Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear…

I made a flying visit to London last week to catch up with some friends and family.  During the train journey, I was sitting near two men who apparently run a business together and were discussing their process for recruiting a new team member.  I came pretty close to interrupting their conversation, and here’s why.

Having had enough jobs myself – including a brief turn in temporary recruitment – I’ve experienced a good variety of recruitment processes from both sides of the desk: candidate, employee and potential employer.  The issue these men were discussing was the fact that they were seeking a junior team member to support a current employee who is clearly much-valued.  This seemed like a fair enough idea initially, but I proceeded to roll my eyes a lot when it became apparent that at least one of these gentleman was a classic example of wanting the moon on a stick… but not wishing to pay for it.

It’s a scenario I recognise well: the employer desires an employee who will be committed, hard-working and have two to three years of experience… and will do all of this for a salary which earns them less than minimum wage in hourly terms.  However, this wasn’t my main issue with their process.  They repeatedly mentioned how much they value – and wish to retain – their current employee, yet they have failed in one very straightforward way to ensure that they do so.  It’s a classic error – the managerial assumption that they know what the problem is and how to solve it.  And I am sure that, to a certain extent, they know their employee well.  But are they mind readers?  Do they sit at the employee’s desk and do their job, knowing intimately what this person faces and the kind of pressure they are under?  Are they aware of what will ensure that this person not only continues to do their job, but does it well and with enthusiasm?

Several months ago, I was persuaded to read The Happy Manifesto (you should too, whatever your occupation), and I was very much reminded of this book whilst listening to this conversation.  The author, Henry Stewart, mentions the autonomy of employees being important within his business – there are other reasons this book hits home for me, but this is the one of greatest relevance in this scenario.  Clearly, there are times when it’s inappropriate to consult with employees regarding recruitment, but this was not such a situation.  It’s an open process, other employees are aware that the bosses are hiring, and possibly feel a certain level of anxiety about it.  An assumption had been made that the employee would enjoy having at least one person to manage (the men were also discussing the merits of taking a paid intern for three months – another practice which, when hearing the conversation fully, I felt was poorly-judged) and that they would be able to continue to do their job at the current standard in this situation.

I began to feel sorry for the employee – they may, of course, be delighted to have assistance fairly soon, and be pleased with the outcome of this process.  The bosses may know their employee well and have made a lucky guess.  But what would it cost them to turn around and ask this person their opinion?  How much would asking a simple question delay things?  And what are the potential benefits of doing so?  The answers are: nothing; minimally; endless.  When put in those terms to a businessperson, it’s a no-brainer.  They could be shocked by the answer their employee provides to the question, and it could drastically change their requirements, but the company could only be better off as a result.

I hope that these people have made the correct assumptions, but my instinct tells me that they haven’t.  My guess?  Next year they’ll be recruiting for an intern, a junior and a replacement for the employee they valued so much that they wrote their resignation letter for them by giving them something that they neither wanted nor needed.

Has your role as an employee ever changed fundamentally?  How did your employer handle it, and how did you feel about this?

Employers: have you consulted staff when making key changes to their team?  If so, how did it go?  And if you haven’t, what prevented you from doing so?

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