It may come as a surprise to the geneticists who recently completed mapping the human genome, but I reckon they left one out. I’ve had a good look, but can’t find any mention of the ‘Guag’ gene, which is a pity because I’m certain it exists and is one of the great drivers for career success.
‘Guag’ stands for “get up an go” and is pretty much a requisite for any successful career - unless, that is, your genes happen to match those of the boss because, as we all know, the Daddy gene is not always an indicator of ability but does tend to guarantee a certain degree of advancement.
The Guag gene also accounts for Australia’s phenomenal sporting prowess. Here is a nation with a population not much bigger than that of Greater London, yet it will walk away with more medals at the Commonwealth Games next year and always finishes streets ahead of us in the Olympic Games…tennis…swimming... the list is almost endless. Okay, we won back the Ashes and, I hear you say, what about the Rugby? But even there you should remember that Rugby Union is a minority interest down there (Rugby League and Aussie Rules are their big winter sports), with Union only played in an area with a population roughly equivalent to that of the London Boroughs of Lewisham and Lambeth.
You see, the theory is simple: here is a nation that (with the exception of the Botany Bay convicts) is built on a genetic pool of people who all have the Guag gene - they demonstrated so much get up and go that they got up and went.
Hence today they are interbred with every strain of the Guag gene.
And it can happen in companies, too. Many successful younger businesses are built on people with the Guag gene - because as these businesses grow quickly they attract and recruit people prepared to take a risk, and inevitably these are people with plenty of get up and go.
Indeed, it could be argued that much of the recruitment market relies on the Guag gene because job mobility itself relies on an individual’s determination to get up and go.
However, there are two powerful forces that are discouraging movement in the jobs market and discouraging get up and go.
The first we’ve had to live with for some time - the housing market. There was a time when people with the said gene could move freely across the country. My childhood involved the family following Dad’s jobs from Cambridge to Reading to Cornwall to Tyneside - each time for a promotion and all in 12 years. It meant a disjointed education but it’s the sort of career progression that isn’t realistic today.
The second great barrier is the pensions market, where as more and more final salary schemes are closed to new entrants, candidates find themselves facing a stark choice: move to a better job with a worse pension, or stick it out and look forward to a decent retirement.
Mind you, the greatest inequity here is that none of this applies to public sector pensions which are still the most generous, offer the earliest retirement ages and are funded by every single private sector taxpayer - ie you and me.
Anyway, the net result of all this is that there are many talented people with the Guag gene who are finding it increasingly difficult to follow their instincts. There is also a danger that this polarises the candidate market, where there are fewer voluntary candidates - those in possession of The Gene - and proportionately more involuntary candidates - those who one way or another have been ‘managed out’ and so unwillingly find themselves on the job market, and therefore less likely to be in possession of The Gene.
I may have just turned 50, but there’s a creeping frustration in this columnist that sees every bit of employment legislation and regulation as tying down talented candidates and discouraging adventurous employers. Of course I’d like to think that it’s frustration born from the wisdom of age - or it could just be that the grumpiness gene kicks in at 50.
n Simon Howard is a founder of Work Group Ltd and writes the Jobfile column for the Sunday Times.