Numerous technological tools are promising to automate recruiting with the added bonus of helping to eliminate bias from the candidate sourcing and hiring process by using artificial rather than human intelligence to make hiring decisions. AI projects like the Mya chatbot or Project Manager Tara, along with more established companies like Atlassian, SAP, and Hirevue are optimistic that their technology can remove bias, but, as Simon Chandler of Wired points out, “AI is only as good as the data that powers it,” and right now that data is filled with flaws.
There is a great risk in training algorithms with human-generated data because it could program them with the same biases they are hoping to correct. If an algorithm screens applicants based on the traits and characteristics of a company’s current high-performers, the end result will simply be an automated version of the existing biases in the recruiting process. The Atlantic profiled an illustrative example of this where tech startup Gild created a software that helped companies find programming talent. The software collected a lot of publicly-available information to determine a candidate’s likelihood for success, but some of the variables, such as an affinity for a specific website frequented by men, instilled a bias into their rankings. Though it was an indicator of success, using fans of that website as a predictive measure unfairly penalized women.
Our Diversity and Inclusion research team at CEB (now Gartner) has been looking into this challenge of algorithmic bias. Our position, which CEB Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council members can read in full here, is that the burden of removing this bias is on the people developing the technology, not the end users on the recruiting team.
The controversial practice of zero-hours contracts, in which employees are not guaranteed work in any given pay period, is showing signs of rapid decline in the UK, Hayley Kirton reported at People Management this week, citing new official figures:
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), published this morning, showed there were 1.4m employment contracts that did not guarantee a minimum number of hours in use in May, down a third (33 per cent) from a peak of 2.1m in May 2015. …
The [Labour Force Survey] found 883,000 people, or 2.8 per cent of all people in employment, had a zero-hours contract role as their main job between April and June 2017, compared with 903,000 people, or 2.9 per cent of all those in employment, between April and June 2016. The number of zero-hours contracts in use has also fallen by 17.6 per cent from 1.7m in May 2016, while the proportion of organisations using zero-hours contracts has dropped from 8 per cent to 6 per cent in the same time period.
Although the ONS also found that the typical zero-hours employee worked an average of 25.7 hours a week, it also found that over a quarter of them wanted more hours than they were getting. Another recent report highlighted the insecurity of employees on these types of flexible contracts, whose home lives and mental health suffer due to inconsistent schedules and incomes, and found that many of them ended up “begging” their managers for schedule changes or more hours.
Part of the old, negative stereotype of HR is that it is a function driven entirely by rules and procedures, concerned mainly with compliance and ensuring that employees do not engage in behaviors that could harm the organization. As the role of HR and talent management has evolved into something more strategic, however, the rules-based mentality has become more of a liability for organizations that want to develop high-performance cultures and unleash their people’s potential.
At the Harvard Business Review last week, HPWP Consulting founder Sue Bingham made the case against overly prescriptive HR policies, arguing that policies focused on preventing bad behavior by a minority of employees only cause the majority of employees who do have the organization’s best interests in mind to feel distrusted and belittled. This in turn makes it harder to attract and retain high performers. In the alternative, she advocates for policies that focus on setting positive expectations rather than proscribing specific infractions, and that treat employees as intelligent adults capable of using good judgment.
In other words, organizations need principles, not rules, Eric J. McNulty argued at Strategy+Business last week, as principles “give people something unshakable to hold onto yet also the freedom to take independent decisions and actions to move toward a shared objective”:
In some rule-based enterprises, it is the enduring, mythical power of a four-inch-thick procedure manual that lays out exactly what workers can and cannot do. In others, it is accumulated organizational ossification. Of course, there are regulations, union rules, and other legitimate constraints. Too often, however, rules were designed to fix the problems of yesterday and remain in place long after the problem itself has changed. …
When the economic recession of the late 2000s hit, the period of mass layoffs and job scarcity made it an ideal time to pursue graduate study in the interest of better competing in a tough labor market. This meant a rise in applications for MBA programs, with the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) finding in 2010 that half of graduate business programs saw an increase in applications. However, with the job market improving and the economy relatively stable, full-time MBA programs in the United States have seen a drop in applications for the third year in a row, Kelsey Gee reported at the Wall Street Journal this week.
Gee points to more than just environmental factors explaining the drop in interest. Specialized masters degrees have cut into the MBA pool, offering focused programs on critical skill sets, such as business analytics, which are shorter, cheaper, and more practical for advancing one’s career.
“Ten years ago the MBA was the only option you had,” J.P. Matychak, an associate dean at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, told the Journal. “But the market has shifted, and business schools, like any company, have to shift with it to meet the demand of our customers.”
A portion of the drop is also attributable to lower interest from international applicants given concerns around the Trump Administration’s handling of immigration and work eligibility problems that may arise after graduation from a US program. Local employment prospects are, after all, a key driver of a school’s attractiveness. This is also demonstrated by the uptick in international applications to Canadian and European business schools.
Recent surveys of US organizations on their 2018 salary budgets show that more of them are moving toward an increasingly differentiated compensation strategy, with high performers getting rewarded with variable incentive pay and bonuses, while average and low performers receive smaller annual raises, or sometimes none at all. Employers like these more targeted pay schemes because research, including our work at CEB (now Gartner) shows that they tend to be more effective at motivating performance than routine raises for everyone.
The other reason for the increasing popularity of variable pay is that it gives employers more flexibility in their compensation budgets from year to year. It is practically impossible to take back across-the-board raises, or decline to give them when employees have come to expect them each year, without incurring a huge hit to employee morale. Variable raises and particularly bonuses tied to individual performance are more malleable: Giving an employee a substantial bonus for the great work they did this year this does not obligate you to give them that bonus again next year.
While beneficial to employers, and arguably good news for top performers, this change does have a downside for employees, making their incomes less predictable and leaving them more vulnerable to macroeconomic shifts. The other challenge here is that focusing raises exclusively on top performers can leave less room to differentiate rewards between average and low performers. As our own Brian Kropp tells NBC News’s Martha C. White, this carries its own set of risks for employee engagement:
Writing at Quartz, Christine Porath, a professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, points to a lack of civility and respect as the silent killer of workplace productivity today:
What are the costs of employees feeling disrespected? Over the past 20 years, I have researched this question. I’ve polled tens of thousands of workers worldwide about how they’re treated at work. Nearly half of those surveyed in 1998 reported they were treated rudely at least once a month, which rose to 55% in 2011 and 62% in 2016. Though the toll is sometimes hidden, the costs of incivility are tremendous.
Of the nearly 800 managers and employees across 17 industries Christine Pearson of the Thunderbird School of Global Management and I polled, those who didn’t feel respected performed worse. Forty-seven percent of those who were treated poorly intentionally decreased the time spent at work, and 38% said they deliberately decreased the quality of their work. Sixty-six percent reported their performance declined and 78% said their commitment to the organization had declined.
Incivility and disrespect affect performance in various ways, Porath elaborates, increasing stress and harming employees’ mental and even physical health. Even employees who are not themselves the victims of disrespectful behavior, they can lose time and energy to worrying about how to respond or whether they will become targets. Many of these employees leave their jobs, often without telling their managers why. Finally, an uncivil environment is toxic to collaboration.
Porath’s argument about the importance of respect is consistent with the findings of the latest Global Talent Monitor from CEB, now Gartner. This quarterly report provides workforce insights on global and country-level changes about what attracts, engages, and retains employees, based on data from more than 22,000 employees in over 40 countries. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can peruse the full set of insights from Global Talent Monitor.)
As part of our survey, we asked employees for the most important elements of the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) that influenced their decision to accept their most recent job.
The UK’s Shared Parental Leave law was intended to encourage working parents to more evenly split up the burden of caring for infant children by allowing new mothers (or “lead parents” in same-sex couples) 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay to divide between themselves and their partners in any proportion they choose. Since being enacted in April 2015, however, the SPL policy has failed to garner much uptake: The latest research shows that even though plenty of parents are taking leave, just a few took advantage of this policy last year, Emily Burt reports at People Management:
[F]igures published by law firm EMW found that, while 661,000 mothers and 221,000 fathers took maternity and paternity leave in the year to March 2017, only 8,700 parents took SPL. “Many new parents are unclear about how the system will work for their families and careers,” warned Jon Taylor, principal at EMW. “Fathers in particular could be concerned about coming across as less committed to their job if they ask for greater flexibility, deterring them from looking into it.” …
Separate figures obtained by People Management in June revealed that fewer than 7,500 men had taken SPL in the past year, with experts suggesting that they had been deterred by the ‘complexity’ of the rules. Meanwhile, CIPD data from December 2016 found that just 5 per cent of new fathers had opted to take SPL.
Previous studies have shown persistently low take-up of this benefit, which has left architects of the policy and advocates of mainstreaming paternity leave scratching their heads as to why it hasn’t caught on. The hundreds of thousands of fathers taking parental leave suggests that the problem is not one of insufficient demand.