Health & Well-being

Bosses’ poor behaviour rubs off on staff

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Nothing surprising there you might think but confirmation from an international study on bosses who procrastinate when carrying out tasks or making decisions showed that this led to less commitment from staff.

This is because staff feel less committed. “If the boss can’t be bothered why should I” is probably how they feel.

Employees are also more likely to display abnormal and unpleasant behaviour such as taking unnecessary sick days, being abusive to colleagues or stealing office supplies.

Dr Alan Lee, senior lecturer in Organisation studies and management at the University of Exeter’s business school who led the study said “We have found that procrastination from managers can be detrimental to their staff and companies need to take action to ensure that there are better relationships between bosses and employees” 

Previous research showed that bosses who had mood swings had the worst impact on anxiety levels of employees. Staff like consistency.

I’ve always believed that toxic work places are a combination of poor leadership, bad recruitment and organisation culture.

Other research suggests that having positive goals can increase your well-being. Of course that depends on your relationship with the boss too. But it can offset intensive working if you believe that you are working to a goal that is positive or helps other people e.g. in the voluntary sector.

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Queen bees still buzzing around

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It’s seven years since I first posted on this topic asking whether they were the victims or the oppressors. five years ago other researchers were saying the phenomenon didn’t exist.

Well it does according to recent research report which shows that 70% of female executives report being bullied by other women trying to block their ambitions.

HSBC global banking’s consultant Cecilia Harvey said “Queen bees are women who treat colleagues in a demoralising, undermining, or bullying manner.They are adult versions of the mean girls from school”.

She surveyed 100 female executives and found 70 had been bullied by their female bosses while another 33 had been undermined by women on the same level or below. She said “research suggests that 55%of workplace bullies are women and they often victimise other women. Queen bees target women almost 90% of the time”

So it’s not just sexist men that hold women back and as organisations strive to increase the number of women at the top they need to take the Queen Bee phenomenon seriously.

You might expect women to band together and support each other rather than diminish each other but that’s not what Harvey experienced. In my experience when women bully they do it on personal issues which can be quite hurtful but hard to prove.

According to research in the journal Development & Learning in Organisations, Queen Bee syndrome occurs where women use “social intelligence” to manipulate relationships or damage colleagues’ reputations. It can be the biggest hindrance to women advancing in the workplace

The Chartered Management Institute, which has a Women Network, says “Women should not be smashing through the glass ceiling only to pull the ladder up behind them”

Port Sunlight and William Lever, Social Philanthropist…………..should be compulsory reading for HR professionals

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Excellent blog with spot on commentary

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

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Yesterday I paid a second visit to Port Sunlight village and visited the museum and one of the workers cottages. The museum is small but well worth a visit if you are the least bit interested in our industrial heritage. As is the workers cottage next door, preserved and showing the living conditions the workers enjoyed.

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The museum tells the story of William Lever and his vision in creating this village for workers at his Sunlight Soap factory. The displays explore how the village developed, from the working conditions to the charming architecture and lively social scene. The museum is packed with nostalgia, from vintage soap packaging to the story Ringo Starr’s first performance with the Beatles, which took place in Port Sunlight in 1962. Through film shows, interactives, models and an array of intriguing artefacts you can discover the tale of this inspirational village.

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Port Sunlight is arguably the…

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Open Plan offices not good for you. Now they tell us?

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I was involved in office landscaping in the early 1970s, moving hundreds of staff into a new civic building.

It was thought that it would give us more flexibility and improve communications between teams. There were still private offices for senior staff and meeting rooms but for 80% of staff they were in the open plan areas.

The irregular arrangement of desks separated by screens and potted plants was quite a contrast from the old offices in the Town Hall. There we still had a bell-call system for when you were summoned to see “Sir”. But this was a new start.

I didn’t realise at the time that the idea of office landscaping or bürolandshaft had been developed in the late 1950s, partly as a reaction to scientific management, and by the time we were adopting it it was almost over in Germany where it started.

And over the next couple of years there same thing happened in this project. More and more screens appeared and it became like a series of cubicles. People created signals  such as flags to say “do not disturb me” and the noise was a problem at times.

To make it worse the council had not installed the air conditioning system as a cost-saving initiative and the windows weren’t designed to be opened so in Summer everyone sweltered and tomato plants proliferated.

One of the purported advantages was that people would communicate more easily.  But with the advent of personal computing people were more likely to text each other or send an e-mail than actually walk across the room to have a conversation.

Now researchers at Karlstad University in Sweden have found that workers who share offices have lower job satisfaction.

They looked at ease of interaction among employees and their general well-being and thought that in open-plan offices of between 3 and 20 people workers reported lower levels on both these factors.

The open plan office may have short-term financial benefits but these may be substantially lower than the costs associated with decreased job satisfaction and well-being. 

Decision-maker should consider the impact of a given office type on employees rather than focusing solely on cost-effective office layout, flexibility and productivity” said Tobias Otterbring the lead author of the study.

Open plan offices have become significantly more common in the past decade in place of cubicles say the authors (ideas just keep recycling don’t they).However the study supports other research that shows that they interfere with an employees’ ability to concentrate on their work.

It’s been suggested that employees can lose almost a third of their productive time because of interruptions and distractions at work. To get round this some employees started work earlier or worked later to complete tasks without interruptions.

Another expert suggest that we are interrupted every three minutes in such an environment and that it takes up to twenty minutes for us to refocus.

Sacked by e-mail? No problem if you got a smiley face as well

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To me getting sacked by e-mail or text is totally unacceptable but I’m old school HR and apparently it happens.

Researchers in Germany led by Professor Claus-Peter Ernst at Frankfurt University have found that adding a friendly emoji or smiley face is all you need to soften the blow.

They found that happy symbols could significantly influence how the message is interpreted but that sad or negative symbols had little effect.

The usage of happy and ironic emoticons significantly shapes the subtext of a message, namely the relationship and self-revelation level. whereas sad emoticons do not have such an effect. (So) senders can use happy or ironic to soften their messages…”

The researchers wondered if using emoticons had the same effect as non-verbal gestures and facial expression in face-to-face meetings when delivering bad news at work.

They found that recipients of a message could largely identify the social and emotional meaning of an emoticon.  “... emoticons are able to help to communicate a current mood or provide information about the mental state of the sender”.

They also found that the happy and ironic emoticons had a significant effect at the relationship level  ….. but not at the factual level.

This contradicts earlier research from Ben Gurion University in Israel which found that the inclusion of such emojis didn’t change people’s perception of warmth and in fact lowered their perception of the sender’s competence.

Alison Green from Inc.com makes the point that a lot depends on your workplace culture and that if you have to use an emoticon maybe your message isn’t clear enough.

Personally I think it’s unprofessional in formal communications (as bad as people adding kisses). But then I think sacking people or delivering bad news by e-mail or text is a shabby HR practice. But we see plenty of examples of that these days don’t we.

Nurses have no time for compassion

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Mike the Psych's Blog

On the one hand the idea that all nurses are compassionate creatures was never true. I say that as someone with 20 plus years experience working in the NHS and more recently as a patient.

That’s not to say some, maybe most, nurses aren’t. I particularly remember one who held my hand throughout an uncomfortable 2-hour eye operation carried out under local anaesthetic and another who rubbed my back during an endoscopy examination.

But according to a recent study of professional values there is “a moral vacuum at the heart of nursing”.

Nurses are so ground down that they end up as “robots going through the motions” with a focus on clinical skills driving compassion from the job“. Yet compassion is part of the UK’s Nursing Vision.

Eight out of ten say their work conflicts with their personal values much of the time. The study concluded that it…

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The robots are coming to take your jobs – lots of them!

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A think tank (IPPR) is predicting that a million people could lose their jobs to robots and artificial intelligence (AI) with serious effects on the economy.

Jobs generating almost £300 billion could be lost – almost a third of the UK total.

The North East and Northern Ireland are at risk of losing 50% of all jobs. London is the area least likely to be affected.

Responses to this “threat” are varied. Jeremy Corbyn has called for “common good intervention” by the state so that workers don’t lose out. The government has spoken of creating “jobs for the future”. Such as?

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)  want a co-ordinated response with the establishment of a regulator to oversee the “ethical use of robotics and artificial intelligence“.

It thinks that increasing automation could deliver a boost to the economy but might only benefit investors and small numbers of highly skilled workers while everybody else loses out. (A bit like globalisation then?). It rejects the idea that we are heading for a post-human economy saying most jobs would be re-allocated not eliminated.

One of the authors admits however that “Some people will get a pay rise while others are trapped in low pay, low-productivity sectors. To avoid inequality rising the government should look at ways to spread capital ownership and make sure everyone benefits from increased automation”

  • Industries most likely to be affected are agriculture, transport, food processing, and administrative jobs.
  • The safest jobs are likely to be in education, information, and communication sectors.

There is also the risk that automation could increase gender inequality as jobs held by women are at more risk.

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Earlier this year I posted this about how insurance company Aviva had asked its 16,000 staff whether or not robots could do their jobs better than they can.

Now some of you might think you are dealing with a robot when it comes to making an insurance claim but this is serious.

With predictions by Oxford University that robots could take over 35% of jobs within twenty years with insurance under-writers at the top of the list, it’s no laughing matter.

Aviva has promised that any employee who says that their job would be done better if automated will be retrained for another job within the company. What kind of job that would be is not made clear but they will probably be less skilled, less rewarding and lower paid.

The idea, proposed by their American finance chief, is to “remove the robot from the person, not replace people with robots”. Nice soundbite but what does it mean when the company is planning to replace people by robots?

A White House report last year concluded that almost 50% of all American jobs could be automated and 80% of jobs paying less than $20 an hour. And the governor of the Bank of England has warned that 15 million British jobs are at risk (just under  50% of the UK workforce).

There are some jobs robots can’t do – yet. They can do administrative, clerical, and production tasks like building cars. They can make coffee and flip burgers. The former Chief executive of McDonald’s has been quoted as saying it’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robot arm than employ someone who is inefficient at $15 an hour. Our local McDonald’s has just introduced touch screen ordering so no queuing to give your order to people.

Robots can even do surgery and may be better than humans with certain procedures but when it comes to selling, developing business ideas, or similar jobs relying on human interaction maybe not.

However online companies manage to sell an awful lot of stuff without any human intervention, and robots are being developed as companions for the elderly.

Originally posted February 28 2017 —————————————

In December an AI-based recruitment manager called Andi developed by Microsoft and Botanic started assessing candidates for three occupations.

It also offers lessons in interview techniques. The cartoon Avatar asks multiple choice questions but also sizes up the applicant’s personality through speech and body language using the video app Skype. 

Mark Meadows, the founder of Botanic says the system could measure 24 aspects of a person’s character or personality through speech patterns and body language.

A manager wanting to hire someone can ask Andi to identify 10 candidates for a particular job and it is able to interview 1,000 candidates within an hour and come up with the best ten and rank the top three of them.

He gave an example of someone who “ums” and ‘ahs”s a lot who wouldn’t be picked for a public speaking job (human interviewers might be able to work that one out Mark).

Botanic’s previous creations include  medical advice bot and a language teacher. He’s keen to develop what are essentially expert seems bots for a variety of applications.

In the meantime Andi looks like it will be doing HR, occupational psychologists and career coaches out of jobs!

updated January 8 2018

I had a (day) dream

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Why are we so down on daydreaming? Is it because it represents slacking off and laziness in a society that’s always pushing us to achieve, produce and succeed? Probably.

Daydreaming is usually seen as non-productive in a society that increasingly values productivity. It’s seen as frivolous and a distraction from getting on with your life (starting at school when teachers think you aren’t paying attention).

In reality it’s something everyone does spontaneously and although estimates vary about how often we do it, from 10-50% of our waking hours, it’s agreed that daydreams typically last for only for a few minutes each.

How can daydreaming be beneficial to you? Well can it help you to rehearse the changes you want to make in your life? Be a good stress reliever, simply give you a break? All of those things.  Specifically day-dreaming helps you, personally or vicariously, to imagine future events or recall past ones.

Daydreaming helps you learn from successes and failures and hence with planning strategies. It can also help you to re-interpret the past in the light of newer experiences. As someone said; “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood”.

Forward planning? Anticipating future events allows you to consider possible outcomes and assess the consequences of alternatives. So it improves decision-making and can also provide a rehearsal of what you plan to do.

Daydreaming relaxes constraints on planning so you can imagine being famous or having super-powers or doing something you wouldn’t normally do because of social constraints on behaviour.

It also supports creativity. Daydreaming allows you to explore amazing possibilities which you wouldn’t consider in the cold light of day and which may lead to new solutions, to that Eureka moment!

Every time you re-examine a problem your mind is able to take on board new information as it becomes available and thus come up with a different solution. Further daydreaming about success or praise for that idea can also increase your motivation to do it.

Daydreaming also helps you regulate your emotions and help you feel better or worse about something depending on the outcome. So daydreaming about the successful outcome of something you previously failed at can reduce the fear of failure. (Of course if you daydream about failure or obsess about the past; that can make it worse).

Daydreaming allows you to alter reality so you can reduce anger or other negative emotions eg revenge or embarrassment, and help you prepare new learning strategies through mental rehearsal. Fear of flying and other common phobias can be overcome using mental rehearsal combined with relaxation techniques.

And having a day-dream is like having a mini-break in which you can release tension, anxiety and stress, and return more refreshed.

Can it help you to achieve goals and boost productivity? Daydreaming doesn’t have any boundaries so anything is possible. What many companies call visioning or future-pacing is little more than organised day-dreaming. Thinking positively about future outcomes and goals is more likely to make them happen.

That’s why goal setting is so important – something to move towards. People who are “away from” in their goals ie they know what they don’t want rather than what they do, are less successful. It seems the human brain prefers positive goal setting. Nowadays athletes regularly use visualisation techniques to help them achieve peak performance.

You can also use organised daydreaming to help manage conflict. You can revisit that argument and visualise how it might have turned out differently and how you might try something different in the future. Focus on positive rather than negative aspects of your relationships. Even the client from hell has some redeeming feaures.

More mundanely day-dreaming can help relieve the monotony of boring jobs, take you mind off the job temporarily and help keep you stimulated – not necessarily a good thing if you are an air traffic controller of course but not such a problem with routine, risk free jobs.

Thanks for the memory – not

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Memory is a wonderful thing although there are probably some things you would rather forget.

Well that’s not quite so easy according to a recent study presented at the Neuroscience 2017 conference in Washington.

Roy Cox and his colleagues at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston found that the brain is pre-disposed to dwell on and strengthen negative memories while we sleep.

They tested almost 60 people by showing them both neutral and unpleasant images to different hemispheres of the brain and recording electrical activity which showed that the images had been localised in one hemisphere.

Twelve hours later they were given a memory test. Those subjects kept awake in the interim remembered roughly equal numbers of unpleasant and neutral images. Those who slept remembered more negative ones.

This suggests that “sleep selectively stabilises emotional memories” and would confirm a number of ideas about how information is “tagged” e.g. by emotions or even sounds, that make it easier to be recalled.

With people suffering PTSD or similar the trick is to find a way of reducing the emotional content. That to me is the more interesting aspect of this kind of research.

A long travel to work time can demotivate you

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Hardly surprising really. Researchers at UWE in Bristol analysed the experiences of 26,000 workers and found that an extra 20 minutes commuting each day was as bad as taking a 19% pay cut!

The average commuting time per day has risen from 48 to 60 minutes each way over the past 20 years and 1 in 7 workers send 2 hours a day commuting.

Every extra minute taken travelling reduced job satisfaction, worsened mental health and increased the chance of people giving up their job.

Workers travelling by bus seemed to suffer the worst compared to other means of transport.

Those who could walk or cycle to work were more satisfied, perhaps because they was it as a healthy activity and as part of a “health-enhancing lifestyle”. And perhaps because the journeys were shorter?

Longer train journeys were, perhaps unsurprisingly, less stressful than short ones as people can use the time more productively and shorter train journeys tended to be on more crowded trains.

Women were affected more by committing than men which the researchers out down to their having “greater household and family responsibilities“. That sounds a bit sexist in this day and age!

I don’t know if they looked at the number of stages in the journey to work but when I was carrying out research into absenteeism some years ago that was one of the factors. Not how far people travelled but how many changes they had to make and worrying about connections.

As a free-lancer I was always conscious of travel times and would book overnight stays to avoid getting stuck on motorways so at least I could be fresh on arrival. Nothing worse than turning up to present something on stress or resilience and being stressed out yourself!

Walk the talk and keep healthier

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Public Health England (PHE) are this week recommending that you hold your meetings outside. This will reduce stress, back and neck pain.

Sitting at your desk all day means companies are “haemorrhaging productivity” according to PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie.

He wants us to get up and move more, have walking meetings (it reminds me of that phrase used by bosses “walk with me” which also seemed controlling to me, but moving on, literally) because we like bursts of energy.

He thinks firms would benefit more by spending less time sitting in a chair and more time moving around. He wants employers to think about how to get people moving more.

They did a similar campaign two years to get people to stand up more, about which I posted. Standing up more is one thing but given our climate holding outdoor meetings could be quite a challenge.

However research shows that being sedentary is linked to all kinds of health problems: obesity, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and heart disease. So if you take your health seriously you should consider it.

And being outside and seeing some greenery is definitely stress-reducing and can boost productivity.

I remember visiting the BASF factory in Munster a few years ago and seeing the outdoor meeting area (picture below). It seemed to work for them.