On the Tragedy of Personnel Evaluation


In social-dilemma situations (public-good games) people may pursue their local, egoistic interests and thereby lower the global, overall payoff of their group and, paradoxically, even their own resulting payoff. One may also speak of intra-individual dilemmas, where people pursue local goals at the expense of their overall utility. Our experiments transfer this idea to personnel evaluation. Participants were put in the position of a Human Resources manager, who should for instance select workers who optimize the overall payoff of the company, rather than those who optimize only their specific payoffs. The results, however, suggest that most, albeit not all, participants tended to focus on directly comparing individuals without considering the overall contribution to a group. Thus employees with the best overall effects for a company may be evaluated the most negatively. This possible ‘tragedy of personnel evaluation’ may have a substantial negative impact on the effectiveness of companies or organizations.

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