101001111001101 at work

Peck, Don. “They’re Watching You at Work.” The Atlantic December 2013. 72-84. Print. Also available at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/12/theyre-watching-you-at-work/354681/.

Don Peck is The Atlantic‘s deputy editor. He is also the author of Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It. Much of his writing focuses on post-2008-crash economics.

This article focuses on various practices surrounding people analytics, which involves using data about employees — or prospective employees — to predict behavior in the workplace, and sometimes to make decisions about hirings, firings, promotions, and so on. These data are collected in a variety of ways: Some companies have employees play electronic games designed to gather information about personality and decision-making skills; others examine electronic paper trails (for lack of a better term) that display how workers behave.

Peck makes the claim that this change to the way employers deal with employees is, in the long term, good for workers. He says “we’re headed toward a labor market that’s fairer to people at every stage of their careers,” that analytics might provide a way for those whose educations are lacking or who made some mistakes at a relatively early age to not “routinely get left behind for good.” In short, he says that data and the digital world are providing more opportunities for more people.

I’m not so sure I agree. As I read this article, I didn’t really imagine many new chances for people who have fallen through the tracks. Rather, it seems to me, people whose data profiles (which, again, in some cases are formed by their performance on a video-game app) don’t totally jibe with everything a company is looking for might never even get a chance. While there’s no doubt that the digital world has enabled some people to find new ways to get an education or earn a living, reducing people to ones and zeroes is more than a little unsettling, and the idea of basing most personnel decisions on such data rather than on qualitative, personal assessments is downright scary.

Then again, people analytics, while not a totally new field, is developing and evolving rapidly. I just might be wrong.


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