I Pay Them to Leave

A business exec told me that he thinks of consulting firms a bit like Charlie Sheen thinks about prostitutes. When I asked him to explain, he said that when Sheen was being sentenced for using a prostitute, the judge asked him why a man like him would have to pay for sex. And Sheen reportedly replied: “I don’t pay them for sex. I pay them to leave.” The exec went on to explain that he prefers hiring business consulting firms that also do their jobs and then leave.

I’m repelled, but fascinated, by Sheen’s reasoning.

This story got me thinking about the demand for non-relational contracting. Ian MacNeil, my former colleague at Northwestern, was famous for claiming that most contracting is “relational” — or extends the duty to perform contracts through time and repeated transactions. But Sheen’s (possibly apocryphal) quotation has me thinking that there may be contexts in which people would pay a premium to avoid a relationship.

Some people may at times prefer A.T.M.’s to tellers in part because they don’t want to speak to tellers. Some people may prefer Merry Maids to a regular housekeeper (or may prefer to be absent when the cleaning is done). Or some people may prefer buying at Amazon.com in part because of the lack of human contact.

Indeed, what’s scariest to me as a professor is that part of the student demand for “distance learning” may come from students who don’t want to have relationships with their teachers.

A rising demand for non-relational contracting seems of a piece with Robert Putnam‘s depressing Bowling Alone thesis that we are becoming increasingly disconnected from family, friends, and neighbors. I remember the day when you might have had a conversation with the person sitting next to you on an airplane. Nowadays, if you say more than a perfunctory hello when you initially sit down, you are trespassing into your seatmate’s personal space.

Of course, there are other ways to spin the demand for non-relational contracting. Restricting and regulating our contractual relationships allows us to control and concentrate our limited relationship energy on those people who matter most to us. Surely this is sometimes the case. But conserving our limited relationship energy may backfire. Our capacity to interact with others may atrophy if it goes unused.

Moreover, some of us may be healthiest and happiest when we interact with a variety of people on a variety of levels; it may not be good for us to concentrate all of our social energy on the most intense or important relationships in our lives.

I worry that there’s too much Charlie Sheen in the modern condition. Part of my revulsion is in the glimmer of self-recognition.


Jim

I personally prefer to speak with people via email rather than on the phone and the only person I will IM is my wife.
I really really do not like talking on the phone just to talk.

However- I do regularly meet up in real life once a year or so with many of the people that I communicate with via email and we do enjoy this, but many of my "relationships" are Long Distance ones.
Talking on the phone or IM takes "real time" like watching TV Live with all the commercials.
Email allows me to "time shift" my relationships like a VCR or TIVO.

that being said, the beginning of your post reminded me of something I learned while working on TV commercials about Actors and why many of them would put up with sitting around all day just to spend a short time in front of the lens.

"Actors are paid to wait"

Steve

I would have thrived with "distance learning" in public school. Usually, what was taught in any particular course could have been mastered in a few days. Then instead of wasting the 1000s of hours in a classroom associating with kids who had no interest in learning or doing anything positive with their life, I might have had time to get together with others of a like mind. To my way of thinking, this is the primary failure of the school system today - locking the innocents in with the hard core criminals.

Jeremy Miles

I avoid anything described as a 'family hotel' for the same sort of reason. I want a nice, anonymous corporate place where I won't have to chat to anyone, or be friendly to anyone.

But that doesn't mean that I don't value spending time and talking to people that I want to talk to. I just don't have the emotional energy to be so free with it.

BrianB

Ian - this is thought provoking idea and I am equally repelled, but also (at times shamefully) guilty. When I get out of my comfort level, and interact more with other, I most always am glad I did.

I also believe however, the distance learning craze also has a lot to do with the perception that distance learning is easier and less work than a traditional degree requires. Right or wrong that is the perception I see in many professionals looking for an easy rubber stamp on their resume

Linda

I can't provide citations for this, but I have read (some of Bob Pollak's work?) that there may be a preference for homecare professionals over family care on the part of some elderly - easier to maintain dignity when you are paying someone for physical care?

Jim Goulding

I pay premiums all the time to NOT have to deal with people. And, I'll continue to do so. Your article is brilliant!

trader n

maybe he watched "Office Space" ?

KB

" I pay them to leave" wow. I can see how it applies to contracting though. Thanks for pointing it out. Giving an employee incentives to stay is expensive, but so is giving them incentives to leave (see shirking literature). It makes sense that workers would demand a premium for short term jobs and it makes sense that employers would be willing to pay a premium. This may be especially true in the government sector where it is very expensive to fire an employee.

Christian

I certainly agree that as a society we are moving towards less personal contact. When I started working from home my contact with the outside world dramatically decreased and I found myself awkwardly uncomfortable when I'd go out to lunch and have to deal with a cashier or waitress. It passed after a few months and I now force myself to leave the house once a day to not slip into a hermit-like existence.

With regards to Mr. Sheen's comments about paying prostitutes to leave, I am not speaking from personal experience, but I feel that only a small percentage of people that hire them do so out of a desperate need for sexual contact. I suspect that the impersonal exchange of cash for sexual favors is a completely different and independent experience than 'normal' sexual activity. I know of a few former co-workers that had no problem swooning woman that would regularly hire prostitutes simply because it was 'different'.

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Ed Kay

In MBA school, my professor of organizational behavior related that he had been asked by a fortune 500 company to come up with a way to legally get rid of new employees as they approached the end of their six month probation. Then the company could hire even newer employees, at the starting salary, and forever avoid the mandatory six month pay raises. My teacher refused the offer. But the company did find somebody else to do it.

As for me, I felt an uncomfortable glimmer of self-recognition with every example in this blog.

Victoria

"[T]here may be contexts in which people would pay a premium to avoid a relationship."

More so than "contexts," I think there are segments of people who would pay a premium to avoid relationships, while other segments pay premiums to have such relationships.

KB

Come to think of it, maybe "I pay them to leave" justifies the executive golden parachute.

As to long distance education, wouldn't "I pay them to leave" imply that internet courses would be more expensive? Are they?

matt

In Charlie Sheen's case, he assumes that he can have sex without needing to pay for it, which I think is a pretty safe bet, making his quote truthful. For others, prostitution is the ONLY way some people have sex.

Caliphilosopher

Perhaps there is this false dichotomy regarding emotional energy. Who says that it really is limited? Also, who says that we have a good handle on how to quantify those kinds of things?

People who say that they pay to not have meaningful social contact with other people sound to these ears as someone complaining about being fat and then not wanting to work out because it will make them sore and tired.

Nathan

I find that the level of disconnect to strangers in public is not so much due to a lack of human interaction but an over abundance. We are constantly in contact with those closest to us via email, social networking websites, cell phones, text messaging, im's and what not, that we don't need to supplement this with interaction in public.

Granted you could argue, and I in fact would argue, that human face to face interaction is better. As a computer scientist I find it distressingly hard to have face to face conversations as many of my peers prefer things like WOW to actual human interaction because of it's lower risks.

The_UTP

I moved from the Midwest to California, and I'm now a religious user of the self-checkout lane anywhere it's available. I use the self-checkout lane not because it's faster (some people are unbearably slow at it), but because my interactions with the cashiers invariably fall between neutral and unpleasant.

I never did this in the Midwest, because the cashiers were pleasant to talk to and most shoppers were so technology-impaired that the self-check lanes were never faster than a good cashier and a good bagger.

I think it's cultural -- it's not as though the people in the Midwest liked the jobs any better.

D.T.

I already have too many relatives and friends who are very dear to my heart and with whom I am unable to spend sufficient time. One psychological nicety of the cash nexus, as Ayres seems to recognize but lament, is that it allows us to interact with people without having to form relationships with them. But my wish not to converse with a waiter about how my evening is going or not compare lawn mowers in detail with my neighbor is not due to some desire to have no relationships. It is due to a recognition that I already have too many relationships and don't need more, especially superficial ones.

The Bowling Alone thesis looks back nostalgically to an era when people lived in smaller towns, when those important to them were nearby. I live in California, my brother is in New York, my sister is in Hawaii, my parents are in Boston. The friends with whom I am closest live in Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Montreal, and so forth.

E-mail and other modes of communication are not the means to avoid relationships, but the means to continue and even create important ones. I prefer to communicate via email with colleagues whose opinions matter to me and with family members whose experiences I am interested in rather than go bowling with the guy who delivers my pizza simply because our lives meet in physical space.

Ayres may be right that it is healthiest to have a variety of relationships in our lives. But when we wish to merely exchange cash for groceries and to avoid a personal relationship with the teller (I hate it when they refer to you by name because they saw your credit card), isn't that what we are trying to do?

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Ben

I suspect that a fair bit of the distancing that we now notice is happening not because we as people are changing or losing touch, but because we are now ABLE to have such relationships (or, rather, lack thereof).

Prior to global interconnectedness, and in particular electronic communication, our options for any and all services were much more limited than they are today. The availability of instant, and somewhat anonymous, contact in addition to greater options, provides us with an opportunity to actually fulfill what I believe is a want that people have had for a quite a while; that is, to avoid having to engage other people when possible.

Or it's simple that the 'always-on, always connected' world we live in has caused us to run away from that which we feel we now have too much of -- namely, interactions with others.

Eric

It seems to me that the number of people I interact with face to face on a daily basis is still larger (or at least not significantly smaller) than what you would probably see in an average hunter-gatherer tribe. I guarantee that I've met more than Dunbar's number worth of people in my lifetime.

I'm pretty skeptical of most of the "We never talk to anyone anymore" stuff. I think if anything, we've expanded to connect to more people and therefore the relationships that are considered "casual" involve a lower level of investment, since there's more of them. Maybe there really is a decline in how many close relationships people have, but in my experience, I'm as close with my close friends as my parents or grandparents are, just more distant from the acquaintances.

I think that is part of the big success of supermarkets..you could buy anything and didn`t have to answer questions in your friendly neighborhood store!

And many persons go out their normal ways for buying some embarrasing products,...feminine higyenic products,hemmorroid oinments,cigarretes,cookies,chocolate,condoms,pregnancy tests..there is always the need to buy something that you dont wanna to explain!