Ready To Work?

1998 just called, it wants you to hand over your personality

In 1998 I applied for a promotion at my place of work. During the interview I was asked for my home phone number, as well as my office number and mobile, so I could be easily contacted with the results of the interview. I was successful in my quest and my new boss phoned me at home to give me the news. I wasn’t in – so he left a voice mail. He confirmed I’d got the job, and in a rather confused tone, asked me to call him. I rang back and my new boss told me he wasn’t happy with my answer phone message, and I’d have to change it. The message was a short, cheesy tune I’d recorded using a keyboard for a simple backing track, with me singing over it. I can still remember it, word for word.

We’re not here to take your call
So leave a message cos we love you (love you) all

Such strong composition, it really should have been a hit. Hey ho. I was surprised by the request, and politely refused, this is my personal, home phone number after all. My new boss was adamant, so I lied and said I would change it. I worked for him for about two and a half years. He never called that number again, and because it was our home phone number, neither did any other colleagues or customers. A few months after the incident I did change the message, but only because I got fed up with so many people ringing just to hear the song! Though the memory of the song remains in my head, I got on with my life, and figured that people nowadays would see beyond little quirks like this, to the real person. As anyone who pops by here regularly will know, I’m often wrong…

2016 just called, it says the song remains the same

I recently spotted an advertisement by Barclays Bank about being ‘Ready To Work’. It’s basically a staged vox pop where a bunch of younger people are speaking to camera, talking about, and revealing their ’embarrassing’ email addresses.

The advert is one of a series. Here’s another, where the same group agonise over their social media profiles.

Maybe it’s just me, but this campaign feels distinctly at odds with the much talked about ideals of authenticity, vulnerability, (insert your preferred …icity here) which we are encouraged to embrace in the new world of work.

Seemingly, it doesn’t get much better once you’re offered the job. A quick Google for things to do on your first day at work yields the following gems:

  • Blend in, learn your coworkers’ names quickly.
  • Learn and make the tea round, it’ll make a great impression.
  • Be on time, come in early, stay a little later.
  • Stay positive! It can be daunting being the new person (especially if you’re getting bombarded with awful advice like this).

The conferences I attend and tune into are stuffed full of promises of an exciting future of freedom and wholeheartedness, of purpose and values. If the future of work is about these sometimes edgy, often exciting human interactions, then why do we persist in coercing the next generation of people to cover their tracks in this way? What’s authentic about that?

‘Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss’

Update. I had a request to rerecord the answerphone message. I prefer the original but here you go.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

2 thoughts on “Ready To Work?”

  1. Doug, I love reading your perspectives and I get what you are saying…….on a fair world I would agree with most of it. However regarding voicemail greetings, email addresses and social media I do think Barclays have a point. Finding employment is competitive, often passing through a number of phases each of which looks to eliminate candidates. That elimination is not perfectly objective. Indeed at some points it may not be objective at all, but based on prejudice. The key is not to give the reviewer any easy outs. You can still be authentic while reducing the risk of a prejudicial elimination. In the end we all have a choice and have to weigh up what is most important at that point in time. The issue with the internet and persistence is that incriminating photos or other material will persist and be judged by the standards of tomorrow. In contrast your old voicemail greeting would have passed unknown today other than your own confession.

    1. Thanks for your note Ian – and sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

      I appreciate your observations about prejudice, and the frustration in all this is the tension between being encouraged to be more mindful, more wholehearted, more open in our approach, whilst simultaneously reinforcing superficial, yet quite restrictive social norms. I don’t mean to pick on Barclays, I simply chose them because they’ve been kind enough to put there stuff out there. At least their prejudice is out in the open, there are lots of studies showing that when a CV is submitted to many employers, in two forms, the only difference being the name on the top, the one with the more European sounding name gets more call backs than a less familiar sounding name. I’m worried by what we think is important, and how we sometimes choose to judge people.

      Oh, and just in case you are interested, I rerecorded the answerphone message. I preferred the original, but you get the idea 😉

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