It’s rare to see any sort of programming on TV dedicated to the topic of work. Of course, that’s not all that surprising when the very reason so many of us turn on the goggle box of an evening is for some mindless escape from a hard day’s work.
You can see the logic of content commissioners and schedulers: who wants to come in from work and watch TV programmes about work?
Far better to let people escape to beef-caked-and-bikini-clad populated islands, into the darkest recesses of the criminally insane mind, or into the kitchens of those that spend their time creating exotic food combinations you’ll never actually make for yourself.
I think it’s a great pity we don’t have more content on TV about work – after all, whether we like it or not, it does form the major chuck of most of our existences, and we’d certainly all benefit from wider conversations about it, and more guidance about making work work for you, whatever job you do.
That’s why I was optimistic this week when I saw two programmes on Channel 4, scheduled back-to-back in prime time, dedicated to the topic: The Job Interview (a fly-on-the-wall documentary featuring real recruiters and candidates trying to find the perfect match) and My Worst Job (another one of those pundit-lead shows – in this instance, almost all comedians, taking about their previous workplace experiences).
The Job Interview was certainly full of insight, but not the kind of insight that might actually help anybody, well, err, conduct a job interview, or attend one.
What it actually demonstrated, with absolute clarity, in fact, is how sketchy, subjective and unscientific most hiring processes are (and this from the people who were willing to expose their approach to hiring for the world to see).
What we did see is the banality of some of the questions asked of candidates. Example: to a woman returner – and single mum – with young children, “Can you give me an example of when you last multi-tasked?” (how the woman didn’t reply, “How the f*ck do you think I got my kids off to school and me dressed and ready and here on time love?” being testament to both the woman’s patience, and her burning desire for a job).
We saw people ‘pretending’ to perform a task through role play, despite being given no actual guidance about how they would be expected to resolve the problem presented to them.
“You have a disgruntled customer on the phone, what would you do?”
“Offer them an on-the-spot cheque for a thousand quid as compensation – you didn’t tell me I couldn’t, and now they’re a very happy customer.”
It also demonstrated something we do all know but all too soon forget: first impressions are very hard to eclipse.
This was valuable insight – though not necessarily actionable, which is kind of the point.
If there’s anything remotely ‘weird’ about you (and let’s be honest here, there’s something a bit weird about all of us in one way or another in someone’s eyes), if your form of weirdness is behavioural rather than purely cosmetic, a high-anxiety situation is highly likely to bring that to the fore. You’re on a hiding to nothing.
Not that you’re any better off if you’re a bit ‘funny’ looking. No matter how skilled you might be, a wild look in your eye, or the ability to speak without moving your mouth, is going to be the thing people remember about you.
To be fair, what The Job Interview did also show is that it’s an emotionally-complex scenario on both sides of the table.
No matter how weird recruiters might perceive a candidate to be (or how weird they are), no matter how adamant they are that that don’t want that candidate working for them, they still struggle with rejecting them. No one likes the “I’m just not that into you,” conversation. People might have some funny ideas about how to find the perfect candidate, but none of those involved in this show wanted to be cruel either.
My Worst Job, on the other hand, though funny in parts, did contain quite a searing streak of cruelty.
The premise itself was a bit mean: let’s get lots of successful comedians whose working lives are completely different to most peoples’ (and who probably only need to invoice a couple of appearance fees to equal the average working wage in the UK), interview them in their fancy, shiny kitchens in their jaw-droppingly expensive London homes, and ask them for funny anecdotes about their most menial jobs (the jobs those peanut-crunchers in the crowd at their public appearances do – if they can afford the ticket).
I can only think that the target audience for this show was other ‘professional,’ ‘wind-swept and interesting’ media types. Anyone working in a “grey office”, a shop, a factory, or just outside of the M25 (i.e. most working people in the UK), must have felt pretty deflated by the end of it (and there’s another episode next week).
I know I did. Po-faced as it might sound, if anyone’s noticed, these are tough, tough times – and, despite the stat used at the beginning of the programme that around 70% of people feel happy in their work, I’ve come across plenty of other stats that refute this.
For most people, work is bloody hard work. And, right now, in this shape-shifting, post-Brexit landscape, it couldn’t be more uncertain. It doesn’t feel now is the time to make light of it. People need real help, meaningful guidance, deeper insights.
There’s plenty of compelling, engaging, thought-provoking and potentially life-changing insights about work out there. There’s no reason this can’t be entertaining too. It’d be nice if those programme commissioners could open their eyes to it. Sure, we’ve got to be able to laugh at things, but making the daily working lives of millions of people nothing more than the butt of a joke is not what any of us need right now.