against fallacy and fads”.

The term ‘evidence-based’ describes something people always do, which is basing decisions on information, but doing more of it, doing it better and doing it more critically

When it comes to HR, it is not whether managers use evidence, but how much relevant and trustworthy evidence is systematically gathered for the problem analysis and decision making.

Denise Rousseau, H.J. Heinz II professor of Organizational Behavior and Public Policy at the US’s Carnegie Mellon University, explains“The real issue in this movement is to call attention to the quality of the evidence people are using. If you ask HR practitioners if they are paying attention to the quality of their evidence, it knocks them back.”

Some of the evidence includes professional experience, evidence from organization, evidence based on stake-holder values or scientific/academic research.

Where to look for credible research materials? Here’s a list of some useful sources:

The massive value HR adds to deliver business objectives has been undeniable.

Yet with such significance, there are many questions that need to be answered: How does the organization benefit from it? What expectations should they set? What do they need for HR analytics to operate successfully?

The evidence-based management movement has HR in its sight

For decades the use of HR analytics has been primarily related to talent management.

Scientific thinking has been proven to be successful regards driving business performance. Even nowadays large organizations often run workforce-oriented surveys to assess employee thoughts, opinions and attitudes.

However, in the last five years HR analytics contributes to much more than talent management; it provides general managers and HR executives with powerful insights, making important people and organization decisions to ensure business effectiveness and efficiency improvements.

Analysts are now able to predict hard business outcomes like sales and safety, productivity and profits, investment risk taking and aversion, and managerial decision quality.

HR analytics clearly adds value when a number of pre-conditions are met

What enables to provide better HR insights? It’s the improved HR systems with better (longitudinal) data. Moreover, operational and financial performance data can now be combined. And, in addition to that, slowly but steadily HR analysts are improving their statistical analysis capabilities.

We believe that with the growth of data volume and quality, the value HR analytics can add will only continue to increase.

However, just like in any other field certain HR analytics risks and issues can be identified. Some of which are:

HR literature = hype

Although HR analytics has been around for decades, the mainstream literature on subject is lacking substance. Van der Togt and Rasmussen (2017) point out that currently it resembles hype; consultancies and software suppliers tend to use it as a commercial opportunity.

Furthermore, Professor of Organizational Psychology and Human Resource Management at Kings College David Guest believes: “Marketing by consultants tends to have a disproportionate impact, and I think that becomes dangerous, as it can be seen as evidence.”

This may lead to organizations following the crowd and buying while not fully understanding the concept of HR analytics as such. For that reason modern HR professionals need to be wise and see the difference between true facts and fiction.

Data Mining and Empty Empiricism

With expanding volumes of data HR is at risk of analytics based on theory-driven empiricism being substituted by empty empiricism.

A good way to avoid empty empiricism is to use available scientific research. All you have to do is browse the academic world and you will certainly come across some useful and free theory and meta-analyses.

Moreover, there is also a risk of overextending the scope of HR analytics. Sophisticated analysis may become unnecessary since decent management information can often generate 80% of value allowing fact-based diagnostics and decisions.

Gap Between HR Practitioners and Academics

After studying organizations and management for decades, Business author David Bolchover shares his observation: “HR academics who have been writing evidence-based research for decades are annoyed that HR practitioners are ignoring what they write.”

Yet he further explains that academic literature is often intended for other academics. Moreover, frequently it cannot be applied in practice.

To lessen this gap both parties must meet in the middle; not doing so might stop practitioners from reading HR literature completely. Academics have to look for ways to provide a more effective and accessible communication.

The value delivered by HR analytics has been growing exponentially

Long term success with better business decisions require not only investment and will to act, but also proper application of HR analytics.

Once you’ve done it, you will soon be able to notice the difference – reduced consultancy costs, efficiently run people agenda, and in general better people and decisions for less investment.

A good example to mention here is global group of energy and petrochemical companies Shell that used analytics to improve their business outcomes.

After a thorough study of academic literature, Van der Togt and Rasmussen in their study (2017) researched what drives individual and company performance, how engagement would affect safety, what drives engagement etc.

HR analytics allows us to balance intuition, experience, and beliefs with hard facts and evidence

Will HR really become evidence-based? The field is still relatively new; it requires nurturing from both – practitioners and academics.

Truly useful and accessible research materials and HR ability to create insightful data analysis will take us one step closer to evidence-based HR.

Remember that with expanding volumes of data the list of potential topics for HR analytics will only continue to expand.

Start with yourself. Shift your mindset and learn to think analytically: Identify the problem, think about what needs to be improved and look for ways how to use data to make it possible.

Bonus Stuff 🍰

Did you know that millennials are relying on music more for a better workday? Several formal studies have concluded noisy environments cause stress, whereas melodious sounds — music, results in the same pleasurable release of dopamine.

Music affects our moods in detectable, life-improving ways even if we’re not conscious of it. This is why we’re so fond of our tunes while we’re traveling — and, yes, why so many millennials turn to music to make the workday better!

That’s why we at CakeHR created this collaborative music playlist on Spotify and we’re asking you to join this growing community of melomans by adding your favs 🙂



Written By

Sintija Valdez

CakeHR translator and content writer, born and raised in Latvia but currently living in the U.S. Passionate about preserving the “world” that each language encompasses. At present emerging into the art of HR - work life, management and other related topics.