Research Brief Recap: Cognitive Science as a New People Science for the Future of Work

Sara Kassir
January 28, 2021

To view the research brief in its entirety, please visit MIT Work of the Future

The four big shortcomings of traditional people science

A few of us at pymetrics recently worked with the MIT Task Force on the Future of Work to write a report on how advancements in cognitive and behavioral science should be applied to the workforce. The Task Force is dedicated to understanding how emerging technologies are changing the nature of human work and the skills required, and how innovation can be leveraged to benefit everyone in society. We are extremely excited about the opportunity to share some of our insights alongside these leading researchers.

A key function of this report is to explain how a new approach to people science can mitigate many of the shortcomings of traditional HR strategies. Remarkably, many of the longstanding hiring procedures that are still used to evaluate job candidates today are actually based on a fairly rudimentary understanding of psychology. These tools were developed prior to the advent of major fields like cognitive science, behavioral neuroscience, and neuropsychology. In this paper, we describe the problems this older approach has systematized in the hiring process and explain how a new people science can do better. 

Specifically, it is very clear that traditional employment strategies fall short for modern employers on addressing four needs: job fit, soft skills, fairness, and flexibility. 

First, while the concept of employee satisfaction was fairly novel before the 1930s, with the increased competitiveness of labor markets, today’s employers now view job fit as critical to reducing employee turnover.

Second, particularly since the widespread adoption of computers, most organizations have minimal need for skills like rote memorization or task repetition, instead emphasizing the importance of soft skills (also known as aptitudes) in the workplace. 

Third, contemporary employers are legally required to consider the fairness of their hiring strategies, and are socially pressured to prioritize demographic diversity.

Fourth, in light of the potential for modern technology to both create and eliminate new types of jobs, modern employers seek more flexible approaches to evaluating talent than did their predecessors.

While there have been some piecemeal efforts to adapt traditional people science to a 21st-century context in recent years, these have largely fallen short. The simple reality is that older hiring practices - like general mental ability tests, self-reported personality inventories, and manual resume reviews - were built with a fundamentally different world in mind. In our view, the use of these outdated tools is a significant barrier to progress in how we evaluate potential and award opportunity. If employers actually want their workforce strategy to account for job fit, soft skills, fairness, and flexibility, it is absolutely necessary to adopt technology that was optimized for those goals. 

Fortunately, with a new kind of people science, it is very possible to evaluate applicants in a more individualized, nuanced, equitable, and dynamic way than ever before. This is the mission of pymetrics. To learn more, please check out our Mission Page, or get in touch with our team directly here