A new smoking debate made big news in New Zealand this week with the Auckland District Health Board, who employ more than 10,000 people, looking to implement a policy whereby they will refuse to hire smokers. Obviously, this stirred up great plumes of dissention from the nicotine-stained parts of the population claiming (wrongly) that this was discrimination. “What next? Banning pie-eaters for being fat?” was one opinion put forward. Never let it be said we in New Zealand are afraid of intelligent, constructive debate.
But this got me thinking about my own experiences in recruitment. When I joined Hays in Sydney I would say that half of the office smoked cigarettes regularly throughout the day (and ok, the fact that over half were English might well have had something to do with it too). The unwritten rules seemed to go like this:
- Make a placement = have a cigarette to celebrate
- Lose a placement = have a cigarette to commiserate
- Complete a successful cold call = have a cigarette to congratulate
- Get hung up on by a client = have a cigarette to reflect
- Go out on a client visit = have a cigarette en route to prepare
But here’s the thing: With only one or two exceptions, all of the office’s top billers were smokers. In fact one whole team, who were way ahead of everyone else, would regularly abscond en masse to the street below, returning in shrouds of musky smoke mingled with disguising perfume and teeth crunching peppermints, to hit the phones again and bill more than anyone else.
In fact this is a pattern replicated further across the wider sales spectrum and not just confined to recruitment. I entered sales at the age of 23, when I was still a smoker myself (I quit 11 years ago), and I can honestly see the benefits. Popping outside for a cigarette is cathartic and reflective, which in a busy and stressful sales job can be just the tonic to break up your day and keep your mind alert and fresh.
Those recruitment cliques that naturally developed amongst the smoking contingent of Hays, who gathered upon the cigarette butt carpeted patch of Hunter Street in Sydney, had self-enforced periods of quiet reflection, opportunities to gather thoughts, work things out in their heads and plan ahead for next steps. On a busy and competitive recruitment desk that time can be vital, that time away from distractions of phones and e-mails to just think, to mentally map out business development approaches or match candidates to roles in an intuitive way impossible for the most technologically advanced CRM systems. And furthermore they could talk freely among themselves, off load burdens, share ideas, suggest candidates for hard-to-fill roles and more.
I found this strange truth follow me when I moved to other offices in Australia and then eventually across to Auckland. Whilst success in recruitment can be very much attributed to activity, it is the level of focus attached to that activity that really counts. One person staring vacantly at a screen and making poor marketing calls might be doing more hours at the desk, but aren’t necessarily being as effective as someone taking time away from the desk and finding time to just think.
Of course, smoking is terrible for your health and makes you smell pretty average too, which is why I gave up long ago. But lessons can be learned from those top-billing smokers in recruitment. Find something else to take you away from your desk for quiet reflection from time to time, perhaps a coffee, a short stroll, or even a browse of the papers in the office kitchen area. Your brain can do amazing things in recruitment if it can have a chance to reflect without the myriad of distractions found at your desk.