The future of work – should lotteries decide who is hired?

Nowadays, applicants for new jobs are often closely examined. They must be able to present various diplomas, stays abroad, letters of reference and other things. In addition, they must go through various rounds of interviews and assessments. The idea is to select the right person for a position. The reasons for this were probably quite valid. Performance should be rewarded and positions should be allocated based on the achievements of a candidate. However, one can ask whether this might not result in a curse of meritocracy. Those with good starting conditions – starting with good school grades – have a permanent advantage, because they are more likely to get good jobs, good training positions and so on. Meritocracy is good, but if it is practiced excessively, opportunities for advancement are worsened for people with less favorable starting conditions. Excessive meritocracy can also lead to hubris. One’s own success is strongly attributed to one’s own abilities, even if perhaps a greater proportion of chance was involved.

Perhaps chance should also play a somewhat greater role in the selection of applicants? An interesting possibility is currently being investigated and proposed by researchers around Bruno S. Frey, Margit Osterloh, or Katja Rost: simple or more sophisticated lottery procedures should more often decide who gets training places, jobs, political offices and other things. Roughly speaking, a preselection could be made from applicants with people who basically meet the minimum requirements. From this pool of people one could then determine who will be selected by drawing lots to decide. Whether and how this idea can be put into practice is certainly not yet clear. For example, it would have to be clarified whether the minimum requirements can be manipulated in such a way that only certain people can fulfill them at all. But the idea is interesting and promising. It would also quite surely lead to a better representation of minorities. Already in ancient times, lotteries were used in Athens to fill offices. The researchers cited above also mention various other examples in history. Let’s be curious if the idea will be accepted in practice!

Some references:

Berger, J., Osterloh, M., Rost, K., & Ehrmann, T. (2020). How to prevent leadership hubris. Comparing competitive selections, lotteries, and their combination. The Leadership Quarterly, 31(5).

Osterloh, M., & Frey, B. S. (2019). Dealing with randomness. Management Revue, 30(4), 331-345.

Osterloh, M., & Frey, B. S. (2020). How to avoid borrowed plumes in academia. Research Policy 49(1).

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