Category Archives: Stress

Virtual Workplaces and Telework

Railay Beach Office” by EvanLovely

I saw an article on Time magazine’s website today called, “The Beginning of the End of the 9-to-5 Workday?” (Schawbel, 2011). The article maintained that companies need to embrace workplace-flexibility programs. The author of the article stated that “between new technology and global workplace dynamics, companies are implementing flexible work arrangements for everyone.” The article also quoted a flexibility-strategy leader who said: “This notion of an eight-hour day is rapidly disappearing, simply because we work so virtually and globally.”

While this all sounds great, several important caveats were left out of the article. In this post, I’ll delve into the many terms that cover virtual work. I’ll also discuss trends (there’s an interesting change for 2010). Finally, I’ll talk about some important things to consider for both the employees who telework or who might consider telework, as well as for the organizations that currently have telework or might be considering it in the near future.

TERMINOLOGIES

According to WorldatWork (2009), there are several different, but related terms to describe virtual work. These include:

Telecommute: To either periodically or regularly perform work for one’s employer from home or another remote location.

Telework: To perform all of one’s work either from home or another remote location, either for an employer or through self-employment.

Employee Telecommuter: A regular employee (full or part time) who works at home or another remote location at least one day per month during normal business hours.

Contract Telecommuter: An individual who works on a contract basis for an employer or is self-employed, and who works at home or at a remote location at least one day per month during normal business hours.

Employed Telecommuters: Individuals (either employees or contractors) working at home or remotely at least one day per month during normal business hours; the sum of “employee telecommuters” and “contract telecommuters.”

STATISTICS AND TRENDS

According to WorldatWork’s Telework Trendlines (2009):

  1. More Americans, and a higher percentage of Americans, telecommuted in 2008.
  2. Occasional telecommuting is on the rise.
  3. The most common locations for remote work are home, car and a customer’s place of business.
  4. Today’s telecommuters are most often 40-year-old male college graduates.

The number of Americans who telecommute or work remotely at least once per month increased between 2006 and 2008. In 2006, approximately 8 percent of Americans telecommuted at least one day per month; in 2008, that number increased to just over 11 percent. In the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, as many as one in 10 workers are part-time telecommuters. In the Greater Washington Area, more than 450,000 employees telecommuted at least one day a week in 2007, 42.5 percent more than in 2004, according to a survey by Commuter Connections, a regional network of transportation organizations coordinated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The percentage of employees who telework surged to 19 percent from 13 percent during that time period (Kotkin, 2008). In the five years from 2003 to 2008, the total number of teleworkers rose 43% to 33.7 million Americans, most just part-time (WorldatWork, 2009).

WHY IS TELECOMMUTING INCREASING?

This trend toward more telecommuting is due to a combination of factors, including:

  • The increase in number of high-speed and wireless Internet access making it less costly and more productive to work remotely
  • Improvements in virtual workspace technologies (Vickers, 2007)
  • Rising fuel and commuting costs
  • The trend by employers to embrace work-life balance concepts (WorldatWork, 2009)
  • Government policies influencing the trend. In 2000, the U.S. Congress ordered federal agencies to allow employees to work from home “to the maximum extent possible without diminished employee performance” (Vickers, 2007 citing Bridgeford).

TELECOMMUTING DECLINED IN 2010

It is quite interesting to note that, according to WorldatWork (2011), telework in 2010 declined.

“For the first time since WorldatWork began studying the telework phenomenon in 2003, the number of teleworkers has dropped. The total number of people who worked from home or remotely for an entire day at least once a month in 2010 was 26.2 million, down from 33.7 million in 2008.”

The Telework 2011 Special Report (WorldatWork, 2011) stated that the decline is likely due a combination of factors: fewer Americans in the workforce over all due to high unemployment, higher anxiety surrounding job security, and lack of awareness of telework options.

THINGS TO CONSIDER

Six crucial aspects of the next level of development for teleworking are:

(1) Overcoming the teleworking stigma of no face-to-face time. A Futurestep poll of 1,320 global executives in 71 countries found that 61% of senior managers think telecommuters are not as likely as conventional office workers to be promoted, despite the fact that over three-quarters also think teleworkers are equally productive as (42%) or more productive than (36%) their office-dwelling colleagues (Vickers, 2007 citing Bridgeford). Managers might recognize that teleworkers are productive, but they are still accustomed toward face-to-face interactions. Therefore adapting to the world of telework requires both managerial and organizational adjustments.

(2) Employment screening and training of teleworkers (Vickers, 2007).

(3) Equipping management with the teleworking mindset and management skill sets to properly and effectively lead virtual teams and teleworkers (Vickers, 2007; Cagle, 2008).

(4) Teleworker’s own initiative, responsibilities, and accountability (Cagle, 2008). Interestingly though, Cagle discovered that, “a number of studies, including one performed by Sun in 2007 showed that one of the older stereotypes of teleworkers as people who would tend to do a little work then skip to some other activity, watch TV or surf the web actually proved to be something of a myth – for the most part most teleworkers actually tend to put in longer days working than they would in the office.”

(5) Safeguarding business, customer, and personal information and ensuring a high level of protection from theft or loss – from computer viruses to stolen laptops (Cagle, 2008).

(6) The last factor to consider is legal regulation. For example, where does a teleworker work? The answer will have implications for states with income taxes (Cagle, 2008).

Suggestion: With regards to organizational climate and culture, it behooves organizations to create both a climate (perception/feeling/affect) as well as culture (what’s written down/effective/values) to clearly outline support for and understanding of face-to-face and teleworkers (Landy & Conte, 2007).

Note: Information for this post was adapted from an assignment I completed for a class.

References

Cagel, K. (2008). Is Telework the New Face of the Agile Workforce? O’Reilly. Retrieved from http://news.oreilly.com/2008/08/is-telework-the-face-of-the-ag.html.

Kotkin, J. (2008). Skipping the Drive: Energy Costs May Fuel the Growing Telecommuting Trend. The Washington Independent. Retrieved from http://washingtonindependent.com/100/skipping-the-drive.

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2007). Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Schawbel, D. (December, 2011). The Beginning of the End of the 9-to-5 Workday? Time Moneyland. Retrieved from http://moneyland.time.com/2011/12/21/the-beginning-of-the-end-of-the-9-to-5-workday/

Vickers, M. (2007). Adapting to Teleworker Trends. American Management Association’s Moving Ahead Newsletter, 2(10). Retrieved from http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/Adapting-to-Teleworker-Trends.aspx

WorldatWork (2009). Telework Trendlines 2009. Retrieved from http://www.workingfromanywhere.org/news/Trendlines_2009.pdf

WorldatWork (2011). Telework 2011: A WorldatWork Special Report. Retrieved from http://www.worldatwork.org/waw/adimLink?id=53034

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Using Reappraisal to Handle an Angry Face


Thinking” by Hans Kristian Aas

An interesting study by a team of researchers (Jens Blechert, Gal Sheppes, Carolina Di Tella, Hants Williams, and James J. Gross at Stanford University) has found that when you tell yourself (i.e. reappraise) that someone is mean to you is simply having a bad day, you may be able to fend off bad feelings.

Reappraisal isn’t anything new. It goes by the name of reframing and is used by cognitive-behavioral psychologists to help clients reframe a distressing problem using a more positive perspective, making it a more a manageable one.

Professor Gross discussed this idea of reappraisal in the book “Developing Your Conflict Competence” by Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan. In it, he talked to one of the authors about using cognitive reappraisal by challenging the way you initially interpret things you see. “Cognitive reappraisal involves using alternative interpretations of the meanings about situations” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010, p. 50).

Runde and Flanagan (2010) said: “Reappraisal (also known as reframing) involves a cognitive process through which the facts underlying a conflict are reexamined for nonthreatening, alternative explanations” (p. 49). Incredibly, brain imaging seems to support this and indicate that, with practice in reappraising/reframing your thinking, your negative feelings will be reduced while more positive feelings will surface (Ochsner, Bunge, Gross, & Gabrieli, 2002).

Ask yourself the following:

  • “Is it the only way of seeing the situation?”
  • “Are there rational, nonthreatening ways of understanding the matter?”

In the study by Blechert and colleagues, participants were shown a series of angry faces and the reactions of the participants were assessed. When participants were told that the angry faces had a bad day, but that it had nothing to do with the participants personally, the participants were able to fend off bad feelings the next time they saw that same angry face. However, when the participants were told to only feel the emotions brought on by seeing an angry face, they remained upset by that face when it was shown to them again.

Bottom line: Blechert says, “If you’re trained with reappraisal, and you know your boss is frequently in a bad mood, you can prepare yourself to go into a meeting” and not be negatively affected by your boss’ bad mood.

References

Association for Psychological Science. (November, 2011). Press Release. The Brain Acts Fast To Reappraise Angry Faces. http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/the-brain-acts-fast-to-reappraise-angry-faces.html

Ochsner, K. N., Bunge, S. A., Gross, J. J., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2002). Rethinking feelings: An fMRI study of the cognitive regulation of emotion. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14(8), 1215-1229. doi:10.1162/089892902760807212

Runde & Flanagan, (2010). Developing your conflict competence: A hands-on guide for leaders, managers, facilitators, and teams. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Weisul, K. (November 2011). How to handle an angry boss. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-57329138/how-to-handle-an-angry-boss/

Is Internet Job Search Effective?

A new study indicated that using the Internet to look for a job (Internet job search or IJS) can help reduce unemployment time. Contrary to a 2004 study, which found that using the Internet was an ineffective tool or that those seeking work were not as qualified, Kuhn and Mansour’s (2011) study revealed that using the Internet to look for work cuts the time spent unemployed by an average of 25%.

The researchers explained that the reason for this shift is due to major changes with the Internet since the 1990s. From 1998 to 2000, 24% of young people used the Internet to search for work. However, during 2008 to 2009, that number exploded to 74%.

One reason for the startling difference is that, whereas those who turned to the Internet a decade ago oftentimes did not have personal contacts, today people who have and use their personal contacts online see their chances of finding work dramatically improve.

Another reason is due to improvements in the job sites/boards themselves, which are better designed and much more tailored to individual users and their specific needs.

Finally, and most obviously, the Internet has grown at such an exponential rate (its overall penetration and connectivity) that an Internet job search today yields a better result than a decade ago.

Reference

Kuhn, P., & Mansour, H. (2011). Is Internet Job Search Still Ineffective? Retrieved from http://ftp.iza.org/dp5955.pdf.

Steve Jobs Resigns – The Failure to Disengage and Price of Workaholism


Illustration: Tsevis Visual Design and Deanna Lowe at Fortune magazine. From http://www.flickr.com/photos/tsevis/2313082920/in/set-72157594536252686

Steve Jobs, the charismatic and visionary founder of Apple Computers has resigned (August 24, 2011). Not to worry, he’s now assumed the Chairman of the Board role at Apple.

Last year, I wrote a post titled “The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders” in which I talked about Steve Jobs and the virtues and vices that characterize a charismatic leader. Well, the day has come when he’s handing over his CEO duties. As Jobs wrote in a letter to the Apple board of directors and Apple community, “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come. I hereby resign as CEO of Apple.”

Many have written and, no doubt, will write about Apple, what will come of Apple and Mac products, and the financial implications of Steve Jobs — a charismatic and visionary leader — leaving as CEO. The Harvard Business Review even posted “Why Apple Doesn’t Need Steve Jobs.” Just so you know, I disagree with the article (as outlined in “The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders“). These quotes below from that post sum up what, I believe, we can expect to see in a post-Jobs-as-CEO Apple:

No American CEO is more intimately identified with his company’s success. Jobs is deeply involved in every facet of Apple development and design, and he’s justly admired for his instinct for the human-factor engineering of Apple products. (Hiltzik, Jan 2009)

What remains to be seen is whether a post-Jobs Apple will retain the corporate traits that made the company successful with its iconic leader at the helm. (Knowledge@Wharton)

Ultimately, some leaders are so irreplaceable that no amount of succession planning will ensure a seamless power transition. ‘In some sense, with the charismatic person, it’s difficult to prepare a successor, because they are bigger than life,’ says John Larrere, general manager at the management consultant Hay Group. (Ante & McGregor, 2009)

Ok, now let’s shift gear a bit because in this post, I want talk about the health, well-being, and the price we pay for not heeding the warning signs of being a workaholic.

Some pundits were surprised that Steve Jobs resigned, but others weren’t. I wasn’t. After a successful surgery to remove a tumor in his pancreas in 2004, he went back to work within a few months. But Jobs’ health has been declining and he looks gaunt. If we analyze this whole scenario from a workplace psychology and occupational health psychology perspective, it’s not difficult to see that Jobs’ relentless drive (whether at work or when he’s at home) and his self-sacrifices (mentioned as a virtue in my “The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders” post) have taken an exacting toll on his health and well-being.

In 2009, Jobs took another six-month medical leave and it was later revealed that he had received a liver transplant. Things “appeared” normal as he once again returned to work. But, in January 2011, Steve Jobs announced, yet again, that he was taking a medical leave. Fast forward to August 24, 2011 and the world found out, he was not coming back in his role as CEO.

In his email to Apple employees back in January 2011, Jobs wrote, “At my request, the board of directors has granted me a medical leave of absence so I can focus on my health. I will continue as CEO and be involved in major strategic decisions for the company…I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can.”

Notice the conflicting priorities – “focus on my health” and yet “I will continue as CEO and be involved…and hope to be back as soon as I can.”

There’s an interesting story on the NPR blog called “A Story About Steve Jobs And Attention To Detail” by Eyder Peralta about Steve Jobs’ attention to (I would say obsession with) detail. It’s a story that Vic Gundotra, the guy behind Google+, posted about Steve Jobs calling him in January 2008 on a Sunday. While Vic’s memory of Jobs calling him on a Sunday unhappy that the second “O” in the Google icon on the iPhone didn’t “have the right yellow gradient” was one of admiration, my interpretation is one of concern. Remember that this is only four years after his pancreatic cancer scare.

There are 3 common characteristics of workaholics (Schaufeli, Taris, & Rhenen, 2008):

  1. Workaholics spend a lot of time on work activities. They are excessively hard workers.
  2. Workaholics have a hard time disengaging from work and when they do, they continue and often think about work even when they are not working. This suggests a preoccupation and obsession with their work.
  3. Workaholics work beyond what’s reasonably expected from them to meet either the organizational or economic requirements. That is, workaholics often work excessively even if they don’t need the money.

Schaufeli, Taris, and Rhenen (2008) explained that workaholics work and push themselves extremely hard, not because of financial rewards, career drives, or even organizational culture. Instead, workaholics work hard because of an inner compulsion, need, or drive.

Shimazu, Schaufeli, and Taris (2010) discovered that workaholism is both directly and indirectly associated with poor health. The researchers found that while workaholics might contribute more to organizational performance than others, “the costs for the workaholic people themselves (in terms of ill-health) are high” (p. 158).

When a workaholic, like a Steve Jobs, is constantly obsessing about work and doesn’t know how or even want to disengage (see my post about failure to disengage) while he’s away from work (e.g., Jobs should have been resting on that Sunday as I am sure his doctors would have told him to do), the end result is that something has to give. In this case, it was his health.

I am a Mac user. I’ve been one for 9 years. I love my Mac and Apple products. I wish Steve Jobs all the best, particularly good health. But if I were him, I would not only resign as CEO, I would also not take on another role, even as a Board member. The health warning signs his body has been trying to tell him should be taken very seriously.

As I wrote back in 2009, approaching work with a 24/7 mindset “is a double-edged sword that in the end [can and does] threaten employee health and well-being” (Sonnentag et al., 2008, p. 273.)

It doesn’t take a doctor to see that Steve Jobs’ workaholic mentality is costing him his health. What a truly sad price to pay when we can’t or won’t disengage from our work.

References

Ante, S.E., & McGregor, J. (January 2009). Apple Succession Plan: Nobody’s Business? BusinessWeek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jan2009/tc20090115_863327.htm

Apple. (August 2011). Letter from Steve Jobs. Retrieved from http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2011/08/24Letter-from-Steve-Jobs.html

Apple. (August 2011). Steve Jobs Resigns as CEO of Apple. Retrieved from http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2011/08/24Steve-Jobs-Resigns-as-CEO-of-Apple.html

Cheng, J. (August 2011). Steve Jobs has resigned as Apple CEO “effective immediately.” Retrieved from http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2011/08/steve-jobs-has-resigned-as-apple-ceo-effective-immediately.ars

Gundotra, V. (April 2011). Icon Ambulance. Retrieved from https://plus.google.com/107117483540235115863/posts/gcSStkKxXTw

Hiltzik, M. (Jan 2009). Apple’s condition linked to Steve Jobs’ health. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jan/05/business/fi-hiltzik5

Knowledge@Wharton. Job-less: Steve Jobs’s Succession Plan Should Be a Top Priority for Apple. Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2134

Peralta, E. (August 2011). A Story About Steve Jobs And Attention To Detail. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/08/25/139947282/a-shade-of-yellow-steve-jobs-and-attention-to-detail

Schaufeli, W. B., Taris, T. W., & Van Rhenen, W. (2008). Workaholism, burnout, and work engagement: three of a kind or three different kinds of employee well-being. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 57(2), 173-203. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.2007.00285.x

Shimazu, A., Schaufeli, W. B., & Taris, T. W. (2010). How does workaholism affect worker health and performance? The mediating role of coping. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 17(2), 154-160, doi:10.1007/s12529-010-9077-x

Sonnentag S., Mojza, E.J., Binnewies, C., & Scholl, A. (2008). Being engaged at work and detached at home: A week-level study on work engagement, psychological detachment, and affect. Work & Stress, 22(3), 257-276.

The Three Burnout Subtypes

[NOTE: This post was updated November 2016]

Burnout is a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, and is defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion (overwhelming exhaustion), cynicism (cynicism and detachment), and inefficacy (a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment) (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001; Maslach, Leiter, & Schaufeli, 2009).

More broadly, Maslach and Leiter (2005) said burnout includes losing three things:

  1. Burnout is lost energy.
  2. Burnout is lost enthusiasm.
  3. Burnout is lost confidence.

We typically think of a “burnt-out” employee as someone who has been on the job for a long period of time. A worker who experiences burnout is someone who is exhausted emotionally. This individual exhibits low motivation and lack of energy for the job (Spector, 2008). However, there are, in fact, more than one type of burnout.

The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), a scale measuring burnout, divides it into three components:

  • Emotional exhaustion is feeling tired and fatigued at work (it can result in absence from work).
  • Depersonalization is developing a callous/uncaring feeling, even hostility, toward others (either clients or colleagues).
  • Reduced personal accomplishment is feeling you (the employee) are not accomplishing anything worthwhile at work. This can lead to a lack of motivation and poor performance.

The Burnout Clinical Subtype Questionnaire (BCSQ-36), another scale, also divides burnout into three subtypes:

  • The “frenetic” type describes involved and ambitious subjects who sacrifice their health and personal lives for their jobs.
  • The “underchallenged” type describes indifferent and bored workers who fail to find personal development in their jobs.
  • The “worn-out” type describes neglectful subjects who feel they have little control over results and whose efforts go unacknowledged.

In a study of 409 employees at a university in Spain, Montero-Marín and colleagues (2011) discovered that those who work more than 40 hours a week faced the greatest risk for “frenetic” burnout. They found that administration and service personnel encountered the greatest risk of “underchallenged” burnout compared to teaching and research staff. Finally, the researchers found that employees with more than sixteen years of service in the organization faced the greatest risk of “worn-out” burnout versus those with less than four years of service.

Take-Away: The “frenetic” profile is associated with the number of hours per week dedicated to work. The “underchallenged” profile is related with the type of occupation and the “worn-out” profile is associated with the cumulative effect over time of the characteristics of an organization.

Suggestions: There are two, rather obvious, ways to reduce burnout. One is to take a vacation (Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006), even though a few weeks after returning to work, feelings of burnout often return. The second way to reduce burnout is to have supervisors offer emotional support to workers through positive feedback and discussions about the positive aspects of the job (Kahn, Schneider, Jenkins-Henkelman, & Moyle, 2006).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant

References

Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: The role of workload and vacation experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(4), 936–945. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.91.4.936

Kahn, J. H., Schneider, K. T., Jenkins-Henkelman, T. M., & Moyle, L. L. (2006). Emotional social support and job burnout among high-school teachers: Is it all due to dispositional affectivity? Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27, 793–807. doi:10.1002/job.397

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2005). Banishing burnout: Six strategies for improving your relationship with work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Maslach, C., Leiter, M. P., & Schaufeli, W. (2009). Measuring burnout. In S. Cartwright & C. L. Cooper (Eds.). The Oxford handbook of organizational well-being (pp. 86-108). Oxford: Oxford Univerrsity Press.

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.

Montero-Marín, J., García-Campayo, J., Fajó-Pascual, M., Carrasco, J. M., Gascón, S., Gili, M., & Mayoral-Cleries, F. (2011). Sociodemographic and occupational risk factors associated with the development of different burnout types: The cross-sectional University of Zaragoza study. BMC Psychiatry, 11:49. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-11-49

Spector, P. E. (2008). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Dull Tasks Seem To Drag On for Entitled People

Wonder why something feels longer than it actually does sometimes? According to a recent study, it might be because you feel entitled.

A study by O’Brien, Anastasio, and Bushman (2011) found that people who have a sense of entitlement, where they believe that they deserve more and is entitled to more than others, tend to feel that dull moments last an eternity.

Undergraduate students were told that the purpose of a survey they were participating in was to “gain a better understanding of your own personal opinions and preferences” because “you’re entitled to the best possible experiences here on campus.” They were then asked to complete a 27-item survey that had very mundane things such as “What is your favorite day of the week?” and “How often do you eat fast food?”

Those who felt entitled (to the “best possible experiences” on campus) thought that the survey took 2.81 minutes longer to complete than a control group did.

Like most resources in life, the resource of time seems more precious to those who feel a sense of entitlement. Dull tasks seem like a particular waste of their time for people who feel entitled, resulting in slower perceptions of how time passes (O’Brien et al., 2011, p. 7).

Reference

O’Brien, E. H., Anastasio, P. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2011). Time crawls when you’re not having fun: Feeling entitled makes dull tasks drag on. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0146167211408922

Lack of Sleep Contributes to Unethical Conduct

A few months ago, I posted about the importance of sleep and its impact on our health and safety.

Extending the importance of sleep further into the workplace, a recent study suggests that lack of sleep or low quality of sleep is related to unethical behavior. Drawing from the Ego Depletion model (which says self-control requires purposeful effort that’s maintained by cognitive resources that are depleted), Barnes, Schaubroeck, Huth, & Ghumman (2011) hypothesized that lack of sleep is related to ego depletion. That is, sleep is positively related to self-control.

Barnes and colleagues had test participants record scores on a test in order to gain financial advantage. They found that those who cheated and over-reported their test scores had less sleep. Results revealed that people who cheated in an experiment averaged 22.39 minutes less sleep the night before compared to those who did not cheat.

“The effect of sleep duration on cheating was quite strong” (Barnes et al., 2011, p. 173).

The researchers were able to test and support the link between sleep and ego depletion, and extend the Ego Depletion model to include sleep as an important recovery mechanism.

Take-Away: Employees who stay up late working and miss sleep are more likely to distort/misrepresent/bend results and engage in other forms of cheating. As a manager, be sure to balance high expectations of your employees with an understanding that in order for workers to do their best, they need to replenish their physical and psychosocial health, which is the purpose of sleep.

Reference

Barnes, C. M., Schaubroeck, J., Huth, M., & Ghumman, S. (2011). Lack of sleep and unethical conduct. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 115(2), 169-180. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2011.01.009

Failure is a Better Teacher than Success

“Failure is not fatal. Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. It should challenge us to new heights of accomplishments, not pull us to new depths of despair. From honest failure can come valuable experience.” -William Arthur Ward, American author and teacher

We prize success over failure. You see articles and book titles with the words “success” or “succeed” splattered on bookstore shelves. However, research shows that when it comes to learning, failure may just be good for us after all. In fact, failure is a better teacher than success. Madsen and Desai (2010) discovered that the knowledge gained from our failures lasts longer than those from our successes. They advise organizations, to neither ignore nor dismiss failure but to, treat failure as a learning opportunity.

To illustrate the point, they used the flights of the 2002 space shuttle Atlantis and 2003 space shuttle Columbia. During the 2002 Atlantis flight, a piece of insulation broke off and damaged the left solid rocket booster but did not impede the mission or the program. However, there was little follow-up or investigation.

During the launching of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003, another piece of insulation broke off and struck the leading edge of Columbia’s left wing. When Columbia reentered the earth’s atmosphere after a 16-day mission, “damage sustained from the foam’s impact compromised the orbiter’s thermal protection system, leading to the failure of the left wing and to the eventual disintegration of the orbiter” (Madsen & Desai, 2010, p. 451).

Tragically, all seven astronauts on board were killed. The Columbia disaster resulted in the suspension of shuttle flights and led to a major investigation resulting in 29 recommended changes to prevent future disasters.

Obviously, the point is that, while we should not fail on purpose, failure (while sometimes tragic) is an important teacher. For organizations, the advice is this: study your small failures and close calls to extract useful information instead of waiting for a major catastrophe.

“Organizational leaders should neither ignore failures nor stigmatize those involved with them; rather, leaders should treat failures as invaluable learning opportunities, encouraging the open sharing of information about them” (Madsen & Desai, 2010, p. 471).

Reference

Madsen, P. M., & Desai, V. M. (2010). Failing to learn? The effects of failure and success on organizational learning in the global orbital launch vehicle industry. Academy of Management Journal, 53(3), 451-476.

Which is More Distracting at Work – Surfing the Web or Trying to Resist?

Harvard Business School researchers Bucciol, Houser, & Piovesan (2011) have discovered something quite remarkable. In their paper “Temptation at Work,” they extended earlier research by finding that using willpower to delay gratification can negatively impact performance in the workplace.

In a previous post I wrote about how multitasking does not work, and that still holds true. The research from Bucciol, Houser, & Piovesan (2011) does not discount that. What they found was that by trying to resist temptation, we become distracted enough that our work actually suffered (Blanding, 2011).

I apologize in advance (because I’ve been quite busy), but I will simply post what they found and direct you to an article (“Is Web Surfing Distracting Your Workers?”) about their work.

Key concepts include:

  • Psychologists have theorized that the energy spent resisting temptation takes attention away from other tasks, but this is the first experiment to test it in the context of a work environment.
  • Researchers found that subjects exhibited a decrease in productivity when they were tempted to watch a funny video but then told not to do so. Comparatively, subjects who were allowed to watch the video were more productive.
  • The research indicates that prohibiting private Internet use at work is actually bad for employees’ productivity. That effect could be especially critical in jobs where small mistakes could mean a big difference in performance.

The researchers suggest (Bucciol, Houser, & Piovesan, 2011, p. 4):

Employers should not prohibit the Internet and yet leave it available. Instead, employers should either remove it entirely or, when doing this is impractical, allow employees a certain amount of time – maybe even as often as several minutes per hour – for personal Internet activity. Perhaps lunch-breaks can be somewhat shortened to accommodate “surf-time”. Alternatively, employers might consider allowing regular Internet breaks, in the same way that many currently accommodate short but not infrequent cigarette or coffee breaks.

References

Blanding, M. (2011, May). Is Web Surfing Distracting Your Workers? HBS Working Knowledge. Retrieved from http://hbswk.hbs.edu/pdf/item/6657.pdf

Bucciol, A., Houser, D., & Piovesan, M. (2011, February). Temptation at work. Harvard Business School Research Paper No. 11-090. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1772815

Whining Is Caused by Thinking Errors

The New Oxford American Dictionary (2005) defines whine as a verb that means: complain in a feeble or petulant way.

Whining is a powerless way to complain about something to which we do not believe we have the power to change.

In the world of counseling, therapists/counselors/psychologists often bring up an idea called locus of control. Locus of control is the belief we have about the location (source) of the causes of events in our lives. There are two types of locus of control – internal (within you) and external (outside of you) (Donatelle, 2011).

People with an internal locus of control are those who believe that their behaviors are guided by their personal decisions and efforts and that they have control over those things they can change. Because individuals with an internal locus of control believe that they are in control over their circumstances, they tend to manage stress better. On the other hand, people with an external locus of control see their behaviors and their lives as being controlled by luck or fate. These individuals often view their lives and circumstances as victims of life and bad luck.

Having an internal locus of control (believing you have power over your own actions) is tied to self-efficacy, which is the belief you have about being able to do something successfully (Donatelle, 2011).

Generally, people who whine are those who tend to be preoccupied with cognitive distortions or thinking errors. Thinking errors are our tendencies to focus on insufficient or inappropriate information and then jump to conclusions or make predictions (Palmer & Szymanska, 2007). These patterns of thinking often are the causes of negative thinking and lead to the nasty habit known as whining.

Some common thinking errors include:

  • Mind-reading/Jumping to conclusions – jumping to a conclusion without the relevant information.
  • All-or-nothing thinking – evaluating experiences on the basis of extremes. For example, “I always lose.”
  • Blame – not taking responsibility and blaming someone else or something else for the problem.
  • Magnification – blowing things out of proportion.
  • Personalization – taking things personally.
  • Fortune-telling – thinking you know what the future holds.
  • Labeling – labeling or rating yourself. For example, “I’m a loser” or “I’m an idiot.”
  • Minimization – minimizing the part one plays in a situation. For example, “It must have been an easy test because I got a good grade.”
  • Low frustration tolerance or ‘I-can-stand-it-itis’ – lowering our ability to endure frustrating or stressful situations by telling ourselves, “I can’t stand it.”

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain.”
–Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company

References

Donatelle, R. (2011). Health: The basics (Green ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

McKean, E. (Ed.). (2005). The New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Palmer, S, & Szymanska, K. (2007). Cognitive behavioural coaching: An integrative approach. In S. Palmer and A. Whybrow (Eds.), Handbook of coaching psychology: A guide for practitioners (pp. 86-117). London: Sage.

Information Overload-When Information Becomes Noise

In “Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions,” an article for the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA), Joseph Ruff says that we are bombarded with so much data that we’re on information overload. Simply put, information overload is when our ability to process information has passed its limit, and further attempts to process information or make accurate decisions from the surplus of information leads to information overload.

Ruff argues that information overload interferes with our ability to learn and engage in creative problem-solving. For instance, venture capitalists with too much information cannot make accurate adjustments to their evaluation process, and because of this their learning is impeded.

“Once capacity is surpassed, additional information becomes noise and results in a decrease in information processing and decision quality…[H]aving too much information is the same as not having enough” (Ruff, 2002, p. 4).

There’s even a new name for it, Information Fatigue Syndrome (IFS). Its symptoms include:

  • Poor concentration due to the overloading of short-term memory
  • Polyphasic behavior or multi-tasking often resulting in diminished rather than increased productivity
  • Hurry sickness, which is the belief that one must constantly rush to keep pace with time
  • Pervasive hostility resulting in a chronic state of irritability near anger or even rage
  • Habituation or over stimulation which causes the brain to shut down and enter a trance-like state
  • “Plugged in” compulsion is the strong need to check email, voice mail and the Internet in order to stay “in touch”
  • Traditional stress including lowered immune response, endocrine imbalance, depression and the experience of “burn out”

Ruff offers a list of strategies to manage information overload. He divides the solutions into proactive and reactive strategies. Proactive strategies are attempts at preventing information overload. Reactive strategies, on the other hand, are implemented after information overload has occurred. Below is Ruff’s list (verbatim) [to see a more detailed list click on the link to his PDF* in the reference section or click HERE]:

Proactive

  • Devise a pulse-taking system to form a constantly changing up-to-date mental model of the organization and key stakeholders
  • Create a personal system for storing and retrieving information (i.e. notebook, planner, system for filing and organizing email)
  • Do not overwhelm yourself with a waste-not want-not mentality; throw it away or delete it
  • Time management training
  • Business writing training
  • Software and technology training
  • Information literacy training
    • Traditional and digital communication skills
    • Thinking and decision making skills
    • Creativity, innovation and risk taking
    • Computer literacy
    • Subject matter literacy
    • Learning how to learn
    • Electronic resources
  • Chunking and mnemonics training
  • Perception’s role in information overload training

Reactive

  • Filtering – focusing attention only on the most useful and essential information while purposefully ignoring other sources
  • Multitasking – performing two or more job functions at the same time [See my post Multitasking Doesn’t Work]
  • Queuing – performing initial steps to tasks that will be completed at a latter time
  • Escaping – eliminating disturbances by psychologically or physically limiting disruptions from outside world (i.e. not answering phone, closing door)
  • Prioritizing – determining and approaching most important tasks first
  • Delegating – determining which tasks can be given to other workers
  • Refusing – determining which tasks can be left undone
  • Limiting – not being seduced by thinking that more information is better
  • Satisficing – seeking “good enough” solutions; not perfection
  • Altering – changing perception of a task by performing it in a different way or place (i.e. view documents on paper instead of a computer screen; move to a lounge or coffee shop)
  • Shifting – changing perception of situation by accepting it as just part of the job

Reference

Ruff, J. (2002). Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions. Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA). Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions.pdf [*PDF now hosted on WorkplacePsychology.Net for convenience.]

Failure to Recognize and Address Issues Quickly

The ability to manage conflicts is one of a leader’s greatest challenges. Many teams and entire organizations struggle with the different/conflicting views about how things should run and how change should be implemented. It is crucial for a leader to possess the ability to manage people’s differences in a way that reduces their destructive energy while channeling their constructive energy.

There are two things that a leader can do to ensure this happens (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002):

  1. Create a safe place to allow for the conflicts to come up.
  2. As the conflict is boiling, make certain that you, the leader, control that it doesn’t boil over.

In one company, middle managers were unhappy with their leader because they felt restricted about not being able to run their departments in a manner that they believe is best. When the managers raised their concerns, the leader would often respond with minimizing statements or just outright dismiss the concerns as insignificant.

It’s easy to see that the leader’s tendency to minimize and discount concerns created a growing level discontentment that eventually led to the exit of one of the managers.

In “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave (2005),” Leigh Branham outlined the reasons why employees often head for the exit door:

  • Reason #1: The Job or Workplace Was Not as Expected
  • Reason #2: The Mismatch Between Job and Person
  • Reason #3: Too Little Coaching and Feedback
  • Reason #4: Too Few Growth and Advancement Opportunities
  • Reason #5: Feeling Devalued And Unrecognized
  • Reason #6: Stress From Overwork and Work-Life Imbalance
  • Reason #7: Loss of Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders

There are two distinct periods when someone considers quitting. The first period is the time between the first thoughts of leaving and the later decision to leave. The second period in which the employee considers leaving is the time between the decision to leave and actually leaving.

For this middle manager, the two biggest reasons were: (1) too few growth and advancement opportunities (reason #4), and (2) feeling devalued and unrecognized (reason #5). The manager had devoted a considerable amount of time and energy into developing his expertise and competence, only to discover that there was not an opportunity for him to advance. Furthermore, when the manager brought up his concerns or offered suggestions or ideas for improvements, he never felt “heard.”

Unfortunately for the company, when an opportunity came, the manager happily jumped ship and accepted a position where his skills and work ethics were appreciated.

There are three tips that the leader could have followed to avoid losing this valuable manager:

  1. Inspire confidence in a clear vision, a workable plan and the competence to achieve it.
  2. Back up words with actions.
  3. Have trust and confidence in your workforce.

References

Branham, L. (2005). The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave. Broadway, NY: AMACOM.

Heifetz, R., & Linsky, M. (2002). A survival guide for leaders. Harvard Business Review, 80(6), 65-72.

Teaching Character Education as a Business Ethics Course

This post is actually from a comment I made to Debbe Kennedy’s Putting Our Differences to Work blog back in 2009. It seems worthwhile to repost it here.

I’ve always believed that many of the things we do as adults can and should be learned from children and the process by which we educate them. When we talk about honoring each other’s differences and watching our words and actions, I think that children are our best teachers. For instance, I contend that character education (teaching children how to be better, more honorable world citizens by treating one another with respect) is also a great way to teach adults and business leaders.

Imagine teaching character education as a business ethics course!

Here are six qualities/pillars of character that can be taught:

Trustworthiness
Be honest • Don’t deceive, cheat or steal • Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do • Have the courage to do the right thing • Build a good reputation • Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country

Respect
Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule • Be tolerant of differences • Use good manners, not bad language • Be considerate of the feelings of others • Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone • Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements

Responsibility
Do what you are supposed to do • Persevere: keep on trying! • Always do your best • Use self-control • Be self-disciplined • Think before you act — consider the consequences • Be accountable for your choices

Fairness
Play by the rules • Take turns and share • Be open-minded; listen to others • Don’t take advantage of others • Don’t blame others carelessly

Caring
Be kind • Be compassionate and show you care • Express gratitude • Forgive others • Help people in need

Citizenship
Do your share to make your school and community better • Cooperate • Get involved in community affairs • Stay informed; vote • Be a good neighbor • Obey laws and rules • Respect authority • Protect the environment

Taking any one of these, we can easily apply its lesson to our lives as adults and to our workplaces. For example, under “Respect”, we have “Be tolerant of differences • Use good manners, not bad language • Be considerate of the feelings of others” and under “Responsibility”, we learn to “Always do your best • Use self-control • Be self-disciplined • Think before you act — consider the consequences.”

Somewhere along the way towards adulthood, we have forgotten these valuable lessons about character taught to us (hopefully) as children. I think it’s important that we each reach deep within to learn again (or for the first time) these principles of humanity (compassion, decency, honor, respect, and citizenship).

Meeting and More Meetings


I have always been fascinated by why organizations and supervisors insist on continuing the maddening idea of having so many meetings. I have seen places where they seem to have a meeting just to talk about planning for the next meeting. I call it a “meeting about another meeting.” I have seen this “meeting-about-another-meeting” phenomenon in schools, churches, and private and non-profit businesses.

I came across a study by Luong and Rogelberg (2005) that supported what, I believe, many of us already know about too many meetings. The authors said work meetings are similar to interruptions and daily hassles. For one week, participants were to keep a daily diary account of their daily meetings and self-reports about the employee’s well-being. Not surprisingly, the authors found that more meetings were associated with increased feelings of fatigue and workload, confirming their initial hypothesis that meeting load has a negative effect on well-being, similar to the effects of interruptions and daily hassles.

To counteract the countless, and dare I say useless, meetings, I want to share what Charan (2006) suggests about holding effective meetings.

He says decisive meetings have four characteristics:

  1. Open—their outcomes are not predetermined. Questions such as “What are we missing?” communicate an honest search for and a willingness to hear alternative perspectives.
  2. Candid—encourage people to air the conflicts that undermine apparent consensus, a willingness to speak the unspeakable. Candor “prevents the kind of unnecessary rework and revisiting of decisions that saps productivity.”
  3. Informal—informal meetings encourage people to be honest, open, and less defensive. Meetings should not feel like they were scripted. When people are comfortable and able to react in an honest way, “spontaneity is energizing.”
  4. Marked by Closure—while informality helps loosen up the meeting, closure establishes discipline. “Closure means that at the end of the meeting, people know exactly what they are expected to do.” In my opinion, this is key because, as Charan explains, it assigns accountability and deadlines to people.

Take-Away Message

  • Holding too many meetings can lead to increased feelings of fatigue and workload.
  • Effective meetings have four characteristics: open, candid, informal, and marked by closure.
  • At the end of the meeting, people should know exactly what they are expected to do.

References

Charan, R. (2006). Conquering a Culture of Indecision. Harvard Business Review, 84(1), 108-117.

Luong, A., & Rogelberg, S. G. (2005). Meetings and more meetings: The relationship between meeting load and the daily well-being of employees. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 9(1), 58-67. doi:10.1037/1089-2699.9.1.58

When Clowns Run The Circus

We all know the “bossholes,” Robert Sutton’s description of a boss who’s domineering or overbearing, an a$$hole. But it takes more than simply avoiding the land mines of the world of “bossholes” to qualify one to be a good boss. Effective bosses understand that having authority means being able to use power appropriately and timely. In “Good Boss, Bad Boss,” Sutton says one mindset that is characteristic of a good boss is the ability to find a balance between over-managing (or micromanaging) and under-managing. He says good bosses know when to exert more control and when to back off. They know when to coach and when to discipline.

If you ever watch the circus, you have probably seen clowns running around. They’re really entertaining and often add to the overall experience of going to the circus. However, you might also notice that clowns never take charge. They don’t take charge over the circus because that’s not their role. Instead, clowns always take their cues from the ringmaster — the boss of the circus.

In a similar fashion, bosses are not that different in their roles at work from circus ringmasters. When the boss is “too nice,” the jerks, bullies, and bigmouths who report to them will actually be the ones running the show. Sadly, these poor bosses are viewed as powerless pushovers, leaders by title but not by respect. In these situations, the clowns in the office are running the circus (aka, the workplace).

In one workplace, a manager often relinquishes authority over to an administrative assistant who has been with the organization for almost two decades. When ask why she does this, the boss explains she doesn’t want to upset the assistant. It is actually fascinating to watch because there exists a very clear power struggle between the manager and secretary. While the manager doesn’t like it, she would always reluctantly, but surely, give in to the demands of the office assistant. Part of her fear of not doing so is the rationalization that this secretary is simply too valuable to let go. Thus, each day brings with it a different drama, depending on the fickle mood swings of this secretary.

In a post that parallels some of what I’ve just shared, Jill Geisler has a nice piece titled, “What Great Bosses Know About the 7 Deadly Sins of the Too-Nice Boss.” In it, she outlines seven things that can go wrong when a boss is too nice.

The Seven Deadly Sins of the Too-Nice Boss (verbatim from her post):

  1. Your ideas get overshadowed by others in the organization who are more assertive about making their cases.
  2. Workplace problems fester as you postpone dealing with them.
  3. Mediocrity flourishes as you hold back from challenging underperformers.
  4. Needed change is delayed as you hesitate to nudge people out of their comfort zones.
  5. You do other peoples’ work when they complain about schedules, shifts or duties.
  6. Bullies and bigmouths win.
  7. You can lose respect — from your bosses, other managers, your staff — or all of them.

Take-Away Message

  • Good bosses know when to exert control and when to back off. They know when to coach and when to discipline.
  • Bosses who are “too nice” or who are viewed as pushovers will be dominated by office clowns (the jerks, bullies, and bigmouths subordinates who report to them).
  • When the office clowns run the show, drama and problems will arise, and the workplace will start to look like a circus.
  • “Too-nice” bosses will not gain the respect of their employees.

References

Geisler, J. (2011). What Great Bosses Know About the 7 Deadly Sins of the Too-Nice Boss. Retrieved from http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/leadership-management/what-great-bosses-know/125251/what-great-bosses-know-about-the-7-deadly-sins-of-the-too-nice-boss/

Sutton, R.I. (2010). Good boss, bad boss: How to be the best…and learn from the worst. New York: Business Plus.