The Rules of the Game Have Changed

The Rules of the Game Have Changed

The current unemployment rate notwithstanding, much of corporate America still believes it is in a War for the Best Talent. This more intensified appreciation for high caliber workers has led many employers to adopt a new approach to human resource management. Unlike what one might expect, however, this shift does not establish a more perfect employment situation for America’s working men and women. Instead, it has produced exactly the opposite. It has left the nation with a meaner workplace.

Employees may never have really been treated as assets – despite the sugar-coated words of their corporate executives – but today, they are managed as statistics. Without any explanation or notice, companies have begun to prune their ranks of employees they deem to have less talent and to limit their hiring to only those who are perceived to have the most talent. It is fantasy sports team management for real.

Fantasy Corporate Staffing

The term of art for this new approach is “quiet recruiting.” Even as employers continue to slim down their structure and lay off excess employees, they are silently trading out those considered less capable for those with more perceived value.
• In some cases, that value is acquired through “bargain staffing.” Employers simply hire an often younger and less experienced person who can do (or be taught to do) much of what an often older and more experienced person would accomplish, but at a much lower salary.
• In other cases, the value is acquired by “all star staffing.” Employers trade out those in their workforce who they judge to be “C level” performers (or worse) in order to adjust their structure and hire individuals with a track record of “A level” performance.

Regardless of the approach they use, however, employers have to be careful not to trigger an equal opportunity/affirmative action audit from the Federal Government. To protect themselves, therefore, they redefine the openings created by their terminations to require incumbents with less experience or seniority in the case of bargain staffing and more capability or talent in the case of all star staffing.

Although seldom formally acknowledged, bargain staffing has always been a part of the American workplace. If offshoring moved work to less expensive labor overseas, such “downcosting” moved it to cheaper employees right here at home. It is an insidious and often illegal strategy, but one that can effectively pare payroll and benefit expenses. Hence, employers consistently disclaim any allegiance to age bias, but all too often practice de facto ageism in their staffing.

What’s new in the post-Great Recession era, therefore, is all star staffing. For the first time ever, many companies are now hiring rank and file workers with the same score card and tactics they have long used to hire their most senior executives. They are no longer content with a normal distribution of capability; they want, instead, to skew toward a preponderance of accomplished performers.

On the surface, that strategy would appear to be beneficial for America’s workers. In reality, it’s quite the opposite. Tens of millions of decent, dedicated and capable people—men and women who have successfully worked their entire lives—are now unemployed, unsuccessful in their search for a new job and unable to figure out why.

No one has told them that the rules of the game have changed. To be qualified for an opening is no longer good enough. Today, America’s working men and women must be better than qualified and the judge of their capability is all too often either an overworked recruiter or a myopic hiring manager. The fantasy, in effect, is a nightmare.

Thanks for reading,

Note: The above post was drawn in part from my new book, The Career Activist Republic. To read more, get the book at, in many bookstores and on