The robots are coming to take your job

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business_people_line_door_1600_wht_9932Insurance company Aviva has 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.

Recruiters influenced by sexual orientation

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colored_puzzle_connection_1600_wht_9893There have been several studies looking at the impact of attractiveness on your chance of being shortlisted, particularly where a photograph was included in the application.

Now a new study by the University of Sussex has found that discrimination occurs when candidates refer to membership of gay associations in their CVs.

But not in the direction you might expect.

400 participants were shown fictitious CVs. One was clearly from a lesbian, one from a gay man and the other two from a straight man and woman. The CVs were identical in terms of qualifications and experience except for a reference to membership of a gay professional association.

The researchers found that female managers were more likely to pick gay and lesbian candidates whereas men were more likely to pick straight candidates.

Benjamin Everly from the university’s School of Management & Economics said the findings suggest employers should consider carefully who was making their recruitment decisions. “These results show that bias against gay men and lesbians is much more nuanced than previous work suggests“. He could have said that there is evidence of bias against heterosexual candidates, by women, but that might not have sounded so PC.

He thought  “Hiring decisions made by teams of both men and women could lead to less biased decisions”.  He though that the findings could influence when and how gay men and lesbians disclosed their sexual orientation in the recruitment process.

The report in the Times doesn’t say what job the fictitious candidates were applying for or from what sectors the 400 participants came from. It’s possible they were students at the Business School but I don’t know that.

However research at Anglia Ruskin University suggested that at graduate entry level gay men received the fewest invitations of interview in traditional male occupations such as accountancy, banking,finance, and management and lesbians received fewer invitations for shortlisting in traditionally female occupations like social care, social services and charity work.

Recruiters are notoriously bad as selecting the right person for the job and the whole process is about discriminating against unsuitable candidates. Many people in recruitment have not been trained appropriately (worryingly the Sussex study refers to managers not HR people) and line managers are often the worst as seen recently in the steakhouse incident.

Leaving sexual orientation aside (and is Sussex going to replicate the research across the whole gender fluid/LGBT spectrum?) men and women have been shown to be discriminated against just on the basis of their looks, with women rejecting attractive female candidates and insecure men rejecting good-looking men.

Interestingly the recruitment process for the new head of the Metropolitan Police included psychometric testing, probably for the first time. (Don’t know what they used but hope it wasn’t the MBTI or DISC).

 

Stop trying to be perfect

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competition_corporate_ladder_1600_wht_6915Employees who put pressure on themselves at work by pursuing perfection are putting themselves at risk of extreme stress and burnout. According to UK research at York and Bath universities.

Perfectionists have high personal standards and are highly self-critical. The personality trait is often associated with conscientiousness (a strong predictor of success), virtue, and high achievement.

However far from giving themselves a competitive edge, it can lead to poorer performance at work.

The trait is also closely associated with burnout –  a syndrome associated with chronic stress which manifests as extreme fatigue, perceived reduced accomplishment, and eventual detachment.

I once coached a person who was such a perfectionist and who worked in a PR role for a company that was about to go public. There was a lot of pressure on her so her boss gave her an assistant who was a graduate but had a poor grasp of English grammar and spelling (why does that not surprise me these days?) The result was that she increased her workload double checking all the work done by her new assistant. End result – burnout. She left the company and eventually found satisfaction working as a freelancer.

In work setting where poor performance has negative outcomes perfectionist tendencies can be exacerbated. “Rather than being more productive perfectionists are likely to find the workplace quite difficult and stressful. If they are unable to cope with demands and uncertainty in their workplace they will experience a range of emotional difficulties” said Andrew Hill, associate professor at York St Johns.

His co-researcher at Bath, sports lecturer Thomas Grant, said “As a society we tend to hold perfectionism as a sign of virtue or high achievement. Yet our findings show that perfectionism is a largely destructive trait. Instead diligence, flexibility and perseverance are far better qualities“.

Perfectionists need to have better work-life balance and less pressurised working environments together with a greater acceptance of failure in order to mitigate the negative effects associated with perfectionism.

Leave your work at work before it kills you

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laptop_mail_pc_1600_wht_2103Taking work home these days doesn’t necessarily mean a briefcase full of papers. It’s more likely to be a digital connection in our “always on” culture.

Once upon a time you could go home and work couldn’t interfere. Now you have your laptop, your phone, your tablet: you are connected. So you are always on whether you like it or not.

This is the first generation that has had to deal with the ramifications of that” said a director of AXA PPP Healthcare which supported the study. (Professor Cary Cooper spoke out about this in 2015 – as I posted here.)

As a result home has become more stressful than the office according to a recent survey. This has linked the problem of making yourself available 24/7 with cardiovascular disease.

It seems more than 50% of the 550 workers surveyed at a London-based French bank are more stressed at home than at work as they try to relax while still thinking about work.

This researchers used wrist monitors to measure changes in heart rate and the results led the researchers to believe that it’s the spikes that are dangerous. “Dealing with work while at home is pernicious to health and is directly linked to cardiovascular disease. That is now measurable and before it was not”.

Stress levels were found to be dangerously high until about 2030 when young children went to bed but some people’s levels remained high until after midnight. A smaller number of them, over 25, woke up between 0300 and 0400 and some of them even started working during that time.

The research was sponsored by an insurance company which now plans to monitor staff in high pressure jobs to see if their ability to perform has been damaged by an inability to switch off. This is likely in the next three years.

No wonder some countries like France have banned e-mails after working hours and Japan is urging workers to take time off to go shopping and reduce “death by overwork” or karate.

We’ve known for decades that working over 50 hours a week is bad for men and their hearts, and more recently it’s been found that senior women suffer stress too.

Why people still put ourselves through this when they know (or should know) the health risks is hard to fathom although there is some US research which found that some people found work less stressful than being at home.

So is it job insecurity? Addiction to work? Fear of missing out (FOMO) or being off-line (FOBO)? Whatever it’s surely time to rethink our work-life balance and stick two fingers up to the American idea of work-life merge.

Millennials earning less than their fathers

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relaxing_cash_1600_wht_7397Recent research has shown that by the time millennial men reach 30 they are earning about £1,500 a year less than their fathers were. The same doesn’t apply to women.

The Resolution Foundation think tank has warned the government that they must respond to the pent-up frustration of this generation which earned less than Generation Xers (born 1960-80).

The long-held belief that each generation should do better than the last is under threat. Millennials today are the first to earn less than their predecessors“.

It’s not so surprising when you think about. Although the think tank blames the shift to higher skilled roles that’s not the only factor at work.

Globalisation has meant many jobs are off-shored or contracted out to low-cost countries, structural change and the reduction in traditional male jobs in manufacturing, mining, and steel, better educated women competing in the job market, and of course increased automation – of which there is more to come.

Another factor has been the loss of middle management jobs through de-layering thereby reducing opportunities for promotion, exacerbated by older workers staying at work longer, either to eke out their pensions or to keep themselves active. again slowing down job progression.

So it is what it is. Damian Green, the work and pensions minister told Age UK that a generational war was futile. Everyone gets old some day and “ultimately you don’t help young people by impoverishing older people”.

Maybe we just have to recalibrate our thinking and modify our expectations.

Recruiters should respect candidates – not make fun of them

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businessman_relax_desk_1600_wht_5638Too often recruiters don’t care about candidates. And too many managers aren’t trained to interview and assume that they have a natural gift for it.

But in these days of reputational damage they can’t afford to actually insult candidates on social media.

All the national press this week covered the story of a teenager who applied for a job at a new Miller & Carter steakhouse (owned by Mitchell & Butlers).

Megan Dixon asked at the end of the interview when they would let her know and was told by the assistant manager Shantel Wesson, who had interviewed her, that she would get an e-mail in a few days. To her surprise, and dismay, she received a text within minutes saying “it’s a no x” (why managers would add a kiss to a text message is beyond me).

Dixon replied “Okay. How come? x” (and there’s that kiss again for goodness sake).

Shantel Wesson then replied “Just not engaging. And answers we’re “like” basic” followed by a ‘laughing so hard I’m crying’ emoji and another kiss.

Naturally Dixon was upset and complained to the company on twitter  saying the interviewer was unprepared and her phone was going off throughout the interview. So unprofessional.

She then told The Sun newspaper about the interview: “She didn’t even shake my hand, didn’t have my CV out and was just sat drinking a coffee. Maybe because I’m 18 she thinks it’s OK not to be professional with me? I don’t know.

It was so rude. At the end of the interview, I asked when I would hear back. She told me it was never more than a few days and she had my email. But I got the texts a few seconds after leaving

I was shocked. The least she should have given me was some proper feedback. And the laughing face emoji was so unprofessional. It was a really bitchy thing to do.”

Miller and Carter had advertised up to 50 jobs at the new branch in Enderby, Leicestershire, and student Ms Dixon wanted to earn some extra cash for college.

Newspapers explained that the term “basic” was American slang meaning an unstylish or unintelligent person.

3cffa0e500000578-4206284-image-m-28_1486635507566The company apologised and said the text was intended for the manager, which seems odd given the string of messages. Wesson (pictured) refused to comment.

A spokeswoman said “we can’t apologise enough to Megan. It was never our intention to be disrespectful or upset her in any way. The texts were sent in error and were intended for our manager, not the candidate. However, we expect our team to act professionally at all times and to give constructive feedback after any interview via email. We are taking this extremely seriously and will be investigating to ensure it never happens again.”

In anyone’s book this is totally unprofessional behaviour. Candidates deserve respect and proper feedback – something sadly lacking these days.

And what does it say about the culture of the company that managers send each other such mocking text messages? If it were indeed actually intended for the manager.

HR probably doesn’t exist in this company but if it did some recruitment training seems well overdue,and possibly some disciplinary action against Wesson for bringing the company into disrepute?

Talking of being “basic” perhaps Shantel Wesson could take some English lessons as she obviously doesn’t know the difference between “were” and “we’re“.

And Megan, you’re young but don’t put kisses on business messages. You act professionally as well.

It’s true, working too hard can kill you

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CNV00004_1It seems a life-time ago when stress management courses were de rigueur and people, including me, were making a living from them. (Now it’s either resilience training or mindfulness but that’s another story).

There was plenty of research about to back up what we were doing. The famous Whitehall studies which showed that the more senior you were the less likely you were to die early. In industry after industry it was the same story. Employees at the bottom of the hierarchy suffered more ill-health than more senior ones.

One of the factors contributing to this was the amount of control people had – over decision-making and the way they spent their working day. The more control or autonomy people felt they had, the less stressed they tended to be.

Now a recent study in the US has confirmed once again that people in stressful jobs with little control at work were more likely to die.

The research followed more than 2,000 Americans in their sixties over a seven-year period.

Those in low demand jobs reduced their death risk by 15% and those who were able to set their own goals and had flexibility at work were 34% less likely to die.

They also found that the people in the higher risk jobs were heavier. Comfort eating? Less time for exercise?

26% of those who dies were in front-line service jobs and 32% worked in manufacturing – both sectors with high demand and low autonomy.

55% of the deaths were from cancer (linked this week with high levels of anxiety and depression), and 22% from circulatory system diseases.

Erik Gonzales-Mulé at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University said employers didn’t need to reduce demand on their workers but should allow them more flexibility in how jobs were done. “You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals. set their own schedules, prioritise their decision-making and the like”.

I’m having deja vu here.This is like re-inventing the wheel. We knew all this decades ago. Remember autonomous working groups? Have American businesses forgotten about US contributions to organisational psychology and research on motivation? In America most workers still don’t get sick pay or maternity pay and have minimal holidays.

Japan has its own problems with employees working too hard (see recent post)

And we aren’t much better in some respects in the UK with the worst sick pay in the EU!

Recently experts and members of parliament have expressed concern about working conditions in call centres and on-line distribution centres. Sports Direct and Asos have been criticised for having Victorian working conditions. Some of these places are like “warehouses” on the edge of towns with no windows for natural light, just like giant container units.

Perhaps I should brush off my old notes and get back on the road again. Why do businesses never learn how to get the best out of people?

Working too hard? Go shopping

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nickel_and_dimed_1600_wht_6554The japanese government are worried about people working too hard and killing themselves from overwork, called karoshi, from which 200 people died last year.

Its chief spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Japan must “end long working hours so people can balance their lives with things like raising a child or taking care of the elderly“.

Almost 1 in 4 Japanese employees work over 50 hours a week compared to 1 in 8 in Britain and the US and 1 in 12 in France. On average Japanese workers take only half their paid holiday entitlement as taking time off is considered an “inconvenience to their colleagues”

So they’ve introduced Premium Friday. On the last Friday of each month employees will be encouraged to leave the office at 1500 and make an early start to the weekend.

The purpose is two-fold: to enable people to recover from working the longest working hours in the world and to give the retail sector a much-needed boost by encouraging people to go shopping. It’s been estimated that if everyone takes advantage of this it could generate £900 million extra consumer spending every month.

The Japan Business Federation (Kaidenren) is urging its 1300 members to take part and the Trade Minister has promised not to make any appointments on Premium Friday afternoons.

However Mitsubishi Electric is currently under investigation for allegedly forcing its staff to work excessive hours and it’s not known how many people will break the habits of a lifetime in a period of economic uncertainty and job insecurity.

Also people might just go home to rest or shop on Friday instead of Saturday. After all if they are cutting down their hours they won’t have the money they earn with overtime to spend will they?

Getting work-life balance right is never easy when people have to work long hours to maintain their standard of living.

Japan has the longest lived people in the world and also the most rapidly ageing society with a quarter of the population over 65. This is not without its problems.

Because of the declining birth-rate this proportion will increase to 40% by 20160.  However scientists have now declared that for healthy people old age should be classified as 75, not 65. 

So will the government delay pensions and extend people’s working lives? They probably will otherwise there will be no-one working and paying tax to support the elderly in future years.

Don’t call me hard-working – it’s sexist

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business_man_and_woman_1600_wht_5662A Cambridge don thinks calling women “hard-working” or “enthusiastic” is sexist.

Dame Athene Donald who is a master of Churchill College (isn’t that a bit sexist?) and a professor of experimental physics says references are often unintentionally written in a “gendered way” with academics more likely to describe women applying for research posts or fellowships as “hard-working” or “team players“.

She thinks this fails to communicate just how good female applicants are unlike when using words like “excellent“, “driven” or “outstanding” which apparently are often reserved for males.

She said “If letter writers just sit down and write the first adjectives that come into their heads to describe men and women, the words may be poles apart even if the subjects of the letters are indistinguishable in ability”.

Do you really mean that your star PhD student is hard-working and conscientious or was the message you wanted to convey that she was outstanding, goes the extra mile, and always exceeds your expectations about what is possible, demonstrating great originality en route? There is an enormous difference in the impact of the two descriptions“.

She believes that this clearly can lead to a significant detriment to the woman’s progression, even if without a sexist intent.

Stanford University analysed performance reviews in technology firms and found that women’s evaluations contained almost twice as much language about their communal or nurturing style using words such as “helpful” or “dedicated”.

Men’s reviews on the other hand contained twice as many references to their technical expertise and vision.

Why is this surprising? Do people like Dame Donald think men and women actually behave the same at work? Of course there is an overlap but there is enough research which shows that women respond to stress differently, are often better at soft skills than men, can improve teams, and may be more emotionally intelligent to boot.

Professor Donald suggested that people writing references should use a gender bias calculator website that highlights words in texts that may be received as gendered. She also calls for training for selection panels – something most organisations have been doing for decades (my colleague and I introduced this into an NHS Trust back in the 1990s). I think she means well if a little too PC but maybe a bit out of touch with the real world.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education at Buckingham University disagrees with her. He is quoted as saying “How do we know that academics using these words have unconscious bias? being a team player and hard worker are very important. It is perfectly possible that candidates do have these strengths and it is important that a referee is able to say so”

Common sense from one academic at least. And read what happened when a journalist investigated this issue for himself.

Being busy makes you look good

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business_go_huddle_500_wht_12067It’s the latest status symbol according to US business schools.

Bragging about your success by showing how much you can afford to relax doesn’t cut it anymore. You have to demonstrate “conspicuous consumption of time” to show how important you are.

Asking people to rate others’ status by reading Facebook accounts the researchers found that those people who said how busy they were rated higher than people leading a life of luxury. They were also considered more respectable.

The same results were found when people were asked to rate a fictitious person who worked either less than 7 hours a day or  more than ten. The hard-working version was rated higher on social standing.

So forget showing off your designer clothes and accessories. People don’t rate them any more particularly as they have become more affordable.

A note of caution: these results only seem to apply to the US. In the Italian version Giovanni was rated higher when he did less work. What does that tell you about the differences in work ethic?

Living too long and retiring too soon? Has anything changed in 2016?

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Has anything changed since I first posted this at the end of 2015?

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elderly_man_holding_a_custom_text_sign_12871Sounds good to me. But then I thought I’d retire at about 55 and buy a cheap property in Portugal. Didn’t work out for me and I suspect it doesn’t work out for lots of people despite what Baroness Altmann the former pensions minister and tsar for elderly workers (until this year) might have believed.

She was worried that too many baby boomers are retiring too early and depriving the economy of their input.

She wanted to encourage more people to stay on in work and “not write themselves off”. 

I’m not sure that all of them are doing that. If you’ve been made redundant in your 50s it’s tough to get a job but even those who’ve retired by choice are probably looking after the grandchildren thus allowing their kids to work and contribute to the economy (at no cost to the government for childminding) or even looking after their aged…

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