Switching off to reconnect

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Close down LinkedIn, shut off your email, switch off your phone

In 2008, Psychological Sciences published a paper by US-based psychologist Stephen Kaplan on Attention Restoration Theory (ART). The article describes a simple experiment whereby two groups of people were asked to walk to the University campus and then complete a short numerical test requiring intense concentration. The first group walked through a wooded path. The second group walked through the bustling city centre of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The nature group performed 25% better on the test. These results held true when the same subjects were brought back the following week to switch locations. The summary findings bring forward the concept of attention fatigue; to concentrate we are required to use what Kaplan calls directed attention. And directed attention is a finite resource, if you exhaust it you’ll struggle to concentrate.

There is also a well-known productivity equation:

High Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) X (Intensity of Focus)

Today we find ourselves saturated in technology, but if you can concentrate intensely on a given task or subject matter free from distraction, the quality of your work and likelihood of success is considerably higher. This is something I believe recruitment professionals need to become better at.

Recruiters, particularly agency contingent and executive search recruiters, are knowledge workers in an information and indeed, digital age. There is no shortage of distractions from the moment we wake up to the moment we eventually switch off. For us to produce high quality work which is of value to our clients, we need to move beyond the superficial distractions of “researching LinkedIn”, responding to idle emails which often don’t warrant a reply and, sinfully, having our attention drawn by the incessant notifications on our smart phones. The key to success lies in being productive not busy.

The UK's recruitment market is the most evolved in the world and the sector I recruit for, Financial Services, has one of the most sophisticated buyer markets. Our clients don’t value recruitment agencies who undertake non-cognitively demanding, logistical tasks such as idly pestering “candidates” on LinkedIn or grazing through CV databases. They can have an RPO or internal team do that, or, in time I’m sure, some form of AI.

Is technology vital to success in the 21st century economy?

The value of the modern recruiter lies in a deep understanding of a niche market, a cognition of human psychology and, time spent meeting candidates and clients face to face to build a network thus creating candidates in talent short areas which they cannot personally access.

The concept of not having LinkedIn either up or minimised on your desktop may feel alien to some recruiters. Similarly turning off your work emails for an afternoon would petrify others owing to fear of “not being on top of things”. We also fear missing that “crucial” client call. I ask you to reflect on how much value have you actually derived from your last hour on LinkedIn? Probably as much as you gained from that quick look on YouTube for a “five minute video” before blinking and next thing it was three hours later and you were watching your tenth “social experiment gone wrong” vlog.

I strongly suspect that there is little correlation between time spent on LinkedIn (or other networking tools), and revenue generated. Time spent speaking with candidates and honing a deep knowledge of a niche market will have a greater impact, both financially and in terms of professional fulfillment.

So go on. Give it a try. I dare you.

Interested in this topic further? Check out Dr Cal Newton’s Ted Talk

Written by Andrew Welsh, Director at Meraki Talent