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Our Least Important Asset: Why the Relentless Focus on Finance and Accounting Is Bad for Business and Employees

Our Least Important Asset: Why the Relentless Focus on Finance and Accounting Is Bad for Business and Employees

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Publication Date: July 25th, 2023
Oxford University Press, USA
The MIT Press Bookstore
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A comprehensive and insightful look at the modern workplace and how employees are managed, where the new approach is driven by the quirks of financial accounting to the detriment of employees and the long-term success of the organization.

Real wages have stagnated or declined for most workers, job insecurity has increased, and retirement income is uncertain. Hours of work for white collar employees have increased steadily, opportunities for advancement have withered, and evidence of the negative effects of workplace stress on health continues to accumulate. Why have jobs gotten so much worse?

As Peter Cappelli argues, these issues are not a result of companies trying to be cost effective. They stem from the logic of financial accounting--the arbiter for determining whether a company is maximizing shareholder value--and its fundamental flaws in dealing with human capital. Financial accounting views employee costs as fixed costs that cannot be reduced and fails to account for the costs of bad employees and poor management. The simple goal of today's executives is to drive down employment costs, even if it raises costs elsewhere.

In Our Least Important Asset, Cappelli argues that the financial accounting problem explains many puzzling practices in contemporary management--employers' emphasis on costs per hire over the quality of hires, the replacement of regular employees with "leased" workers, the shift to unlimited vacations, and the transition of hiring responsibilities from professional recruiters to more expensive line managers. In the process, employers undercut all the evidence about what works to improve the quality, productivity, and creativity of workers. Drawing on decades of experience and research, Cappelli provides a comprehensive and insightful critique of the modern workplace where the gaps in financial accounting make things worse for everyone, from employees to investors.

About the Author

Peter Cappelli is the George W. Taylor Professor of Management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources. He is also a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, MA, served as Senior Advisor to the Kingdom of Bahrain for Employment Policy from 2003-2005, was a Distinguished Scholar of the Ministry of Manpower for Singapore, and was Co-Director of the U.S. Department of Education's National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce from 1990-1998. He was recently named by HR Magazine as one of the top 5 most influential management thinkers, by NPR as one of the 50 influencers in the field of aging, and was elected a fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources. He is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and writes a monthly column for HR Executive magazine. His work on performance management, agile systems, and hiring practices, and other workplace topics appears in the Harvard Business Review.