The Occupational Psychology of Open All Hours

One of the more enjoyable television highlights this Christmas was watching David Jason reprise his role as Granville in Still Open All Hours, which aired Boxing Day on BBC One.

Open All Hours, with the much-missed Ronnie Barker in the role of Arkwright, the tight-fisted grocer, first appeared on our screens in 1976. Judging by the appearance of the shop, little changed (except the prices) in the intervening 37 years. However, Granville the errand boy had become Granville the shop owner and was now displaying the money-grasping traits that had been associated with his former boss, rather than dreaming of romance with the milk-lady.

In the context of my Occupational Psychology masters, a few things about Still Open All Hours struck me as interesting. Firstly, Granville had spent his entire working life with a single employer. That’s unusual, as although research findings differ, people working in the UK today are more likely to have anywhere between 6 and 15 different employers during their working life. Looking back over my career, I’ve had five different full-time employers (I’ve worked for one of those twice, so you could argue that I’ve had six) and two part-time employers. On average, you’re also likely to change job (if not employer) every four and a half years or so.

Secondly, although Granville is now the shop owner, his job doesn’t seem to have changed very much over the last 37 years – even to the extent that falling off the shop’s delivery bicycle still seems to be part of his job description. However, the pressures on most modern workplaces from new technologies, globalisation, competition and acquisitions mean that change is inevitable. Some occupational psychologists now recommend that rather than simply performing a static job analysis as the basis for recruitment, effort must be put into determining how, and how much, a role may change over time if an organisation wants to recruit the best people. The ability to recruit talent, rather than just people with specific skills, will therefore become ever more important to organisational success.

Thirdly, Granville’s personality appears to have undergone a radical change. He’s taken on the traits (and comically, the appearance) of Arkwright and is no longer the naive dreamer from the original series. While we’re talking fiction of course, I believe that this illustration makes an important point.

For me, the balance of evidence is that personality is primarily and perhaps even entirely shaped by the situation someone finds themself in, rather than being an inherent and stable characteristic of that individual. In other words, if you peel the layers off the onion of an individual’s personality, you will never reach a central core – the ‘real’ person – because there isn’t one to find. While the research suggests that there is some predictive validity between personality inventory scores and subsequent job performance, for me the probability is that the work situation someone finds themself in is going to influence their effectiveness and behaviour far more than any supposed internal personality traits. I believe that the most successful organisations in the coming decades will recognise this and find ways for employees to become better leaders – and better followers – rather than simply suggesting that an individual’s personality is either right or wrong for a particular role.

So there you have it. The occupational psychology of Open All Hours in less than 600 words! But as always, I’d be really interested to hear what you think. The comments form is just a click or two away … and while I’m in a festive mood, may I wish you all a peaceful and prosperous 2014.

This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 28th December 2013.

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