Now Hiring: “Obsessive Maniacs!”

Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction (1987)

I recently came across a job description for a user experience design position at travel booking company, Kayak:

“KAYAK is seeking an obsessive UX Maniac to join our Product Management team in Cambridge, MA.”

The job title is literally User Experience (UX) Maniac. Seriously.

Initially, I passed the odd language choice off as an anomaly — a ploy for attention in a field where recruiting talent gets more difficult by the day. Then I typed the word “obsessive” into a job search engine and realized the HR team at Kayak aren’t the only ones looking for employees with obsessive personality types.

Amazon wants a Marketing Manager with “obsessive understanding of new products, trends, and opportunities.”

Uber needs a People Development Manager who is “obsessive-compulsive about grinding away at issues.”

Sketchers wants a General Manager who is “obsessive about our product, people and our customers.”

The list of companies across the country seeking obsessed employees went on, and on, and on

At this point, I’m left with three possible reasons behind the decision to include the word “obsessive” in the job descriptions. The first, as mentioned previously, is that these companies are merely using hyperbole to try and get attention.

We want crazy maniacs to come work for us because we’re zany & fun!!! *wink*wink*

The second possibility is that the people who wrote the job descriptions are simply unaware of the actual meaning of the word; the connotation of which is not particularly healthy:

obsessive

/əbˈsɛsɪv/ adjective

  1. motivated by a persistent overriding idea or impulse, often associated with anxiety and mental illness
  2. continually preoccupied with a particular activity, person, or thing

I get it, you want to hire people who are committed, focused, driven, invested, etc. Are you really looking to bring in employees that you’ll eventually have to file a restraining order against?

The third reason companies may have chosen to use the word “obsessive” in a job description is that it’s 100% intentional. It’s code for employees who are constantly & persistently consumed by work— employees who eat, sleep, and breathe their jobs; check & send email at 2:15am, and never take vacation days.

This kind of behavior isn’t healthy or sustainable, nor does it produce the intended results in the long run (unless high turnover rates and a toxic work environment are your goals). Companies who equate an obsessive workforce with highly engaged top performers and bigger bottom lines are missing the point. This NY Times article does an excellent job outlining the pitfalls of encouraging obsessive behavior, and benefits of healthy habits:

“Companies in which employees reported feeling well taken care of — including not working too many hours — had twice the operating profit margins of those with traditionally engaged employees, and three times the profit levels of those with the least engaged employees.”

Making time for creative outlets & interests outside of your main profession (like travel, music, photography, chess, video games, writing, etc.) has also been shown to improve performance at work. Participating in activities beyond your job can build empathy, help you relax, and broaden your mind — making you a healthier and more well-rounded person. It also makes you a hell of a lot more interesting at parties.

“What they discovered was that partaking in creative activities was linked to experiencing mastery, control and relaxation, as well as reported positive work performance related outcomes.”

Whether use of the word is attention-grabbing hyperbole, ignorance, or intentional; obsessive behavior is unhealthy, unsustainable, and frankly, pretty frightening. I’d think hard before going to work for any company that’s encouraging that kind of behavior and attracting that type of person.