Is your business destroying employees’ emotional vitality?

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Lynda - Hot Spots Movement - Portrait by LK - web size 72dpi

By Lynda Gratton

The topic of emotional vitality has recently become increasingly popular in HR circles – and the general consensus is that if you are an employee, your emotional vitality is suffering at the hands of your employers.
This might be important news to individuals, but why are so many companies interested? Why do they care if people are stressed or tired?

The reason is that as work becomes more complex, balance and creativity are becoming increasingly vital to competitive advantage – and it’s a well-established research finding that while tired, stressed people are perfectly able to do their normal everyday tasks, they are also less able to be creative.

Stress is your biggest risk

So, what exactly are organisations doing to destroy their employees’ emotional vitality? The #1 answer everywhere is stress – and there are three reasons why.

  1. Demands and obligations – Stressed people often cite the number demands and obligations placed upon them at work as a key cause of stress. What this tells us is that stress often originates from the design of work, with many employees finding themselves faced with ridiculous demands as a result of poor management and duplication of effort. To combat this, companies need to design work to manage the demands the demands placed on people and to reduce the amount of unimportant tasks people are required to perform.
  2. Discretionary time – My research shows that when it comes to stress, the issue is not the hours people work but whether they have the capacity to take time out to rejuvenate themselves. We could all work for 12 hours a day. In fact, many of us have been selected for our jobs because we have the ability to do so. The important thing is that we can’t do it all the time. What matters is not simply taking time off, but when we do it and whether we feel we can do so. There’s nothing wrong with expecting employees to be always-on as long as they know that is the nature of the job and they have ample time to recuperate.
  3. Constraint – If you ask what drives Gen Y workers what drives them mad at work, presenteeism is often the answer. Younger employees resent the need to stay in the office until 10pm and the constraint of having to be “seen”. In fact they find it upsetting, since working additional hours affords them little advantage. Crucially, this is not about flexible working but about job design and recuperation.

These issues matter because stress is a huge problem – one so big, it’s actually business risk. In fact next time you conduct a risk analysis, you should probably include stress on your risk list. And as you can see, job design is key when it comes to mitigating this risk.

The importance of the work-home cycle

As research by academics such as Hans-Joachim Wolfram shows, the work-home cycle also has a huge role to play when it comes to managing and combating stress. This cycle can be either caustic and draining, or positive. Work doesn’t have the monopoly on stress – a person’s home life can be stressful too – but for the most part, people leave home feeling authentic and resilient at home because it is a place where they can feel authentic and have the opportunity to recuperate in a supportive environment. However, if people leave home feeling guilty or anxious, it can affect their stress levels at work. By the same token, if an individual leaves work feeling networked, inspired by things they have learnt, this has a positive spillover into their home life: in this context, work is good and the knowledge and connections gained there can be a source of support for the family.

To get the balance of the work-home cycle right, organisations need to stop thinking about work and home as two unconnected spheres, because they are incredibly connected. Companies must think about how they support families and about whether employees have enough scope to ensure a cycle of positive spillover.

Collaboration Week webinar theme announced

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We’re pleased to announce the theme of our Collaboration Week webinar: Leading a Collaborative Organisation. Professor Lynda Gratton will deliver a talk based on this topic, and will be joined by a special guest speaker. The webinar, which will be broadcast live at 10am BST and 3pm BST on Monday, 14th April is part of a week of Collaboration-based activities organised by The Hot Spots Movement.

Get Involved

  • Join one of our events – contact sarahlouise@hotspotsmovement.com to register your interest for our free webinar and/or pop-up event.
  • Invite your network – Do you know anyone else who is passionate about collaboration? Invite them along.
  • Submit an article – We’re also taking submissions on collaboration for our newsletter and blog – so if you have an opinion or a story to tell, get in touch. To register for any of our events or to submit some content, contact sarahlouise@hotspotsmovement.com.

Keep checking our blog and Twitter feed for the latest speaker announcements and collaboration content.

Serious games and collaboration

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Dr. Howard B. Esbin By Dr Howard B Esbin, Heliotrope, Founder & Director Guest poster Dr Howard B Esbin takes a look at the primal origins of play, the history of using games as a collaborative tool, and their growing importance for modern business.  It takes just 0.41 seconds for Google’s search engine to list 16, 200,000 results on the twinned topic of serious games and collaboration. The following search headings are representative.

  • Designing collaborative multi-player serious games
  • Problem solving and collaboration using serious games
  • Scripted collaboration in serious gaming for complex learning
  • Collaboration in serious game development: a case study
  • Problem solving and collaboration using mobile serious games

Let’s start with the term ‘collaborate’. It stems from the ancient Latin ‘collaborare’ meaning to ‘work with’. The contemporary definition is “work jointly on an activity, esp. to produce or create something”  (New Oxford American Dictionary). ‘Cooperation’ also stems from the Latin ‘cooperationem” meaning “working together”. The semantic roots of both words are closely intertwined for good reason. The science of evolutionary cooperation offers some insight why. Cooperation is practised by many species. Bees, for example, cooperate to produce their hives and honey. Humans learned, through long experience and adaptation, that cooperation is an immense asset for survival. ‘Play’ is another activity, like cooperation, with primal roots. “Anyone who has ever tossed a Frisbee to a beloved dog knows that playfulness crosses species lines. What does this mean? For humans and other animals, play is a universal training course and language of trust” (Fred Donaldson). Games grew naturally out of play. The original Proto-Germanic meaning of ‘game’ included: ‘joy, glee, sport, merriment, participation, communion, people together.’. In other words, our ancestors understood that games brought people together. ‘Communion’ a natural outcome is defined as “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, esp. when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level” (New Oxford American Dictionary). “Games are formalized expressions of play which allow people to go beyond immediate imagination and direct physical activity. Games capture the ideas and behaviours of people at one period of time and carry that through time to their descendants. Games like liubo, xiangqi, and go illustrate the thinking of the military leaders who employed them centuries ago.”

Ceramic tomb figurines of two gentlemen playing liubo, Han Dynasty (25–220 CE)
Ceramic tomb figurines of two gentlemen playing liubo, Han Dynasty (25–220 CE)

Liubo, for example, pictured in the photo below is at least two thousand years old. “The realm of strategy… is where games have exerted the most remarkable impact on the conduct of war, serving as a tool for, as one U.S. Army general put it, “writing history in advance”.  Apropos, Lord Wellington is supposed to have famously said, “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”. So we now understand that the role of play and games has been educational for a long time and instrumental in helping people work together more effectively. There are now 7.151 billion people living on this planet (as estimated by the United States Census Bureau). Practically speaking, anyone can contact anyone else thanks to ubiquitous Internet, inexpensive communication technologies, and almost free accessibility. Collaboration Play and games can stretch our imaginations in so many different and beneficial ways. Giving the means to billions of people is an immense phenomenon. No wonder the “worldwide video game industry is booming with sales revenues expected to reach $101 billion dollars this year”. For example, “1 billion people spend at least 1 hour a day playing games…(which means) 7 billion hours of highly engaged gameplay a week worldwide” (ibid). On the other hand, “89% of global workers are unengaged” according to Gallup (ibid). This is costing an estimated “$2 trillion dollars is the estimated cost of unengaged workers for companies annually” (ibid). Simply put, “realizing the engagement power behind games, companies…are looking to gamification as a way to better its productivity and employee satisfaction” (ibid). Deloitte Consulting’s Leadership Academy is a good example of this burgeoning trend. “DLA is an online program for training its own employees as well as its clients. DLA found that by embedding missions, badges, and leaderboards into a user-friendly platform alongside video lectures, in-depth courses, tests and quizzes, users have become engaged and more likely to complete the online training programs… Using gamification principles, use of its Deloitte Leadership Academy (DLA) training program has increased 37% in the number of users returning to the site each week. Participants are spending increased amounts of time on the site and completing programs in increasing numbers…The technology research firm Gartner, Inc. predicts gamification will be used in 25 percent of redesigned business processes by 2015, this will grow to more than a $2.8 billion business by 2016, and 70 percent of Global 2000 businesses will be managing at least one “gamified” application or system by 2014.” In conclusion, the relation between serious gaming and collaboration has never been clearer or its value more immediate. Dr. Howard B. Esbin is the creator of Prelude, a serious game that fosters trust and collaboration. It is used in schools, community agencies, and workplace training internationally. Its design is informed by his research on social learning, imagination, and positive psychology. He founded Heliotrope, a social enterprise to promote Prelude and related research. Howard also has two decades of senior management experience in the private sector, international development, and philanthropy. The International Labour Organization, Education Canada, and UNESCO have published his work. 

Behind Every Great Woman, Is a Primary Care Giver?

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work
Not a particularly catchy phrase is it? Yet, it was perhaps the loudest message to attendees of a recent conference on gender in the workplace.

The delegates, predominantly 20- and 30- somethings, were treated to a line up of some of the most incredible women in the fields of business, government, finance and media. Many of these inspirational leaders attributed their success to good networks, a strong sense of purpose and never shying away from risks and opportunities when they arose. Interestingly, however, many also emphasised the importance of “finding the right husband.” And in this case, the right husband was one who would be prepared to raise the kids, relocate for your career as quickly as he would for his own, and who would accept your long working hours, high stress levels and long periods of absence.

Now, few women, even us stereotypically independent Millennial types, would reject the benefits of having a supportive, caring and kind partner to turn to while we navigate our complex careers. What we might perhaps find less palatable is turning this “nice to have” into a “business critical”. (This sentiment was echoed by one attendee, who posed the question “What advice would you give to single mothers because I’d hate to add ‘find a husband’ to my to-do list?” That this question received a rapturous round of applause, spoke volumes.)

With 42% of marriages in the UK ending in divorce, finding the right husband is not a particularly resilient career plan, nor is it advice that anyone can really act on unless partner-finding takes on the same rigour as the average recruitment campaign (and while there are signals that this is the approach favoured by some, it is thankfully not yet accepted by many). Instead, perhaps we should be encouraging men and women to create sustainable and resilient networks of support including, but not limited to, a husband/wife should they desire one, find one, marry one and manage to avoid divorcing one. Likewise, the advice should perhaps be for a stronger call for real flexible working arrangements that cross something off the to-do list of single parents rather than adding to the workload.

The advice was of course well-intentioned and drawn from the particular experiences of some of the guest speakers in attendance. To request they recommend anything else would be insincere. Instead, we’ll do well to take the principle of the recommendation – building good support networks – and then tailor the rest to suit the lifestyle we ultimately half create and half have bestowed upon us by luck, circumstance and events beyond our control.

Perhaps the phrase should instead be “Behind every great leader is a support network, future-focused organization and an awareness that relationships can rarely be project managed.”

Still not very catchy though is it?

Join us for Collaboration Week

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As the world around us becomes more digital and more connected, we all have to collaborate in ways we never previously considered – and collaboration is at the heart of any successful initiative.

What’s On

Join us from 14-17 April 2014, for our special programme of collaboration-themed events:

  • Collaboration webinar, 14th April, 10am BST and 3pm BST – Join Lynda Gratton and special guest speakers for a discussion of why collaboration is such a timely topic, as well as the latest findings on collaborative working and tips for increasing collaborative potential within your organisation.
  • Tweetjam, 16th April, 10am BST and 3pm BST  – Lynda Gratton, our COO Tina Schneidermann and special guests will be responding to your collaboration questions live on Twitter. Follow @HspotM and use  hashtag #collabweek14
  • Collaboration pop-up, 17th April, Somerset House, London – Join the Hot Spots Movement team for this exciting pop-up event featuring lightning talks by guest speakers, collaboration activities, and the opportunity to talk to an expert about your current collaboration challenges.

Get Involved

  • Join one of our events – contact sarahlouise@hotspotsmovement.com to register your interest for our free webinar and/or pop-up event.
  • Invite your network – Do you know anyone else who is passionate about collaboration? Invite them along.
  • Submit an article – We’re also taking submissions on collaboration for our newsletter and blog – so if you have an opinion or a story to tell, get in touch. To register for any of our events or to submit some content, contact sarahlouise@hotspotsmovement.com.

Keep checking our blog and Twitter feed for the latest speaker announcements and collaboration content.

Sex: Does it Make You Better at Your Job?

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By Emma Birchall, Head of Research – Future of Work

The link has been contested for centuries with Plato warning Olympians to abstain before competitions. Sex is, of course, just one of the long list of activities we are told to do or to avoid in order to concentrate better, be more creative, have more energy and generally succeed in our work. So, what’s the answer? How do we know what works and what doesn’t? Well, the latest development in the movement to quantify everything could help. Forget the Quantified Self – which tracks calories burned, miles run and steps taken – we now have the Quantified Mind. This movement promises to capture data on our mental performance, day-to-day and year-to-year, identifying patterns of behaviour that enable us to be our best. For some people, this may mean abstaining from sex, but being sure to have a full breakfast. For others, perhaps the combination of meditation and meetings scheduled for 4pm rather than 3pm is the winning formula.

To produce the data required to identify winning behaviour patterns, companies such as QuantifiedMind provide people with a series of tests they must complete before and after the activity in question. Ever wondered whether your morning latte really does increase your alertness, or if it is merely a habit or placebo? Join Quantified Mind’s Coffee experiment and, by completing a set of tests each day before and after having your coffee, you will produce a set of data that indicates how this routine activity really helps or hinders your performance.

But, how accurate is this data on the complex relationship between an activity and subsequent performance? Critics such as John Bogle, founder of investment company Vanguard, argues that “Numbers are not reality. At best, they are a pale reflection of reality. At worst, they are a gross distortion of the truths.” Hence, relying on statistics to create a direct causal link between one activity and another could be misguided given all the distractions, events and emotions that influence our performance on a given day. Even if the data does provide some clues as to how to increase our effectiveness, is this a path we want to go down as individuals and as society, tracking our thoughts, actions and behaviours to the point that it becomes oppressive and perhaps even narcissistic? If the success of the Quantified Self movement is any indicator, these concerns will surely be overshadowed by our curiosity and innate desire to do all we can to enhance our performance. If your colleague skips their morning coffee tomorrow before submitting a winning proposal, you too may find yourself more curious than concerned about your Quantified Mind.

Fulfilling the Promise of Virtual Worlds

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Guest blogger Darren Keegan, Director, UK, Tycoon Systems, lets us in on the secret of why businesses have been wary of virtual worlds – and explains why they are missing out. 

At a recent Future of Work Masterclass event I presented on the use of an IndustryMasters business simulation within a bespoke Virtual World named VirBELA. The talk included inworld footage of globally dispersed virtual teams grappling with business issues in a highly-charged competitive environment with the only real difference being that we were watching avatars instead of the people themselves. We heard and were able to watch arresting behaviours such as team conflict, negative and positive body language, exceptional levels of engagement and critical decision making as it happened in-world. All of which had very clear and obvious applications for business use. Which is why the question I was asked almost immediately did not come as a great surprise: “Whatever happened to Second Life?”.

In this article I’ll try to give a more detailed and thoughtful response than I gave at the time, but even there I was able to recognise that the answer had as much to do with what happened to virtual reality and its value to business as it did the progeny of Linden Labs. For further context, it’s worth considering that in Gartner’s 2013 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Virtual Reality still finds itself rooted firmly in “The Trough of Disillusionment” with an expected wait of 5 to 10 years before potentially reaching the “Plateau of Productivity” where mainstream adoption begins. And whilst Second Life’s 10th Anniversary last year was an opportunity to celebrate a marketplace with over 2m virtual goods for sale and revenues of $3.2bn – hardly a failure – its use by business has all but disappeared. So what happened?

Firstly, it is arguable that the very public failure of many virtual world projects has had an arresting influence on its growth. Research has indicated that over 90 percent of corporate virtual world projects failed within 18 months and less than 10 percent of virtual world registrants become active users, figures largely attributed to technology issues with bandwidth requirements, rendering speeds and the stability of virtual world platforms. A more significant yet largely unheralded issue is likely to relate to issues of privacy and security within virtual worlds, where firms simply do not trust them enough to openly discuss or work on sensitive material.

Yet, technology has improved immeasurably in the past decade and many of the issues which beset the first forays into virtual worlds by pioneering companies such as Cisco and IBM have been largely addressed with bespoke and secure platforms such as VirBELA offering further solutions to issues of security. From research across a staggering range of disciplines we know that virtual worlds offer a host of benefits, particularly where team collaboration across multiple geographies is a necessity. With numerous studies accentuating the superiority of virtual worlds over alternative collaboration modes such as videoconferencing, both in terms of cost and bandwidth requirements.

Our own work demonstrates that the missing link here may, in fact, be purpose. Simply put companies have been unsure what use to make of virtual worlds. Now, simulation technology has progressed to the point that almost any business issue can be modelled in an effective way allowing organisations to address issues such as M&A activity, Diversity and Innovation, Talent Management processes and so on. Yet the potential now exists to build models within a virtual world where the environment itself can be leveraged to reflect the themes being discussed. Genuinely global teams can be formed around business issues which resonate with employees in an environment specifically adapted for synchronous and asynchronous use, where geography can no longer be responsible for the distance and dysfunction common to virtual teams. A place where the potential of virtual worlds may finally be realised.