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Realistic Job Previews – Unveiling the “Ick Factor”

Today’s guest blog post is contributed by Dr. Kristin Charles, a staffing scientist at Kronos.

I remember my first job as a hostess at a local pizza chain.  It sounded so glamorous—greeting people with a smile, showing them to their table, saying good-night as they left full and happy.  What I didn’t expect was being asked to pitch in with clearing tables, delivering heavy trays of drinks (which I was always on the verge of spilling) and even being asked to clean the bathroom on occasion.  While this was all part of the job, it wasn’t what I expected, and thus I resented being asked to do these things. In the end, the pizza store and I parted ways.  Could this have been avoided? Perhaps.

This topic came up again last week in Long Beach at the American Healthcare Association (AHCA) annual conference, where a colleague and I discussed the importance of realistic job previews for nursing home aides. Giving applicants insight into some of the less desirable tasks they will be asked to perform on the job allows them to self-select out of the hiring process, which results in less turnover than if these applicants had been hired. Knowing up front what to expect on the job can prevent feelings of unfairness when employees arrive on their first day and realize it is not what they thought it was. There are many examples of realistic job previews, ranging from slick online tools, like the one used by convenience store chain Sheetz, to my favorite example supplied by a nursing home administrator attending our session:  pour chocolate pudding on the floor and ask applicants what they would do. Regardless of the method, utilizing realistic job previews for hourly jobs can have a significant impact on employee turnover due to poor job fit.

Yucky job tasks are not confined to the healthcare industry. The Discovery Channel show, Dirty Jobs highlights some of the most interesting and “grossest” job tasks.  But everyone knows a garbage man is going to run into something less-than-sanitary. What might be less obvious is that in most organizations, there is an “ick” factor.  In my work with retail, quick service, and hospitality organizations, there is a consistent theme that applicants need to be willing to do certain unpleasant job tasks. For example- scrubbing out industrial fryers, cleaning bathrooms, and dealing with the wonderful surprises hotel guests leave after they check out. The key word here is “willing”; employees don’t have to like these tasks, they just can’t refuse to do them.

In the current economy, many applicants are unlikely to withdraw an application, even if they really are repulsed by some of the requirements of the job. Therefore, including job fit assessments as part of the application process can flag those applicants likely to be a poor fit before they are hired.  And at the very least, once a part of the team they know what to expect, which will hopefully result in happier employees, even if they do have to clean the toilet.

Who knows, maybe I’d still be a hostess at the pizza place if they had set accurate expectations with me from the beginning.

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  1. Steve Hunt #

    Great article Kristin. I’m reminded of a question we were considering using in a longterm care assessment that asked about “dealing with bodily fluids” – the goal was simply to see if people were able to deal with icky stuff.

    It would be interesting to assess whether people can become “immune” to gross things. For example, I had a job in college sorting the waste stream in landfills into 28 categories. The first week my colleagues and I were thoroughly grossed out by rotting food and all it entailed. But by the 8th week we were staging maggot races (no joke). What’s gross when you have not seen it before can soon become “run of the mill”.


    November 1, 2010

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