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.


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.

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.

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.

Companies with older workers less productive

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j0415797They’ve been called a “drag on productivity” in a study that examined the performance of hundreds of companies in Britain and Germany.

It found that the more over-50s a company employed the less likely it was to increase productivity over a two-year period. Even a 1% increase in the proportion of older staff led to a greater chance that the company would stand still rather than improve its output.

The situation was much worse in Germany than Britain. There 57% of the companies had workforces with at least 20% of the staff over 50, compared to 41% in the UK.

Productivity was not reduced by older workers working more slowly but by the company’s reluctance to invest in training them.

The less successful companies also had weaker appraisal systems meaning that individuals were not held accountable for their productivity levels. Well appraisal systems have come in for a lot of criticism lately and in this case it suggests that it might be management not doing their job rather than the workers.

Certainly there are companies, such as BMW, that look after older workers better.

And they need to because there are more older workers around. Three quarters of people aged over 50 are in employment in the UK according to the ONS compared with two-thirds in 1994. And one in eight aged over 65 is still in work.

Discriminating against older workers is counter-productive. Often older workers have the unwritten knowledge about the company; their attendance is usually better, and they generally have a more positive attitude and are more loyal. Here’s an American take on this.

Performance reviews not dead yet

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pen_display_accomplished_1600_wht_7579Many experts believe that performance reviews don’t work, that managers and staff play the system, and that people should be trusted to get on with their jobs.

Performance reviews are  held to be a product of Theory X  thinking (and all that went with that) and were famously criticised by quality guru Deming who said “The fact is that the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance

New research from CEB (reported in People Management) suggests that HR people are in agreement. Only 4% of them felt that performance reviews were effective.

And 42% of the 9,000 managers and employees surveyed across 18 countries said that “significant changes or a complete redesign was needed to improve their existing performance review processes” which were branded ‘backward-looking, inconsistent, and too complex‘.

There is a problem however. Ditching performance reviews can have a negative effect on productivity as Microsoft found. The survey also found that not only did productivity drop by 10% but that employees were more likely to leave and fewer employees thought pay rises were fairly allocated.

Less than 5% of managers said they felt able to manage effectively without a rating system. 

The survey doesn’t say what was used to replace performance reviews but poor as performance review methods might be it appears that many staff and managers like a degree of structure no matter how unreliable.

Is it really goodbye e?

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laptop_mail_pc_1600_wht_2103People have been predicting the end of e-mail for a while with some companies preferring staff to use social media apps instead (which seem like jumping from the frying pan into the fire to me).

Undoubtedly we spend too much time on e-mails of which 80% are probably of no value whatsoever. Some experts say we spend 36 days a year at work answering them and that there are 2.4 million sent every second.

Some companies have already starting to fight back against this insidious menace. Atos, a French company, has promised to end the use of e-mails by next year.

The Halton Housing Trust in Cheshire is coming to the end of a two-year programme to wean staff off them because staff were spending 40% of their time e-mailing. I actually like their approach limiting “reply to all” and using “cc”. Even better naming and shaming the most prolific e-mailers!

Procure Plus, a property service company, has also introduced e-mail etiquette after finding that staff couldn’t be bothered leaving their desks to speak to colleagues. Now they have to phone or visit in person before they are allowed to e-mail.

Volkswagen turns off its server at 1730 and Daimler stops staff getting e-mails when on holiday. Sensible Germans.

A media management CEO says the problem will resolve itself anyway as use by millennials has declined 50% since 2010 as they are using social media networks instead. And why is that an improvement? I’d suggest getting all staff to lock their smartphones and tablets in a locker when they arrive at work so they can actually do some! It also sounds a bit ageist to me. Do only older workers use e-mails now?

Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Manchester Business School who has spoken about the stressful effects of e-mail overload in the past, is working with a number of organisations on e-mail projects. He said “The UK was quick to adapt digital technology and the World Economic Forum says the UK has the highest digital use per capita of the major economies. Smartphones have just made things worse with people constantly checking their inbox wherever they are – during family dinner, on holiday, everywhere. It’s affecting everyone badly, their health and happiness and also their productivity

He says the problem has got so bad that people think doing e-mails is a good day’s work!

FYI there’s a new term for people ignoring you to answer or check their smartphone: it’s called phubbing (i.e. snubbing by phone).

David Burkus, associate professor in management at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma agrees with professor Cooper. “Clearing out your inbox can make you feel like you’re ultra-productive but unless your job description is solely to delete e-mails you’re just fooling yourself

So do you want “e-mail deleter” to be your job title or do you want to take control? How about leaving an auto-message when you go home or on holiday saying you won’t be able to deal with any e-mails and ask them to contact you when you are in work?

And that backlog in your in-tray? Declare a moratorium and tell people you’re deleting them all. If that seems too drastic do what some people do and ignore e-mails that you’re only copied in to. If it’s really meant for you they should have sent it to you directly.

Source for main story The Times

Good leaders don’t need to scream and shout

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monster_boss_at_conference_table_1600_wht_14572New research from Georgetown University and Grenoble Ecole de Management has found that the hard-nosed boss is a dinosaur and incivility has no place in the workplace.

The academics who carried out the research based on 20,000 employees published a paper titled Organisational Dynamics (reported in the Sunday Times).

The researchers found that people who are polite are twice as likely to be seen as good leaders compared with their rude counterparts.

Christine Porath, professor of management at Georgetown University, who has been researching incivility in the workplace for twenty years, said her interest in this area of research was partly because of her father’s experience in working for toxic bosses and partly her own. She had her dream job in a sports management company but “didn’t realise just how much effect rude bosses can have in terms of changing the culture of an organisation”.

She finds there is still scepticism among MBA students that they can still get ahead while being nice to people. They think they will be steamrollered or not seen as leader-like if they are not unpleasant.

There is research evidence that rudeness is perceived as power. Other research however shows that it doesn’t serve the bottom line well. So there are good reasons not to be rude or uncivil at work if you are the boss.

Porath’s results show that being nice to people pays off when people feel respected by their leader: 56% felt healthier, 89% were happier at work, 92% were more focused and 1.5times more energised. They were also more likely to stay with the organisation.

It sounds like common sense doesn’t it yet many organisations put up with, perhaps even encourage, toxic bosses while HR turns a blind eye.

With the trend towards team interviews you would think that it would be hard for such personality types to get a job. Yet we know that people with narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies (dark side personality traits) can be charming until they no longer care any more or until people challenge them.

Porath thinks that only about 4% of managers actually get off on being rude because they enjoy it or can get away with it. The remainder put their incivility down to pressure of work. That figure probably falls within the estimate for the number of bosses with dark side personality traits (estimated at between 6 and 10% across developed countries).

It’s been suggested that this rudeness is prevalent at middle management level. That would fit in with the “overworked” hypothesis and also with the fact that as organisations de-layer there are fewer steps to management with fewer opportunities to develop the appropriate skills. So it’s more likely that these over-loaded middle managers don’t have the skills to cope effectively and this is reflected in the way they treat others.

At the end of the day it’s the top management and the CEO in particular who influence the culture of the organisation. I posted a while ago about Robert A Eckert’s philosophy at Mattel where he was Chairman and CEO in his time there. In his view people were important and saying thanks instead of shouting at people made good business sense.

Of course there are always exceptions. Steve Jobs springs to mind…..


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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British workers are wasting almost half of each day

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relax_at_desk_1600_wht_2896According to a study by Microsoft 2016 employees are wasting on average three hours a day messing about on social media or having refreshment breaks.

Now I’m not against workers having break and have said so in the past. But three hours a day is ridiculous which means only half of each working day is productive. So on average British workers only work effectively for 4.5 hours a day. That equals 28 lost working days year. No wonder UK productivity is lamentable.

Overall three-quarters of British workers admit they spend far too much time procrastinating rather than actually working.

The worst offenders are people with their own offices and younger employees aged 18-24 who put in less than 4 hours a day compared to over 5 hours for 35-44 year-olds, the most productive group.

People working in teams were more productive putting in an hour more than people working alone who only worked for 4 hours and 18 minutes on average. Presumably that’s because of peer pressure.

Glasgow is the hardest working location with Sheffield the least productive.

Last week a Swedish technology firm reduced working hours to 6 hours a day claiming it was more effective and Gothenburg City Council is experimenting with a six-hour day also.

The idea of shortening the working day has been tried in many countries but not always with positive results. Even in Sweden. Kiruna district council adopted a 6-hour day for sixteen years but has opted to return to a longer day.

Not all these experiments have been evaluated properly. In some countries e.g. France it’s claimed that as productivity increased so did sickness absence.

Back in the day Sweden was in the forefront of introducing new working methods in its car industry – again with mixed results. People were happier but not necessarily more productive.

UK productivity is lamentable

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nickel_and_dimed_1600_wht_6554British workers are a third less productive than their German and French counterparts. Last year they also fell behind the USA, Italy, and Canada.

They produced 20% less per hour than other members of the G7 countries (advanced economies) and had the worst results since records began in 1991 according to the National Statistics Office (NSO).

The Governor of the Bank of England describes productivity as the ultimate determinant of people’s incomes and with it the capacity of our economy to support health, wealth, and happiness”

Britain has fallen behind since the financial crisis with Germany, France and the USA all producing a third more last year. Italy produced 10% more and Canada 4% more. Only Japan produced less.

The TUC is worried thatWithout a step change in productive growth, the UK economy will struggle to deliver secure jobs and higher living standards”

There are signs that productivity is slowly increasing and unemployment here is lower than some EU countries. What the report doesn’t mention is the grey economy which our neighbours across the channel say is what attracts immigrants to our shores. If that work was factored in would it make a difference?

Hard to tell but with stress on the increase again and employee engagement figures well below 50% it’s hard to see how companies can encourage employees to work harder. After all that’s what productivity is; getting more out of workers for the same or fewer hours worked.

Companies keen for staff to get fit

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stick_woman_toe_touch_500_wht_12023Companies are giving their staff bracelets to monitor activity levels with a view to reducing sickness absence.

These devices can measure the number of steps taken, distance travelled, calories burned, steps climbed and sleep levels.

Apparently more than 5 million Brits own such devices made by companies such as Fitbit, Nike, and Garmin.

An insurance company, Vitality, claims that monitoring your activity through the use of such bracelets or smartphones can help reduce sickness absence by 25%.

It’s becoming increasingly common in the USA and the UK for companies to offer staff such devices as employers recognise the benefits of a healthy workforce.

A spokesperson for Fitbit said “Fitbits help people to become more active, track their sleep and manage their weight. This makes people healthier and therefore more alert and active at work. Less sick days is a logical consequence of that“.

He said staff are allowed to choose whether or not their employer can see their individual data or have it aggregated. Some companies are said to offer incentives and encourage competition between departments.

Sickness absence is a major problem in the UK and any efforts to improve the health of employees is to be welcomed. Their is only so much employers can do however.

When I was HR Director of a large NHS Trust we introduced No Smoking policies, Healthy Eating options, Stress Management programmes, a staff counselling service, provided a gym, a physiotherapist and yoga classes. We also had an occupational health service and offered air miles to people who didn’t take time off work through sickness.

Results were mixed. The bottom line is employers can do little to influence staff behaviour and life-styles outside work.