Work

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

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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.

How bright do leaders need to be?

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Well, intelligent enough to convince your team you know what you are doing but not so intelligent that it creates a barrier.

A study at Lausanne University, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, tested more than 350 middle managers then asked staff to rate their ability.

There was a strong link between intelligence and ratings for those at the lower to middle end but above an IQ of 120 the connection  started to reverse. Once the IQ gap between you and your employees is bigger than 18 points you are in trouble.

John Antonakis, the author of the report, said “The idea is that you need to be smarter than the people you are leading and smart enough to keep rivals at bay. But you mustn’t be so smart that they can’t understand you“.

This is not new. Adrian Furnham, a business psychologist and academic, writing in the Sunday Times back in 2005 made the same point along with others I think are worth repeating. He said:

–People prefer bright leaders

–The more intelligent the leader the more effective the team

–Intelligent people learn more quickly & inspire confidence

–Leaders need to be bright – but not too bright. If a lot more intelligent than team they will be misunderstood or seen as a threat

–IQ more related to Leadership when not under stress, which counters intelligence

–Leaders need to be stable ie resilient and hardy

–Social skills are important

So there is more to it than just your IQ score. Emotional Intelligence plays a big part.

As does not having a dark side personality that terrible triad of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. And if you want to influence you have to demonstrate warmth as well as competence (Prime Ministers take note).

And if you want to stay ahead and keep brighter – only mix with the brightest!

And if you’re worried about the IQ gap between you and your team you know what to do – recruit more women!

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!

HR job titles – seriously?

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They say you should take your job seriously – but not yourself.

It seems some HR people have taken that to heart.

According to People Management, the CIPD magazine, these are genuine job titles:

  • HR scrummaster
  • Vice President of teammate success
  • Appreciatologist
  • Employee experience architect
  • Employee journey guide
  • Hiring ninja
  • People and culture poet
  • Mood coordinator
  • Culture evangelist
  • People gardener
  • Snowflake nurturer (actually I made that one up)

As an ex-HR Director (and prior to that Head of Personnel Management) I despair at what these people actually do to help the organisations they work for.

 

NHS Trust finally owns up to leadership failures

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Southern Health NHS Trust has pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety law this week.

This follows the tragic death of 18 year-old Connor Sparrowhawk who drowned in July 2013 while taking an unsupervised bath. He suffered from epilepsy, was autistic, had learning difficulties, and had a seizure in the bath. The Trust’s interim chief executive, Nursing Director Julie Dawes, admitted that his death was “entirely preventable” and the Trust accepted full responsibility.

Slade House, the care and assessment unit where the death occurred, has since been closed. Dawes accepted that the young man’s death continued to have a devastating impact on his family and she said the the Trust was truly sorry that they didn’t keep him safe.

She also said “the effect of his death had been far-reaching and had led to significant changes and improvements in the Trust”

In addition a Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service hearing a month ago found that Valerie Murphy, the lead clinician responsible for his care, had failed to carry out risk assessments on him before he took the bath. She now faces being struck off.

All this follows an independent inquiry into the Trust commissioned by NHS England after the Sparrowhawk’s death which found that over four years it had failed to properly investigate the deaths of 1,454 patients with mental health problems or learning disabilities. The inquiry team criticised the Trust for a failure of leadership and accused senior managers of not investigating and learning from the deaths.

The previous chief executive Katrina Percy eventually resigned after serious pressure along with the Chairman Mike Petter but not before some shenanigans about giving her another job and protecting her salary, and in the end not without a £200k payoff.

It’s good to know that there can be consequences sometimes for these management failures although not much satisfaction for the bereaved family.

NB A new chief executive has now been appointed along with other permanent senior staff so let’s hope they can turn the Trust round and provide a quality service the public is entitled to expect.

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.

Does driving make you dumber?

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Research suggests that driving puts your brain in reverse. Driving for more than two hours a day steadily reduces your intelligence.

The researchers at Leicester University studied more than 500,000 Britons aged 37-73 who were given intelligence and memory tests.

They were actually looking at the effect of sedentary behaviour on brainpower. They found it fell faster among middle-aged people who drove long distances every day.

So middle-aged people should cut out that long-distance commute and find more socially stimulating things to do.

It was already known that sedentary behaviour was bad for your heart but now it appears to be bad for your brain too “perhaps because the brain is less active in those hours (I hope they weren’t referring to driving).

Cognitive decline can happen quickly “(It’s) decline is measurable over five years because it can happen fast in middle-aged and older people. This is associated with lifestyle factors such as smoking and bad diet – and now it’s time spent driving” said Kishan Bakrania.

93,000 of the participants who were already driving two to three hours a day had lower brainpower when the research started – and it continued to decline and faster than people who did little or no driving.

Similar results were found with TV watching. Those who watched 3 hours a day had lower brainpower at the start of the research and it fell faster over five years.

Although studies are suggesting that cognitive decline is linked to physical inactivity using a computer at work or for playing games actually stimulates the brain – whereas watching TV doesn’t. However sedentary behaviour is also linked with obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems. So get off that couch!

The research results were no surprise to the Alzheimer’s Society. Cardiovascular health will affect memory and thinking skills and “staying mentally and physically active hips keep the brain healthy“.

Music while you work

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Millennials are re-creating the war-time experiences of having music played in factories by bringing music into offices.

Last year PRS for Music, the music licensing organisation which collects royalties for musicians, granted 27,000 licences for offices to play recorded music, up almost 10% on the previous year.

And that’s good news for musicians who must be heartily sick of being ripped off by young people ripping tracks from web-sites in the belief that they are “entitled” to free music.

Whether or not music does help productivity is open to debate. Certainly the government thought it did during WWII when they promoted “Music While You Work“.

The American company Musak actually patented a “Stimulus Progression” system to keep factory workers focussed by varying the intensity of the music in 15 minute chunks; something I have posted about elsewhere

Many factories have scrapped music on health & safety grounds i.e. workers getting distracted, but the opposite seems to apply particularly in the creative and digital world.

So in addition to play areas and relaxed dress codes staff can bring their own favourite tracks to work in any genre from hip-hop to metal. Managers can also pick “office playlists” from streaming services like Spotify but heaven help you if you have a David Brent-type manager. (Even my local barber’s shop uses Spotify but he gets instant feedback on his choice of music!).

The ability to control the playlists is obviously popular with staff until some people hi-jack the lists which leads to playlist rage.

A marketing agency in London found that eight out of ten people wanted music in the workplace. Some people had reservations about having music on when they were on the phone, some conceded it might be OK on a Friday (typically a more relaxed day for dress codes too).

Songs that appear to have met with universal approval include: “Where are Ü” by Jack Ü and Justin Bieber and “Little Bit of Luck” byDJ Luck and MC Neat (Is it just me but isn’t it strange that the songs have the artist’s name in the song titles or are people blind to narcissism). To me these tracks are repetitive and just mind-numbing. Is that the idea?

Research conducted by PRS for Music and PPL ( a royalty collection group) found 88% of participants performed better on office tasks with music with improvements in speed, accuracy and productivity – and people were happier!

However other research suggest that even bland instrumental music can hinder performance on more cognitive complex tasks which are best done in silence.

So it’s not straightforward.

Responses depend on a number of things: the person’s personality, the complexity of the task, and the music chosen.

The answer might be for the person to wear headphones when they want to listen to music of their choice which would also drown out other distracting noises.

Signs of Collective Narcissism

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MakeItUltra™

By Eric Charles, MA., PhD-c

Audio version | Click here


“In the final analysis I believe in man in spite of men.” ~Elie Wiesel

I recall as a young boy thinking of girls as alien beings inhabiting the same planet but playing by a whole different set of rules. They were seen as the enemy and I was convinced that boys were superior to girls. I recall my sister arguing that boys had cooties and that girls rule. I believe she won that argument. Without awareness, we were taking part in collective narcissism. Collective narcissism, also known as group narcissism, is a type of narcissism where an individual has an inflated self-love for their in-group. The individual will see his or her group as superior to all other groups and it may function as a narcissistic entity. At that point of my young life, my sister and I were actively…

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Women bosses are the best? The jury is still out

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Researchers in Norway at the BI Business School say that women almost have it all when it comes to leadership ability.

They are better than men at using people skills, the ability to take others with you, to compromise with good grace and to make employees feel valued.

They also outperform men in getting things done, can set ambitious goals and follow them through methodically.

They are even better at entrepreneurial skills such as innovation and have the courage to seize the initiative and communicate a vision clearly.

So what’s the catch? Well when the going gets tough it’s men that get going apparently.

After examining personality traits among Norway’s managerial elite it seems women are more likely to lack the emotional stability required in leadership so they wilt under pressure.

The authors said ” The survey suggests that female leaders may falter through their stronger tendency to worry – or lower emotional stability. However this does not negate that they are decidedly more suited to management positions than male counterparts. If decision-makers ignore this truth they could be employing less qualified leaders and impairing productivity”.

The researchers looked at the correlation between leaders and emotional stability, an outgoing personality, openness to new experiences, agreeableness and a methodical nature (these are all traits in the Big 5 personality model).

They also compared  managers in the public and private sectors. They found that public sector leaders showed higher degrees of innovation, stronger people skills and more meticulous attention to detail. This applied more to senior rather than middle managers.

The most effective managers were those motivated by a genuine interest in their work and a sense of its value.

After the recession there were lots of anecdotal stories of female CEOs being preferred to mop up the mess left behind by former (male) CEOs and research that showed that female CEOs were trusted more. And there is evidence that having females in your team can make it more effective.

Whether or not people like working for female bosses is a different matter. Are they too nice, or too bossy?

Marissa Meyer seemed to have lost the plot at Yahoo after banning working from home and building a creche next to her office so she didn’t have to.

Here in the UK there have been some embarrassing examples of senior women managers in the NHS who have had to leave their posts in disgrace. Perhaps only proving that there is equality and that women can be just as bad leaders as men

Interviews? The computer says No!

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Those traditionalists among you who doubt the use of aptitude and other psychometric tests adding value to a notoriously unreliable interview-based recruitment process now have another problem.

Robots. Yes robots or rather AI is being used by Vodaphone to help recruit callcentre and shop floor staff according to a report in The Times.

So now candidates submit videos of themselves answering a standard questionnaire and that is then assessed by a computer algorithm which assesses their suitability for a role.

The AI examines subtle face cues and voice intonation. Only once they have been given the go-ahead by the robot do they get an interview with a human being. (So still back to the good old unreliable interview).

Vodaphone has processed about 50,000 such applications so far and is so pleased with the results that it plans to extend the system to help it hire senior managers and executives. I’m sure candidates at that level will be looking forward to being rejected at the shortlisting stage by a robot.

Catalina Shveninger, head of resourcing, said “It takes a tremendous amount of time out of the hiring process: it halves the time and allows us to fish in a much bigger pool

We are the first multi-national implementing a programme like this one on a global scale. This is the future of resourcing”.

Wow, not only are robots taking our jobs they’ll be choosing which of us can have any jobs left over!

This is all possible because  of huge leaps in the computing power and storage available. The algorithms “learn” as they process more and more data (just like Amazon’s  learning what you like to shop for to target you).

Of course they need to be programmed by human beings to start with. If Facebook can infer users’ mood swings using its algorithms what other aspects of human communication will such algorithms identify. Posh accents? And are they colour blind? Presumably they will not suffer from implicit bias but how good are they at detecting lies (or sociopaths at senior levels)?

The company that developed it has sold it to more than 50 businesses including airlines (that might explain RyanAir’s robotic approach to passengers) and banks in America.

Some techies are unhappy about these developments. Critics say AI systems like these are the “biggest existential threat to humanity“. Terminator stuff indeed.

Now you might argue Vodaphone needs all the help it can get given its standing with customers (EE and Vodafone generated the most complaints throughout 2015 – both at a volume above the sector average and considerably higher than rivals O2 and Three. For EE, the amount of complaints decreased in the second half of the year, whereas Vodafone’s went up)

Perhaps it’s a bigger threat to HR departments and recruiters. Instead of sending in your CV you upload a video shot on your smartphone and the computer says Yes or No. Might be scope for fancy filters on your camera and off-screen coaching by former recruiters re-purposing themselves . As young people are addicted to selfies they will probably love the idea. And the narcissists among the senior management candidate pool.

And I wonder if the robot/AI has a name? Being a big fan of Arthur C Clarke and the infamous HAL (Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer) I think it should have a name. Perhaps TERRY (The End of Real Recruitment)?