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The Unintended Consequences of Agile Working

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IzzyWebsiteThe advancements in technology, paired with globalisation have promoted a trend towards agile working, with workers free to work at a time and location which suits them. In the changing world of work, there is a growing trend for employees to work flexibly and not be required to be tied to their desks in traditional working patterns, with 70% of people globally working remotely at least once a week [1]. There are multiple organisational benefits to agile working, including increased productivity, autonomy and the promotion of work-life balance for employees.

Recently, Microsoft Japan implemented a 4 day working week to much success. Offering its 2,300 employees a variety of agile working styles, Microsoft Japan launched a pilot programme aiming to increase productivity and morale, with a goal to realise the same results with 20% fewer weekly hours[2]. The results appeared to be highly positive: a 40% rise in productivity, happier workers and a decline in days taken off. However, there are often unintended consequences of agile working which organisations should consider in their approach. The introduction of the shorter week came with the introduction of ‘strict new rules’, with managers being ‘heavy handed’ in their implementation, including employees being fined for taking too long on work-related matters.

Taking these dynamics into consideration, the pressure to output the same amount, or the resulting 40% rise in productivity in Microsoft’s case, in a shorter amount of time could have a detrimental effect upon employees wellbeing and long term efficiency.

Organisations such as Tiggertrap and the Los Angeles Times have also suffered unintended consequences when introducing an unlimited vacation policy. On the face of it, this seems like a positive idea which promotes high levels of rejuvenation, empowerment and autonomy. However, in practice often these policies push people to always be ‘on’ and connected, with a Glassdoor survey showing that 61% of workers admit to working despite being on vacation[3].

In many cases, one of the main disadvantages associated with unlimited vacation policies is that often employees end up taking less time off. Tiggertrap scrapped their unlimited vacation policy after results found that employees had reduced their average number of holiday taken from 28 days to 15. Factors such as unspoken expectations and nobody wanting to be the person who takes the most time off, contribute to spiralling behaviour in which employees take even less holiday than before. Adding to this, the advancement in technology has enabled new ways of working, but has also promoted the growth of an ‘always on’ culture, in which there are potential stresses of constantly being connected to work and never truly switching off.

So, after this reflection of the disadvantages of a more agile approach to working arrangements, why should organisations still consider this strategy as their most future-proofed option?

In the changing world of work, organisations need to adapt their traditional approaches to ways of working in order to attract and retain the best talent. By offering a wider menu of options of working hours, organisations should be able to attract a broader range of people and maintain a stronger talent pipeline. In confronting the unintended consequences, it is crucial that organisations develop policies that will not just allow employees to work flexibly or have time off, but encourage them to do so. If the aim of the policy is to enhance a less frenzied working environment, with reduced burnout and higher productivity, organisations need to tackle the culture in which these policies sit and support individual behaviour that does not promote employees to be ‘always on’ and constantly connected. To approach this, organisations could benefit from considering a more tailored approach, aiming to promote a culture which empowers their employees ‘to communicate when they need time to disconnect’, rather than rolling out a one-size-fits-all policy[4].


[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/30/70-percent-of-people-globally-work-remotely-at-least-once-a-week-iwg-study.html

2 Kelly, J. (2019). Microsoft Japan Launched A Four-Day Workweek To Much Success: Is This The Key To Attracting Talent In The Tight U.S. Job Market?. [online] Forbes.com. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2019/11/05/microsoft-japan-launched-a-four-day-week-work-to-much-success-is-this-the-answer-to-attract-talent-in-the-tight-us-job-market/#4863cf6759ff  [Accessed 21 Nov. 2019].

3 Unlimited Vacation Time Policy (2016), Hot Spots Movement. Available at: http://hotspotscdn.blob.core.windows.net/files/1247/unlimited-vacation-time-case-study-160915.pdf [Accessed 21st. Nov. 2019]

4 Future of HR Report (2016), Hot Spots Movement, Available at http://hotspotscdn.blob.core.windows.net/files/1267/future-of-hr-report-final.pdf

The Power of Purpose in Finance

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0Historically, Trust in finance was viewed as fundamental and underpinned the banking industry from its outset – in fact, the word ‘credit’ is derived from the Latin word for ‘trust’.

In more recent times however, the 2008 financial crisis prompted a swathe of mistrust to sweep the financial sector; bonuses had grown bigger and bigger as transparency dwindled and significant regulatory steps had to be taken in an attempt to rebuild faith in the sector.

The poet Robert Frost summed up the sentiment towards financial services institutions; “A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back again when it begins to rain.”1 This is echoed in the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer which, despite showing a gradual increase in trust over the past five years, highlights Financial Services as the least trusted of the industry sectors2.

There are a number of factors contributing to this view, one of which being the widely reported sums of bankers’ bonuses. Such reports are instrumental in the view that there is no greater Purpose in financial services than profit.

However, this all-consuming focus on profit hasn’t always been the driver of financial institutions. A British economist has highlighted that, “For nearly all of its 2,000-year history, the corporation has combined a public purpose with its commercial activities. It is only over the last 60 years that the idea that profit is the only purpose of business has emerged.”This quest for ever increasing financial gains is not a Purpose which inspires trust, nor does it sit well with the regulators.

Time to make a change?

Banking culture is under increased scrutiny by the FCA, whose approach now has a greater focus on culture and governance – as is highlighted in our recent white paper at HSM, which uncovers this in more detail. ‘Purpose’ has been highlighted as one of the four key drivers of culture and behaviour which firms can identify and proactively influence.4 In his outgoing speech as Chief Executive of the FCA, Andrew Bailey emphasised the importance of culture in driving more ethical behaviour: “culture is about encouraging and incentivising good things, not just stopping bad things from happening.”5

Action needs to be taken by many firms in light of these new conditions, to consider and clarify the wider Purpose and to enable the associated values and behaviours to permeate the sector. There is an opportunity to use this moment to more broadly transform the social impact of financial institutions and not merely allow these considerations to become a tick-box exercise. 

Adopting a more Purposeful approach

A clear Purpose not only highlights the aims and direction of a firm, but also earns greater understanding and trust from the public. A number of financial institutions have considered their Purpose and taken a more holistic view of their aims and responsibilities for customers, employees and society. They are driving real mindset shifts in their approach to everyday tasks, building a customer centric approach where employees at all levels embody the traits and behaviours of the shared goals, ultimately helping to achieve the progression and betterment of society. 

However, we can’t just forget the financial targets; firms need to flourish to be able to achieve their goals. However, financial gain should no longer be the sole objective. Indeed, impact of Purpose is profound and a clear link can be drawn between it and performance, with firms demonstrating a deeply ingrained Purpose correlating strongly with ten-year shareholder returns.6 

Financial Institutions have the ability to play a significant part in the inclusion, growth and enrichment of society; but this has to be reflected in their Purpose. It may just be that the power of Purpose could be the catalyst for rebuilding trust, better businesses and a more sustainable society.

I’d love to hear more about your experiences of the power of Purpose. If you would like to have a discussion, please get in touch with me at oliver@hotspotsmovement.com


 1. Oxford Reference

2.2019 Edelman Trust Barometer

3. OUP Blog, Colin Mayer

4.FCA Transforming Culture in Financial Services, FCA Approach to Supervision

5. Transforming culture in financial services conference, Andrew Bailey

6.Purpose with the Power to Transform your Organisation, BCG

The ‘Extra-Human’ Competitive Edge

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naderIn the age of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), analytics and robotics, it has become difficult to imagine the world prior to our current technology, and even more difficult to foresee what the future will bring. Perhaps the most daunting image of all is humanoids – robots that use AI to learn from human behaviour, mimic it, and even use it to react and innovate through ML. In fact, the future of technology’s intervention in the workplace is closer than one would assume. Sophia, a humanoid who can express feelings and compose facial expressions, was the first robot to become a citizen by order of the United Nations and to be granted citizenship by a country – Saudi Arabia.[1] The notion of a robot workforce, therefore, is not far from possible.

Where does the human workforce fit in at a time of AI- and robotics-dominance?

There are a couple of points to keep in mind when it comes to automation, though. The term automation does not merely refer to robots taking people’s jobs. The term entails all the aforementioned technologies that have become available for integration in present and future workplaces. Consequently, what would normally be considered mundane tasks will be assigned to machines as the human workforce shifts to tasks that rely more on the human element. The part organisations can play in this world, a world of machines and automation, therefore, will be to empower their workforce with the tools and job design that eases this skill transition. Hot Spots Movement’s research on automation presents insights into how organisations can prepare for a seamless transition into this new world. It also introduces organisations to the kind of training needed to empower workers in a manner that improves their chances of thriving in an automated environment. Therefore, aside from the aforementioned soft skills, technical skills can and will be attained, but that will require the human skills of perseverance and dedication.

Hot Spots Movement’s reports on digital transformation and shifting cultures delve deeper into the world of work as innovative technology becomes an inescapable part of how the workplace operates. The world is heading to a point where the niche skill of the human workforce will be our ability to be human. The skills that make us human, particularly skills such as emotional intelligence, empathy, listening, and judgment, will play a key role in giving us a competitive advantage. These skills, the key ingredients in defining our interpersonal skills as human beings, will be our most employable asset. This development means a shift in the mindset governing our perception of how human beings contribute to the workforce. It entails upskilling and reskilling. Employers will have to rethink their training strategies to incorporate automation, diversify learning opportunities for knowledge employees and lower-skilled workers, and guarantee a learning curve that allows all workers to attain their goals in alignment with the goals of the organisation as a whole. Employees, on the other hand, will have to leverage the skills that make them human; they will have to be, in some sense, ultra-human. Thus, the true competitive advantage of the human workforce will be in utilising as much of those capacities that differentiate human beings from machines as possible.

A note of caution

People will need to ask the right people for assistance in making these transitions and empowering the workforce where needed. The Netflix fans out there may remember the ‘Love, Death and Robots’ episode, ‘When the Yoghurt Took Over’. To those of you who don’t, the animated episode witnesses a genetically enhanced yoghurt discovering the solutions to all the problems in our world. In a meeting with a world leader, the yoghurt offers solutions which would eradicate all economic burdens in a year if followed precisely and bring chaos if they’re not. Unsurprisingly, the world leaders’ closeness to the problem leads to their failure in following the yoghurt’s formula, which brings the world to chaos. Similarly, change, when introduced from within, could struggle with the inherent biases that limit an organisation’s capacity to effectively move forward with the change. In those cases, all those organisations need, really, is their own yoghurt.

If reading this has given you some thought on how your organisation could – or should – be preparing for the world of work, Hot Spots Movement could be the “yoghurt” you’re looking for. Drop me an email at nader@hotspotsmovement.com if you’re interested in discussing how you can adapt digital developments to your people strategy in support of your corporate identity.


[1] Dang, Sanjit Singh (Feb 25, 2019). Artificial Intelligence in Humanoid Robots. Forbes.

[2] Gratton, Lynda (Fall 2019). Pioneering Approaches to Re-skilling and Upskilling. MIT Sloan Management Review, Fall 2019 Edition

Organisational Wellbeing: Questions for Personal Reflection

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naderOn the occasion of Mental Health Awareness Day, 10th October, I thought it prudent to shed light on one of the key contributors to mental health: the workplace.

On average, we spend at least a quarter of our weekly hours at work. Our work environment, irrespective of whether we enjoy it or not, inevitably becomes a second home that, at times, demands more responsibilities from us than our first home. Unfortunately, seldom do we actually discuss mental health in general, let alone in the workplace.

To address organisational wellbeing, I’m sharing my own approach to ensuring that I remain mentally healthy. If you have any additional points, do feel free to share in the comments.

  1. Am I treated the way I want to be treated?

More often than not, organisational bullying is not discussed. In many ways, organisational bullying is similar to our general definition of bullying, which includes being harassed, being talked down to, and being laughed at. However, organisational bullying also manifests in other forms that are often disregarded. Being left out intentionally, being yelled at or called a name, or being embarrassed through sexual humour, is workplace bullying. We seem to often let go of whatever upsets us at work because of lesser expectations towards how we should be treated, perhaps because of the financial reliance on our jobs that prevents us from setting the bar any higher.

If you feel uncomfortable in your place of work, tell someone. It could be your manager, your co-workers, HR, or any authority that could play a role in resolving your problem. If you don’t feel safe speaking to anyone in the office, reach out to your network for support. Bottling up your problems means neglecting your mental wellbeing. Just talking about it – having a conversation with someone you trust – could make a significant difference in how you feel.

  1. Are my expectations realistic?

We all want to be healthy, wealthy, successful and loved. It’s the human condition. But you should also ask yourself: is everything that I’m doing making me happy? Which parts of my day bring me the most joy, and which parts don’t? How can I rearrange my priorities so that I can achieve my goals without affecting my mental state?

Give yourself time to rest, to breathe. We stress ourselves out with constant replies to emails and calls in what has become a seemingly 24/7 workweek because of how well-connected we are. Find a time to stop using your phone and allow yourself to indulge in a chocolate bar or the newest Netflix special if that makes you happy. Essentially, allow yourself those simple joys that we often lose sight of as we progress in our careers and neglect our wellbeing. And remember, in some way, a considerable portion of the stress we suffer from is caused by our own expectations.

  1. What’s the perspective I choose for myself today?

Have you ever had a terrible week? I’m not talking about a bad morning, but a bad week overall. By Friday, you walk into work and you’re so tired and done that you just want to go back home and crawl back into bed. I think most of us have been there at least once. What is the perspective from which you choose to see your day? I walked into the office this morning having gone through a tough series of unfortunate events within a few hours. As I described my morning to my manager, she smiled and said, “At least it can only get better from this point!” Create a constant mental, or physical, reminder that it can only get better from your worst workplace experiences and watch your day get better. You messed up a presentation? Your next presentation will be better because you learned at least one thing from this one. You said the wrong thing in a meeting? You will be careful with your words in the next meeting. This approach to restructuring our perception of our experiences needs practice, but we have to start somewhere.

This blog in no way attempts to overshadow serious mental health issues that affect more people in the population than we even recognise. It merely aims to give some perspective to those whose workplace experience may be bringing them down, which inevitably affects their performance and job satisfaction. I hope that reading this gave you a slightly new perspective in the very least, and I hope you utilise that perspective in achieving the shift towards mental serenity.

If you’d like to learn more about organisational health and wellbeing, stay tuned for Hot Spots Movement’s Masterclass in February 2020.


[1] Beheshti, Naz. (2019). Stigma About Mental Health Issues in the Workplace Exists: Here’s What Companies Can Do About It. Forbes.

[2] Myers, Chris (2017). How to Avoid Self-Induced Stress and Decision Fatigue in Business. Forbes.

What is ‘Good Work’?

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IzzyWebsiteAs work has changed, the relationship between organisations and their people has progressed. Work has moved away from the industrial revolution and the homogenisation of workers and evolved into an era of autonomy with a new emphasis on the wellbeing of the individual. In recent decades this shift has been characterised by the increased responsibility and awareness of organisations for the wellness of their people.

However, despite the increased focus on individual wellbeing in the workplace, there has been a decline in job satisfaction. In the 1980s ‘roughly 61% of pollsters were satisfied with their jobs’, by 2010 this figure had dropped to 43%[2]. Even amongst highly skilled professions such as medicine and law, studies reflected rising discontent.

Financial security is an obviously important element – we know from our work with organisations that people need to be paid fairly – however, after that, economic incentive is not a big driver of satisfaction. In his essay ‘On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs’, David Graeber explores the negative ramifications for people who feel that their job is worthless and lacks value. These are roles in which the person cannot justify the existence of their responsibilities, despite often being highly respected jobs and well paid. These people frequently feel that the tasks they perform do not contribute to a wider cause, creating a sense of disillusionment and ‘pointlessness’ to their role. Linked to this is the emotional connection between work and identity, with 55% of people gaining some sense of identity from their job[1]. This lack of meaning can be emotionally detrimental to employees, leaving workers feeling unfulfilled in the performance of tasks they believe do not make a difference[2].

Here at HSM we advise that organisations, and particularly leaders, talk about ‘Good Work’ and evaluate whether the roles the offer provide a sense of meaning to their employees, looking beyond the traditional financial incentives to drive job fulfilment. The concept of ‘Good work’ highlights the importance of a role providing meaning, autonomy, dignity and a sense of belongingness. Employees wish to feel their efforts are adding value and are meaningful, even to a small degree. Furthermore, ‘good work’ needs to extend a sense of control to employees, promoting a level of freedom and autonomy within a role. Evidence of this was shown in Amy Wrzesniewski’s and Jane Dutton’s 2001 study, which found that janitors at large hospitals who viewed their roles as being part of the healing process of patients, rather than as a series of cleaning tasks, had higher levels of job satisfaction[3].

The positive implication of a more engaged workforce is substantial, particularly when placed in the unsettled context of technological disruption and social change. With statistics highlighting that 70% of the workforce is disengaged, a proactive and creative approach is required to increase job satisfaction[1].

Interested in learning more about how you can influence ‘Good Work’ in your organisation? Get in touch with me at isabella@hotspotsmovement.com


[1] Future of Work Research Consortium, ‘Building Narratives on the Future of Work’ Report, 2018

[2] Wealthy, Successful and Miserable – C. Duhigg, The Future of Work, The New York Times Magazine

[3] Crafting a Job: Revisioning Employees as Active Crafters of Their Work. A. Wrzesniewski and J. E. Dutton, 2001

Give and Take

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By Greg O’Meara, Project Management Intern

When we interact with others, we tend to adopt a certain style. We choose the style based on our intentions, values and motives. On one end of the spectrum are givers, for whom the question always is, “What can I do for you?” while at the other end sit the takers who conversely say, “What can you do for me?” At the same time, for most people when meeting someone new, the default is to match their counterpart, that is, giving on condition of receiving in return. These are styles because they can vary depending on the type of interaction you are engaged in – you may give more when mentoring a student, take more when negotiating your salary and engage in matching when a competitor looks for some knowledge or advice. Yet the evidence shows that we also have a dominant style, a way of interacting with others that we are more prone towards, especially once we have gotten to know someone, and that this style has far reaching consequences for the world of work, productivity and team performance.

Organisational psychologist Adam Grant’s research based on data consisting of surveys and interviews with 30,000 people has found that givers generally constitute the least productive members of an organisation as they are seen to take on so much extra workload that they lack the time and/or the energy to complete their own tasks. Takers on the other hand may rise up the ranks quickly, however, they soon gain a reputation for operating selfishly and struggle to advance further. By process of elimination we might presume it is then matchers who are the most productive in an organisation, but according to Grant’s research, givers in the right environment where giving is the norm are the highest contributing members of a team. Grant found that a high frequency of giving behaviour in the right environment contributes to higher profits, employee retention and customer satisfaction.

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Simply put, maintaining a dominant giving culture can have a powerful effect on organisational performance. Grant offers three prescriptions to create a giving environment:

  1. Firstly, it is imperative to protect your givers from burnout as they are liable to take on more work than is sustainable.
  2. Secondly, leadership must foster a culture of help-seeking so that the productive powers of the givers are unleashed.
  3. The final point, and most important with regards to culture, is that the atmosphere of giving can be significantly damaged by the introduction of just one taker into the team as the negative impact of just one taker is two to three times the positive effect of a giver.

Grant’s research has huge implications for how organisations design their talent practices and processes and shift cultures. How is your organisation creating a giving culture?

I very much look forward to hearing your thoughts! Get in touch by emailing me at greg@hotspotsmovement.com.


https://www.adamgrant.net/

The Power of Unwritten Rules

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By Graham Oxley, Project Manager – Digital Engagement

grahamWhether at work or at home, we often hear about unwritten rules. These are the norms, behaviours or actions that people are expected to follow or do even though they are not written down anywhere in a formal rule book or culture document. We encounter these unwritten rules every day and get annoyed when people don’t follow them – think of every time you have muttered under your breath when the person in front of you doesn’t hold the door for you. But beyond merely being frustrating, in certain contexts, such as corporate culture and sports, unwritten rules have the power to create a vastly different reality to the intended rhetoric of written rules.  Often, we see that once a written rule is created, various factors go to work to change, reinforce or undermine it, until the unwritten rules that have been created hold more power than the written rule that they have emerged around.  

One place where unwritten rules are in abundance is sports, and this has been making the news recently. Firstly, there has been fierce debate in cricket this week around Ravi Ashwin, the Indian all-rounder playing for Kings XI Punjab, who performed a ‘Mankad’ dismissal on England batsman Jos Buttler in an Indian Premier League match against the Rajasthan Royals.[1] This is allowed in the official rulebook, but a large number of ex-players and pundits have condemned him for contravening ‘the Spirit of Cricket’, which is a set of unwritten rules that many cricketers subscribe to. On the same day, on the other side of the world in Miami, Nick Kyrgios, an Australian tennis player, served underhand in beating Dusan Lajovic.[2] The reaction towards this has been more balanced; Judy Murray labelled him a genius afterwards, but during the game a spectator ran onto the court to remonstrate with him for the tactics. These are two examples in just the last week, which show that unwritten rules are rife across the sports world; footballers put the ball out of play when the opposition has an injured player, rugby league players do not contest scrums and baseball has so many unwritten rules that people lose track.[3]

The question that follows here is: how do unwritten rules relate to my business? Organisations operate as complex systems of (1) formal, interdependent processes – such as pay, performance and training; and (2) informal practices and behaviours operating under the radar, such as ad hoc flexibility in work schedules, or the prioritisation of presence over performance. The latter are the ‘unwritten rules of the game’ and they exert a strong influence over employee behaviours and have a significant impact on the success or failure of any new intervention implemented. Here is an example: your organisation may have set up a generous parental leave policy aimed at improving engagement amongst families. However, if the culture and leadership of your organisation signals, through non-verbal or verbal cues, that anyone who takes up their full parental leave will face a delay in getting a promotion or pay rise, the reality of that decision looks very different to what the written rhetoric intended.

Clarity on the unwritten rules of the game that are shaping behaviour is therefore key before launching any new initiative. This exercise allows businesses to understand how any intervention will influence and be influenced by other factors at play, giving an early indication of any unintended consequences that you need to consider and plan for.

So how do we find out the unwritten rules of the game? The answer lies in engaging your employees in an open dialogue. Taking the time to truly listen to your employees to understand their diverse motivators, enablers and triggers will pave the way forward. We have worked with a number of clients on this challenge; you can see a snapshot of who we have worked with here.

I would be happy to have a further discussion about how you can go about uncovering the unwritten rules of the game and ensuring that your organisations’ reality is truly representative of the rhetoric. Just drop me an email at graham@hotspotsmovement.com.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/47697369

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/tennis/47704618

[3] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-10-12/unwritten-rules-in-sport-are-fast-becoming-a-thing-of-the-past/10364436