“There’s no such thing as a stupid question - but we’re doing our best.”
That seems to be the motto of thousands of companies, judging by revelations in the cover story of the June 22 “Time” magazine.
In hopes of reducing worker turnover and increasing productivity, Human Resources (HR) departments are rushing to embrace a new generation of personality tests. Job applicants must give True-False answers to a gazillion statements (say, “I sometimes shop at thrift stores” or “I have been known to straighten a picture frame”). The data is crunched via an algorithm, producing what “Time” calls an “X quotient”, and (before any face-to-face interview) the applicant is pegged as a keeper, a maybe or toxic waste.
HR staffs don’t even care if the applicants tell the truth; they can supposedly divine something from how the applicant tries to outwit the system. So, you can get fired for playing Farmville or Bejeweled Blitz on the job, but you get HIRED on the basis of HR playing MIND GAMES with you.
HR directors modestly refer to the analytics as a “tool.” Yeah, like when you walk into your local ACE Hardware and announce, “I’m looking for a tool that can forever change the life of someone who is nervous using tools. Say, do you think the safety could be removed from this skill saw?”
Analytics is touted as a cure for cronyism. Companies can supposedly get away from the limitations of the “old boys network.” And how will it play out in reality? (“Wow! I’ve got the testing budgeted and now hundreds of analytics software vendors are fighting for my business. Hmm...I wonder which vendor knows the secret lodge handshake?”)
Analytics is all about detecting “correlations” and “patterns.” I wonder what patterns we would find if we interviewed the parents or spouses of some of the HR professionals? (“Yeah, she’s a smug, lazy, trend-chasing pain-in-the-rear at home, too.”)
I suspect that some employers are getting a kickback for embedding advertisements in the tests. My first tip-off was tests including True-False questions such as “I’d like to teach the world to sing,” “I deserve a break today” and “Sometimes I feel like a nut - sometimes I don’t.”
The aspirations of the HR people really trouble me. (“We just want to know our employees - and our former employees, and the people we didn’t hire - better than they know themselves. But not in a CREEPY way! No, more like the way you know your best friend, whom, apparently you have homoerotic feelings for but can’t acknowledge such to yourself.”)
The tests are worshipped as the no-brainer wave of the future. Of course, up until we fought a little civil war, the no-brainer formula for “hiring” “employees” was to judge them on “Good teeth, strong back, wide child-bearing hips...”
HR directors insist that this is not a fad. (“Now complete your test while sitting on this flagpole and swallowing goldfish.”)
If the personality tests do hang around, I have no doubt that the human factor will eventually be eliminated altogether. As artificial intelligence supplants flesh-and-blood HR departments, we can expect some nightmarish “2001: A Space Odyssey” scenarios.
For instance, the HR chief picks Hoyt Clagwell to be center fielder at the company softball game, only to hear a metallic voice insist, “I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen. Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do...”
Danny welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades”