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    Entries in work (170)

    Monday
    Jan162017

    Blue Monday

    Blue Monday is not just the name of a New Order song from the 80s, it is also the designation given to the third Monday in January (that is today, in case you are still sleepy), by the British academic Cliff Arnall. Dr. Arnall postulated that a combination of factors including gloomy winter weather, holiday debts, time since Christmas and a general lack of motivation conspire to make this day, the 'bluest' or most depressing day of the year.

    And while it might be easy to pass off the idea of Blue Monday, or any most depressing day of the year as kind of a silly joke, I think like all good jokes there is at least some truth lurking within. For most of this past weekend (at least here in the USA), the news was dominated by extreme winter weather events, the impending inauguration of a new President that without getting into the politics of it, seems to have at least half the population in a tizzy, and punctuated by your favorite sports team losing in the big game.

    It is really, really easy to get a little down this time of year. Yesterday I thought I saw a small sliver of blue sky in what has been a typical, relentless, and yes, depressing series of gray, wet, and cold winter days. I actually stopped what I was doing to stare for a minute, (maybe I should have taken a picture), at a sight I had almost forgotten about. Immediately after completing this post, I am booking a trip to someplace warmer and sunnier.

    I'm joking, but only kind of. When you think about the concept of Blue Monday, and think about how you fired up you were, (or were not), when you were forced to crawl out of your warm bed and face the cold, dark, and potentially icy day, then I bet for many of you, (and the folks you work with), Blue Monday does not sound all that crazy.

    It is tough out there. It is especially tough today, if Dr. Arnall's formula is even a fair indicator of how the combination of weather, work, and personal pressures all seem to come together and smack you in the face this time of year.

    So here's my advice, (I hope to take it myself), for Blue Monday. Go outside, (if ice is not falling from the sky, I mean). Pet your dog. Or find someone else's dog to pet. Take a real lunch break. Call a friend. Eat something that is not on your diet. And finally, most importantly, be nice to each other. We are all in this crappy Blue Monday together.

    And if all that fails, feel encouraged that as bad as it gets today, well, things are only going to start looking up from here.

    Happy Blue Monday.

    Have a great week!

    Wednesday
    Jan042017

    UPDATE: New Year, Less After Hours Email?

    Last March I posted about a proposed French law that would make after-hours email and other forms of work-related communication more or less 'ignoreable' for employees. After 6PM on work days, (and on holidays and weekends), French workers could not be compelled to be 'on' and responsive to the bosses 10PM emails or expected to be 'available' via their phones on weekends or on their vacations.

    In March I offered these comments on the proposed email regulations:

    At least here in the USA, the vast majority of advice and strategery around helping folks with trying to achieve a better level of work/life balance seems to recommend moving much more fluidly between work and not-work. Most of the writing on this seems to advocate for allowing workers much more flexibility over their time and schedules so that they can take care of personal things on 'work' time, with the understanding that they are actually 'working' lots of the time they are not technically 'at work'. Since we all have smartphones that connect us to work 24/7, the thinking goes that we would all have better balance and harmony between work and life by trying to blend the two together more seamlessly.

    And I guess that is reasonably decent advice and probably, (by necessity as much as choice), that is what most of us try and do to make sure work and life are both given their due.

    But the proposal from the French labor minister is advocating the exact opposite of what conventional (and US-centric), experts mostly are pushing. The proposed French law would (at least in terms of email), attempt to re-build the traditional and clear divide and separation between work and not-work. If this regulation to pass, and if it is outside of your 'work' time, then feel free to ignore that email. No questions asked. No repercussions. At least in theory.

    But here is the question I want to leave with you: What if the French are right about this and the commonly accepted wisdom and advice about blending work and life is wrong?

    What if we'd all be happier, and better engaged, and more able to focus on our work if we were not, you know, working all the time?

    What if you truly shut it down at 5PM every day?

    That is some of what I had to say about that regulation back in March. Now to the 'Update' part of the post - it turns out that proposed 'No email after 6PM' law actually did pass, and went into effect in France at the New Year.

    From January 1 onwards, employers having 50 or more employees in France will have to offer their staffs a 'right to disconnect'. From coverage of the new regulation in the Guardian, "Under the new law, companies will be obliged to negotiate with employees to agree on their rights to switch off and ways they can reduce the intrusion of work into their private lives."

    If the organization and the employees can't come to an agreement, then the employer must publish a charter or set of rules that explicitly state the demands on, and rights of, employees during non-work hours.

    It is going to be interesting to follow this story to see how it plays out in France, if employers really do follow the edicts of the new regulations, (there are not yet punitive measures in place for employers who do not comply), and if these regulations prove to impact organizational productivity and employee well-being.

    For my part, thinking about this story for the first time since last March when the new law was initially proposed, I don't think my reaction is any different now than it was then.

    What if we'd all be happier, and better engaged, and more able to focus on our work if we were not, you know, expected to be working all the time?

    Have a great Wednesday. Have fun poring through the 19 emails that came for you last night. Unless you were up at 11PM replying to them already.

    Tuesday
    Dec062016

    Terms that mean 'employee', ranked

    Lots of us are employees. But some of us work at places that don't refer to us as 'employees.' Somewhere along the line, (I am guessing in the late 1970s, but I really don't know for sure), it became trendy, if not fashionable for organizations to move away from the more formal sounding term of 'employee' and start referring to their, well, employees using other terms.

    Inspired by a weekend spent in heavy retail environments and overhearing an 'All available associates, please report to the front of the store' announcement, I started thinking about all the various terms that are now used by organizations to substitute for 'employee.'

    And then I thought it made sense to rank said terms.

    As always, this list is unscientific, unresearched, incomplete, subjective, and 100% accurate.

    Here goes -  Terms that mean 'employee', ranked:

    10. Worker - About as cold as it gets. Unless you go with 'peon' or 'serf'. Which don't seem to be used (much), any more.

    9. Co-worker - Slightly softer version of 'worker'. Still pretty cold though/

    8. Staff member - As generic as it gets. Best used when the organization hates taking any kind of a stand about anything.

    7. Teammate - Unless the 'team' is designed to kick a ball or run really fast, probably should not be used in the workplace.

    6. Team Member - A little less cloying than teammate. But still not great. But yay - we are on a team!

    5. Crew or crew member - Are you on a boat? Do you build boats? No? Then you are not on a crew.

    4. Partner - This is actually sort of dumb. Unless the company is just made up of actual partners. Then it's ok.

    3. Colleague - This actually would be the one I would choose if I had to choose. Rides nicely that fine line between 'touchy-feely' and 'we all just work here' that I like

    2. Associate - a solid move if you for some reason need to move off of 'employee', but want to stay appropriately distant, yet convey a (fake) sense of importance to everyone in the organization. 

    1. Employee - Call me old school, but I still think the simplest solution is the best. I don't think anyone is really offended by being called an employee. At least I don't think so.

    Did I forget anything? Hit me up in the comments.

    And as always, you could disagree with these rankings, but of course you would be wrong.

    Friday
    Dec022016

    Learn a new word: The Feature Factory

    Quick shout-out to John Cutler writing at the Hackernoon site for this outstanding piece (and the source for today's 'Learn a new word' submission - The Feature Factory.

    What is a 'Feature Factory' in the context of a software development function?'

    From the piece on Hackernoon, '12 Signs You're Working in a Feature Factory' to get an idea -

    I’ve used the term Feature Factory at a couple conference talks over the past two years. I started using the term when a software developer friend complained that he was “just sitting in the factory, cranking out features, and sending them down the line.”

    How do you know if you’re working in a feature factory? (SMB Note: there are 12 signs in the post, I am just going to grab two of them here, but you really should read the entire piece)

    3. 'Success theater' around "shipping", with little discussion about impact. You can tell a great deal about an organizations by what it celebrates.

    7. Obsessing about prioritization. Mismatch between prioritization rigor (deciding what gets worked on) and validation rigor (deciding if it was, in fact, the right thing to work on). Prioritization rigor is designed exclusively to temper internal agendas so that people “feel confident”. Lots of work goes into determining which ideas to work on, leaving little leeway for adjustments and improvisation based on data. Roadmaps show a list of features, not areas of focus and/or outcomes 

    Really, really good stuff for project managers and development teams to think about.

    Why should this matter for readers of Steve's HR Tech?

    I can think of two reasons straight up.

    One, it is worthwhile to think about your current and potentially future providers of HR technology solutions in this context. Does your provider talk about their product roadmap for the next year or two in the same way you run down your holiday shopping or grocery list? Do they talk about the future as simply the container in which they will 'ship' more features and gadgets? Or do they discuss their plans and directions using your challenges and your desired outcomes as the context in which they are organizing and planning to deliver new solutions? I know I have written about this before, but it is worth repeating - almost any provider can build the capability you need if they think they have to. What is much more important for your long term success with a tech provider is if yours and their visions of the future are in alignment, and the methods, pace, and you feel confident in the manner in which you will both grow and evolve to be better prepared to succeed in that future. That is what is really important. Not just "shipping."

    And the other reason that this idea of the 'Feature factory' is important? Because in late 2016 it is pretty likely that all but the very smallest organizations have in-house IT and development teams themselves, and these teams are comprised of folks that both do not want to work in an environment that could be described as a feature factory, and at the same time have lots of career options that don't include your organization. As HR leaders, it is probably worthwhile from time to time to check in with some of your really important, hard to find, and harder to replace tech talent types and see how they really think and feel about the organization's development climate. If you are treating these talented and in-demand folks too much like cogs in the machine, chances are they won't want to stay in that machine for too long. They will see your shop as a skills and resume builder stepping stone to somewhere more interesting, more fun, and more challenging.

    Ok, that's it from me. Tip your servers.

    Have a great weekend!

    Monday
    Nov072016

    Working too much is (possibly) bad for your brain

    Quick question, if you had to guess, what do you think would be 'better' (for folks 40 and older), in terms of maintaining or even enhancing your overall cognitive abilities - I will give you two options, pick the one you think would be 'better'.

    1. Working at a full-time job that is a real grind, and putting in 60+ hours/week

    2. Doing more or less nothing in terms of paid employment, i.e., spending a lot of time playing video games, watching Netflix - that kind of thing

    Well, according to a recent research study published at the University of Melbourne, the guy sitting on the sofa binge watching The Walking Dead is probably better off, at least in terms of cognitive functioning, than the 60 hours/week work hero.Three Flags (1958), Jasper Johns

    So what might be the true, 'best' option to keep cognitive function from deteriorating as we get older?

    Unsurprisingly, the answer lies somewhere in between the two extremes of 'doing nothing' and 'probably working too much.'

    From the University of Melbourne's findings:

    Our findings show that there is a non-linearity in the effect of working hours on cognitive functioning. For working hours up to around 25 hours a week, an increase in working hours has a positive impact on cognitive functioning. However, when working hours exceed 25 hours per week, an increase in working hours has a negative impact on cognition. Interestingly, there is no statistical difference in the effects of working hours on cognitive functioning between men and women.

    This could be the greatest argument yet for the three day work week, at least for folks in the 40+ crowd, (is anyone actually arguing for a three day work week? Maybe I can start the groundswell here).

    But what is interesting about the research and the conclusions is how it more or less aligns with what most of us would intuitively feel to be the case - that being engaged in work helps keep the brain sharp, and the mental faculties in shape. It would be hard to argue, based on a personal and informal review of the losers in our lives, (I am looking at you, Mr. no-good brother in law), that sitting on the sofa all day is good for cognitive functioning.

    What might be surprising however is the pretty low weekly working hours threshold where cognitive function starts to decline. Twenty five hours per week is squarely in the 'part-time' category, and likely not the one in which most of us find ourselves in during the prime, (or what we think is the prime), of our working careers.

    So in sum the two things to at least think about are both pretty clear, and kind of obvious too.

    Lots of us are working too much, and all of this work might be having a negative impact on cognitive function, (not to mention family life, stress, physical health, etc.).

    But as we get older, working at least some, (up to 25 hours or so), is actually positive on a number of fronts, and should be a part of our planning as we age.

    Everything in moderation. Shocking, I know.

    And probably a good reminder as we hit Election Day tomorrow.

    Have a great week!