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Between Autonomy and Surveillance – Employee-oriented use of people analytics in onsite and remote work


In the research project “Between Autonomy and Surveillance (ZAUber)”, we are researching how people and organisations use so-called people analytics applications. These enable the automated analysis of personnel data, combine it with business and/or external data and promise to optimise decisions about employees, for example by providing information about their performance and potential. The project is funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation as part of the Digitale Transformation Research Network and is carried out in close cooperation with the FZI Research Centre for Information Technology.

Background of the project

The use of people analytics applications has the potential to fundamentally change the world of work. Due to the increase in remote work in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic these applications are gaining momentum by promising employers possibilities of supervision despite physical distance. Advocates of people analytics hope to increase employee autonomy through e.g. personalised support for self-organisation. However, due to the comprehensive analysis of usage data, many users perceive the applications in the context of surveillance and control of performance and behaviour.

Research questions

People analytics approaches place high demands on the stakeholders involved, such as management, employees and their representatives, as well as the technical and legal side. Organisations need to match technical requirements and capabilities with stakeholder needs and legal frameworks. The granular functionalities of the applications provide flexibility, but also create complexity. Our research project focuses on the challenges and design options for corporate actors that emerge in the area of tension between autonomy and surveillance. More specifically, we are answering the following two research questions:

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

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?

Methodological approach

To answer the 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 organisations. In addition, a theory-based quantitative survey and an experimental study provide insights into the perception of privacy intrusions and trust-building features of the systems. Workshops at the beginning and end of the project support the 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

Associated Doctoral Researcher: Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Society

Part of the reserach group

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Via the Internet & Society Foundation or with a donation.

Digital & Indiscipline: HIIG Explainer videos with English subtitles

Lectures and presentations

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

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