Employment and Free Speech

A few months ago I wrote about the case of Juli Briskman, who was fired by her employer over a photo of her raising a middle finger to Donald Trump’s motorcade. Even though I thought Briskman was rather juvenile, and also rather dim for making the photo her profile picture on social media, I believed it was nothing to do with her employer and she’d been dismissed unfairly. Most of my commenters disagreed, either on the grounds that employers have, or should have, the right to fire anyone for any reason (or none), or that the photo could have cost the company future business.

I saw in the news last week that Briskman intends to sue her employer for wrongful dismissal:

A US cyclist who was sacked over a viral photo of her making an obscene gesture to President Donald Trump’s motorcade is suing her former employer.

Juli Briskman was fired by government contractor Akima LLC in November 2017 after a press photographer travelling with the president captured the image.

“Americans should not be forced to choose between their principles and their paychecks,” her lawsuit states.

Her lawyers argue her right to free speech was violated by the firing.

I think she should and I hope she wins. I understand people will disagree with me, but I don’t believe companies have a right to dictate your behaviour outside of working hours, with obvious exceptions for criminal behaviour. That the work contract is drawn up between two free and consenting parties doesn’t change that, unless specific behaviours which could lead to dismissal are identified. Most employers use the vague catch-all of “bringing the company into disrepute”, but I believe the onus should be on employers to demonstrate disrepute has been brought and damage has been done.

Now I understand the principle that any employee is free to refuse a contract which allows for their dismissal should their political opinions fall foul of the HR department, just the same as I understood The Atlantic had every right to fire Kevin Williamson. The problem I have is only one section of society is expected to abide by these principles while the other has none whatsoever. Many government workers – teachers, police, doctors, nurses, council members, BBC employees – frequently engage in politics, often of the extremist variety, at events and rallies which are fully endorsed by their management. I have seen videos from NUT conferences, and reports from the junior doctors’ revolt. I have seen profiles of the sort of people who turn up to anti-government protests, Antifa and BLM rallies, anti-Israel marches, and other events organised by the professionally aggrieved; a lot of them draw their salary from the taxpayer, and feel no reason to refrain from expressing their political views, with many even doing so in their professional capacity. Academia is another area chock-full of people who routinely express extremist political views safe in the knowledge they won’t even raise an eyebrow with their employers, let get alone hauled in front of management and fired.

So we have a situation where hardcore rabble-rousers on the left are free to spout their opinions and attack their political opponents from a safe position of lifelong job security, while everyone else should keep their mouths shut or risk being fired. Because principles. And the right wonders why it’s been utterly defeated in the culture wars.

Unless there is some serious pushback, and companies are required to demonstrate actual disrepute and damages (or at least a credible mechanism for the same, not hypotheticals along the lines of “if a defence worker had seen it, it could have cost us a contract”), political tests in the private, commercial sector will become the norm for all employees. They already exist in academia: ask Streetwise Professor how many Republicans can be found working in American universities. It will also become extremely risky to engage in any sort of political activity that doesn’t align with that of the HR department. I’d not be surprised in the next few years to hear of an employee being fired for admitting he voted for Brexit (or similar), along with a bland statement from the company spokesperson about how his behaviour “didn’t reflect the values of the company”.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that being an employee is no longer about fulfilling what’s in your job description, but adhering to a vague set of moral values which are policed inconsistently by the sort of people who’d dob you in to the council for putting out the wrong bin. So-called conservatives seem to have nothing to say about this, other than to speak of lofty principles which bear little relation to reality. “HSBC closed your account? Barclays too? Well, that’s their right, you can always go and open your own bank.” Now principles are good; I generally don’t think we should kick in the doors of our enemies’ houses and slit their throats, for example. But if the other side has been slitting throats for some time and they’ve reached the next street, principles of non-violence aren’t going to help very much.

I have no time for companies that think they have a right to police employee’s behaviours and opinions outside of work, nor HR departments who scour social media looking for examples of wrongthink they can use to threaten underlings. People join companies to be compensated for the work they perform and the time they put in, not to have their political opinions suppressed and wholly unrelated aspects of their lives regulated. If this isn’t nipped in the bud now, it will get much worse. So far, it is mainly politics, but how long before being a Christian, or a smoker, or enjoying a drink, or mocking polyamory is enough to get you fired? And let’s be quite clear, these things are applied retroactively, as we saw with Toby Young.

Juli Briskman excepted, the political left will be only too happy with this state of affairs, meaning it falls to the right to put a stop to it. This doesn’t necessarily mean government intervention, just a more sensible interpretation of contract law. If I hire a builder for a house extension, and he turns up with the expectation of 3 months work, and a month in I fire him because I find out he supports the wrong football team, I believe he has grounds to be compensated for the entire job. He has been put to huge inconvenience and lost out on work of equivalent value he could have taken instead, because he didn’t meet criteria he was unaware of when he entered the contract.

Similarly, if an employee is fired for something wholly unrelated to their work (and the onus should be on the employer to prove any connection), they should sue for compensation on the grounds they were unaware of this specific criteria, they could not have reasonably foreseen it, and they could have taken a job they were more suited to had the employer not kept this criteria secret. The way I see it is this: if an employer hires somebody who’s personal behaviour and political opinions don’t match those of the company management, it is their mistake, not the employee’s.

Leaving aside the suggestion that Briskman’s photo might have cost her employer work, if “not disrespecting Trump’s motorcade” was a requirement of her employment they should have made this clear during the hiring process. If they didn’t, she has the right to engage in any legal activity outside her working hours that she pleases, including flipping off Trump’s limo and posting the photo on social media. I’m glad she’s suing, and I hope she wins.

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Surprising results fail to surprise

An article on incivility at work:

Women report more incivility experiences at work than men, but who is at fault for instigating these mildly deviant behaviors? One UA researcher set out to answer that question, with surprising results.

Surprising for whom?

“Across the three studies, we found consistent evidence that women reported higher levels of incivility from other women than their male counterparts,” Gabriel said. “In other words, women are ruder to each other than they are to men, or than men are to women.

“This isn’t to say men were off the hook or they weren’t engaging in these behaviors,” she noted. “But when we compared the average levels of incivility reported, female-instigated incivility was reported more often than male-instigated incivility by women in our three studies.”

This will only be surprising to those who have never observed women sharing a workplace.

Participants also were asked to complete trait inventories of their personalities and behaviors to determine if there were any factors that contributed to women being treated uncivilly. The research showed that women who defied gender norms by being more assertive and dominant at work were more likely to be targeted by their female counterparts, compared to women who exhibited fewer of those traits.

I understand there are entire programs devoted to encouraging women to be more assertive in the workplace. Now we find this serves to attract the ire of other women. Meanwhile, men are busy getting on with the job, and their lives.

The researchers also found that when men acted assertive and warm — in general, not considered the norm for male behavior — they reported lower incivility from their male counterparts. This suggests men actually get a social credit for partially deviating from their gender stereotypes, a benefit that women are not afforded.

Hang on. Men acted assertive and warm. The previous paragraph said nothing about assertive women displaying warmth. Probably because they’d not found a single example of it across all three studies.

Evidence emerged in the three studies that companies may face a greater risk of losing female employees who experience female-instigated incivility, as they reported less satisfaction at work and increased intentions to quit their current jobs in response to these unpleasant experiences.

Yet we need to increase female participation in the workforce.

Organizations should make sure they also send signals that the ideas and opinions of all employees are valued, and that supporting others is crucial for business success — that is, acting assertively should not be viewed negatively, but as a positive way for employees to voice concerns and speak up.

Acting assertively isn’t viewed negatively if the person in question – either male or female – retains some form of humanity and doesn’t come across as a nasty, vindictive, petty individual bent on settling personal scores. Perhaps the best solution all around is not to employ assholes of either sex? Sadly, most modern corporations seem to recruit their management teams primarily for that characteristic.

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Ambition and Mediocrity

Via the ZMan, I found this article by Theodore Dalrymple, a section of which resonated with me:

Ambition is likewise a quality that is excellent when it attaches to something worthwhile in itself, but which is dreadful when it does not. And the rapid and phenomenal spread of education has increased the spread of ambition with it, much of it inevitably of the apparatchik type, that is to say the determination to climb some bureaucratic career ladder detached from any purpose except survival and, if possible, self-aggrandizement. To climb such a ladder you have to be both ruthless and submissive at the same time. You have to be egotistically prepared to stab people in the back in the scramble for advancement, while at the same time being prepared to suppress your own personality by uttering other people’s clichés at the expense of your own thoughts. Unpreparedness to do this, either through lack of training or moral scruple, unfits you for a career in the organization, any organization. You have to learn to lie with clichés, and do so with a straight face.

This is one of the reasons why I think bright young men will avoid working in large organisations in future. They will simply cease to become places where anything tangible gets done. I liked this, too:

There is much to be said in favor of mediocrity, of course. Without mediocrity, there could be no excellence. We cannot always be living on the heights of Mount Olympus, and surely even the most fastidiously intellectual person has found pleasure or relief in curling up with a second-rate detective story (Wittgenstein did so, besides which there is something to be learned from every book ever written). I have derived much comfort from mediocrity, my own included, and it is my experience that, for a variety of reasons, the greatest experts in their field may make poor witnesses. A person of mediocre accomplishment is often better.

Mediocrity is not a problem in itself; it is inevitable. Indeed the world needs many mediocrities, that is to say mediocrities who know themselves, and are perfectly content, to be such (complacency is as much an underestimated quality as rebelliousness is an overestimated one).

Almost 7 years ago I wrote something similar:

Far too much recruitment of youngsters by certain oil majors is done on personality instead of competence (whereas the older guys are recruited on length of tooth alone).  If they see you are a super-bright born leader who speaks four languages and played hockey for your country at university level, you’re in.  If you’re a plodder who has found himself in unglamorous, shit locations on shit projects but hung in there and made the best of it, they don’t want to know. I’m a plodder, who has been in many an unglamorous, shit location on a shit project. In fact, that’s pretty much all I’ve known.  I’m no high-flyer and I’ll not reach the top in any organisation. I gob-off too much for that, and am pretty skilled in saying things to people which are wholly inappropriate (in my defence, this is always when faced with blinding incompetence, laziness, dishonesty, or any combination thereof). But I can dig out blind and get stuff done in pretty much any circumstances, and that – as I am proving now – is of considerable value to an oil company.

Not much has changed, has it? If anything, it’s got a whole lot worse. Now they’re not even interested in the super-bright person who can speak four languages, all they want to know is you’ll be 100% on-message and you tick the right diversity boxes.

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You’re through to a feminist, how may I lecture you today?

An article on sexism, from the BBC:

Although you are likely to have dealt with both male and female call centre agents, the fact is that 71% of workers in the global call centre industry are female. Dubbed the “female ghetto” or, more positively, “female-friendly workplaces”, women are significantly over-represented in call centres.

My initial, gut-instinct response is that, with women now pouring into the workplace by the million, someone needed to find something for them to do. Hence the growth of HR departments, process-driven bureaucracies, NGOs, and – for the dimmer women out there – call centres.

With the closure of factories, automation, and a shrinking army the options for dim young men are narrowing, but they can still work as security guards or lug stuff around on a building site. But what are the dim women supposed to do, now they’ve been encouraged (or forced, due to house prices) to enter into the workforce? Cashiers are dwindling thanks to automation brought about in part by the minimum wage, leaving them with few options outside a call centre. The author has other ideas, though:

My research sheds light on this phenomenon. After extensive interviews with call centre managers and agents, as well as an investigation into the industry’s working culture and practices in Scotland and Denmark, it became clear that call centres are built on the sexist attitudes embedded in society.

Of course. What else could it be?

Call centres are intensely regulated and target-driven work places. Agents are instructed to speak to customers in certain ways. The extent to which they follow these instructions is monitored by managers, and their salaries and career advancement can depend upon it.

Agents may be told to use the customer’s name, create small talk and interject with prescribed “listening sounds” such as “aha”, “OK” and “I see”. The purpose is to ensure that agents keep the call on track and also give the impression of a personalised service.

Call centre employees need to be agreeable? I’m not sure this required much research to figure out, but okay.

When I compared male and female call centre agents’ compliance with the language prescriptions, an interesting pattern emerged: it was invariably the female agents who complied more. This was the case for both the Scottish and the Danish women.

Women are more agreeable than men, on average, so tend to do well in customer service roles. Who knew?

Why would female agents comply more than their male colleagues with the linguistic prescriptions?

Because their natural behaviours are more in line with what their managers are asking them to do? Apparently not:

There is evidence from child development and schooling research that girls are rewarded for complying with the rules and sanctioned more severely than boys for breaking them – such as messing around or shouting out in class.

Women working in call-centres are more agreeable than men because when they were at school they were cowed into submission by sexist teachers. Like many profound revelations, it’s obvious once pointed out.

It is conceivable that these socialised differences carry over into the workplace. These differences then show up particularly clearly in highly regimented workplaces, where following instructions and meeting targets is how your performance is measured.

Note that none of these differences are natural; they’re purely socialised.

Greater female rule keeping would explain both these phenomena. But while rule compliance is valued and rewarded in schools, by the time young women enter the professional arena it may start to work against them.

On the contrary, the plethora of process-driven corporate and government departments seems to have sprung up at precisely the time women entered the professional workplace en masse.

It keeps them in highly regimented jobs with low prestige and little influence.

This will come as a surprise to anyone who’s worked in a modern corporation.

Interviews with call centre managers and recruiters suggest that female workers are preferred over males because they stick to the rules.

Women being preferred over men is an example of revolting sexism against women, is it?

Of course, greater female rule compliance is just one among several explanations for why women are disproportionately represented in call centre jobs. Some women may choose themselves to work in call centres. Call centre work is often amenable to flexible working, which makes it attractive to women of child-rearing age. And, of course, there are deep-rooted beliefs in society about the different strengths of each gender. Service jobs require emotional labour, which women are believed to be particularly good at.

And just like that, the premise of the entire article disappears in a puff of smoke. But the author being a senior lecturer in English Language and applied linguistics, from the Open University no less, soldiers on:

Call centres have opened up new opportunities for women in the UK and across the world. However, in the longer term, the over-recruitment of women to the industry could be detrimental to gender equality.

Translation: women deserve better jobs than working in nasty call centres. Because, wimminz.

Call centre jobs are notorious worldwide for their high levels of turnover, absenteeism, employee burnout and emotional exhaustion. Agents are at constant risk of angry outbursts from customers, sexual harassment and outright abuse.

As if men don’t find themselves working dirty, dangerous, poorly-paid, and soul-destroying jobs.

If women are driven into these low-paid and stressful jobs, where they have little influence and low status, talent will be lost.

Just think of all those potential power-skirts wasting away in a cubicle under the colossal weight of a headset.

It also potentially discriminates against men who could and would want to do the job.

Heh! I like this: men shouldn’t be discriminated against for jobs we feminists think are beneath us. For the good jobs, we need quotas and diversity targets.

If we want to have a more diverse workforce and exploit everyone’s talent to its full potential, it is time to start challenging call centre recruitment practices.

And there’s the gender equality movement in a nutshell: we want women to have all the well-paid, cushy jobs in air-conditioned offices; the men can do all the shit we don’t want to.

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LinkedIn

Never let it be said that LinkedIn doesn’t provide an essential service in putting me in touch with like-minded professionals who can take my career to the next level:

Honestly, other than satisfying mild curiosity as to what your former colleagues are now up to, what purpose does LinkedIn serve?

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A Profile of a Modern British Man

At the back end of last week, fellow blogger JuliaM and I had some fun responding to this set of Tweets (you can read the whole thing here if you wish). I might be being a bit unfair picking on this chap in particular, but I do so because he’s indicative of a much wider problem. It starts with him complaining about the mess which is Universal Credit. That part I can well believe – it is a government-run scheme after all – but it’s the underlying story that is more interesting.

Where to begin? Firstly, I don’t know much about Aspergers and depression, so I can’t say whether these are real and serious impediments to getting a job or he’s just being a fanny. What I have noticed is that these afflictions seem to be rather prevalent among middle-class lefty political commentators; if people working on construction projects around the world suffer similarly, they generally don’t mention it. And I’ll note these disabilities didn’t seem to stop him getting a degree. As for anxiety? Well, that’s an unfortunate side effect of being alive.

Secondly, he’s only now finding out that a BA Honours Degree in Media Writing is worthless. He says his degree is appropriate for certain fields and in the same sentence says these fields actually require different degrees. He’s also only just finding out that media and journalism are difficult fields to break into. It sounds to me as though he didn’t bother doing proper research into what fields he wanted to work in, what the entry requirements are, and what the demand for such work is.

Note that he is calling himself a freelance writer. He complains most potential employers want experience. This chap is 25 and appears to have no relevant experience he can show an employer, which raises the question: what they hell has he been doing between 18-25? If he wanted to be a freelance writer, he should have got out there and done some freelance writing. Does he have a blog? Has he done any freebies to get his name about? Or is he just expecting to turn up in a job aged 25 with no experience on the basis of a worthless degree.

Also, if you suffer from depression and anxiety, is freelance writing a wise career choice? Freelance anything looks pretty stressful, particularly writing. “Freelance work dried up”? Was there any to begin with?

Then we have the idea that retail, customer service, and bar work are jobs university graduates take as they “break into their careers”. Well, back in my day these were jobs you did while you were at university. Nobody “breaks into their careers” doing bar work, unless you want to be a barman. It seems as though this chap, at age 25, has never held a job of any sort in his life. Now this might be due to his Aspergers, but the fact he seems unaware that students are (or were) expected to work in the holidays suggests that’s not the only factor in play here. The benefit of crappy student jobs is not just the beer money, it also gives you the beginnings of a CV. My first job was as a teenager scrabbling around on a farm. The farmer wrote me a reference when I got a formal summer job on a different farm. That farm’s manager gave me a reference when I applied for a job at Toys R Us a few months later. Flogging toys has little to do with picking cabbages and driving tractors, but when you’re 19 a letter from an adult confirming you can turn up on time and not steal anything is invaluable. My first proper job after university (aged 23) was something like the 6th or 7th job I’d held. If you’re 25 and trying to get your first job of any kind – well yeah, you’re going to struggle.

Here’s an anecdote for you. When I was working in Dubai I was in a crap job going nowhere on pretty rubbish pay. I desperately wanted to work in Russia and started applying for jobs elsewhere. I reckon over the course of a year I applied to something like 100-120 jobs, most of which I was suitable for. I got replies to about 3 or 4 of them; all but one said “no thanks”. The rest simply ignored me. But the one who replied interviewed me and gave me the job in Sakhalin which launched what passes for my career. As someone once said to me, you have to be in love with the word “no”. And as someone else said to me, you only need one job. Eventually something will come up, but if you start feeling sorry for yourself and “unable to go anywhere or do anything” you’re giving employers a clear warning of what sort of person you are.

Of course, it doesn’t surprise me he’s still living with his parents. Had “rent been an issue” he’d have got himself a job come hell or high water, instead of moping about the place complaining nobody will give him a freelance writer’s job. Yes, rent is expensive which is why most people – even engineering graduates working decent jobs – house-share for a while. No doubt this guy’s Aspergers prevents that, too.

Welcome to the world of work, son.

Awful hours? Sorry, what else were you doing with your time? You’re complaining about not having a job, yet turning your nose up at warehouse work? Why, because it’s beneath a nice, middle-class boy with a BA in Media Writing? See, if you’d taken that warehouse job while you were at university you’d be a floor manager with a forklift licence by now, and if you worked nights you’d be on double-pay able to do all your writing bollocks in the quiet periods. And yes, entry-level pay is awful – although it’s still minimum wage. The idea is you show your employer you’re worth something and move up the ladder. Why didn’t his father tell him all this years ago?

So our poor, suffering friend here wants a cushy writing gig because mundane jobs will cause him to go into meltdown?

At this point both Julia and I have heard enough:

What was interesting is how many commenters expressed sympathy with the guy rather than telling him to buck his ideas up and stop moaning. A number took issue with Julia and I, admonishing us for not being supportive to Mr Johnson.

Does everyone remember that post I wrote back in summer about modern parenting methods? Well, this is the result, folks.

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Recruitment and Marital Status

Yesterday I came across this Tweet:

To which I replied:

Marital status is important: some roles will seriously strain a marriage.

This appeared to cause some confusion. The original poster – who appears to work in recruitment – couldn’t work out if I was serious or not, and some other pompous twit from Brooklyn (where else?) jumped in to say that what I was doing was illegal, the laws exist for a reason, and I am “not helping” by not understanding this.

For the record: I am not a manager and I am not involved in recruitment or hiring in any capacity. But I used to be, a long time ago.

It’s interesting that anyone should consider what I said as contentious. Perhaps I’m wrong, though. Maybe the partner working long hours in the office, being too involved with work, or spending weeks away from home is something that rarely gets mentioned in divorce proceedings? Somehow I doubt it.

But I looked at it from another angle. You probably don’t want to be sending a middle-aged family man on a lengthy overseas assignment to places like Russia, Venezuela, or Vietnam on single status. This is often a recipe for disaster as he gets bored and ends up having an affair with one of the many young local beauties who hunt expat men for sport. Yes, the responsibility for the affair lies squarely on the shoulders of the man, but I have heard enough wives complain bitterly that his employer should not have sent him there in the first place: had he not gone, the family would still be intact. I am not convinced the employer, knowing full well what is likely to happen, doesn’t have some duty of care here. But the law says that they must not attempt to exercise it.

I understand why the laws came in: enough people were convinced that married or unmarried men or women were being discriminated against when it came to recruitment, and they believed marital status should not make any difference. Which is odd, because I am forever hearing about the importance of a work-life balance, but for that balance to occur one must surely consider what sort of life we’re talking about. Apparently that is illegal.

For the sake of this post, let’s say I might agree that companies should not be allowed to reject a candidate based on their marital status, but I think it imperative that an employer explains the nature of the job to candidates and attempts to fully inform them as to any possible impact on their personal life. How else is the candidate supposed to make an informed decision? Supposing the job involves working nights, or spending weeks away from home? Should the company not ask the candidate to consider the effect this may have on his personal life? The candidate might not even be aware the job would have such an effect, as I’ve heard a lot of men lament as they lie amid the ruins of their lives, shacked up with a Chinese hooker and the divorce papers on the way. As things stand, the employee is on his own to figure out how a job might affect his family, and the employer is compelled by law to pretend it is irrelevant.

It’s not even clear to me which direction the discrimination is supposed to run in. I can think of several roles that would suit single people, but I often hear that very small, dull, or restrictive places are “good for families”; single people will go crazy with boredom. At the very least, I think a company should try to ensure that each person’s personal goals, expectations, and family situation are as compatible with the location and demands of the position as possible. An unhappy employee with domestic troubles is the last thing a company needs.

National governments have attempted to legislate away the effects a demanding job has on family life, as if by passing a law they simply disappear. They don’t: all they’re doing is creating more work for divorce lawyers, brewers, and the manufacturers of anti-depressants. The idea that an employer – who has such a massive impact on your life, controlling around a third of your waking hours – should take no account of your personal and family situation seems insane to me. But here we are: obviously most people like it this way.

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The Modern Business Interview

The BBC reports on feedback from people who’ve been asked daft questions in job interviews, and as usual doesn’t bother telling us half the story:

Katherine Irvine was 37 when she went for a job as a recruitment consultant in Cornwall. She was shocked to find her interviewer was concerned that she was too old and wouldn’t have the energy to do the role.

“It was a group interview and the interviewer commented that myself and one of the others were ‘older’. There was a concern about us being able to work long hours.”

She was then asked: “What do you think? Do you think you’re too old?”

This was probably a fair question. Recruitment consultants these days are basically minimum wage telemarketers: they know nothing about what they’re buying, even less about what they’re selling, and work on a volume business taking a cut of whatever they manage to shift. From what I’ve seen it’s a young man’s game and populated mostly by greasy spivs you’d not trust with a blank piece of A4, let alone a CV.

Katherine was surprised at such open discrimination and informed the company’s HR department who said they were “shocked”.

Sounds as though that HR department is doing a splendid job. I wonder how many people it employs and what it costs in overheads, yet still can’t get company managers to conduct interviews without breaking the law?

Mature student Kevin Helton told us: “The interviewer asked, ‘You used to be in the Army, how many people have you killed?’

“My answer was, ‘Depending on the outcome of this interview, the number might change.'”

Heh! Good answer.

Others have faced a grilling about their personal lives, particularly women of child-bearing age.

Francine is a high-flying solicitor now but when she first entered the job market and applied for a medical secretary role, she was asked if she was going to get pregnant and leave.

I believe companies are entitled to ask this. What they’re not allowed to do is reject a candidate because of their answer. But given how much employers have to shell out when one of their staff takes maternity leave, it’s hardly surprising they ask about it.

“I was 24 years old then and it was one of my first interviews. I turned down the job when they offered it to me.”

So did you get pregnant and leave whichever job you did take? Alas, the BBC doesn’t ask. I would have, which is probably why I don’t work for the BBC giving interviews. But note she applied for a job as a medical secretary and is now a solicitor. Perhaps the interviewers sniffed that she wasn’t fully committed to the role she was applying for?

Even just a year ago an interviewer asked her, “Are you Jewish?”

“In retrospect, I should have said that was none of your business,” she says.

Marc Callow was shocked to be asked in an interview for a recruitment management position if he was gay. “I was that gobsmacked that I just replied ‘yes’. I got the job but it was a portent to what the company was like.”

Companies are forever being told that “diversity” is paramount and more minorities should be hired. This has got to the point that many companies keep statistics on how many minorities they employ and in which positions. But companies aren’t supposed to ask about this minority status in interviews. How does that work, then?

These kinds of questions really have no place in a job interview, because there are laws against discrimination, as Peter Reilly, principal associate at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), explains.

“In a legal sense, you have to be careful,” he says. “You have to ask, is that relevant to the task? And if it’s not, you shouldn’t be asking it.”

That’s the entire diversity industry out the window then, isn’t it? Indeed, I wish we would go back to those halcyon days when “Is that relevant to the job?” was something we could ask.

That goes for racial issues too. One person told the BBC: “The interviewer said he was surprised I was white because he thought my name sounded black.”

The interviewer must have been as thick as mince to have actually said that. But nothing surprises me about those who turn up in modern businesses.

And this is an entertaining list of questions you should not be asked:

Is English your first language?

The concern is that if the answer is “no”, you might be able to put together an email in proper English.

Are you married?
Do you have children?

Because taking into account an employee’s work-life balance is completely unnecessary. I mean, has a couple ever got divorced because the breadwinner was spending too much time at work, away from home? I don’t think so.

Do you have any criminal convictions?

No, instead you can request a far more intrusive DBS (formerly CRB) check.

What are your sexual preferences?

You can’t ask whether anyone is LGBT but we expect you to employ more LGBT people. You’ll just have to work it out from the adam’s apples, the limp wrists, and the Birkenstocks.

There was a time when job ads would, as a matter of course, contain details of the salary that the company was willing to offer.

But nowadays, as one PR executive found out when he was approached by a well-known tech firm, it can actually be quite hard to pin down an interviewer on that kind of detail.

“The second question was: what’s your current salary? I asked, what’s the range for the role? and the response I got was, ‘We don’t reveal salary ranges, it’s not our policy, so you go first.’ I was astonished,” he says.

“I just thought, that, for me, is completely unprofessional, and I said, ‘I don’t think that’s a very productive way to go forward.'”

The candidate is spot on here. I also find companies’ refusal to indicate a salary to be highly unprofessional, and this is compounded by them having the cheek to demand you tell them what you’re earning now. But this is just one of many ways in which HR and recruiting has gotten much worse over the course of my career. Sadly, the decline has been interpreted by most corporate managers as progress.

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Modern Management Explained

An article in the BBC inadvertently tells us what is wrong with modern management:

Many of us shy away from public speaking. A 2014 survey by Chapman University found a fear of public speaking was the biggest phobia among respondents – 25.3% said they feared speaking in front of a crowd.

However, that fear may be limiting our career opportunities. A survey of more than 600 employers in 2014 found that among the top skills recruiters look for, “oral communication” was number one and “presentation skills” number four;

Here’s a novel idea: why not assign those who are natural public speakers to those roles where presentations are a regular feature of the job? Presumably those who fear public speaking have other valuable skills, so why don’t we identify them and assign those individuals to positions where those skills will add the most value? Perhaps this is better than trying to beat round pegs into square holes by insisting everyone should be an expert public speaker, no?

One of the things that pisses me off more than anything is “management” has been touted as a science for decades now, and there are literally tens of thousands of books on management techniques and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on training courses on the same subject. Sprouting from this has been the rise of the sprawling corporate HR department which is justified on the grounds that personnel management is so advanced these days that it requires teams of experts to assess each employee, ascertain their personality type and skills, and properly assign them so their utility is maximised and teams and departments are properly balanced.

Does this actually happen? Does it fuck: despite HR now enjoying a seat on the board of every major company, we are now being told that they can’t even manage to assign those who are good at public speaking to the roles which involve public speaking, and instead those who are crap at it are being told their careers will now suffer. We might as well fire all the HR staff right now and let department managers handle it all, like they used to.

This is also telling:

traditional management skills such as “managing administrative activities” came down at the bottom.

Having observed how administrative activities are normally managed in any large organisation, I can well believe it. I suspect the reason is because the modern brand of manager sees the day-to-day management of routine activities as beneath them; better to advance their careers throwing spanners into works at regular intervals and speaking in woolly terms about “diversity” and “behaviours”.

Yet a 2014 online survey of 2,031 US workers found that 12% would willingly step aside to let someone else give a presentation, even if it lost them respect at work.

98% would willingly step aside to let somebody else fix their PC, too. Why is giving a presentation considered something everybody should be good at? Or is that all that happens in major companies these days, presentations?

“Public speaking is no longer optional in your professional life,” agrees speaking coach Steve Bustin, author of The Authority Guide to Presenting and Public Speaking.

“It’s an essential business skill that needs to be learned and practiced like any other skill,” he says. “Many job interviews, especially for senior level jobs, now require a presentation to the interview panel”

And doesn’t that just describe the requirements of a modern manager in a nutshell? Competence, diligence, transparency, ability to shoulder responsibility, organisational skills, experience, technical knowledge, and getting shit done are all subordinate to one’s ability to use PowerPoint and sound off in meetings.

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What Companies (Don’t) Want

Via Adam, this article:

Surveys of the key skills employers seek in graduates continue to place so-called “soft skills” – like verbal and written communication skills, the ability to work collaboratively in teams and to influence others – in the top ten. But a 2016 report found that other skills – such as critical thinking, problem-solving, attention to detail, and writing – top the list of missing skills among job-seekers.

These skills are rated as being important across all jobs and industries. And employees not having these skills costs businesses thousands of dollars per year.

A US survey has found miscommunication costs businesses with up to 100 staff an average of US$420,000 per year. Even more staggeringly, in another study, 400 businesses with at least 100,000 employees each claimed that inadequate communication cost an average of US$62.4 million per company per year.

I can well believe that having employees with the ability to explain themselves clearly, write a concise and understandable email, and prepare properly-structured and well-written reports is of great benefit to a company. I can also believe that such skills would make the top ten in a list of what employers desire.

What I don’t believe is that such “soft skills” are considered in the least bit important when it comes to recruitment, retention, and promotion. Sure, they might make the top ten but one must bear in mind that Mecca Cola probably makes it into the top ten best-selling cola products. There will be two, possibly three, key skills that companies require and the rest are largely irrelevant. For all the talk about the important of “soft skills”, they only ever get mentioned when an HR department is talking up its own importance, someone is peddling a training course, or you’re getting a bollocking for upsetting somebody. A look at the average email or report will tell you that written communication skills aren’t considered very important in the modern business world.

I have my own experience to offer up in support of this statement. I don’t think I’m getting too far above my own station when I say I have pretty good writing skills, and I have the ability to convey quite complex information in a structured, logical, and clear manner. There are better writers around than me, far better, but not many of them are engineers. Back when I was doing my A-levels my chemistry teacher told me I was rather uncommon in that I was a scientist who could write, and advised that I make use of that. I can honestly say that being able to write quickly and accurately has helped me a lot in my professional life, but insofar as it has been recognised by any employer over the past 17 years I might as well type with my fists when drunk. There have been one or two occasions, three at the most, where my writing abilities have been recognised in passing but they’ve certainly not contributed in any way to the positions I have been offered or the tasks I have been assigned. I might be a very, very average engineer who rubs people up the wrong rather too often but I would bet that I’ve been one of the best writers of English in any of the companies I’ve worked for (yes, even the big ones). Out of the technical staff I reckon I’d win that contest hands-down. Nobody even noticed, let alone put it to use.

In short, I’d not pay much attention to what companies say they want; I’d instead look at what they actually do. Revealed preferences, I believe these are called. And they’re not in the least bit interested in whether you can write.

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