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How our hobbies improve work

Laura Olcelli

Hobbies have a deeper side, which throws some light on our personality. Research recently conducted in a UK contact centre shows a correlation between social hobbies, optimism and collaboration, which can help in recruiting the most suitable person for the job. Contributor Dr Laura Olcelli, Senior Consultant –

At the turn of the 20th century, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote that “[h]appy is the man who is living by his hobby”. Nowadays, we’ve become more gender-aware and gender-sensitive, but the essence of his message remains as true as ever. As a matter of fact, when we think of hobbies, we immediately visualise a relaxing pastime like reading, spending time sipping a Martini – shaken, not stirred – with friends, or trying to excel at a sport we love, like golf for example.

But as it turns out, hobbies also have a deeper side, which shines a light on our personality. In this sense, hobbies can assist in the recruitment process to pick the most suitable person for the job. Research we recently carried out in the 1,100-strong contact centre of a prominent UK Government Agency shows how hobbies impact on the levels of optimism and on the preferred conflict resolution style of customer service representatives.

For the sake of simplicity, three main categories of hobbies were identified: active (such as playing sports or doing outdoor activities), sedentary (for example watching films and painting), and social (e.g. social drinking, eating out with friends). From the analysis of over 600 psychometric questionnaires that delegates completed as part of the training, it emerged that contact centre advisors with social pastimes display higher levels of optimism than those with active and sedentary interests – the latter being the least optimistic.

These results support those obtained from major studies that throw light on the reasons why optimists enjoy better mental and physical health. The two main reasons for this are that they are able to count on a stable social support network and they have a healthy lifestyle. What’s more, call handlers who engage in social hobbies are also less dominant in conflict situations when compared with those who prefer sedentary and active hobbies. While the first two have similar scores, people with active hobbies are far more dominant, possibly because they are also competitive.

So not only are contact centre advisors with social hobbies intrinsically more optimistic than those with active or sedentary hobbies, but they also have a more collaborative approach when resolving conflict – two ideal features in customer service roles. According to these findings, front-line staff who regularly cultivate social hobbies might be more suitable in customer service – rather than sales roles, where collaboration, empathy and ‘offering a good service with a smile’ count more than influence and persuasion.

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