Is HR philosophy stifling your ingenuity at Work?

March 20, 2015 by Margaret Townsend
Is HR Philosophy Stifling Your Ingenuity?

If you are losing yourself in an effort to ‘fit in’ at work then it is time to read this career advice. And if HR practices are really stifling your ingenuity then it may even be time to move on

While browsing issues relating to employer behavior recently, I nearly fell off my chair when I stumbled upon this piece of information.

According to Wikipedia, “Fit in or f*** off (FIFO) is an expression used unofficially within organizations.”  Really?  The renowned community edited online encyclopedia states, “It is a controversial human resources philosophy whereby the employee is expected to rigidly conform to the prevailing organizational norms or get fired.”

FIFO to me always meant First In First Out with reference to a method of inventory turnover in accounting.  Fly In Fly Out is another well known ‘FIFO’ expression which describes people who fly into their workplace for a week or two at a time and then fly back home and is common in remote areas in industries such as mining for example.  I believe it also comes up in computer memory management.

Whilst I was shocked to find such profanity being directed toward employees or candidates and even more shocked to see the sentence being displayed as a common phrase from a generally respected and commonly referenced source, I am also very aware that many definitions and explanations on Wikipedia are created by anonymous contributors who may or may not be experts on the topics in question, and whose edits often need a lot of ‘revision’ to reach complete accuracy, which may well be the case here.

However, somebody did take the time to enter the phrase and explain it as a human resource expression.  Therefore I decided to dig a little deeper to try understand where this came from and how often (if ever) it is used in reality as an unofficial expression within the recruitment industry.

According to a blog published in BloombergBusiness;”a job applicant’s cultural fit can trump qualifications.”  They say “The sandwich chain Pret A Manger even goes so far as to have potential employees work for one day, after which they’re either voted in or out by the existing team. Applicants who don’t get along with others are paid for their time and asked to leave.”  While I’m sure no expletives are used in the process, the sentiment of fit in or go away seems to be there and encouraged from top down.

Interview questions in recent years can also tell us a lot about how much HR staff, especially in large companies where everything is pre-defined and structured, need new employees to fit in.  Questions like ‘what’s your favorite song?’, ‘where would you recommend for me to go on vacation?’, ‘you’re a new addition to the crayon box, what color would you be?’, ‘what is your favorite movie?’ and ‘what did you have for breakfast?’ all indicate the interviewers intent on bringing out the candidate’s personality and I’m not sure how the answers given could possibly be graded but they would no doubt affect the candidate’s rapport with the interviewer, and by default, the outcome of their interview, regardless of qualifications or experience.

This seems a shame. But one rotten apple can destroy a whole box of them and HR staff are under enormous pressure to keep hiring costs and employee turnover rates down, the best way for them to do that being to hire the right ones in the first place.  They do have their own job to worry about, after all.  You can’t blame them for trying to make it easier! 

Focusing on these things, however leaves little room for hiring talented, innovative or creative employees and the business can ultimately suffer without this kind of creative thinking and innovation, while HR managers continue to seek out the sycophant, yes-men types who won’t rock their boats.

After some digging, and despite the human resource department’s great need to have each existing and new employee fit in culturally with the company and other workmates, the only real evidence I could find of blatant use of the ‘FIFO’ phrase as above came from one UK executive some years ago.  I won’t mention names and am only glad that this doesn’t seem to be common practice.

I do feel cultural fit has been given possibly too much credence at times in recent years and interview questions taken a little too far in their absurdity but I also get the need for a level of social integration where there are high volumes of employees and a requirement for on the job team collaboration where projects are carried out. For good outcomes people have to gel.

Back on the Wikipedia site, I re-examine the content that got me started, that I felt took the notion of fitting in too far.  It was surprisingly first entered on 16th February 2015 with further editions.  I was expecting it to be an outdated phrase, how disappointing.

Hopefully this phrase, if it does indeed exist in the real world, will not permeate too deeply and eventually be removed from encyclopedia due to irrelevancy. 

If you find yourself as a new employee who is not quite fitting in or a candidate on trial by your peers, my advice is get a better job with workmates who embrace your uniqueness and an employer who appreciates your ingenuity.  Stay clever, original and inventive.

About the Author

Margaret Townsend
An experienced recruiter and job seeker, now co-founder of a private job search website. Blogs are full of practical tips and advice on career development, work-life balance, the job search and the job interview. Also writes in-depth unique articles about workplace issues such as gender diversity, HR practices, culture fit, employee engagement and gainful employment.


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