HR Tech, Day 2: Talking With Glassdoor’s Chief Economist

The second day of the HR Technology Conference & Exposition has been a whirlwind. I've been in meetings nonstop since about 10 a.m., with a few more on the way this evening and into tomorrow.

My first meeting this morning was also the most interesting. It was with Andrew Chamberlain, the chief economist at employer reviews website Glassdoor.com.

As most readers know, Glassdoor started as a place where employees went to write reviews about their experiences working at companies. But over the years Glassdoor has come to be so much more. Thanks to the vast amount of reviews, job postings and other data the company has been able to compile, Glassdoor is now positioned to offer a lot of insights on the state of the labor market.

That's why in November 2014 the company hired Chamberlain, a labor economist with prior roles in academia and government, to dig into its data trove to make better use of it, both for customers and employees who use Glassdoor and those just observing labor market trends. Glassdoor says other tech companies are also bringing on internal economists to dig into all the data they're collecting.  

A few trends and themes from my conversation with Chamberlain stick out.

1. In my blog post from yesterday, I talked about a company called Work Market that has developed a marketplace technology platform, aiming to optimize the way companies manage their contingent labor. Part of the allure of this technology is that it suggests to some extent that the future of work is going to be largely freelance, as evidenced by companies like Uber that are building new markets for this type of work.

However, according to Chamberlain, there's little evidence to suggest this will happen — at least to the level many are predicting. In fact, he mentioned that, according to U.S. Labor Department data, the percentage of workers that identify as "self-employed" has actually declined steadily in recent years. The percentage of U.S. workers who make their living driving Uber and doing other purely freelance work is an even smaller percentage of the labor force, Chamberlain said. As the labor force evolves, it's likely that freelance labor will make up a bigger part of it, but maybe not at the level some prognosticators suggest.

2. Chamberlain's talk later in the day focused on the economics of employee satisfaction, culture and company performance. In essence, the thesis of his talk was that culture, development opportunities and leadership matter most to employee satisfaction — not base salary or other compensation or benefits. Using Glassdoor data, Chamberlain showed that companies that exhibit healthy company culture outperform in the stock market compared with companies that don't — a claim other organizations, including the Great Place to Work Institute, have made before.  

Other Thoughts

In some of my other conversations with talent experts, some other observations about the state of the talent management industry stood out.

1. The 2016 Presidential Election: You might not think that presidential politics has much to do with the world of HR, but there are some areas that sources here at HR Tech that could be affected. For starters, this election, unlike the last, will usher in a completely new administration. And if the Republicans win the White House, it could mean big changes to health care benefits administration. Whoever wins is likely to initiate new policies that affect HR. As the election approaches, look for many companies to become conservative with much of their HR spending, as they wait to see how the election wind blows and what new public policies might be coming their way.

2. It's fair to argue that HR is at a peak point in terms of both the attention the function is getting from the larger business community and the amount of money talent practitioners have at their disposal to spend on strategic initiatives. This is evidenced by the amount of small HR technology companies that sprout up at this conference each year, many of which are entirely funded through venture capital money with gaudy — but likely unrealistic — valuations. My bet is that, as soon as next year, many of those startups won't be around anymore, and those that are will be operating in a much different environment.

I already mentioned the potential influence the election might have on public policy around things that affect how companies do HR, but the other inflection point is that the economy seems poised to enter some sort of correction that will likely impact the money HR will have to spend. Many of the sources I talked to today asked: Which current HR strategies, technologies and systems will survive if the economy slows or stalls, and which ones will sustain? 

I think the bottom line, according to the sentiment I got from the people I spoke with, is that this high-era of HR has opened the eyes of many CEOs to the strategic importance of what HR can bring to the table. From that standpoint, even if the economy turns, many HR strategies will prevail. It will be interesting to see which ones don't and how talent leaders adjust. 

That's all I have for today. Stay tuned tomorrow, as I'll wrap up with one final blog from the conference before I head back to Chicago.