The War With Talent, Part 3 — Elimination vs. Personalization

This final installment of a three-part series about the increasing tension between employers and talent (i.e., the war with talent), explores the role technology is playing in redefining the relationship between humans and work. The first two installments have focused on the present day, looking at the importance played by psychology and candidate experience in building emotional connections (positive and negative) between employers and talent.

This final installment looks to the future, and seeks answers a very scary question about the impact of technology on the future of the human workforce. Namely:

“Will technology (e.g., artificial intelligence and robots) replace the human workforce and destroy the psychological connection between humans and work in the process?”

At present there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the answers to this question  While some feel humans and machines are moving hand in hand towards a future of blissful symbiosis, there are a lot of other folks who seem to be waiting for the other robotic shoe to drop. No matter what your opinion, the dynamic between employers and humans is ripe for major disruption.

When it comes to the future of humans and their work, hiring is a great example of how advances in technology are setting the stage for major structural changes.

Understanding the long-term outlook begins with a look at two powerful trends that are defining the outcome of the war with talent in the here and now:

  1. Elimination: Technology is taking over jobs performed by humans. In the most extreme view, this trend is setting the stage for a technological armageddon in which machines marginalize humans by denying them the ability to earn a living.
  2. Personalization: Technology is empowering individuals with information about themselves and providing them with the opportunity to take ownership of who they are and how they want to live their lives.  

Employers, and the talent acquisition professionals who work for them, are becoming increasingly familiar with these megatrends, and any prophecies around the future of hiring require a closer look at the complex interplay between them.

Elimination. This trend is real and it’s coming soon to a workplace near you. The number of stories about technology (artificial intelligence and robotics) replacing human workers seems to be growing exponentially these days. The writing on the wall is being authored by some really smart folks and it points directly to some major shifts in the status quo. While some have theorized a draconian future where humans are replaced by machines, others are predicting a more symbiotic relationship.

No matter which stance one takes about the future of technology and jobs, the idea that technology will simply kick most of the human workforce to the curb — creating a ragged mass of unemployable zombies — is a bit narrow minded. But it is human nature to fear this kind of thing, and there is historical precedent for it.

The story of the Luddites, a group of workers who raged against the machine in the 1800s, is an often cited example of the impact of advanced technology on the psyche of workers who stand to become irrelevant. While the Luddites were correct in the notion that technology would take their jobs, their uprisings were short lived and the massive net gain in employment opportunities realized via the industrial revolution gives credence to the Luddite Fallacy (i.e., the idea that new technologies bring new opportunities instead of mass extinction).

What does Elimination mean to talent acquisition? In the here and now, the boat has not been rocked too much. While Neo-Luddites may call our attention to the fact that robot writers are quickly replacing humans at newspapers worldwide, a great many jobs in our global economy still involve qualities that are uniquely human (i.e., intuition, creativity, innovation, compassion, imagination). In fact, while jobs that are mainly comprised of extremely repetitive, manual tasks, remain in peril; extinction of human work is clearly not an option. The truth is that job creation is a real phenomenon and at present new jobs for humans are being created just as fast as old ones are eliminated. (More here.)

Being scared of machines taking jobs is a waste of mental energy. The harsh notion of job “elimination” is really a more of a benign “re-definition” of the concept of what constitutes a “job” (Check out the innovation for jobs ecosystem for some great thought leadership in this area). Jobs are not being lost as much as their meaning is evolving as technology creates an increasing separation between the concepts of “a job” and “work.”

While humans have an innate and powerful connection with work, last time I checked there are no rules that say satisfying this connection has to exist within the traditional paradigm of a full-time job. As technology evolves, humans will become increasingly de-coupled from the full-time job concept and work will be accomplished via shorter, more focused engagements.  This shift to “micro-hiring” will re-define the context in which work occurs and drive a tectonic shift in the relationship between humans and our work.

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To understand the role of micro-hiring in the outcome of the war with talent, one must look at it  in conjunction with another technology driven macro trend: Personalization.

Personalization. It’s happening at unprecedented levels across all sectors of the economy. By providing individuals with a laser-guided path directly to the things they love, technology is creating the largest-scale democratization ever known in human history. When people are able to access things that have meaning to them, great things happen. And they are! We are all benefitting from technology that allows us to be ourselves in every aspect of our lives — romance, commerce, personal style, and of course making a living.

When it comes to employment, by providing individuals with direct access to work that allows them to be themselves, technology-driven personalization has given the average Joe (and Josephine) the tools needed to completely change (for the better) their relationships to work. Micro-hiring and the on-demand economy are definitely the current manifestation of this trend. People who making a living selling doilies on Etsy or throwing giant moustaches on the front of their cars are a great example of what is possible. While the bulk of the global workforce still holds “real jobs,” personalization is a trend that will continue to impact the workforce on a global level via the following:

  1. Self awareness. It’s never been easier for an individual to understand his or herself and to make decisions that are in their best interest. Technology has provided everyone and anyone with the ability to:
  1. Access. The information superhighway has exits ramps that provide individuals with the opportunity to make a living doing what they love. In today’s emerging personalized work economy:

The above trends are forcing a re-definition of the job concept while also impacting the psychological connection between individuals and employers. The rapidly growing gap between how employers treat job seekers/talent and how talent expects to be treated is a great example of the relationship between technology and human psychology. This gap in expectations is blocking the development of positive psychological connections between talent and employers. These connections are extremely important because they form the foundation of a very meaningful psychological contract that binds employees and employers. The formation of the psychological contract begins during the hiring process and has a lasting impact on important outcomes such as motivation and employee engagement.  

Engagement is a very popular topic these days — and justifiably so. There is no mistaking the importance of an engaged workforce on profits, and lack of engagement has been shown time and again to be extremely costly. Make no mistake — employee engagement is based in human psychology. There is a great stream of literature (and practice) within the discipline of positive psychology that links a meaningful and positive “flow” experience to a huge number of positive outcomes that benefit both employer and employee. That’s right, when people are using their natural talents and and enjoy the act of “doing,” good things happen!  

People who are unable to find a path to flow and engagement in their lives via traditional employment now have a choice. They can use technology to find access to a meaningful life outside the paradigm of the traditional job. Employers who are not able to provide talent with the love they need to feel engaged will increasingly find themselves losing access to the humans needed to get the job done.  

Understanding the role that technology is playing in the evolution of human work psychology is critical to answering questions about the future of the human workforce. Like many other aspects of our lives (i.e., privacy), when it comes to work, technological advancement is a double-edged sword. Technology will undoubtedly usurp jobs from humans causing pain and suffering. But it is also redefining the way humans relate to their work. By enabling personalization via self-awareness and access, technology is also offering humans new options for leading fulfilling and meaningful lives. A world of people who are engaged in the pursuit of happiness through their work can withstand the pressures created by killer robots and brain-sucking artificial intelligence.

Peace in the war with talent will come when companies truly become humanists and recognize the value of meeting job seekers where they are at. This begins with simple things like understanding the deep psychological impact of the hiring process on talent and examining the need to redefine how jobs are structured.

Dr. Charles Handler is a thought leader, analyst, and practitioner in the talent assessment and human capital space. Throughout his career Dr. Handler has specialized in developing effective, legally defensible employee selection systems. 

Since 2001 Dr. Handler has served as the president and founder of Rocket-Hire, a vendor neutral consultancy dedicated to creating and driving innovation in talent assessment.  Dr. Handler has helped companies such as Intuit, Wells Fargo, KPMG, Scotia Bank, Hilton Worldwide, and Humana to design, implement, and measure impactful employee selection processes.

Through his prolific writing for media outlets such as, his work as a pre-hire assessment analyst for Bersin by Deloitte, and worldwide public speaking, Dr. Handler is a highly visible futurist and evangelist for the talent assessment space. Throughout his career, Dr. Handler has been on the forefront of innovation in the talent assessment space, applying his sound foundation in psychometrics to helping drive innovation in assessments through the use of gaming, social media, big data, and other advanced technologies.

Dr. Handler holds a M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Louisiana State University.







5 Comments on “The War With Talent, Part 3 — Elimination vs. Personalization

  1. Dr Handler, this seems to be an evolved version of the articles we have been reading for several years that talk about the rise of temporary placements that are more project based. Do you see your viewpoint as similar or different to that concept? Certainly, this type of work environment creates a greater emphasis on workers’ ability to market themselves. Given the challenges of being an independent who must be marketing themselves for future opportunities while working on a current project, I wonder what your opinion on burnout would be. I also feel that our benefits structure in the United Sates would need to change in order to support this model of work. If a large number of workers are freelancers, how will they obtain health benefits and retirement savings? What protections would they have in the event of a significant illness? It is not that I disagree with your concept of how the work environment may change. I just think that there is the potential to transfer all risk to the employee which would, I believe, create a worker backlash of a similar magnitude to the one we face now. I’m interested to hear your additional thoughts.

    1. Interesting questions, I’d be interested in hear the answers/ideas from the author too since he specifically did not fall into the Luddite Fallacy, which is all too common. My guess would be simple: things change. We only have the benefits system we do now because of wage freezes back during WWII, and subsequent legislation that cemented healthcare as something you got through your employer. That can and likely will change in the future, either toward a single payer system, or one that allows individuals to get some similar incentives to sign on. Problem is, companies enjoy a massive advantage on pricing dealing with larger groups of people. The end result is they will – it always seems to come down to this… – have to face for paying more for people in terms of salary while dropping benefits to cover the costs of what most would consider a necessity. There’s no guarantee people could pass the whole cost on, but a portion of it likely will hit employers.

  2. In exploring the plausible implications of advancing technology on work, workers and the workplace, there’s value in grounding our thinking with explicit recognition that without humans, and more particularly “knowledge workers”, there can be no technology and no advancement.

    “Technology” goes way beyond Information Technology (IT) and the capabilities that enable AI and robotics. Indeed, technology is “The practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area; or a capability given by the practical application of knowledge.” ─ Merriam Webster Dictionary

    “We know now that the source of wealth is something specifically human: knowledge. If we apply knowledge to tasks we already know how to do, we call it ‘productivity’. If we apply knowledge to tasks that are new and different we call it ‘innovation’.” Only knowledge allows us to achieve these two goals. ─ Peter F. Drucker

    “Business is a process, which converts a resource. distinct knowledge, into a contribution of economic value in the market place.” ─ Peter F. Drucker

    “Knowledge is different from all other resources. It makes itself constantly obsolete, so that today’s advanced knowledge is tomorrow’s ignorance. And the knowledge that matters is subject to rapid and abrupt shifts …” ─ Peter F. Drucker

    Whether serving as employees or freelancers, only knowledge workers can advance knowledge. Only knowledge workers can catalyze “rapid and abrupt shifts” in the “knowledge that matters.” Moreover, knowledge worker productivity gains have no upper bound. it therefore behooves businesses to make the accommodations that secure unfettered, largely voluntary and regularly recurring knowledge worker productivity gains.

    “In the knowledge society the most probable assumption and certainly the assumption on which all organizations have to conduct their affairs is that they need the knowledge worker far more than the knowledge worker needs them.” ─ Peter F. Drucker

  3. Glad to see so many great comments here. The bottom line is that change is a constant in our universe. Part of being human is to create change and technology is a huge factor in this department. As things change around us, the unique aspects of being human will remain drivers in how people relate to work. To me- the future is so bright with possibilities for allowing individuals to seek happiness via work. Companies are starting to support this mission due to pressures created by individuals who have access to technology. Love to see so much good discussion on how this looks now and in the future.

    1. I would disagree, I see few companies supporting it. And, of those few, I’m skeptical whether or not that approach will hold or if the first real financial hiccups they hit will bring on the We’ve Got To Tighten Things Up Around Here attitude that always seems to lead to companies curtailing anything and everything that employees actually like to have despite its actual cost to the company. All because they think they shouldn’t be ‘giving things away.’

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