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Hiring on “click”: an enhancing company culture practice, or an open door to discrimination?

Introduction 

it is becoming increasingly common in the Netherlands in the recent years to assess job candidates based on subjective, socio-ideological labour approach which encompasses practices of assessment on soft skills, communication, motivation, „click“ or „fit“ into the team and/or company culture. Such conceptualization of labor control based on identity regulation has detrimental consequences for job applicants and companies. It leads to discrimination, takes away equality of opportunity, creates a climate of non-inclusive environment and companies miss out on the right candidates. The blog discusses how to optimize assessment processes and improve the organizational climate, and highlights some of the contemporary issues that people of ethnic and migration backgrounds face in the Dutch labour market. The subjects and practices discussed and proposed in this blog can be applied not only in the recruitment and selection processes, but also assessment of current employees for various internal matters, i.e. promotion, career advancement incentives. 

Psychologization of work: socio-psychological labor control in candidate assessment and its impact on companies and people 

Assessment practices that are based on identity regulation are what DiFruscia (2012) calls psychologization of work, or socio-psychological labour control. These encompass subjective, arbitrary preferences of the assessor or hiring manager and are conducted in the forms of soft skills assessment, communication, and motivation “skills” assessment, and how one “fits” into the team, or “clicks” with the person doing the assessment.  

Vacancies are full of sought cultural behavior asking candidates to be enthusiastic, creative, entrepreneurial, to name a few. Candidates also often need to portray satisfactory levels of communication and motivation skills, be that at the gate during the first job interview, or when being selected for promotion or other career advancing activities.  

Soft skills 

Soft skills are about what/who you are, instead of what you know, and what you do. If you are judged on “what you are supposed to be” this is not anymore about the job-relatedness, but about identity ascriptions instead, and the relationship between such “skills” and the job outcome is very questionable. During multiple studies, hiring managers reported they are looking for a candidate who will “activate their gut feeling” or that they want to be “energized by someone” who comes to the job interview. These are particularly detrimental to people of ethnic and migration backgrounds. Studies continue to show that because of such assessment practices, people with ethno-migration backgrounds do not have the same opportunities as their local colleagues. Portraying the same style, humor, communication, is what Bourdieu (1984) calls “cultural capital” and it is learned in socializing, growing up in a certain place or country. A person from a migration background might not share the same cultural capital as his/her job assessor, thus failing to click or fit with them. Does that make them less qualified for the job they are applying for? Whether somebody is a „match“ to the team has little predictive value for what will happen in the future work-setting (Urciuoli, 2012). 

The nature of controlling on soft skills, “click” is highly subjective and arbitrary, it is in the eye of a beholder and consists of a wide scope of assessment aspects and sought cultural behavior that brings employees’ identities and personalities under organization’s or assessors’ control and subjectivity. It opens the door for arbitrary preferences and dislikes of selectors and assessors to become operational.  

Motivation and communication 

What hiring managers often do not realize is the relational concept of motivation and communication skills. To be communicative, at least two or more people ought to be involved in the interaction. One does not simply form “communication skills” on their own, in isolation. It takes two to tango, they say. Here is where it becomes interesting – as we know from cultural psychology, in every social interaction, there is a certain power dynamic involved. One can be very motivated and extroverted, thus showing what we could call excellent communication skills when in a safe environment, say – with friends on a Sunday evening over drinks. The same person, when faced with a hiring manager for a job interview the following morning, may show completely the opposite, in fact, may struggle to appear motivated for the job, for the disbalance between the authority for the hiring manager in a nice suite in his white office at 7 AM. If we add to the equation that this job applicant is a person of a foreign background, maybe also struggles with the language, is worried about their accent, and as Bourdieu says, does not share the same cultural capital with the hiring manager – then this social power dynamics distance between them gets even bigger, creating a greater barrier to showing the “right” communication and motivation skills, let alone creating a “click”. As we see, such assessment can be highly detrimental and discriminative. These “skills” are to a certain extent relational, of a reciprocal character – involve co-responsibility of others. Portraying a certain personality feature or communication skill is thus largely dependent on the person we are interacting with. Not being able to portray the “enthusiastic” or “motivated” character means blaming the victim.  

Due to bad past experiences of such assessment, people of ethnic and migration backgrounds in the Netherlands portray the opposite: they are acting passive, reactive, modest, less communicative, less cooperative. They are therefore seen by their superiors as underperformers, unmotivated, worse candidates overall, leading further to inequality and career advancement chances. Soft skills control accounts for 70,69% of ethno-migrant inequality in the Netherlands – which ranks the highest in Europe, and this is a serious issue. That goes contrary to the myth that racism is the leading cause of the inequality.  

What are the right practices of assessment? 

Subjects discussed further lead to inequality of opportunity, open the door to discrimination and create a climate of non-inclusive environment in the organizations. Companies miss out on the candidate who actually is right for the job. Hiring on “click” and “fit” will further hamper the diversity of thought, leading to less innovation. What should be the right way to go about this? You might be thinking (and rightfully so) – there are certain soft skills that seem to be required for certain jobs, how do we assess them then in order not to discriminate? How do we conduct selection and hiring in general not to allow for discriminative practices to set place? What about simply wanting to have a pleasant work atmosphere with our colleagues, does that not matter? In the downloadable whitepaper the evidence-based solutions conducted by KKS are discussed in more detail.  

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Solutions - White paper "Hiring on click"

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Literature 

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London: Routledge  

Campbell, S. & Roberts, C. (2007) Migration, ethnicity and competing discourses in the job interview: synthesizing the institutional and personal. Discourse and Society 18(3), 243–71  

DiFruscia, K.T. (2012). Work Rage: The Invention of a Human Resource Management AntiConflictual Fable. Anthropology of Work Review, 33(2), 89-100  

Hurrell, S.A., Scholarios, D. & Thompson, P. (2012). More than a ‘humpty dumpty’ term: Strengthening the conceptualization of soft skills. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 34(1), 161-182.  

Shore, L., Randel, A., Chung, B., Dean, M., Holcombe Ehrhart, K., & Singh, G. (2011). Inclusion and Diversity in Work Groups: A Review and Model for Future Research. Journal Of Management, 37(4), 1262- 1289. doi: 10.1177/0149206310385943  

Siebers, H. (2009). Struggles for recognition: The politics of racioethnic identity among Dutch national tax administrators. Scandinavian Journal Of Management, 25(1), 73-84. doi: 10.1016/j.scaman.2008.11.009  

Siebers, H. (2018). When Nationalism Meets Soft Skills Towards a Comprehensive Framework for Explaining Ethno-migrant Inequality in the Dutch Labour Market. Towards A Decent Labour Market For Low Waged Migrant Workers, 247-266. doi: 10.1515/9789048539253-012  

Siebers, H., & van Gastel, J. (2015). Why migrants earn less: In search of the factors producing the ethno migrant pay gap in a Dutch public organization. Work, Employment and Society, 29(3), 371–391. doi: 10.1177/0950017014568138  

Siebers, H., & van Gastel, J. (2015). Why migrants earn less: In search of the factors producing the ethno migrant pay gap in a Dutch public organization. Work, Employment and Society, 29(3), 371–391. doi: 10.1177/0950017014568138  

Urciuoli, B. (2008). Skills and selves in the new workplace. American Ethnologist, 35(2), 211-228. doi: 10.1111/j.1548-1425.2008.00031.x  

Zschirnt, E., & Ruedin, D. (2016). Ethnic discrimination in hiring decisions: a meta-analysis of correspondence tests 1990–2015. Journal Of Ethnic And Migration Studies, 42(7), 1115-1134 

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