I’m Productive – What Should I Stop Doing?

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For somebody like me for whom time is a gift – not as extra years added to the later part of my life but right now in the form of an 8th day of the week, an extra hour every day – I’m keen to understand why time is so volatile. Why are so many people struggling to make ends meet time-wise at work?

When at Hot Spots Movement we speak to companies around the world, and again lately when we were in Australia, we hear from senior executives how stretched they are, with many requests on their time that are not to do with their ‘day job’. Of course, in a time such as this of increasingly fluid job design and project-based working, the definition of ‘day job’ is not a hard and fast one. Nevertheless, it seems that many of the requests are peripheral to people’s roles. You may ask why this is an issue – after all being useful is profoundly satisfying to most people, and contributing to the ‘greater good’ of the organisation by delivering input over and above your own projects surely is positive? It is, but not at the expense of preserving time to focus, to think, and to ponder longer-term strategic matters. When people are persistently stretched, and their time therefore is too fragmented, their productivity, creativity and wellbeing may suffer. Although a hidden cost for some time, it will eventually catch up with both the individual and the organisation.

So, what is it that is occupying the time of busy executives, and are these tasks really adding value? They seem to fall into two categories: reporting, and collaborative endeavours, such as attending meetings or reviewing others’ work.

Let’s start with reporting. One of the many great columns Lucy Kellaway wrote in The Financial Times was about why young people leave jobs. Her empirical evidence was that they lose the will to live because they were promised meaningful work, however, once on the job, they’re asked to produce reports and spreadsheets that are not being put to use. I’m not convinced this only happens to young people.

Next, collaboration. As the new and indiscriminately applied preferred working style in many organisations, there’s a tendency to over-collaborate and be too consensus-focused (or afraid of taking full accountability). Both lead to more meetings and more requests for input, where in fact one or two viewpoints would suffice. Of course, there’s a certain respect for hierarchy, and there are compliance-driven requests, but we could question more what is on our to-do list, be they legacy tasks or new tasks. And a bit tongue-in-cheek, see what happens if we don’t get around to providing our input. I’m not sure it would always even be noticed?

As companies move to designing work around projects rather than roles, I’m wondering if we should learn from freelance workers who work on discrete and time-defined projects, measured on outcome, and therefore can focus on these? Perhaps a zero-budgeting [1] based approach to how we spend our time may be helpful – regularly resetting the to-do list to 0. We need to be regularly asking ourselves, ‘what is it that keeps me busy, and is it really adding value?’ On that note, back to my to-do list, where the first point is to critically question the items!

[1] Where you have to justify what you need to spend, starting from 0 for every period, rather than assuming legacy spend requirements.

10 facts about our Research Manager, Dr. Anna Gurun

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AGContinuing the celebrations for our upcoming 10th anniversary this October, now less than three weeks away, here are 10 interesting facts about our Research Manager, Dr. Anna Gurun.

1.When did you join Hot Spots Movement?

I joined last April. 

2. What’s your role at Hot Spots Movement?

I work in the research team, which involves shaping the research for our Masterclasses and working on bespoke client consulting projects and workshops.

3. What has been the most interesting project to work on? 

It’s more a type of project, but I love analysing and writing the reports for our Jam projects, using content analysis to source insights for organisations from thousands of employees.

4. What clients do you work with?

I work with a wide range of clients, and find this diversity one of the most interesting parts of the job.

5. What has been your favourite piece of research to work on, or your favourite Masterclass?

I love the conceptual elements of Masterclass research, and found our recent one on Building Narratives on the Future of Work fascinating to work on. Being so research-driven, we’re able to be multi-disciplinary in our approach, and I enjoyed finding out more about the power of stories and narratives and bringing in insights from sociology, anthropology and neuroscience. 

6. What is your favourite part of your role at Hot Spots Movement?

Definitely the variety of projects. I like having the opportunity to do both theoretical, conceptual research and the more practical, consulting projects.

7. What has been your favourite place to travel to with Hot Spots Movement?

I loved visiting Sydney to run our workshop there, despite the jet lag.

8. What is the best book you’ve read in the last year?

So hard to choose! For fiction, I would say I Still Dream by James Smythe, which explores AI and the relationship between humans and technology, or A Corpse in the Koryo, which is a North Korea set crime thriller. For non-fiction, I loved Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin, and New Power by Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans.

9. What does no one know about you?

I used to live in Paris, so am always interested in projects that would allow me to use my French.

10. What one thing do you think will define your future of work?

Change. My working live so far has taken me to different cities and different roles, and I think future transformations, whether in location, job role or interests are almost inevitable. 

To find out more or to speak to Anna about her ongoing work, contact anna@hotspotsmovement.com.

Keep an eye out for next week’s 10 facts on our Digital Support Manager, David Takacs!

Three insights on the future of work from our Sydney Workshop

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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/


10 facts about our Head of Research and Analysis, Haniah Shaukat

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Continuing the celebrations for our upcoming 10th anniversary this October, now only five weeks away, here are 10 interesting facts about our Head of Research and Analysis, Haniah Shaukat.

1.When did you join Hot Spots Movement?

I joined in 2012 and my first role at Hot Spots Movement was to support Professor Lynda Gratton as a Lead Researcher for her book, The Key – How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems.

2. What is your role at Hot Spots Movement?

I am head of research and analysis at Hot Spots Movement. My expertise lies in advising corporations on how to deliver future-proofed people strategies and working practices.

3. What has been the most interesting project to work on?

I have had the opportunity to work on a menagerie of really interesting projects. However, what has really stood out for me is the Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) Research Consortium we ran a couple of years ago. We were able to challenge conventional thinking and our research went beyond the current discussions of I&D to anticipate what organisations must do now in order to attract, engage and unleash the potential of diverse talent in the future.

4. Which clients do you work with?

I work with a diverse mix of clients that span a variety of industries and geographies. It is absolutely fascinating to observe the various differences and similarities between them in their people practices and processes.

5. What has been your favourite piece of research to work on, or your favourite Masterclass?

The research we did for the Shifting Identities Masterclass really pushed the boundaries of our current understanding of the workforce. We found that organisations will increasingly be engaging with a workforce about which few assumptions can be made. In this context, organisations will need to rethink their people practices and processes and ensure that they are aligned to accommodate and engage multiple and shifting identities.

6. What is your favourite part of your role at Hot Spots Movement?

I love looking beyond the horizon and investigating the trends that will shape our future of work.

7. What has been your favourite place to travel with Hot Spots Movement?

Cambridge definitely, such a picturesque city.

8. What is the best book you’ve read in the last year?

I love South Asian Literature. I grew up in Pakistan so regardless of literary quality, they typically hit enough nostalgia to land well with me.  I would highly recommend Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid.

9. What does no one know about you?

When I get some free time, which is very rare between my 3-year-old son and a full-time job, I love studying architecture and interior designing. I truly love and have a passion for transforming a raw space into a beautiful room.

10. What one thing do you think will define your future of work?

The future of work will provide endless opportunities for transformation. I am really excited to explore and uncover my ‘possible future selves’.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why aren’t women applying to your job advertisement?

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Applying for jobs can be a nerve-wracking experience, as competition is high and a step toward to your career goals hangs in the balance.  My assumption was that all candidates shared this same trepidation, but research from 2014 has revealed that men are far less cautious than women in this regard and will tend to apply for a role if they meet around 60% of the job requirements, whereas women will only apply if they meet 100% of them.[i]  Why does this disparity exist, and why aren’t more women applying for roles within their reach?

One argument is that the language used within job adverts themselves dissuades certain genders from applying.  For example, women are more likely to be deterred by adverts requesting individuals able to ‘manage’ rather than ‘develop’ teams, whereas men tend to prefer jobs requesting ‘competitive’ rather than ‘supportive’ candidates.  Words such as these, imbued with gender connotations, are surprisingly prevalent.  The technology company, Textio carried out research in 2016 to flag gendered language and found that the average job advert contains twice as many ‘masculine’ phrases as ‘feminine’ ones.[ii]  A similar study by recruitment services company, Total Jobs discovered that, within the 77,000 job adverts included in their study, 478,175 words carried gender bias; an average of six male-coded or female-coded words per advert.[iii]  The use of gendered language can pose a significant problem, as it can signal to potential candidates that they don’t – and won’t – belong.

Simple alterations can make a huge difference.  Atlassian, an Australian software company, hired 80% more women into technical roles within two years by changing the wording of its job adverts, demonstrating the extensive effect of language.[iv]  Paying close attention to the language used will be critical for companies wanting to grow the size of their talent pool, as ZipRecruiter proved when it discovered that gender neutral adverts receive up to 42% more applications than more biased ones.[v]


And yet, there are some points of contention that arise when asking organisations to change their wording.  Firstly, in some cases, specific words are necessary.   For example, positions in investment banking demand a level of competition and fearlessness, and failing to include these elements in a job description may mean that a new employee is unprepared for the realities of the role.  Secondly, changing the language in adverts does not attempt to address the underlying social issues concerning why certain characteristics are perceived as either masculine or feminine in the first place.  Removing gendered words from job descriptions does not necessarily remove the biases associated with them.  However, despite these concerns, crafting gender neutral job adverts is an expression of a firm’s commitment to inclusion; and this must be seen as a step in the right direction.

Some state that the 60%/100% disparity is not evidence of a language problem but of a “confidence gap” between men and women.[vi]  They argue that women are less confident in their own abilities, whereas men are more self-assured and tend to take a more “cavalier” approach to applications.[vii]  This may be true of certain individuals but it seems both unfair and unlikely to assume that all men and women fit this stereotype.  In fact, researchers at the Harvard Business Review have dubbed the confidence gap a “myth”, suggesting that women are not deterred from job applications because they lack confidence but because they do not want to waste time and energy applying to a role they are not adequately equipped to perform.[viii]  Which instead raises the question: why are men applying for jobs that they aren’t qualified for?  And, do the men that start in these roles find themselves out of their depth?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Perhaps what this disparity actually shows is that more men have simply seen these job adverts for what they really are: wish lists.

A lack of female applicants signals the need for a wider change in how job adverts are understood.

Lengthy bullet-pointed lists of job requirements can trick applicants into thinking that each point is vital when, in reality, recruiters write lists of ideal attributes rather than strict, unyielding lists of absolute necessities.  Limiting the number of words in your job adverts will make it far easier for candidates to realise that they meet the requirements, while also reducing the risk of including gendered language.  As more people feel both able and inspired to apply, recruiters may find that individuals with transferrable skills can bring something unexpected to the organisation and take the role in a new and exciting direction.  Furthermore, recent research on job descriptions has shown that providing people with a rigid list of tasks does not encourage them to push boundaries and innovate.  Looser listings encourage opportunities for creativity and demonstrate that your organisation has space for people to be ambitious and to craft their own work and career path.[ix]  Let all of your applicants feel 100% ready to take on a role they can help to shape.

To talk more about inclusion at work, drop me an email at callandra@hotspotsmovement.com.


[i]  https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified

[ii] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/job-adverts-language-deter-women-applications-men-gender-employment-a8395106.html

[iii] https://blog.totaljobs.com/gender-bias

[iv] https://www.refinery29.uk/2018/06/201593/job-adverts-gender-bias

[v] https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/removing-gendered-keywords-gets-you-more-applicants/

[vi] https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/05/the-confidence-gap/359815/

[vii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackzenger/2018/04/08/the-confidence-gap-in-men-and-women-why-it-matters-and-how-to-overcome-it/#57ebe9cb3bfa

[viii] https://hbr.org/2018/03/is-the-confidence-gap-between-men-and-women-a-myth

[ix] https://qz.com/336805/the-rise-of-the-name-your-own-job-posting/

10 facts about our Head of Digital Engagement, Harriet Molyneaux

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Continuing the celebrations for our upcoming 10th anniversary this October, here are 10 interesting facts about our Head of Digital Engagement, Harriet Molyneaux.

1. When did you join Hot Spots Movement?

I joined HSM at the beginning of 2016, which means I’ve been here for coming up to four years. The time has flown by.

2. What is your role at Hot Spots Movement?

I sit in our consulting space, from bringing on new clients to designing and delivering projects. Specifically, I head up the Jam team, where we run online crowdsourced conversations over 72 hours to uncover roadblocks, surface good practices and co-create solutions around specific challenges. Previous clients include Linklaters, for their global strategy refresh, and PwC looking at their Millennial retention strategy.

3. What has been the most interesting project to work on?

I honestly couldn’t choose between them! We’re very lucky at Hot Spots that we work with fascinating clients and no two projects are the same.

4. Which clients do you work with?

My client base is broad, from the energy sector to the Big Four Accountancy firms, with client employee populations ranging from just 200 people to over 200,000. They are based all around the world and I find the interaction with different working styles and cultures fascinating.

5. What has been your favourite piece of research to work on, or your favourite Masterclass?

Our recent research on Shifting Cultures was particularly relevant for me. Many of the concepts in this theme, including nudge theory, influencers and micro-behaviours are integral to the work we do.

6. What is your favourite part of your role at Hot Spots Movement?

The variety – it keeps things interesting. I also find my colleagues inspirational to work with, from Lynda Gratton to our newest team member, everyone makes a significant contribution to my enjoyment of work. Finally, effecting change in massive organisations which have been struggling to change course is hugely fulfilling.

7. What has been your favourite place to travel to with Hot Spots Movement?

Probably Amsterdam, a very beautiful city that I’ve always wanted to visit. Unfortunately, it was a flying visit, so I mainly saw the inside of a client’s meeting room. Next time I will make more time for sightseeing…

8. What is the best book that you have read in the last year?

I’m glad you asked this. I’ve made a conscious effort to make time to read this past year, so I’m going to give you two: Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

9. What does no one know about you?

When I was younger, I wanted to be an opera singer. My weekends as a teenager were spent touring with various opera companies around the UK and my plan was to go to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After a dramatic about-turn shortly before UCAS applications closed, I chose to go to Edinburgh to study Philosophy and Italian. While I’ve definitely retired from singing in front of audiences, Covent Garden Opera House is right around the corner from Somerset House so I manage to get across quite often to watch my favourite operas.

10. What one thing do you think will define your future of work?

Recently, I’ve been very interested in the concept of ‘good work’ which Lynda defines occurring when work is a place of work and learning, and in our most recent report on ‘Narratives on the Future of Work’ as having meaning, dignity, autonomy and belonginess. My parents come from a generation who often view work as a duty, which isn’t necessarily enjoyable at all times, or maybe even at all. I love the idea that work is adding meaning, broadening your horizons and generally adding value to your life, and plan to continue pursuing this in my own future of work.

To find out more or to speak to Harriet about her ongoing work, contact harriet@hotspotsmovement.com

Keep an eye out for next week’s 10 facts on our Project Manager of Digital Engagement, John Furness!