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.


Siesta bars new trend in France for stressed workers

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cbkSiesta bars are the new trend in France with establishments opening  across the country.

ZZZen, the first to offer stressed workers a midday nap, charges €12 for a 15-minute micro-siesta and €27 for a 45-minute royal siesta.

A French TV programme, Envoyé Spécial, recently reported that a third of French managers had fallen asleep in meetings and that the nation could benefit from a lunchtime siesta. “Well-being and productivity would benefit if all executives followed this example“.

Le Monde then published an article saying that a siesta reduced stress and dimished sensitivity to pain.

Surprisingly perhaps 17% of French HR Managers thought it was OK for employees to sleep at work and welcomed the development. I’d like to run that by HR managers in the UK!

La sieste is a long-standing French tradition and not restricted, as I thought to Spain and Portugal. Workers used to take…

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You’ve got to hand it to the French

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hands_reached_out_1600_wht_16231when it comes to recruitment methods. They persisted with graphology when every right-thinking person agreed it was a nonsense with no scientific evidence that it worked.

Having said that it seems to be becoming popular again according to a recent article in the Guardian, and not just in France where 75% of companies admit to using it. For psychologists like me it’s up there with corporate psychics advising on who to hire or fire.

But I digress because the latest fad is hand-reading!

Jean de Bony is a French consultant who claims that he can tell if you are a born leader by looking at your hand and fingerprints. Have you got a broad palm, long finger-nails, arches, spirals or loops in your fingerprints? Are your hands cold, warm, or moist? Just to give one example he claims that people with cold, moist hands are unsuited to positions of responsibility.

He claims to have analysed 10,000 hands, including those of 300 famous people including Nicholas Sarkozy and Charlotte Rampling, to help him devise his system which he calls biotypologie and which he claims gives him an insight into our temperament. However he has never published his studies so they have never been tested scientifically.

In fact at one point in the 1980s he had to leave the country after outrage at his theory which critics claimed was similar to Hitler’s approach to genetics. Facing death threats he fled to Canada and when he later returned he was welcomed back by businesses who wanted him to help on hiring and retention decisions.

The fact that large insurance companies and energy suppliers made decisions based on fingerprint patterns and warm hands is amazing. He has since moved on to running seminars for well-known fashion houses, construction companies, and hotel groups. He says he has never met a business leader with cold wet hands as if that proves his theory.

41-fNSYvklL._AA160_He has a new book out called Ce Que Révelent Vos Mains (what your hands reveal). He rejects the accusation that he is promoting a modern version of palmistry which he claims is for charlatans. He says his method is a factual assessment of the present and is something “I wanted to create … that was accessible and universal and that can be reproduced”.

If you want something for your next party you could try it out as long as you don’t take it too seriously. Back in the 1970s I had similar fun with the Lüscher colour test although it has a longer pedigree and its developer better scientific credentials than Monsieur de Bony.


For more information about graphology’s lack of validity see these two sources: 

The CIPD cite Pilbream & Corbidge (2006) who rate the predictive validity of graphology alongside astrology as 0.0.

The British Psychological Society (BPS) has also examined its use in selection and found no evidence to support its use.

Technology only adds to your stress

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no_cell_phones_PA_3777Smartphones, tablet computers and other digital devices are a mixed blessing.

Having portable data can be useful when you are working off-site but these devices also blur the boundaries between home and work.

No wonder companies are happy to give staff the latest smartphone or tablet that they can take home with them. There is an expectation that they will use them “after hours” for work.

Researchers at the University of Surrey examined 65 large studies involving around 50,000 employees.

Few companies actually spell out what is expected of staff, Is there a cut-off time after which it’s not OK to ring someone on a work-related matter? What about during holiday?

In the absence of a policy written down … employees tend to take guidance from their managers or colleagues. If managers send e-mails late at night, staff feel they are required to answer them” according to one of the researchers at Surrey.

Employees might be happy at first to receive a new piece of technology but they soon realise there is an expectation that they will always be available and it then becomes a burden. They lose a sense of self-control which can lead to being less able to cope with stress.

The researchers believe that having technology such as smartphones has led to white-collar workers working the equivalent of an extra day a week and two day for managers. In other words 24/7.

Family life suffered the most from these distractions as you might expect with not even weekends and holidays protected from digital intrusions.

So technology is contributing to longer working hours, worse work-life balance, and more stress.

We have to look to Germany, the powerhouse of Europe with a strong union involvement in companies, for examples of good practice. Volkswagen, BMW and Puma stop their servers sending out e-mails 30 minutes after the end of the working day and make it clear that employees are not expected to answer e-mails at weekends or when on holiday.

Daimler actually gives its employees the option of automatically deleting any e-mails sent to them when they are on holiday so they don;t come back to a bulging in-box.

And last year France banned interruptions after 1800 and before 0900.

Sadly in the UK we don’t seem so concerned about employees’ well-being,


No country for grey-haired men

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In America it seems more and more men are seeking hair colouring since the recession.

Men of a certain age are trying to retain just enough grey hair to look distinguished but not so much that they look over the hill in the job stakes.

Over the last 10 years the number of men colouring their hair has doubled to 6% overall but risen to 10% for the  over 50s. Sales of DIY hair colouring have risen by the same amount.

First impressions are obviously important in the job search process and employers may have stereotyped ideas about whether older candidates are still up to the job

And dyeing your hair is a cheaper option than having Botox and without the downside.

Updated 28 February 2011: The news from France is that part of the planning to reduce the 9.3% unemployment rate is to offer free hairdos, manicures and makeovers to female job seekers.

Action Relooking is an initiative open to a dozen women every month from the 1.5 M who have been out of work for more than a year. OK it would take over 10,000 years to clear the backlog but it’s a start.

Pole Emploi, the national employment agency, has been accused of sexism by feminist groups because it hasn’t offered the same service to men. In the politically correct UK of course it would never have got off the ground in the first place unless men were offered the same treatment.

The French Prime Minister’s wife is backing the scheme and those who have been the lucky recipients say it has boosted their morale in difficult times and given them confidence when they attend interviews knowing that first impressions are important.

Others are less convinced. A union activist said it was a “get pretty and go to work philosophy” and feminist websites are saying that makeup and fashionable clothes will only be good for bosses who are predominantly male.