If you’re the average middle-aged UK working man or woman, surveys suggest that – on average – you spend around 40% of your waking hours most weeks of the year either actively attempting to impress or win the favour of a certain someone or else travelling to or from your times spent with them. You may have spent extra time swotting up on new ways to win them over, impress them or earn their approval. We hope that went well for you, as many psychologists and doctors really think you should try to spend slightly more time with your partner or family rather than running around like this …
Given the percentage of our lives we do spend with the people we work with (and we have among the longest working hours and commuting time in the EU), it compares quite oddly with our other relationships. I know whirlwind romances happen, sometimes enduringly, but – outside of work – has anyone ever decided to spend several years with you on the basis of a 30 minute chat that was probably a little stilted and a printed sales pitch that could have been a forgery? And isn’t moving in on a second date either desperately – if deludedly – romantic or just plain desperate? (The only good thing to come out of the recent death of hugely under-rated English poet UA Fanthorpe was the number of reprints of her poem You Will Be Hearing From Us Shortly, a razor-edged dissection of the interview scenario.)
Equally oddly, this is one of the few issues the BBC’s much-loved but much-derided The Apprentice seems to understand. Maybe ‘Suralan’ is simply showing his era, if not his age, and the series is a protracted courtship as his would-be-suitors compete for his hand. Or maybe he’s actually taking time to check how they behave in different circumstances so he can assess the chances that the relationship will work before making any definite plans. Interestingly – or perhaps fortunately, judging by their edited performances – it’s the candidates’ behaviour, personality and interactions that seem to interest him most (provided they can ‘perform’).
As he’s said himself on screen, he needs ‘to know I could work with you’: in other words, relationships matter – especially when they are going to be a major factor in your life. We’re not sure how often it’s happened before, but Sir Alan Sugar is in complete agreement with Gandhi on this one:
I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”
And Sir Alan may just have more sense of work/life balance than his on-screen persona might suggest too: here he is talking to the London Evening Standard in June 2008:
You’ve got to be happy, it’s not just about making money and all that stuff. There should be no drudgery in work. You have to enjoy what you’re doing, and if you don’t, you’d better get out and do something else because you’re not going to be a success.“
But how many organisations, for whom the working relationships between their staff – the vital ‘human capital’ they are so keen to claim as a key resource – are increasingly important, have made any changes to their recruitment and selection processes in recent years beyond ensuring they comply with anti-discriminatory legislation?
If our people really are our defining golden asset, hiring isn’t just hiring: it’s an important investment decision. Without the right talents and working teams, just who will massage the next golden egg out of the goose? And without giving people a chance to show us what they can do, how exactly are we going to judge their abilities?
One of the clichés of recruitment is that people are hired for their skills and fired for their behaviours: given how challenging our behaviours are to change, wouldn’t selection processes that paid more attention to them make more sense? Our skills are frankly a lot easier to update.
Once we’ve got through the speed-dating moment and have exchanged contracts/spare keys/minor rashes (delete as appropriate), one of the most important factors in anyone’s development is receiving the opportunity to do so: given that we’re not a species known for our generosity, wouldn’t the importance of providing opportunities press home a little more if we paid more attention to the importance of relationships? If you’re not meeting the best people, how are you going to give them the best chance?
If all this doesn’t persuade you, then an old ‘joke’ might. If you’re the kind of man/woman who’s basically keen to get down to the costs before you make a decision, that tells the rest of the world one thing: just what kind of boy/girl you are.
(In which case, perhaps speed dating might actually be an improvement?)