As HR drives toward measurement of as much as possible one of the areas impacted is the measurement of employees. We are developing and using measures of merit. One economist thinks that this has bigger implications than just performance in your company. He thinks this will have an impact on employees now and in their future.
Move to meritocracy
Economist Tyler Cowen believes the U.S. is moving toward a meritocracy, where everyone will carry with them the history of their achievements or the lack thereof. In essence we already do that. Resumes and reference checks are basically a portable metric. But Cowen thinks we are going to take it even further. Cowen says:
Everything is rated. Everything will have a Yelp review. And if you’re a worker, there’ll be, like, credit scores. There already are, to some extent. How reliable are you? How many jobs have you had? Have there been lawsuits filed against you? How many traffic tickets? And I think we’re also moving to a world where we measure much more precisely. But we as individuals will quite often find this oppressive.
With more precise measurement and the easy access to that information Cowen thinks this will allow talented people to more easily advance. It will also make it difficult for people who make career mistakes earlier in life to recover from those mistakes much like it is very difficult to recover from a very bad credit history. There will be an emphasis on doing it correctly early on and those that do will reap the benefits.
Cowen thinks this meritocracy will lead to a growing group of workers who do quite well and make a lot of money. It will also lead to a growing divide from those that do not. He anticipates we will have a group of workers who are well educated but who do not make large amounts of money and thus have to live modest lifestyles. We will have a large class he describes as “bohemian”. They will be culturally upper or upper middle class but have lower middle class incomes.
The HR Challenges
There will be a number of HR challenges in this situation. These will include:
- Dealing with questions of equality or inequality. Cowen says there is definitely going to be growing inequality. That will spill over to the workplace.
- How will we measure someone’s quality of work more accurately than we currently do? What metrics need to be developed that don’t yet exist or are at least not refined?
- How will this alter our compensation systems? We will be forced because of the metrics to accept a true “merit” pay system or lose workers to companies that have.
- How will employee engagement be altered? How will we keep employees happy to continue their work when the wages they earn do not keep up with the “talent” in the organization?
These are just some of the issues that may arise as we move forward. What else do you think might be an issue?
Henry Cowen’s discussion of this issue included more topics than what I discussed here. To read his full discussion, or to even listen to him, you can go to Tired Of Inequality? One Economist Says It’ll Only Get Worse.
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