By Graham Oxley, Project Manager – Digital Engagement
Whether 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. 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. 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.
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 email@example.com.
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).
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.
For more information contact email@example.com
 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
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 time 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.”
10 years ago, Lynda Gratton and Hot Spots Movement set out to figure out what the future of work would look like. Lynda had a hunch that there would be a massive transformation and was keen to understand 1. what was changing, and 2. how it would impact organisations, people and ultimately 3. how work would change as a result. We gathered an enthusiastic group of companies who would spend an academic year with us coming up with answers to these three questions.
You could argue, and we would agree, with the wisdom of hindsight, that it was rather optimistic to expect that after less than one year, we would have clear and concise answers.
10 years on, we’re still at it, and it’s getting more exciting by the day. In fact, it turned out that what we had started wasn’t a one-year research consortium, but a journey with an open-ended ticket, where the destinations and the routings are being defined as we move along.
The first leg of the journey was about identifying the major forces that would impact and partially or significantly define what organisations and work would look like, as well as the shape and form of future talent. We looked at technology, globalisation, societal change, demography and low carbon.
The second leg of the journey was spent on understanding how these major forces challenge fixtures of work such as – ‘work has a place’ – we work in an office or in a factory; ‘work has a time’ – we work from 9-5 or we work shifts’; and ‘work is a job’ – we’re employed to do a defined role, on a permanent basis. We explored what happens if these fixtures would no longer hold up, and we quickly moved from ‘if’ to ‘when’ as it rapidly became clear that the jury was no longer out on whether it would happen but only on how quickly.
The third leg was when we turned to investigating in detail what was happening in people’s lives, based on the understanding that at some stage (generally it should happen sooner than it does), work and organisations need to adapt to what is happening in people’s lives. We saw lots of evidence that rather than expect people – talent – to conform to how work had been organised, largely unchanged, since the 1950s, the organisation of work would need to change to attract and engage talent. So, we dove into shifting identities – how notions such as gender, family structures, age are now much more fluid and diverse. We established the need for organisations to create workplaces that embrace the whole selves of their talent and how they evolve, in all facets, over time.
All along the way, we have focused on how companies need to adapt their legacy people policies and processes. One of our favourite images to illustrate the status of people processes in many global organisations is an archaeological excavation site with multiple layers. To
understand how companies can address the challenge of having to attract and engage talent with/despite multiple era processes, we studied the Future of HR and particularly the importance of identifying and saying parting with sunset processes.
Are we at our final destination? Absolutely not! Because the future of work is impacted by how people’s lives change, by technology and by societal change, all of which remains in the making, our final destination is not yet in sight. There is so much we still need to understand, and over the next 12 months, we’ll be researching Agile People Strategy, the High-performing Organisation, and Digitising the Organisation. We’ll be looking into why so many big organisations are struggling to adopt flexible working widely, what digitalisation means for organisations, talent and work.
So my prediction is that in five years’ time, we’ll be as excited about the future of work as we were 10 years ago and as we are now.
Please stay in touch – this co-creational project is only possible thanks to great members of the Future of Work Research Consortium (www.hotspotsmovement.com).
Are your employees doing enough exercise?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), roughly 35% of people fall short of the recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical exercise.
Now I know that I don’t always reach that magical figure and my number one reason is – no time. If, like myself, you work full time, you can expect to spend around 50% of your waking day at work. When you throw in things such as duties at home and having a social life, you can easily run out of time to fit in some exercise or even just have the pleasure of walking to work. This has consequences.
Here in the UK we lose 131 million working days due to ill-health each year, which is roughly translated as around £100 billion(1). This sickening figure could easily be reduced according to those in academia. Multiple studies have shown that increases in exercise (both during and after work), can lead to a reduction in sick days, less presenteeism and an overall reduction in the cost of sickness absence for organisations.
And there are good examples that this is true from outside of academia as well. As Phil Smith, Chairman of Cisco, highlighted in a recent FT article, a significant portion of Cisco’s private healthcare budget is spent treating musculoskeletal conditions, caused primarily by sedentary work. This, many argue, can be reduced simply by employees exercising more, rather than spending their time sitting at their desks.
But it’s not just on absenteeism and healthcare budgets where you’ll see impressive gains, it’s also about how your employees perform when they’re at work where you’ll see a difference.
The benefits of exercise are well-documented – it puts your staff in a better mood and reduces their likelihood of suffering from depression. But importantly for many employers it also improves productivity, memory and can even lead to be better job satisfaction, which again improves overall performance. On the opposite side of the coin, common challenges such as workplace stress, burnout, employee turnover and presenteeism, were all found to be reduced when employees were given the option to exercise more whilst at work.
The final benefit can be found in how whole teams perform. A recent study out of Loughborough University(2) found that employees taking part in team-sports, such as football, netball, volleyball and rugby reported an improvement in team cohesion and also their overall performance.
So, it’s clear then that you can improve your bottom line by helping your employees improve their own wellbeing. Relatively easy steps like the messaging given out and the example set by leaders is a great way to encourage employees to be more active – and when they start to see some changes, so will you.
As a challenge to you all then, this week ask yourself: Am I truly encouraging my team to take opportunities for movement and exercise during the day? Am I taking the stairs or hosting walking meetings rather than just sitting in a meeting room? Am I leading by example or could I be doing more?
Distracted. Stressed. Burned out. In an age of constant communication and economic pressure, a common dilemma for workers today is how to manage all of the competing demands in work and life. As a researcher of Future of Work, I have been studying and exploring this topic for over five years now. Here are three strategies I have found to be most useful for successfully managing our multiple responsibilities:
- Strive for work-life integration—not balance. It is true that for some time, the advice was to create stiffer boundaries between work and home but new research suggests that maintaining strict distinctions between work roles and home roles might actually be what is causing our feelings of stress to set in. Researchers Jeffrey Greenhaus and Gary Powell expand on this concept and recommend that work and personal life should be allies and that integration of multiple identities, such as parent, partner, friend, employee, can actually enhance physical and psychological well-being. Simply put, even in the busiest of schedules, the most practical and effective way we can live is by aligning our personal priorities of work, family, health, and well-being. Stewart Friedman, Professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has developed a very thought-provoking exercise that can help us examine the importance and congruence of our various identities and responsibilities in life. (You can do it online at this free site: myfourcircles.com.)
- Make time for the work that matters: By managing our time differently, we can work more effectively in less time and improve our wellbeing. Researchers Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir have found that reducing the workday to fewer hours creates periods of heightened productivity called ‘focus dividends’, thereby forcing us to prioritise the work that matters. Recently, I came across a company called Tower Paddle Boards who are experimenting with this approach by letting employees leave by lunchtime. The results have been astounding. They have been part of the 5000 list of America’s fastest growing companies over the past two years and in 2015, their 10-person team generated $9 million in revenues.
- Build periods of recovery: The very lack of a recovery period is dramatically holding back our collective ability to be resilient and successful. In today’s hyper-paced environment, we need to build periods of relaxation that take place within the frames of the workday in the form of short breaks. One strategy is inspired by the research of Nathaniel Kleitman, who established that our brains work in 90-minute rest-activity cycles not only when we sleep but also when we are awake. This means that we should take a recharging break every hour and a half, especially if we are using technology, which makes the brain overly active. Evidence for this approach can be seen in the work of Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues from Florida State University who have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors, and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes.
I’m really looking forward to exploring this topic further and look forward to presenting additional insights at our upcoming Future of Work Masterclass on Shifting Identities.