wellbeing

Three insights on the future of work from our Sydney Workshop

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AG

I recently returned from running our annual Workshop in Sydney. Alongside trying to find the best flat white in the city and dealing with jetlag, I was able to hear more about what is on the minds of our Australia based clients. At our workshop we discussed why companies need to build a narrative on the future of work, and how to build a future-proofed culture amongst other topics. There were three major takeaways for organisations that came out for me around the workshop.

  1. Think about your narrative

 Despite increasing digital disruption and the rise of AI and analytics, organisations need to ensure they don’t forget the social aspects of change, and the power of stories over straight facts or data. Research has shown that stories impact people’s brains differently to facts, causing more connections in the brain and leading to closer relationships between the storyteller and the listener. People use stories as a way of understanding the world and this is particularly true when it comes to the future of work. Employees are looking to employers to provide a sense of stability and purpose in a rapidly changing world. Organisations therefore need to reflect on their own narrative on the future, thinking about what it will mean to work in their company and how work will be done in the future. Where are your non-negotiables? Where are you going to take a bet and what will stay the same? In considering questions such as these, companies can provide their workers with a story about where they are going, and how they will be supported along this journey.

  1. Abandon assumptions around aging

 The importance of not relying on stereotypes and assumptions around aging also came out strongly in the Workshop. Longer working lives mean that organisations cannot make assumptions around the needs and desires of their workforce, particularly older workers.  No longer is it always the case that a worker in their 60s is looking to retire, for example. Organisations need to make sure that their practices and processes are not based on erroneous expectations. They need to rethink the way they approach retirement, or what it means to progress in the organisation, so that people are not penalised if they want to downgrade their working hours without losing status in the organisation.

  1. Identify your influencers

 Finally, the need to think about the cultural influencers in organisations was another important point. Rather than relying on hierarchical leaders, companies need to uncover the real influencers and work with them to drive cultural change. These influencers can be discovered through network analysis or crowdsourced conversations but should be brought in early on in the process to ensure the behavioural change so crucial so a successful culture shift.


It was great to hear from our members in Sydney, and we look forward to our next trip Down Under!

Mindfulness in the workplace: another health fad?

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During my final year at University, students were approached by counsellors about taking lessons in mindfulness in order to help us cope with the stress of final year. Initially, I dismissed it as another one of those health fads claiming to be a panacea for all modern ills, but after hearing about the benefits from other friends, I decided to do some research. Mindfulness can be described as a way to focus one’s awareness on the present, so that you are more conscious of what you are doing in that moment. Essentially, it is a way to re-programme one’s mind to think in less stressful ways. Admittedly, as quite an anxious person, this resonated with me, and so now I try to incorporate mindfulness into my everyday life, and since starting here at Hot Spots Movement, I have been interested in how mindfulness could be transferred into my working life, and how it can help workers to be less stressed and ultimately more productive.

Over the past decade, research into mindfulness has exploded, with thousands of studies being conducted into its possible potential. The latest neuroscience studies are predominantly what transformed this practice from an ancient Buddhist concept into an exercise adopted by celebrities, businesses, politicians and the NHS. In 2007, scientists discovered that there are two different networks in our brain, two different ways we interact with the world: the default network and the direct experience network[1]. The direct experience network is activated when you are being mindful; not thinking about the past, the future or about other people. It is argued that this way of thinking allows you to get closer to the reality of an event, making you more flexible and relaxed in the decisions you make.

Business woman meditating

Some of the world’s biggest companies such as Google, Facebook and interestingly, our Future of Work Consortium member KPMG are paying attention to these studies and are now offering mindfulness or meditation programmes as a way to make their employees happier and less stressed. For example, Chade-Meng Tan, a Google pioneer completely revolutionised Google through introducing the ground-breaking ‘Search Inside Yourself’ mindfulness programme to all employees[2]. Perhaps this approach to wellbeing is one of the reasons why Google is consistently rated as the world’s best employer[3]. Similarly, CEO Mark Bertolini completely reshaped the culture of Aetna when he joined in 2010, drawing on his experience of mindfulness, which helped him through a time of intense depression after a life-threatening skiing incident[4]. He introduced free yoga and meditation classes to all employees, with those participating reporting on average a 28% reduction in their stress levels and a 20% improvement in sleep quality. Since Bertolini took over as CEO, Aetna’s stock increased threefold. The New York Times wrote an interesting article on this case study, finding that Aetna’s employees each gained an average of 62 minutes per week of productivity, which Aetna estimates is worth $3,000 per employee per year[5].

Another motivation behind introducing mindfulness into the workplace has been the immense pressure that workers are under today. According to the City Mental Health Alliance, 50% of long-term absences are accounted for by such stress, accumulating to 70 million sick days[6]. More poignantly for employers, stress causes losses of £26 billion a year for the UK alone, and so it is no surprise that the leading innovative businesses have embraced mindfulness, in the hope that it will reflect in not only employees’ wellbeing, but also in productivity levels, and ultimately in profits.

I believe that introducing mindfulness into an organisation is a step in the right direction. Research may still not be able to unequivocally say that practicing mindfulness increases productivity, however the results of neuroscience studies are impressive and the case studies such as those of Google and Aetna show it is definitely worth investing in.

If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of mindfulness at work, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at charlotte@hotspotsmovement.com

 

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/your-brain-work/200910/the-neuroscience-mindfulness

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/google-meditation-mindfulness-technology

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinstoller/2017/10/10/worlds-best-employers-2017/#7eb2ad252a01

[4] https://qz.com/work/1294914/the-ceo-of-aetna-was-considering-suicide-before-he-found-meditation/

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/business/at-aetna-a-ceos-management-by-mantra.html?_r=0

[6] http://citymha.org.uk/about-us/

 

Solving the productivity puzzle: The new ethical dilemma

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MHIn his 1994 book, ‘The Age of Diminishing Expectations’ Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, perspicaciously argued that ‘productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything’.[i] When one considers that productivity is perhaps the main driver in an economy’s ability to grow and therefore also the greatest predictor of the standard of living for a given person or group of people, it is difficult to disagree with Krugman’s contention.

In essence, productivity is defined as output per hour worked. In recent years, however, within the developed world productivity levels have been lagging. To elaborate, the recent ‘Skills and Employment Survey’ highlighted that in the UK, labour productivity has historically grown by around 2% per year since the 1970s, but since the 2008-2009 recession it has stagnated and has failed to climb back to its prerecession growth rate.[ii] This unprecedented and unexplained slump has become known as the ‘productivity puzzle’ and is an issue that has caused widespread concern amongst economists, business leaders and governments within the developed world.

As productivity levels continue to stagnate, organisations are implementing AI solutions which are reminiscent of Charlie Brooker’s superb dystopian TV show ‘Black Mirror’ to help boost productivity levels. Amazon, for example has recently patented a wristband that tracks the hand movements of warehouse workers and uses vibrations to nudge them into being more productive. Veriato, a software firm, is able to track and log every keystroke employees make on their computers in order to measure how dedicated they are to their role and the company.[iii] In Helsinki, a digital innovation consultancy named ‘Futurice’ has installed sensors that can track an employee’s every move in the office, even in the toilet.[iv] Such technologies fall under the remit of what experts call the internet of things (IoT). Employees report mixed feelings about these new technologies, with a Harvard Business Review study revealing an approximate 50/50 split between those who believe AI technology enhances productivity and those who either disagree or feel its impact is neutral.[v]

marvin blog.jpg

The appeal of using advanced AI from the organisation’s perspective is clear and, although surveillance at work is not a new concept (factory workers have long clocked in and out), the scale to which certain AI technologies can now be used to monitor the productivity of the workforce is leading some commentators to suggest they are bordering on Orwellian. This inevitably raises acute philosophical questions about the ethical underpinnings of applied AI in the workplace. Indeed, just how far are organisations willing to go in the pursuit of productivity? Finding the balance between safeguarding basic privacy, workers’ rights and enhanced productivity will raise some moral dilemmas for organisations, and will no doubt become central to AI discourse in the coming years.

Finding this equilibrium will not be an easy task for organisations. A recent RSA report on the ethics of AI suggests there is a public perception that we may be surrendering too much power to AI technology.[vi] One thorny issue is that existing ethical frameworks are often incompatible with the world of technology. Science has attempted to develop ethical frameworks before – from Asimov’s Three Laws for Robots to Nick Bostrom’s work on ethics. Adhering to these frameworks can be problematic, as humans often find it difficult to develop virtues for their own conduct, let alone build relevant virtues into new technologies.[vii] The debate around ethical AI must also consider how certain workers are better equipped than others to prevent employers going too far. For example, those with a specialist, in demand skill-set stand a greater chance of resisting any unethical implementation of AI, whereas those in insecure forms of employment such as zero-hours contract workers in low-wage industries, have considerably less leverage.

In the current economic climate, solving the productivity puzzle is an alluring prize for organisations. However, if organisations wish to solve it using certain AI, it must be conscientiously executed with a strong injection of humanity to help ensure workers can retain a sense of dignity in their work during this period of accelerated and uncertain change.


[i] Krugman, P. (1994) The Age of Diminishing Expectations. Cambridge, MIT Press

[ii] Retrieved from https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/1229833/1_Productivity_at_Work_Minireport_Final_edit_2.pdf

[iii]  The Economist (2018) AI in the Workplace

[iv]  Burke, C (2016) In offices of the future, sensors may track your every move – even in the bathroom (The Guardian)

[v] Retrieved from https://hbr.org/resources/pdfs/comm/verizon/18980_HBR_Verizon_IoT_Nov_14.pdf

[vi] Balaram, B (2018) The Ethics of Ceding More Power To Machines (RSA)

[vii] Dalmia, V. Sharma, K. (2018) The Moral Dilemmas of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (World Economic Forum)

Avoiding Learned Helplessness

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JF

Last month I was lucky enough to watch a presentation by Professor Dan Cable of London Business School, talking about a concept called Learned Helplessness and how it is affecting performance at work. Learned Helplessness is a psychological theory initially developed by Martin Seligman in the 1960’s and can be seen in many different aspects of our daily lives. The theory states that in the face of aversive stimuli, which an organism is unable to escape from, the organism will eventually accept the loss of control and give up trying to avoid the pain.

We see this in real life, more so than we are potentially aware of. Weight loss programmes are a great example. Working as an ex-swimming coach I’ve seen dozens of people decide to lose weight and pick up a new exercise regime or diet expecting instant results. When these results don’t come immediately they give up and try a different one, and another and another, eventually reaching a point of learned helplessness where they accept that they can never lose weight and give up trying.

Another example occurred at the World Cup with the Spanish football team. Spain, a footballing giant and a favourite for many to lift the trophy, sacked their manager just two days before the beginning of the tournament. What resulted from this was an embarrassment for a proud footballing nation, Spain were knocked out, in the Round of 16, by minnows Russia. Now there are many factors at play, but one suggested was that many footballers (not just Spanish ones) are so dependent on their managers direction that they’re unable to think for themselves. The Spanish team had five world cup winners in their midst, almost 60 top-tier domestic titles between them all and combined almost 950 international caps. These professionals had the experience to play with any manager, no matter who they were, yet they felt helpless to think for themselves.

So, as a professional, why is this important for you? Well there’s evidence to suggest that many employers are inadvertently creating an environment of Learned Helplessness. Employees are put to task doing mundane repetitive jobs and they lose the ability to engage their brain’s “seeking system” which we use to explore our environment and most importantly experiment and learn new things. And it’s not just repetitive tasks that can foster Learned Helplessness. Many organisations have a culture of “zero-tolerance” to failure. It’s long been known that when workers feel anxious or afraid they no longer receive the physiological reward for being creative or curious, meaning organisations are missing out on those innovative ideas that could make all the difference.

Women-in-Office-looking-tired-and-fed-up.jpg

But what can you do about it? How can you ensure your employees are constantly looking to innovate, be creative and learn new things and not in a state of Learned Helplessness? Well through our work here at Hot Spots Movement, there are a couple of ways which we find to be extremely effective in encouraging innovation:

  1. Ensure Psychological Safety

A common cause of Learned Helplessness in the workplace is a fear of the repercussions of failure and a perception that it is unwise to challenge the status quo. People must feel able to try new things and potentially fail. Google’s approach to this is well documented, with 10% of their people’s time dedicated to working on high risk, potential high reward projects, where failure is seen as a perfectly acceptable outcome for pushing the boundary. Further to this, employees should be comfortable challenging the norm and challenging leaders (within reason) as well. Just because “we’ve always done it that way”, doesn’t mean that it’s the right way and you should be encouraging your people to ask “why?”

  1. Encourage an Appetite for Learning

We’ve been banging the drum on this point here at Hot Spots for a little while now. “Good Work” is work that allows you to learn new things. As Dan Cable says, you must ensure your employees’ “Seeking Systems” are engaged to ensure they don’t just go through the motions at work, feeling powerless to change course or experiment. Instead, organisations must create an environment in which people seek to learn new things and where you aid them in developing skills and requirements for the future, not just the now.

  1. Demonstrate results

Finally, Learned Helplessness can easily result if people speak up about a new idea only to have it fall on deaf ears. If you really want your employees to be proactive, take on new challenges and elevate performance, then you need to visibly act on their suggestions or, at the very least, acknowledge the idea and explain what will happen next. It only takes a couple of instances of an employee’s idea being disregarded before Learned Helplessness sets in.

So, what’s the key message for you and your team? Consider the dynamic in your organisation: are people proactive in tackling challenges and crafting a way forward? Or is there a sense of inertia, suggesting a culture of Learned Helplessness? Spot this early and start making the small changes that enable your people to feel back in control.

If you’d like to find out more about how to prevent Learned Helplessness and how you can create a culture of learning and innovation within your organisation, then please don’t hesitate to reach out at john@hotspotsmovement.com

A Year at Hot Spots Movement

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MF

Last month marked my first year of working at Hot Spots Movement and it’s been a fruitful year of learning where I have kick-started a career in Community Management and met some fascinating people.  I’ve grown to be immensely proud to work here and this anniversary is a great cause to look back at the past 12 months and share what I’ve learnt throughout our Future of Work Themes and showcase how our research is implemented into our own employee experience.

Shifting Identities

Within weeks of joining the company it was time for The Future of Work’s second Masterclass of the year, Shifting Identities. I had jumped into the deep end of the investigation into what  organisations need to do differently to exuberate their diversity  efforts and for me personally identifying as a multi-cultural person and having just left a property company (currently quite a non-diverse industry!), I felt an instant connection and sense of belonging. Throughout the theme, we explored the need to rethink and engage the multiple identities of employees over time, such as dual-career couples, parents and older workers. As the months went on and we taught and consulted companies on how to move the needle in these key areas of inclusion and diversity, I soon witnessed the same practices being applied here and discovered how we foster our own constantly shifting identities – and there are many! We have a new mother, a new husband, a new charity owner, new homeowners, new graduates, multiple nationalities and several partners in ‘dual career’ relationships. Its been a fulfilling experience learning what all these identities and life experiences mean for our flexible ways of working and communicating and seeing how we incorporate numerous qualities such as trust and respect.

Intangible Assets

Our next theme, which we shared at our October 2017 Masterclass, was about what organisations need to do in order to be aware of whether their employees are building or depleting their productivity, vitality and ability to transform. Companies investing in their employees’ Intangible Assets was something which seemed logical to me – who wouldn’t think about their staff’s well-being?! I soon uncovered the impact that learning, vitality and the ability to transform has on employees engagement, creativity and pride in a company – not just their overall happiness at work. There is an abundance of research showing that Intangible Assets are crucial in enabling employees to thrive in the future and so it was great to see them reinforced into our work at Hot Spots Movement. For example, vitality and the notion of work life balance is extremely important here – several of our colleagues go to the gym or yoga classes together within working hours and we all get involved with the many aspects of the business, allowing us to constantly learn and be creative. Many of us have also changed and developed our roles in the last 12 months – including me! I’ve recently joined the Marketing and Comms function and am really enjoying embracing it as a new facet to Community Management.

Shifting Cultures

The third and final theme of my first 12 months was Shifting Cultures, which we explored at the beginning of this year and at our February Masterclass. With many organisations implementing and feeling the pressure of facilitating complex changes in their company cultures, we explored what it takes to enact such changes and, specifically, how, by whom, and what barriers exist. I was welcomed with open arms into a culture where our values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours are all aligned, creating an ethos which is collaborative, innovative and fun! We play games, have competitions, socialise and even little things like swapping seats every few months really keeps energy and interaction levels high. As a team, we have taken the time to get to know each other making us more supportive and stronger advocates of group work. We share projects allowing for ongoing challenges and creativity and we operate in a fast-paced, vibrant environment where we are all connected to our company’s purpose. We are also based in Somerset House – a renowned creative hub on the Thames, bringing a real sense of community to work.

I have had an inspiring first year at Hot Spots Movement and am very much looking forward to the next one where we will be exploring Agile People Strategies and The Future of High Performance, having just finished our immediate previous theme on Narratives on The Future of Work at our June Masterclass.

Get in touch with us now to find out how you can incorporate our research into engaging your employees!

melissa@hotspotsmovement.co

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How to Rethink Time

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AG

by Anna Gurun, Research Manager.

How many times have you wished that there were more hours in the day? At our recent Masterclass, we explored how organisations can work with their employees to build a narrative on the future of work, and discussions on time as a resource particularly resonated with our members.  Time is both a construct that contextualises our lives, and a resource that impacts the decisions we make for how to spend or save it, and therefore our happiness and well-being. So how can organisations rethink time to help improve the happiness and productivity of their employees? Here are two questions that will help you think about this in the context of your company:

  1. Do we really know how we spend our time?

For many professionals working in high-pressure jobs, time is status. The busier you are the more important you are. In fact, people often overestimate the number of hours they work, remembering their busiest week as typical. One study found that people estimating 75 plus hour work weeks were off, on average, by about 25 hours.[1] To enable people to accurately assess how they are investing their time, organisations can consider new tools such as time-tracking apps that run in the background of computer operating systems. This replaces perceptions with data and could enable people to cut out activities that are taking time but adding little value. Better still, assessing an organisation’s culture to ensure that presenteeism is not an indicator of status will help people make effective decisions about when to work and for how long. This starts with leaders and line managers role modelling healthy work hours.

  1. Are we balancing our time horizons?

In addition to misunderstanding how we spend our time, we also make rigid divisions between the present/short-term and the future/long-term, with significant implications for decision making.  A focus on the short-term can be constricting, with employees much less likely to invest in activities with delayed payoffs, such as learning. When people think short-term, they tend to view time as a scare resource and are more likely to make trade-offs, thinking about whether they should do something. Viewing the future as abstract, they put off decisions that could be beneficial in the longer term, like saving or learning. This is a problem for organisations, particularly those going through change and therefore requiring people to learn new skills and adapt behaviours. Research from the University of Stanford proposes that organisations take an elevated view of time.[2] This involves viewing all units of time as equal. In this mosaic view of time, a day is like any other day, not more important because of its proximity to your present. This zoomed out perspective forces people to consider now and later, making the future less abstract and pulling potential opportunities into the present. [3]

oclock-time

Time is a key organisational resource, and to support employees in investing in their future learning and saving, companies must rethink time, starting with taking an elevated view.

Perhaps begin by asking yourself the questions above: ‘How accurately do I understand how I use my time? And, what is my default time orientation – short term or longer term?’ Then consider this in the context of your team. It may be the key to freeing up the most precious resource we have as individuals and organisations.

For more information contact anna@hotspotsmovement.com

[1] Yanofsky, D. (Oct 18, 2012), ‘Study: People claiming to work more than 70 hours a Week are totally lying, probably’, The Atlantic

[2] Mogilner, C. Hershfiel, H.E and Aaker, J. (2018) ‘Rethinking Time – Implications for well-being’ Consumer Pscyhology Review 1-41, 53

[3] Ibid

‘Immense Harm Is Caused by the Belief That Work Is Virtuous.’ What We Can Learn From the Old Greats

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Blog by Emma Birchall for the Huffington Post and Hot Spots Movement

In 1932, philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote an essay titled In Praise of Idleness. He was writing at a time when only the most affluent in society had the opportunity for leisure time while the poor labored away in dirty, dangerous and dull work.

Today, in developed countries the situation is quite the opposite. For the first EBtime in history, the most skilled, highest earners in society are working the longest hours. But why is it that those who can afford the most leisure are now taking the least?

It turns out we still have much to learn from the old greats such as Russell and Keynes. Both had distinct yet complementary philosophies on the meaning of work that may help us understand why affluent knowledge workers, with above average pay cheques and already high standards of living, are slaving away to the point of burnout.

The first message is that as a society, we have had a vested interest in seeing work as virtuous. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, the virtues of work were extolled by the affluent, upper classes who, according to Russell, preached “the dignity of labor [to the poor], while taking care themselves to remain undignified in this respect.” The dignity of labor “kept adults from drink and children from mischief,” by distracting them with 15-hour work days. This ideology was reinforced by religious beliefs that the poor were far more likely to go to heaven than the rich, thus their gratification was coming, just posthumously. So what does this mean for today?

According to Keynes, despite entire populations moving into higher skill, higher paid work, “we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy.” We ascribe status now to those who make valuable contributions to the success of organizations and our “busyness” has become a proxy for that level of contribution. Perhaps then, if we are to resolve the challenge of long working hours, burnout and stress, we need to remind ourselves of the meaning of work, its role in our own lives and in society as a whole. Now that we don’t need work to prevent us all from becoming delinquent on gin and to get into the afterlife, maybe we can reassess how we spend our time?

A second message from the works of the old greats is that how we spend our leisure time is also a point of contention. Both Keynes and Russell stressed the importance of leisure time in pursuing academic and creative interests. According to Russell, the small leisure class in previous centuries “cultivated the arts and discovered sciences; it wrote the books, invented the philosophies, and refined social relations […] without the leisure class, man would never have emerged from barbarism.”

Today, we might argue that these activities take place within institutions such as universities, businesses and NGOs. However, Russell warned that when “studies are organized […] the man who thinks of some original line of research is likely to be discouraged,” making it an inadequate substitute for real leisure time.

While our context has changed markedly since the 18th and 19th Centuries, perhaps there is still something to take from this. How can we liberate people to pursue their passions, experiment and innovate under the necessary pre-condition of “no required output”? Some companies such as Google and 3G have attempted this with their “20 percent time to play” rule, allowing employees to spend the equivalent of one day a week following up on an idea they have had on the understanding that it may come to nothing. But maybe, instead of creating rules around when and how much work time people can spend in liberated, free-thinking, we need to accept the fact that people need to be absent, disconnected and unrestricted if we want them to come up with new ideas.

In short, we need to acknowledge the value of leisure time and ensure that work does not encroach. Likewise, we need to reserve energy as well as time for the pursuit of leisure or else, according to Russell, “pleasures […] become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on [… as a result of our] active energies being fully taken up with work.”

Keynes predicted that we would all be working three-hour days by now. We’ve perhaps ended up closer to Russell’s depiction of “a large percentage of the population idle, because we can dispense with their labour by making the others overwork.” We simultaneously have people working extended hours and persistent unemployment.

Could our ineffectiveness at addressing the skills mismatches behind this phenomenon be in part because we can make the skilled overwork? Both Keynes and Russell expected it to take some time to transition into a society that can accept and create value through extended leisure, without blindly pursuing more and more work as an end in itself. But perhaps it’s worth remembering Russell’s departing line: “there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.”