happiness

Dumbing down that smartphone

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ulearn2bu

icon_flow_smart_phone_loop_500_wht_9550Have we reached smartphone-peak?

Have we finally realised we need to unplug ourselves from endless apps and social media connections? No more anxiety from FOMO or FOBO?

The NoPhone might have been a prank by two Canadian entrepreneurs having a dig at the latest smartphone upgrade but now there is a real alternative: the Light Phone.

It’s the size of a credit card and can make calls and store 10 numbers and that’s it. Retro or what?

It will be launched in the US by two friends, Joe Hollier and Kaiwei Tang, who used to design Motorola phones (I loved my flip-top Motorola) but grew jaded with the constant pressure to come up with increasingly addictive and life-consuming apps.

If you believe the statistics – and I find these figures unbelievable and not sure of their source – we tap our phones on average 2,617 times a day…

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Go greener for productivity

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call_center_cubicle_line_1600_wht_7147You may remember the days when workers in offices would surround themselves with memorabilia, family photos, fluffy animals and plants. Perhaps that’s still the case?

Back in the day, introducing open plan offices (bureaulandschaft), I found those habits seemed even more common when people had to adapt to pen plan offices (I even saw people growing tomatoes), as if they were trying to personalise their space and regain some control over their environment.

These days you’re lucky to have a desk and the work environment is more likely to be stripped down, and minimalist – perhaps barring the odd motivational poster.

Now researchers at Exeter University have confirmed yet again that having greenery around boosts productivity.

Plants not only boosted intellectual performance but also improved job satisfaction and sense of well-being” says psychologist Craig Knight who led the research.

The research was carried out in three companies in Finland.

Workers were asked to work in a bleak stripped down office doing various challenging tasks and their performance measured. Then one group was left to carry on in that space whilst another could choose plants to put around their desk. A third group had their offices “greened” with foliage provided by a Finnish firm called Naturvention which had sponsored the study.

The researchers found that even a few plants had as strong an effect as organised displays. What people appreciated was the chance to control their environment – a point I made earlier.

Knight said “there is a fashion for minimalist, monochrome styling which pleases managers because it gives them a sense of control. But in reality it crushes the human spirit and we can now measure that. Adding plants makes people happier and productive – but the real benefit comes from giving them autonomy“.

I’ve posted previously on the beneficial effects of greenery in our environment and how it helps reduce street and improve productivity and here’s more proof.

So not sure what the sponsor made of the results but here they are promoting their Naava walls.

If you want to be happier – ditch Facebook!

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stick_figure_liking_it_500_wht_9170Research from The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen in Denmark (one of the happiest countries in the world) has found that giving up your Facebook account boosts happiness and reduces anger and loneliness.

Life satisfaction rose significantly in the space of a week when participants were unable to read the updates of their friends. The institute was surprised by the changes in such a short time and wants to raise awareness on the influence of social media on feelings of fulfilment.

Facebook and other social media sites are “a constant flow of edited lives which distort our view of reality” it said in its report The Facebook Experiment.

They recruited over a thousand people in Denmark and asked half of them to avoid Facebook for a week. Participants were asked to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 10 before and after the experiment.

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Brits are miserable at work but enjoy their love lives

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figure_holding_happy_sad_signs_1600_wht_10227That’s according to data compiled by Eurostat.

UK workers were the 4th unhappiest in Europe just behind Germans, Bulgarians and Greeks.

This might explain our low productivity rates with long hours and high sickness absence rates.

Managers are seen as poor having been promoted because they were good at their previous job rather than for their potential.

On the other hand almost 60% of us said we were happy with our love lives and personal relationships with fewer than 10% very dissatisfied. That put us into 3rd place behind the Irish and the Austrians.

Overall our life satisfaction scores were about average with the Nordic countries, as usual, occupying the top spots.

 

Would you choose Happy or Grumpy?

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funny_face_balloon_girl_500_wht_193Everyone likes to work with happy people, don’t they?

But are they the best workers?

People with a happy disposition may adopt a “jack of all trades approach” investing small amounts of time in a variety of things, including social activities, at work.

Grumpy workers by contrast spend a lot of time on fewer activities thereby honing their skills. And if they find a task they like they may invest a lot of timer in it becoming very skilled.

The research published in the journal Social Psychology was carried out at the University of Illinois and the University of Pennsylvania.

So people who are the life and soul of the party may be the least productive employees.

Their opposites were characterised as less active but more focussed and less easily distracted.

Happiness and Productivity

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ThumbsUp-maleAre happy workers more productive or are more productive workers happier?

This is a question that has exercised work and organisational psychologists for over 50 years. And there have been mixed results from workplace interventions. For example in Sweden – with a highly educated workforce doing repetitive work in the car industry – increasing job satisfaction reduced absenteeism but didn’t increase productivity.

Economists at Warwick University think they have the answer as reported in a Sunday Times article; “Why happy people are the hardest workers” (11 July 2010). Professor Andrew Oswald was quoted as saying; “... human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings while negative emotions have the opposite effect“. (This is straight from the positive psychology handbook of course and as a psychologist I wonder why they didn’t just ask one of us).

The research team carried out a range of experiments and showed their subjects either a comedy film or a boring (placebo) film. The subjects who reported higher happiness levels after seeing the comedy film were 12% more productive whereas unhappy workers were 10% less productive.

However those subjects who watched the comedy film but did not report increased happiness were not more productive. So the increase in productivity was linked to an increase in happiness but not to just watching a comedy film.

A surprise finding was that those subjects who had experienced a death in the family in the last two years were 10% less productive. But subjects whose parents had divorced recently didn’t appear less happy or less productive. Perhaps with divorce being so common it’s no longer seen as a negative life event.

They conclude that if happiness does bring increased productivity then HR departments and business managers should be paying more attention to the influence of emotions at work.

This is interesting but there are lots of questions. Some companies have tried to inject fun into work, for example call centres (often the modern equivalent of Victorian sweat shops) but I haven’t seen any evidence it does anything than temporarily alleviate boredom.

The fact that some subjects didn’t report increased happiness after seeing the film might be because they didn’t think the film was funny (it featured a well-known British comedian for a start) and humour is very subjective.

The subjects’ personality as measured by the Big 5 might have been a factor. Extraverts tend to be happier and more positive than Introverts and also respond better to incentives (the subjects were paid an attendance fee plus a performance fee depending on their output).

It also appears that the subjects were working individually rather than in teams. This reduces the element of “social loafing” and usually maximises the incentive effect but there is a strong social effect when working with friends or in teams, especially for more sociable types.

Anything that improves employee engagement (at an all-time low at the moment) is of interest to business leaders but I can’t help thinking that the more holistic approach adopted by companies like Sony Film is worth looking into. See “Rituals engage staff“.

Originally posted in SGANDA in 2010

Stress can be a killer for women too

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Woman&officephoneWe are all aware of how stressful work can be at times. Contrary to popular belief not all of it is caused by the deliberate actions of others but usually because of the way we interpret events. Something that is stressful for one person may not be for someone else. Stress can be caused inadvertently by someone lacking social or management skills, and increasingly rudeness at work is being identified as a major cause.

Common sense tells us that rudeness can affect our mood but it also affects our performance, our problem solving ability, and our willingness to work in a collaborative way – and research shows that even witnessing rudeness can create these adverse outcomes and damage the working climate especially in teams that need to collaborate.

Bullying is another source of stress and it might be on the increase again, fuelled by insecurity since the recession. It also seems that whilst the majority of bullies are men women bullies can be more persistent. There also seem to be gender differences. I’ve found in my work and research that women are more likely to bully using personal attacks whereas men bully under the pretext of performance management.

Now new research has shown that women in high pressure jobs run twice the normal risk of developing heart problems as a direct result of work-related stress. Those reporting work pressure to an excessive degree are also at an increased risk of developing ischaemic heart disease.

The research, published in the Journal of Occupational Health and Environmental Medicine, was based on a 5-year study of over 12,000 Danish nurses aged between 45 and 64. Whilst the link between stress and heart disease is well-established this is one of the first studies on women.

Stressed workers often resort to unhealthy ways of coping such as smoking, eating comfort food, or drinking, which can lead to them becoming overweight and creates a vicious circle. In a study carried out by the author amongst NHS employees nurses had the highest sickness absence rates and also smoked the most. Managers on the other hand rarely took time off but drank more!

A research team at Ohio State University has been studying the effects of stress on health for the last 30 years (psycho-neuro-immunology) and have shown that chronic stress can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer. stroke, osteoporosis and diabetes. The culprit is stress-induced chronic inflammation as a result of the immune system being in a constant state of high alert. This in turn wears you down and makes your body less able to fight infections and diseases, heal wounds, and develop antibodies. On a less dramatic level it explains why you can’t shake off that cold or persistent cold-sore when you are stressed.

And the latest research shows that children with difficult childhoods, eg through being abused, are especially susceptible to the physical effects of chronic stress and that their immune systems may learn a hyperactive response to stress which kicks in again when they are facing stressful events as an adult.

Some good news is that becoming adept at yoga does lower your stress response.

Updated 2 May 2011: Women with high job strain have a 40% increased risk of cardiovascular (CV) disease compared to those with low job strain, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2010. They defined job strain, a form of psychological stress, as having a demanding job, little or no decision-making authority or opportunities to use you creative or individual skills. Their findings were based on a sample of over 17,000 healthy women who participated in the Women’s Health Study. Primarily white health professionals with an average age of 57, they were tracked for 10 years whilst they provided information about job strain and job insecurity.

Job insecurity was associated with risk factors for CV disease such as high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, and excess body weight but not directly associated with heart attacks, strokes and CV death.

The higher CV risks for those who reported high job strain included heart attacks, ischemic strokes, coronary bypass surgery, balloon angioplasty, or death.

The findings that women in jobs with high demand and low control are at risk echo UK research on Civil Servants (The Whitehall studies). The first Whitehall Study compared mortality of people in the highly stratified environment of the British Civil Service over a 10 year period starting in 1967.

It showed that among British civil servants, mortality was 3 times higher among those in the lower grades when compared to the higher grades. The more senior one was in the employment hierarchy, the longer one might expect to live compared to people in lower employment grades. It also found higher mortality rates due to all causes but specifically coronary heart disease for men in the lower employment grade when compared to men in higher grades.

Twenty years later, the Whitehall II study, a longitudinal, prospective cohort study of 10,308 women and men, all of whom were employed in the London offices of the British Civil Service at the time they were recruited to the study in 1985, documented a similar gradient in morbidity in women as well as men. The studies revealed this social gradient for a range of different diseases: heart disease, some cancers, chronic lung disease, gastrointestinal disease, depression, suicide, sickness absence, back pain and general feelings of ill-health.

Companies might not use the S word so much these days , preferring to talk about resilience instead, but the pressure is still there and a source of illness and distress for many employees.

End of the road for Positive Psychology at work?

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Breathe London

Lion-Wallpaper-the-animal-kingdom-3695548-1600-1067There is a great scene near the end of the Australian film, Animal Kingdom. The murderous, ever positive matriarch of the family gang is confronted by the death of her last son. Up until that point every set back, including the gangland slaughter of most of her family, had been met with a rosy one liner about how all would turn out well. In one of the last scenes of the film we see her hunched and sobbing at the breakfast table. She turns to one of the few remaining gang members, red eyed and sobbing and blurts out, “I’ll be fine darl, I’m just looking for my positive spin”. Of course it all ends painfully for the drug gang, who had a date with destiny from the start of the film.

About nine years ago I started to get really interested in the emerging field of Positive Psychology. I’d…

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Are you flourishing?

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Are you flourishing? Happiness is over-rated according to Martin Seligman, the grandfather of positive psychology.

This might be a bit of a shock as his book “Authentic Happiness” was influential in persuading influential people that the government should start measuring happiness and well-being.

In his latest book “Flourish” he says he got it wrong promoting happiness as it was only concerned with life satisfaction and how cheerful you were. He thinks well-being is … Read More

via Mike the Psych’s Blog with permission

Do you want a good work-life balance?

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Do you want a good work-life balance? Then go and live in Denmark. That’s the place to work if you want to achieve work-life-balance (WLB) according to the OECD which has recently included it as a factor in its Better Life Initiative.

The OECD has used 3 indicators: the amount of time devoted to personal activities, the employment rate of women with children age 6 to 14, and the number of employees working over 50 hours a week. FYI research shows that 50 hours seems to be the point wh … Read More

via SGandA on Management & Leadership with permission

Danes are the most satisfied people – how about you?

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Danes are the most satisfied people – how about you? No sooner had Finland won 1st place in “best country in the world” category than their Nordic neighbours Denmark have to go and spoil the party by coming 1st in Wikipedia’s “satisfaction with life” index.

Finland ranked 6th, just ahead of Sweden, in this 2006 study which asked people directly how satisfied they were. Interestingly Switzerland came second in both surveys. The USA came 23rd and we came a measly 41st, behind Germany but ahead of Spa … Read More

via Mike the Psych’s Blog with permission