By Tom Goulding, Analyst
It has been widely reported that stress is the “health epidemic of the 21st Century”. The latest statistics for the UK suggest that 12.8 million workdays were lost in 2018/19 to work-related stress, depression, and anxiety.1 The most commonly-cited reason was workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility. Evidence strongly suggests that stress impacts employee health2, job satisfaction3, turnover4, as well as productivity and profits.5
The resulting costs of a stressed workforce are significant, and employers have taken note. The Organisational Health and Wellbeing industry that seeks to reduce workplace stress was worth an estimated £526 million in the UK last year.6 However, the effectiveness of programmes in improving wellbeing is questionable. One study examined over 30,000 U.S. warehouse workers, finding those in wellbeing programmes reported no difference in absenteeism, healthcare spending, or job performance.7 Another study implies corporate wellbeing programmes are overwhelmingly taken up by healthy employees, and may even alienate those dealing with existing issues, meaning that programmes can screen out the employees that need help the most.8
The corporate approach to wellbeing evidently needs to be re-examined. W. Edwards Deming argued that “every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets”, and it seems clear that many organisations are currently designed to produce stressed workers. It seems tautological to say that people are stressed because work is stressful, but it is an important point to make. While theory and evidence both suggest some level of stress is beneficial for performance, too much stress is undoubtedly harmful, as shown in the graph below. If most people are more stressed than is optimal, this is because their roles are more stressful than is optimal.
Wellbeing initiatives often focus on individuals, aiming to improve their resilience or boost the sense of satisfaction employees get from their work. While there is a growing ‘job crafting’ movement9 in the Human Resources world, the power to redesign roles generally belongs to organisations rather than employees. Individual resilience is just one half of the picture. The focus on individuals is particularly convenient for employers, as it precludes any scrutiny into how they are contributing to the problem. This oversight likely underlies the previously discussed ineffectiveness of many wellbeing initiatives.
Furthermore, shifting responsibility from the least powerful part of the system (individuals) to the most powerful (the organisation) magnifies the potential impact of interventions. To take an example that has likely impacted your own life, consider plastic straws. You can choose to personally avoid plastic straws, but it would be impossible for an individual to match the impact of Tesco’s recent decision10 to remove one billion pieces of single-use plastic from their stores by end of 2020, or many retailers’ decision to remove plastic straws altogether.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach but, ultimately, a large portion of the responsibility must lie with the organisation to listen to their people and act to make changes to the system. Some situations can be remedied by increased flexibility of working hours or location, while others require more clearly-defined boundaries between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’. Some companies would benefit from having wellbeing sessions during the workday, while others would generate yet more stress as employees try to find the time to fit these in among their schedules. Offering free gym classes or fresh fruit and calling it a day simply are not enough, and often miss the mark entirely. Organisations must develop a signature approach to wellbeing that is tailored specifically for their people and environment.
Of course, it is still up to employees to engage with wellbeing initiatives once they are deployed, but deployment of genuinely effective initiatives is only possible once organisations accept their responsibility and start making systematic changes to address their specific issues.
If you’re interested in developing a clear picture of where to begin within your own organisation, or want to discuss your own experience with health and wellbeing initiatives, please feel free to get in touch with me.
- Health and Safety Executive. (2019). Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain; https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019). Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behaviour;
- Ismail et al. (2015). The Relationship between Stress and Job Satisfaction: Evidence from a Malaysian Peacekeeping Mission.
- Lu Y, Hu X, Huang X, et al. (2017). The relationship between job satisfaction, work stress, work–family conflict, and turnover intention among physicians in Guangdong, China: a cross-sectional study.
- Denning, Stephanie. (2018). How Stress Is The Business World’s Silent Killer; https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephaniedenning/2018/05/04/what-is-the-cost-of-stress-how-stress-is-the-business-worlds-silent-killer/#706b6546e061
- IbisWorld. (2019). Corporate Wellness Services in the UK – Market Research Report; https://www.ibisworld.com/united-kingdom/market-research-reports/corporate-wellness-services-industry/
- Song, Baicker. (2019). Effect of a Workplace Wellness Program on Employee Health and Economic Outcomes: A Randomized Clinical Trial
- Jones, Molitor, Reif. (2018). What Do Workplace Wellness Programs Do? Evidence from the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study.
- Lee, Louise. (2016). Should Employees Design Their Own Jobs? https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/should-employees-design-their-own-jobs
- Tesco news bulletin. (2019); https://www.tescoplc.com/news/2019/tesco-to-remove-one-billion-pieces-of-plastic-from-products-by-the-end-of-2020/?category=packaging
The 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 . 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. 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.
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.
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
On 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
 Beheshti, Naz. (2019). Stigma About Mental Health Issues in the Workplace Exists: Here’s What Companies Can Do About It. Forbes.
 Myers, Chris (2017). How to Avoid Self-Induced Stress and Decision Fatigue in Business. Forbes.
When we meet people, we often think that we can tell a lot about them by the occupation they have. “So, what do you do?” is probably the most common icebreaker I hear, as our work is often regarded as shorthand for explaining to people who we are.[i] But our work identity is not our only identity.
No one person has a single identity; we all have talents, interests, relationships with others, causes we’re passionate about and worldviews that help to make us who we are. In order to embrace our authentic selves throughout our careers, the question researchers are now asking is how to balance the multiple identities that we have. But, after exploring agile people strategies here at Hot Spots Movement, what I think we should be asking is how to integrate them.[ii]
We are increasingly moving away from the 9-5, from which people can clock off and assume their out-of-office identity. With technology enabling a 24/7 culture and people demanding flexible, agile ways of working, our work and our personal lives are becoming more and more interwoven. Instead of allowing our work to monopolise our time and become the core part of our identity (something psychologists call “work-role centrality”) or viewing our work as something that begins and ends and is entirely separate from other aspects of our lives, integrating our identities enables us to be our authentic selves at all times, living and working according to our values and passions.[iii]
The rise in thinking about work-life integration focuses on scheduling time to disconnect and break away from our desks at multiple points throughout the day to ensure that we are maintaining our vitality and sustaining our productivity. Perhaps this can be as easy as using our lunch breaks more effectively, for example, to go to the gym, attend a lecture or catch up on that tv episode you missed. It might be leaving work early to make sure you have dinner with your family or friends and making up that time at home later on.
To fully integrate our work-life identities, we should consider how to reignite or reinforce our connection with work. Instead of perceiving work as something we have to switch off from, how can we make work more meaningful and more aligned with our other identities?
Firstly, we can seek out new projects. When current work isn’t stimulating, we should find new ways to feed our intellectual curiosity. Seeking new challenges and a greater variety within our working day may help us to gain a whole new perspective on what work means to us and what really holds our interest. Similarly, pursuing new skills that we’re passionate about mastering or gain new knowledge on a topic we’ve always been interested in can raise both our engagement and sense of purpose at work.[iv]
Expanding our networks and meeting diverse people can introduce us not only to potential new friends but to potential new futures for ourselves, as these connections may be able to offer advice and guidance as we forge new career paths. Attending external conferences, lectures and events, or reaching out to colleagues from different internal functions are simple ways to integrate our work with our other interests.
To stop your work identity from becoming your only identity, find ways to integrate and align your work with your passions, interests and talents. To talk more about our identities at work, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] Al Gini, ‘Work, Identity and Self: How We Are Formed by the Work We Do’ (1998).
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
By Charlotte Jenkins, Marketing and Community Manager.
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. 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.
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. Perhaps this approach to wellbeing is one of the reasons why Google is consistently rated as the world’s best employer. 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. 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.
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. 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 email@example.com
In 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]
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
[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)
[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)
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.
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:
- 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?”
- 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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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:
- 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. 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.
- 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. 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. 
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.
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 Yanofsky, D. (Oct 18, 2012), ‘Study: People claiming to work more than 70 hours a Week are totally lying, probably’, The Atlantic
 Mogilner, C. Hershfiel, H.E and Aaker, J. (2018) ‘Rethinking Time – Implications for well-being’ Consumer Pscyhology Review 1-41, 53