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Why do generally law-abiding citizens do illegal, stupid and risky things?

It’s a question that continues to reverberate inside my head as a watch episodes of National Geographic’s latest reality offering; Airport Security Peru.

In each week’s episode another two or three drug mules are caught attempting to smuggle cocaine through Jorge Chavez International Airport inside souvenirs, drinks, clothes, bodies, body cavities, and suitcase linings.

These drug mules are vulnerable or greedy people, of all ages and nationalities, who take very large risks in return for relatively small returns. The typical penalty for the amount of cocaine found in the possession of each mule is around ten years in prison. The typical courier fee that a drug mule admits to agreeing to is around US$4000.

Why do people take such risks so misaligned to their own best interest?

Surely it must be some form of arrogance; arrogance that they won’t be caught or arrogance that if caught they can explain their way out of trouble.

This same version of arrogance seems to be afflicting some employers right now.

Hot on the heels of last week’s blog about discriminatory, hypocritical and narcissistic employers here’s three additional things that have recently irritated me about employers; wage theft, employer ghosting and ‘gotcha’ tests set by hiring managers.

Two of these struck close to home, making me even more peeved than I otherwise would be.

1) Wage theft:

Earlier this week Smart Company reported Sushi joints cop whopping $380,000 fine for underpaying junior workers in which “The former owners of three sushi outlets have been fined over $380,000 for underpaying 31 workers on rates as low as $9 an hour. The Federal Circuit Court handed down the hefty penalty last week after a 2016 Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) investigation into Tokyo Sushi outlets in regional NSW uncovered evidence of widespread worker exploitation.” 

Unfortunately this case was just one of many similar recent ones, especially in the restaurant, café and accommodation sector.

My daughter, Nikki, recently resigned from her retail assistant job at Games World in Ringwood after five months of casual employment. She was delighted to be offered the position shortly before Christmas after handing in her resume to a number of stores in the Eastland shopping centre.

Nikki quickly proved herself to be a competent employee and was rostered on almost every available day. After about three months she was charged with shifts where she was responsible for opening and closing the shop. When you close the shop you are also responsible for tidying and cleaning the shop to a standard that nothing further need to be done for the shop to be opened the next day.

Nikki didn’t mind accepting the extra responsibility however her employer did not accept any hours on her timesheet other than the shop opening hours. She was never paid for the additional time that was required to open the store or close it and clean it. To rub salt into the wound there was criticism provided when the store was not cleaned and prepared in accordance with the required standards. Imagine that- instead of thanking an employee for working without pay she is criticised for not doing a good enough ‘free’ job.

When Nikki talked to her manager about the inequity (let alone illegality) of not being paid for the hours she was actually working there was excuses and justifications along the lines of “Nothing I can do”, “We’re a small company and can’t afford it” and “The rules come from head office”. When Nikki suggested she wanted to take the issue up with the relevant regional manager, she was discouraged from doing so.

For the sake of a relatively small amount of money why would an employer act in such a way? A motivated and competent sales assistant, whether casual or permanent, can make a big difference to the productivity of a store. Nikki felt disheartened, not valued, and ripped off.

She started looking for another job. Fortunately she gained an interview at Innocent Bystander almost immediately. Nikki said how much she enjoyed the 45 minute interview. The hiring manager had obviously prepared well by reading her resume and she felt respected because of the questions he asked and the way he asked them.

Nikki was thrilled to be offered a casual front-of-house assistant position where there is the possibility of undertaking some work in the kitchen that aligns with her upcoming Certificate 111 course (Patisserie).

When Nikki arrived for her first shift at Innocent Bystander all the necessary paperwork was ready for her to complete. Nikki was given her apron and provided with the appropriate induction and training. Her experience of her new employer was that they were ready for her on her first day of work. She immediately felt welcome.

After her first half dozen shifts Nikki is enjoying her new job and already feels successful and valued. Yesterday her manager’s manager sought Nikki out and complimented her proactive approach to her work which he said was helping all the other employees and improving the overall customer experience. Nikki wants to do a good job and prove she is worthy of other opportunities within the business. By their thoughtful actions the leaders at Innocent Bystander have maximised the likelihood of her doing just that.

2) Employer ghosting:

After ten years at Hallmark Cards Australia, finishing as Head of HR, my wife, Michelle, left her job without a job to go to. She took some time off and then started applying for jobs, both perm and contract. In the period leading up to Christmas the biggest let down was her experience in her applying for the GM of HR at SMS Global in South Melbourne. Michelle drove in for three rounds of interviews (2.5 hours round trip each time) and met with the founder, the COO and other members of the executive team. After the third interview, referees were requested and subsequently three verbal reference checks were undertaken. A decision was promised by the end of the week. On the Tuesday of the following week, after hearing nothing, Michelle emailed the founder and COO, received no response and has never heard from anybody at SMS Global again. They ghosted her.

It’s disappointing that any candidate would be treated with such disrespect but for a candidate to invest the time, money and emotional energy for three interviews for a very senior job and never hear back is simply astonishing. Yet I’m sure that Michelle’s experience would be replicated every day of the year across the country.

How does SMS Global rate against its stated values; specifically these three?

Customer First: We are committed to providing the highest quality customer experience at all times. We want every interaction to add value to our customer’s business. 

Love Your Work: Our environment nurtures talent and ensures that our people share in their success. 

Results driven: Our results oriented culture encourages accountability and drives excellence across every facet of what we do.

Need I say what a bunch of incompetent hypocrites they are?

After her first interview at SMS Global Michelle came home and said to me “It could either be the best job in the world for me, or the worst. I just don’t know.”

Well, she certainly got her answer. I’m grateful for the bullet she clearly dodged.

3) ‘Gotcha’ tests in the hiring process

Is there anything lazier and smug than a hiring manager with their pet ‘gotcha’ test? A ‘gotcha’ test is a form of subjective binary assessment (I use that word in its loosest form) that a hiring manager uses to exclude a candidate from the recruitment process.

Last week I read about Xero Australia’s CEO, Trent Innes’s ‘gotcha’ test – the candidate who fails to take, of offer to take, their cup or glass back to the kitchen after their interview with Innes.

Innes explains:

“But if you do come in and have an interview, as soon as you come in and you do meet me, I will always take you for a walk down to one of our kitchens and somehow you always end up walking away with a drink — whether it be a glass of water, a coffee, or a cup of tea, or even a soft drink. 

“And then we take that back, have our interview, and one of the things I’m always looking for at the end of the interview is, does the person doing the interview want to take that empty cup back to the kitchen?”

Innes says he devised the ‘test’ to assess a candidate’s ownership of culture standards.

Two months ago the executive managing editor of Insider Inc. Jessica Liebman, wrote this post in which she asserted “As a hiring manager, you should always expect a thank-you email, and you should never make an offer to someone who neglected to send one.” 

After a tsunami of online response and comment the author wrote a follow up explanatory article in which she, bafflingly, admitted to extending offers to candidates who had not sent her a thank you email.

I dislike these types of hiring manager ‘gotcha’ tests although I am under no illusions as to how common they are.

Hiring managers that devise ‘gotcha’ tests have never completed anything like an objective experiment to test their hypothesis. They just think they know best.

What evidence do these hiring managers have about the performance of candidates who returned their glass to the kitchen (or sent thank you emails) compared to those candidates who didn’t failed to take their glass back to the kitchen (or send a thank you email)?

They have zero evidence, of course, as these arrogant hiring managers believe their intelligence qualifies them to make these ridiculous assertions about a candidate’s likelihood of succeeding in a job, based on non-job related criteria.

Have they ever considered the possibility of cultural or other barriers being factors in why some candidates fail ‘gotcha’ tests?

An intelligent hiring manager understands that the whole recruitment process provides a wide range of opportunities to gather data points on a candidate. Data points include responsiveness to communication, performance in interview, assessment of qualifications, results of profiling tools, reference checks and other background checks.

An intelligent hiring manager gathers these data points and evaluates them in totality to make the best decision. The other sort of hiring manager believes they know best which one or two data appoints are the ‘crystal ball’ ones and make their decision accordingly. 

Employers, please help yourself attract, hire and keep the best employees. Cut out the stupid, illegal and arrogant behaviour that goes against your long term best interest.

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Euan Mackay

Funny how some companies never change, Ross:
Some 20 years ago I was interviewed to join SMS here in Sydney in ‘a senior role’. I was flown down to Melbourne to meet the CEO etc etc. Nice fellow; Canadian as I recall.
I did not proceed because i got a ‘twinge’ that things were not as portrayed; not just the job, but the company too. Of course they have grown over the years but I have always been happy with my decision.

James Purtell

What baffles me is that even if these people do have a “gotcha” test, they’d have to be pretty thick to tell everyone about it.

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