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Between autonomy and surveillance – Employee-oriented use of People Analytics


In the research project “Between Autonomy and Surveillance” (ZAUber), we investigate the use of people analytics in practice.  People analytics is a data-driven management approach in which data about workers is systematically analysed to improve management decisions. In these analyses companies explore various issues, such as which areas of the company may face staff shortages due to the current shortage of skilled labour, how workforce planning and scheduling can be improved, or how to identify potential career and development paths by evaluating employees’ skill data. The project is funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation as part of the research network Digital Transformation. It is done in close cooperation with the FZI Research Centre for Information Technology.

Background of the project

Many managers hope to gain new insights into their company by analysing large amounts of data, and thus support strategic decisions or partially automate people activities. However, due to the sensitive nature of personnel data people analytics is controversial and can hardly be compared to business analytics approaches in other areas, such as purchasing or finance. Personnel data needs to be handled responsibly and therefore also places high demands on data protection. Especially when data is analysed on an individual level, i.e. when analyses are available about individuals rather than groups, they pose a high surveillance risk for employees. In addition, decisions made based on the analyses can have far-reaching consequences for employees and, in this respect, also raise questions of discrimination.

Research questions

People analytics places high demands on the stakeholders involved, such as management, employee representatives, data protection, and data analysts. Companies need to reconcile technical requirements and possibilities with the needs of those involved and the regulatory context. The granular functionalities of the applications ensure flexibility, but they also create complexity. Our research project focuses on the challenges and design possibilities for organisational actors that the applications provide in the area of tension between autonomy and surveillance. Specifically, we are investigating different use cases to determine whether and how they can be designed in an employee-centred way. The project addresses the following two research questions:

Which technical, individual, and organisational conditions promote or inhibit a use of people analytics that is oriented towards the well-being and self-determination of employees?

How – if at all – does the perception of the use of people analytics differ among employees affected by the analyses in the contexts of remote and onsite work?

Methodological approach

To answer our research questions, we draw on a multi-method approach that includes both qualitative and quantitative studies. A structured literature review, market survey, and qualitative stakeholder interviews form the basis of the project. Based on these findings, we conduct in-depth qualitative case studies on the use of people analytics in German companies. In addition, our partners at the FZI Research Centre for Information Technology conduct a theory-based quantitative survey and an experimental study that provide insights into the perception of privacy intrusions and trust-building features of people analytics. Workshops at the beginning and end of the project support our as-is analysis and the transfer of our findings into practice.

Media & Links

Duration: 01.04.22 – 30.09.2024

Sponsor: Hans Böckler Foundation


Sonja Köhne

Doctoral Researcher: Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Society

Part of the research group

Journal articles and conference proceedings

Köhne, S., Klöpper, M., von Richthofen, G. & Send, H. (2024). Autonomer dank Algorithmen? WSI-Mitteilungen, 18-25. Publication details

Köhne, S., & Klöpper, M. (2023). Shifting Structures – A Systematic Literature Review on People Analytics and the Future of Work. ECIS 2023 Research Papers. Publication details

Winkler, M., Köhne, S., & Klöpper, M. (2022). ‘Not all algorithms!’ Lessons from the Private Sector on Mitigating Gender Discrimination. INFORMATIK 2022, Lecture Notes in Informatics (LNI), Gesellschaft für Informatik, 1289-1303. Publication details

Klöpper, M., & Köhne, S. (2022). People Analytics and the Promise of the Good Life. A Critical Transformative Perspective. Wirtschaftsinformatik 2022 Proceedings(4), 1-17. Publication details

Other publications

Köhne, S. (2024). Mehr als Daten: People Analytics zwischen Erkenntnisgewinn & Privatsphäre. Denkfabrik Digitale Arbeitsgesellschaft. Publication details

Köhne, S. (2023). Zwischen Experimentierräumen und Ampelsystemen: Künstliche Intelligenz auf der betrieblichen Ebene verhandeln. Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung. Publication details

Gümüsay, A., Köhne, S., Schildhauer, T., Krzywdzinski, M., & Send, H. (2022). Why Big Brother should not be watching you at work. I by IMD. Publication details

Köhne, S., Klöpper M. & Buß, N. (2022). People Analytics: Chancen, Risiken und neue Gestaltungsfragen. Gegenblende. Publication details

Köhne, S. & Klöpper, M. (2021). Working from Home but Never Alone: Warum People Analytics die Perspektive der Beschäftigten einbeziehen muss. Digital Society Blog. Publication details

Lectures and presentations

Künstliche Intelligenz und betriebliche Mitbestimmung
KI-Forum der Abteilung Denkfabrik Digitale Arbeitsgesellschaft: Wie gelingt der verantwortungsvolle und produktive Einsatz von KI in der betrieblichen Praxis?. Observatorium Künstliche Intelligenz in Arbeit und Gesellschaft (KI-Observatorium), Denkfabrik, BMAS. Konferenzzentrum des Bundes, Berlin, Germany: 06.12.2023

Sonja Köhne

Daten, Algorithmen und ein neuer Blick auf das Personalmanagement: Erkenntnisse aus einem Forschungsprojekt zu People Analytics
Personalinformationssysteme: Chancen, Risiken, Mitbestimmung. IG Metall Vorstand, Frankfurt a. M., Germany: 18.07.2023 Further information

Sonja Köhne

Artificial Intelligence and Work Representation
39th EGOS Colloquium 2023: "Organizing for the Good Life: Between Legacy and Imagination". EGOS. University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy: 07.07.2023 Further information

Sonja Köhne, Georg von Richthofen, Ali Aslan Gümüşay, Hendrik Send

How I Met Your Money: Das Geschäft mit den Beschäftigtendaten
re:publica. Arena, Berlin, Germany: 07.06.2023 Further information

Sonja Köhne, Georg von Richthofen

Künstliche Intelligenz in freier Wildbahn: Wer profitiert vom Einsatz von KI am Arbeitsplatz?
re:publica. STATION, Berlin, Germany: 06.06.2023

Sonja Köhne

People Analytics im Spannungsfeld zwischen Be- und Entlastung
Netzwerktreffen Stabsmitarbeiter*innen “Gute und gesunde (Mitbestimmungs-)Arbeit in einer transformierenden Wirtschaft”. Institut für Mitbestimmung und Unternehmensführung (I.M.U.) der Hans-Böckler-Stiftung, Düsseldorf, Germany: 10.01.2023

Sonja Köhne

Möglichkeiten und Grenzen von Künstlicher Intelligenz im Recruiting
Möglichkeiten und Grenzen von Künstlicher Intelligenz im Recruiting. Fortbildungsakademie des Ministeriums des Innern des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, Online, Germany: 29.09.2022

Sonja Köhne

Algorithmisches Personalmanagement: Kartierung einer komplexen Landschaft
Demo Day. Prototype Funds. bUm, Raum für solidarisches Miteinander, Berlin, Germany: 31.08.2022 Further information

Sonja Köhne

Coffee Chat: A human has viewed your CV – Künstliche Intelligenz im Bewerbungsprozess?
Künstliche Intelligenz im Bewerbungsprozess?. re:publica 2022, Berlin, Germany: 09.06.2022 Further information

Sonja Köhne

Das interaktive People-Analytics-Quiz. re:publica 2022, Berlin, Germany: 09.06.2022 Further information

Sonja Köhne

People Analytics and the Promise of the Good Life—A Critical Transformative Perspective
17th International Conference on Wirtschaftsinformatik. Wirtschaftsinformatik 2022 Proceedings 4, Online, Germany: 21.02.2022 Further information

Sonja Köhne

Mitarbeiter*innen-zentrierter Einsatz von People Analytics
LABOR.A® 2020 – Arbeit der Zukunft in Corona-Zeiten (Session: Ideenpitch Künstliche Intelligenz in der Arbeitswelt). Hans-Böckler-Stiftung, Forschungsstelle Arbeit der Zukunft, Online, Germany: 07.10.2020 Further information

Miriam Klöpper, Sonja Köhne


People Analytics: Management zwischen Daten, Intuition und Diskriminierung
Geschlechterungleichheit und KI am Arbeitsplatz. Gleichstellungsforum 2023, Berlin, Germany: 03.03.2023 Further information

Sonja Köhne

Moderation of workshops and panels

Die Pandemie als Wendepunkt? Transformation von Autonomie und Kontrolle in neuen Arbeitsformen
LABOR.A® 2020 – Arbeit der Zukunft in Corona-Zeiten. Hans-Böckler-Stiftung, Forschungsstelle Arbeit der Zukunft, Online, Germany: 07.10.2020 Further information

Karen Eilers, Miriam Klöpper, Sonja Köhne, Valentin Niebler, Nora Thorade, Klara-Aylin Wenten, Tobias Drewlani

Organisation of events

People Analytics in der betrieblichen Praxis
People Analytics in der betrieblichen Praxis - Workshop I. 19.10.2022. Humboldt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft, Berlin, Germany. Co-Organised by: IG Metall (National) Further information

Nele Buß, Georg von Richthofen, Sonja Köhne, Hendrik Send