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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 March, 2005, 11:05 GMT
More highlights than most
By Rebecca Sandles

Employees are becoming less and less happy in their jobs, according to a study, because they feel they are becoming like robots. So why is it that topping the list of most contented workers are hairdressers? And are there any lessons about the salon that the rest of us could learn?

Workers feel like robots, with little responsibility and no little scope for innovation. Hours are longer, and job satisfaction is lower, the study from the University of Kent has found. And yet, a different survey has suggested that, of all the different jobs in the UK, those who are happiest are hairdressers.

Stylist Emma Martin says the reason is simple: "If you didn't like hairdressing, you couldn't do it," she says. "You can't be miserable. Who wants to have their hair cut by someone who's grumpy?"

She has a point. As the scissors descend it would be disconcerting to hear an outpouring of anger aimed at the salon boss, complaints of varicose veins or indeed just how much the stylist wished they had become a bank clerk. Faking it isn't really an option either.

"You have to be in a good mood, especially in a salon where there's a huge mirror in front of the client. They can see exactly the faces you're pulling behind them," says Emma.

'Respect'

A hairdresser for 22 years, Emma is self-employed and many of her clients have become friends after years of her preening their locks. She is still enjoying it and believes the profession is gaining esteem - TV shows like The Salon and Cutting It might be making a difference.

"A few years ago it was like, 'you're a hairdresser, you can't have a brain'. But hairdressers are more respected now than they used to be," she says.

"People see hairdressers do work fairly hard and can be creative. It's not just about slapping on some colour and a quick five minute chop."

Emma Martin
It's like a friendship, but because you're a hairdresser, not a friend or a social worker, you don't have the stress of responsibility
Emma Martin

But Emma is self-employed, deciding whom she books in and when. What about on the shopfloor? Don't client nerves rub off?

Getting a haircut does make many people feel vulnerable. Someone they hardly know is standing behind them about to go to work on their self-esteem with a razor sharp instrument. The fear usually dates back to some dreadfully brutal chop in childhood.

Saturday is a salon's busiest day and it's no exception at Bavardez in Greenwich, South London. With 40 clients walking through the door on that day alone, some nervous about a new style, all expecting to leave looking and feeling better, surely the pressure must be on?

Owner Annie Keenan isn't feeling it as she tweezers strands of Peggy Poole's hair through a rubber cap.

Intimate details

"People do get their hair done when they're feeling low. You're producing something that makes you feel good and they go out of the door happy," she says.

Regular Peggy seems to be suffering no anxiety about what she might look like when the cap is pulled from her head.

"If someone says what would you choose to do for two hours I'd say the hairdressers, it's a treat," she says.

The role of the four stylists here is more than simply removing split ends and concealing grey. They have to chat too, says Gordon Oswald as he grabs a sandwich at the back of the salon between clients.

"It's about relaxing them. When you get home you're talked out," he says. "Everyone's different. I've cut some people's hair for 10 years and know nothing about them. Others come in twice and I know their life story."

Pegge
Peggy suffers no anxiety

But dealing with the public supposedly contributes to stress levels in jobs. Listening to people telling you their intimate details - Emma once had to listen to a colourful account of a threesome her client had recently taken part in - every day would surely undermine workplace happiness?

One chair along from Annie and Peggy, Julie Smith is trimming hair, just as she has done most Saturdays for the past 20-odd years.

"Sometimes it can be very personal and yes, some people do off-load. But it's the gossip element and at the end of the day, you're not responsible," she says.

Back in her kitchen Emma prepares some foil sheets for the afternoon. Does she realise there are people who have woken up to a bad hair day and are relying on her to rejuvenate them? They will be paying her to make them not only look better, but also hear their problems and be bubbly and smiley as well. It clearly doesn't bother her.

"I know people look forward to having their hair done. Most of my clients book six weeks in advance," she says. "People go to a hairdresser not just because of how they cut their hair, but because of their personality as well.

"It's like a friendship, but because you're a hairdresser, not a friend or a social worker, you don't have the stress of responsibility."


Here are your comments on this story:

I hate going to the hairdressers purely because they insist on talking to you. They're not really interested in my life, I'm certainly not interested in their life so why do we have to pretend to be mates. I would like to relax at the hairdressers, enjoy the process of having my hair done and concentrate on being pampered, but this is impossible when I'm stressing out trying to think up inane 'polite' conversation. Please, just shut up!
Catherine, Manchester

I have never met a miserable barber in my life
David Jeffries

I can quite beleive the 'happy chopper' label given to hairdressers. It is always a pleasure to have my hair cut. So relaxing as well. I have never met a miserable barber in my life. My grandfather was a gentleman's hairdresser all his working life. He was always a happy soul, too. He worked in an establishment in Moorgate, still there last time I looked. All short back and sides and 'anything for the weekend'. I used to go to Arnos Grove Tube station to meet him with Dad - I can still see his smiling face and remember being lifted over those so-high kerbs outside the station Dad lifting me up by one hand, Granddad the other and me swinging between them.
David R Jefferies, Norwich, UK

It's simple: they're not the sharpest scissors in the box, are they? Therefore, they have little understanding of what is going on in life, so can't get stressed out about it. Every day is a fluffy cloud day for them!
Dave, Swindon

There is a different reality in United States if one decides to get their hair done in one of many corporate run hair salons. Price is cheap but the "hairdressers" are not a happy bunch. They are rather rude and incompetent. I think the term "happy" would safely apply only to the self-employed ones.
Claire, St. Louis, Missouri USA

It's because there so attractive
Nick, London, England

I have my hair cut by a competent and wonderfully taciturn, sulky Polish girl who refrains from all chit-chat, familiarity and fake smiling. Suzy's hairdresser, King St Hammersmith.
Patrick Raleigh, London UK

I do believe that hairdressers have a better time at their job than any other. When I went to a barbers a while ago, I talked with a really attractive hairdresser talking about anything that came to our heads as if we were friends the whole time. That takes stress off myself about problems in my life and the hairdresser as she wants to make you feel comfortable about yourself when cutting your hair. It is almost like having a psychologist but one that cuts your hair.
Simon, Corsham, UK

I have lived in 4 different countries in the last 10 years and with every move the hardest thing to find has been a good hairdresser. Forget doctors, dentists, schools, friends, a good hairdresser is the key. I have one now. She is confident, always up with the latest techniques and products, cheerful, yet runs her salon with an iron hand. When I am at my lowest, 2 hours in her chair make me feel like new - far cheaper than therapy. I will miss her terrible when I leave.
Jennifer Jennings, Lima, Peru

Its just a hair cut! Get it cut when it needs cut simple as that
Nicola Shandy, Edinburgh

I think it's more to do with the 'eternal sunshine of the spotless mind'
John, Leicester

The reason hairdressers seem the happiest is because the question asked was "Are you happy with your work?", so as they read this to mean "Do I do my work to a standard that I am happy with" they all replied YES!
M Brown, Malvern

Most of the time none of us end up doing what we want to. I admire those who are willing to change jobs to become happier at work.
Matthew, Leeds

I use a stylist every month who always remembers our last conversation, and we pick up right from where we left off. There cannot be many other professions where this level of customer satisfaction is received. It's a refreshing change from the usual miserable types that 'serve' you.
Jon, York

I think it's more to do with the 'eternal sunshine of the spotless mind'...
John, Leicester, UK

Dressing hair is as old as time, a creative skill which generally provides a caring, gentle service. Finally, and probably most importantly, the act of dressing hair does not involve using a computer!
JANE PEARCE, Maidenhead

I agree with many of the comments. I work in a call centre and we are treated as a number. All the management care about is targets and getting calls answered. Our flexi time was taken away a couple of years ago and now we work shifts. We are constantly monitored. Also we are frequently abused by the public, who seem to think they can shout and swear at us on a regular basis, for small errors that can and will be easily resolved. We are all suffering burn out, but management don't care. The job is very boring and repetitive.
Big Man, Edinburgh

Hairdressers can have a laugh & a chat while they work & it is also good for customer relations. Not so for many office environments.
Steve, Braintree Essex

Just thought I'd point out that the word 'robot' derives from the Russian verb 'robotat', which means 'to work'. So a robot is technically just a worker anyway. No wonder most people feel like robots in their jobs!
James Connolly, London, England

I really love going to the hairdresser and see it as a total treat. Especially if having my colour done. The staff always seem to be having fun and swapping funny stories and jokes. I reckon if I could start again I would train to be a hairdresser - it's social, creative and fulfilling. Who else can say that about their jobs?
Abbie, Watford

Utterly agree that my happiest and most stress free times were when working in the salon
Simon Appleby
I'm a building engineer and can totally relate to hairdresers who have a well respected job in making people feel good and happy about themselves. By contrast my job is mis-understood, perceived as boring and is often a source of attack from clients who's main concern is to save money. As a result I'm considering leaving and becoming a teacher.
Anonymous, South West, UK

The old saying "Ignorance is bliss" springs to mind.
AC, UK

I gave up hairdressing over 15 years ago, to go into a business that paid me a lot better, but utterly agree that my happiest and most stress free times were when working in the salon. Without a doubt, for me and probably most other hairdressers, the reasons were simple. I worked for someone else, but took no orders from anyone. From the moment I started on a client it was a one to one personal relationship, where I could be creative. What's more I knew I gave satisfaction and was immediately rewarded on completion by a large smile and a tip in my hand. I worked with like minded people. No other industry gives you all these things.

The downside is that you don't get rich working for someone else in hairdressing. You can get wealthy by owning a salon, but of course with that comes the usual stresses etc. without a doubt, they were the happiest times of my life.
Simon Appleby, London

Only women could make a haircut last two hours! A haircut is normally a 10min job for us men, women go for the social and have a hair do at the same time, and considering what they have to pay for their haircuts/styling/whatever they should expect very happy people working on their hair. What do I know, I'm just a bloke!
Nick, UK

I can imagine few things more stressful than being a hairdresser and having to spend all day on my feet in a room full of chattering people doing something that has to be right first time.
M. Thompson, Bradford, West Yorkshire

I used to work in an office until they made me redundant. I then re-trained as a hairdresser and never looked back, it just wonderful, and meeting new clients is good to. Something so different for so little.
Rob Mould, Wenvoe, Cardiff

Have known a few hairdressers personally. The disparity between their earning and the tax they pay compared to other job holders is a big reason for them being jolly!!
Aeyla, Southampton

I just asked my hairdresser if she believed these articles that said hairdressers were happy, and she promptly replied: "It's long hours on your feet for little money and you have the public to contend with". Maybe it's only the hairdressers that are in the stylish salons who are happy because they get paid more.
Joe, UK

Who really forces hairdressers to be permanently happy and chatty? I wish mine would shut up for five minutes so I could get in and out of the door with a bit more haste because to me it is a chore. I tip hairdressers if they do a good job but if they stop every five seconds and go off on a tangent I don't see how they possibly can!
Ray Wilson, Edinburgh

What utter bliss. Hairdressers are not hounded by private recruitment companies nor are they bullied by gangmasters. Get rid of private employment agencies, gangmasters and secure our borders and we will all have the same happiness. Guaranted!
Terry Conway, Birmingham, UK




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