Letter in The Economist (August 2019)

I had a letter published in the August 24, Economist.  That’s not as impressive as an article, of course — but hey, it’s a start. The letter is behind a paywall online, and they shortened it considerably.  So here’s the full version, with the heading the editors added:

A bridge too far

Again demonstrating an unerring ear for detecting the BS emanating from HR, Bartleby points to the “adjective inflation” overtaking job ads (July 13).

Unfortunately, recruitment is just the opening act in a career-spanning farce. At my job as a draw bridge operator for Multnomah County, I am expected set annual performance goals relating to designated “core competencies.” These include “Building Relationships,” “Outcomes Oriented,” and “Creativity and Innovation” — though, curiously, they do not include safely operating the 900-ton piece of mechanical infrastructure entrusted to my care. At the very best, this makes the annual review process a comically irrelevant annoyance. At worst, it seems to evince a patronizing concern on the part of my employer for the personal growth and practical virtues of its employees.

A pragmatist or cynic might observe, furthermore, than several of the “core competencies” identified by the bureaucrats in the Human Resources department center squarely on those skills necessary for interfacing with the bureaucracy of the Human Resources department. “Learning Agility,” for instance, is defined partly in terms of “an awareness of changing workplace trends.” That such skills are valued more highly than, for example, not crushing pedestrians with a moveable bridge, may say something about the people setting the standards.

Kristian Williams
Portland, Oregon


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