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    Entries in work (183)

    Monday
    Oct172016

    It's not too early to start planning next year's vacation

    Even though it is only mid-October, I found myself spending a decent amount of time this past weekend thinking about 2017 vacation plans. It could be that I am still a little tired from coming off the recently concluded HR Technology Conference, which is for me the busiest week of my year and am still in needing of some R&R. Or it just could be, and now that I think about it I am sure it is this, that if I don't take some active and purposeful steps pretty soon to lock in some vacation plans for 2017, that I run the risk of not actually making it happen at all next year.

    Why? Why do I think it necessary to try to plan out some time off 5 or 6 or maybe even 9 or 10 months from now? That seems a little ridiculous. I mean, I normally take a very short term view on life. I don't like to commit to things or events too far in advance, as something ALWAYS comes up. Heck, I don't even buy green bananas any longer. Who has that kind of time to wait? Sure, buy this banana today, and MAYBE it will be ready to eat by Thursday.

    The main reason I think to start thinking about and planning next year's vacation now, or at least soon, is that if I don't, and I suspect many of you will be in the same predicament as well, (my USA readers anyway), is that the vacation just won't happen. American workers leave a RIDICULOUS amount of unused vacation days on the table each year. A recent study released by the folks at Project TimeOff, (they maybe should change their name to 'Project We Never Take any Time Off'), concludes that as many as 658,000,000 paid vacation days were left unused by American workers in 2015.

    And this unused glut of vacation days comes at a price, to both the workers themselves, (I suppose 'ourselves'), and the organizations as well. From the individual's perspective the benefits of disconnecting from work are real and they are readily apparent - the need to decompress and break away from what is for many a busy, stressful workplace, the chance to spend quality time with family or friends, and even the added and often unexpected benefit of generating new or interesting ideas to solve workplace challenges with the burden of the day-to-day temporarily removed from your mind. And for organizations, they clearly are better served by a workforce that has the opportunity to get away from work once in a while, to recharge, and who generally return from their break more engaged and more energized, (and often with new ideas and perspective). Add in the estimated $272 Billion liability of unused vacation time sitting on American companies balance sheets and you see for organizations there is also a tangiible financial benefit to employee's actually using their vacation time. 

    So why don't American workers use more of their earned vacation time? 

    The Project TimeOff study offers a few reasons, but the most prominent one boils down to organizational culture - most managers do not encourage staff to take time off, over 60% of managers themselves don't take their allotted time off, most leaders don't encourage taking vacation either, and employees (and managers), don't feel secure enough that needed work can get done if they are off on vacation. 

    It all adds up to the situation mentioned above, 650 million unused vacation days and pushing $300 billion of vacation liability on the books.

    What can be done about this to reverse these trends? A few, simple things really. Make sure your people are not punished, (or feel like they might be otherwise negatively impacted), by taking time off. Make sure that 'taking time off' is part of the normal year-end or year-start planning and goal-setting processes for every employee. Do your best to stave off the 'hero' mentality in so many workplaces that seems to equate 'time spent at work' with 'high performance' or dedication. There are a few more suggestions in the The Project TimeOff study which is a good, quick read, and I encourage you to check it out, and especially show it to your managers of people as well, they may not realize the influence that they have on staff.

    So is it strange that in the middle of the first month of the 4th quarter of the year, often the busiest of times for many organizations and workers that I am pitching for you to think about next year's vacation? 

    Sure. 

    But if you don't, or if you put if off to a time when you are not so busy, (whenever that is), ask yourself when you will actually take the time to plan for the time off that you know you need. The data shows that most of us are not very good at doing that.

    And once I get my travel plans set, I will be sure to gloat about them here.

    Have a great week!

    Tuesday
    Sep272016

    What if everything I told you was wrong?

    If you are a fan of the video series TED Talks or have been to an HR conference or two in the past couple of years then you are probably familiar, or at least have heard of Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy. Her work on something called 'power poses' has been the source of one of the most popular TED talks of all time, with something like 35 million views, a bestselling book titled 'Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges', and has been out on the speaking circuit for most of 2016 promoting the book.I'm the person not in the power pose

    The book's central theses: that leveraging body language in these 'power poses', (think standing tall, arms raised, chin up, chest out, etc.), can help us overcome things like anxiety, fear, lack of confidence and allow us to perform our best, (or at least better), in stressful situations like speeches, job interviews, or presentations. The book, the TED talk, and the speaking gigs all stem from the same source: a 2010 study titled Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance authored by Amy Cuddy along with Dana Carney and Andy Yap.

    From the 2010 paper's conclusion:

    Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders—elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.

    It goes on a bit longer, but you get the idea. 'Power poses' can increase testosterone, improve our feelings of power, and help us perform under stress. Awesome to know this, as taking a minute or two to put yourself in a 'power pose' is about one of the easiest things I can think of to do.

    But....

    What if this actually isn't true? I mean what if the benefits and positive outcomes from adopting 'power poses' are really non-existent, or at least incredibly negliible? What would you think if you have watched Ms. Cuddy's TED talk 26 times, bought and read her book, or paid to attend a conference where she was a keynote speaker?

    Remember that 2010 research study at the core of the 'power pose' idea?

    Here is what one of the paper's co-authors, Dana Carney has to say today, as reported in Inc.com:

    There's only one problem: It (the effects of power poses), isn't real. Several subsequent studies following rigorous protocols were unable to reproduce the effect Cuddy and her co-authors found. Striking a power pose did not increase testosterone, associated with confidence, or decrease cortisol, associated with stress in these subsequent tests. And late last night, Dana Carney, one of Cuddy's co-authors on the original paper, published a document disavowing that research.

    She, Cuddy, and the other researchers weren't being dishonest, she explains, but they made some significant mistakes in their research. Their sample size of 47 was much too small. The people conducting the experiment mostly knew what outcome was being sought, which has a tendency to skew research results. The testosterone increase might have been caused by a different aspect of the experiment--people were given the opportunity to gamble and some of them won, which also increases testosterone.

    Considering all that was wrong with the original experiments and the fact that later experiments did not produce the same effect, she writes, "I do not have any faith in the embodied effects of 'power poses.' I do not think the effect is real." She goes on to say that she does not conduct research in this area herself and hasn't in years, nor does she teach the material to her students anymore. And she wants to discourage other researchers from pursuing power poses, which she believes are a dead end.

    If you read what Carney published essentially disavowing the research's validity and the follow-on from the marketing of the value of 'power poses' you will come away wondering just how silly it all sounds now. 

    Standing in the Wonder Woman pose for 45 seconds will actually make you act and think and seem like ,you know the actual Wonder Woman? That seems kind of dopey. 

    And it did to me back when I met Ms. Cuddy, (and where I got the pic you see above).

    She was one of the featured speakers at a conference I attended earlier this year, and I was invited to go back stage prior to her talk for a meet and great, get a copy of her book, and take a picture. Prior to that day I had not seen her TED talk, and frankly didn't know much, (anything) about her research and the book. I had never heard of a 'power pose'.

    But as I waited in the meet and greet line, I observed 10 or 12 people before me all take a picture with Ms. Cuddy, with the author and the conference attendee each proceeding to adopt the Wonder Woman pose you see Ms. Cuddy in the pic above. As I said, I never heard of the pose, kind of felt idiotic taking up the pose for the pic, and instead stood in what was for me a more comfortable, natural position.

    After taking the pic, and talking to some of the folks backstage, I was clued in to just what the Wonder Woman/Power Poses thing was all about. And I felt really stupid that I stood next to the world's foremost expert on Power Posing and took up a pose that (I later learned), was the exact opposite of what I should have done.

    I am standing with my arms folded in, am slightly hunched, (Ms. Cuddy is kind of short), and more or less look exactly like someone who had never heard of a Power Pose, and the benefits that such a pose provides.

    Long, long story short - I really have no idea if Power Posing creates any real benefit or value or not. I suppose even if it can't be scientifically proven, but it still makes one feel better and seemingly more confident, then it can't hurt.

    Just, in the future, if you have Ms. Cuddy speak at your Conference you may want to skip the awkward meet and great posing routine. It did feel dumb to me when I was there. And I'd feel even dumber if I had taken up the Wonder Woman pose only to find out a few months later that it doesn't actually, you know, do anything.

    Tuesday
    Sep062016

    The tyranny of connectivity

    I am slightly ashamed to admit to having done a fair bit of 'real' work over the long Labor Day weekend, (including yesterday, Labor Day itself). 

    Of course I didn't really want to work on Labor Day, or perhaps said differently, I did not want involve other people in said work, mainly by sending out email messages to them on a holiday. But, sadly, I indeed did send a few email notes out, interspersed with the other work that I was doing that did not need to involve communicating to others in order to complete.

    And I as wind up the holiday, (I am writing this on Monday night, pretty late), I have three quick observations from my Labor Day spent, (at least partly), working.

    1. LOTS of other people were working too. As I mentioned, I did, against almost everything I hold dear, send a few work-related emails on Labor Day. I received replies from almost everyone I contacted. And three or four people replied to me within 10 minutes of my original message. If Labor Day is meant to be a celebration of the working person, lots of working persons I know were also, actually, working.

    2. NO ONE I corresponded with over email or chat on Labor Day did not mention the fact that it was, in fact, a holiday. No one questioned why I was messaging them. No one replied, 'hey, it is a holiday, I will get back to you tomorrow', and almost no one failed to get back to me by about 8PM ET, (as I am writing this). 

    3. Aside from the aforementioned email exchanges, I spent most of my 'working' time on tasks that did not require outside collaboration, input, or communication. They were just things I needed to do, and were fairly important, but for some reason had not been done. I noticed my ability to get these tasks completed on a holiday, where I was not being peppered every 2 minutes with a new incoming email or chat message was incredibly enhanced. Quite simply, I was probably twice as productive working on these items on a holiday as I would have been on a normal Monday, when I am, like everyone else, almost constantly being barraged by incoming messages and requests. If I changed my working hours to say, 7PM - 3AM I swear I would be two or three times more productive than I am now. The technology and the need to stay 'connected' all the time during the normal workday is killing our ability to get things done.

    I am not about to change my official work schedule to 'off hours', but I can't say that I am not tempted. there is something to be said for working when no one, (or most anyway), are not working, and you can be, despite our state of constant connectivity, be more or less alone with your thoughts.

    There are thousands of productivity advice pieces that advocate that you consciously disconnect from email and work chat and Slack, etc. during the work day in order to get more work done. But realistically, how many people actually take that advice and feel comfortable and empowered enough to actually not be accessible to work colleagues for large stretches of the workday?

    Most organizations, and teams, expect if not demand almost real-time access and response.

    It is not until you spend a day, or even a few hours, working when that expectation simply does not matter until you realize how our constant connectivity damages our ability to get anything done.

    Having said that, maybe I should not have been surprised so many other folks seemed to be working on Labor Day. They too must have realized that a holiday is the best day to get anything done.

    Have a great week!

    Monday
    Aug292016

    Three quick 'Gig Economy' links and a warning for HR leaders

    There are about 12,238 surveys and data points that you can unearth when researching the rapidly evolving, and probably growing, 'gig economy', i.e. work that is performed by independent contractors, self-employed types, and those that for better or worse, (worse), get referred to as '1099 workers', for the IRS form on which their earnings are reported.

    Rather than spit out a bunch of (sometimes contradictory) data on how and where this gig economy is heading, I wanted to share three quick and interesting developments in this area that are worth thinking about and then one more recently released set of survey data that should be a warning to HR and business leaders that are moving towards increased usage and reliance on 'gig' workers.

    Item 1 - Atlassian now lets you hire freelancers right from Jira

    JIRA, Atlassian’s flagship project management service, is getting a new feature today that will let you easily convert JIRA tickets into job postings on Upwork’s freelance marketplace. “The smartest people will always exist outside of your company,” Atlassian’s head of growth for JIRA and Bitbucket Sean Regan told me. For many companies — and especially small startups — it’s also hard to have all the right expertise available in-house to solve every problem. With this new integration, these companies can now click a button in JIRA and get a pre-populated form to submit to Upwork’s marketplace.

    Steve here - an example (of which we will see more I am sure), of enterprise technology and management tools integrated with sourcing/hiring platforms for 'Gig' workers 

    Item 2 - LinkedIn enters the Gig Economy with an Upwork competitor

    LinkedIn has created a freelance marketplace. Launched on Wednesday, "LinkedIn ProFinder" asks employers to submit contract jobs in categories such as design, writing, or financial services and promises to send them up to five free quotes from LinkedIn users in response. Over the last five years, the number of freelancers on LinkedIn has increased by 50%, according to the company.

    Steve here - Of course it makes sense for LinkedIn to dive in more heavily into the 'Gig' work space. It's growing, and LinkedIn thinks/knows it has the way to connect gig workers with opportunity

    Item 3 - This CEO says he was shut out by tons of investors in Silicon Valley for classifying his workers as W-2 employees

    But Josh Bruno, the CEO of senior-care startup Hometeam, said that for him it was always clear that Hometeam's 1,000-plus caregivers needed to be on W-2s. They needed a lot of training, and Bruno wanted to give them the sense that Hometeam was investing in them for the long haul.

    But unfortunately, when Bruno was trying to raise money, that wasn't what Silicon Valley VCs wanted to hear.

    "I was kicked out of every office on Sand Hill Road," Bruno said, referring to the iconic street that houses many famous Silicon Valley VCs. Bruno said he even had a verbal agreement with a "flashy name" VC, who then wouldn't go through with the investment unless Bruno put his workers on 1099s.

    Why? One reason, Bruno said, is because big names like Uber and Lyft were doing it. Bruno's main competitor, Honor, which was named one of Business Insider's hottest San Franciscostartups to watch in 2016, originally used 1099s. It has since switched to W-2s.

    But it wasn't simply because everyone was doing it, Bruno said. The deeper reason rested in what a 1099 represented.

    Bruno said that to VCs he spoke with, a 1099 meant a job that was both easy and repeatable. The worker is a part that can be swapped in, which is good because it means the business will be easier to scale, Bruno explained. And it would be easier to get the kind of growth the VCs were looking for.

    Steve here - In case you wondered what the general attitude of 'people who have money and are looking to have more money' is towards labor, there you have it. 'Gog' workers are cogs, more or less the same, more or less interchangeable. This isn't a problem until.... Well, let's ask some of the Gig workers.

    And as promised, here's your warning, 67 percent of Americans who have worked as independent contractors would choose not to do so in the future (infographic below courtesy of Deloitte).

    A recent online poll by Deloitte of nearly 4,000 workers found that 67 percent of respondents who have worked as an independent contractor would choose not to do so again in the future. Additionally, more than 60 percent of employed workers said that their stability would suffer if they moved to independent contract work, and 42 percent worry about sacrificing good compensation and benefits.

    Steve here - Lots of interesting nuggets to take away from the Deloitte data, but they all point to the same place - that many, many 'Gig' workers are not at all happy to be Gig workers, and that most organizations are doing a terrible job managing and engaging these gig workers. it's almost as if the Silicon Valley VC attitude towards labor is taking hold and becoming more common.

    The danger is at the same time you as an organization make the strategic move to increase your use of Gig workers, and the tools and technologies are making it easier for you to incorporate Gig workers into your processes and workflow, that the way we value, treat, and support Gig workers seems to be getting worse. And lots of Gig workers are not happy.

    Plenty to think about here as the next few years play out.

    Have a great week!

    Wednesday
    Aug242016

    Have to advise your kid on their college major? Here's some data you may want to review

    Time to dig into some labor market data!

    (Note: all the data referred to in this post can be found courtesy of our pals at the BLS. While their site isn't the easiest to navigate, you can start at the 'Employment, Hours, and Earnings' page to get started with this kind of analyses).

    I had a chat with a friend recently who was sending their child off to his or her, (I can't remember which, does not matter), first year of college this month. In the conversation I faked genuine interest by asking what the child was planning to choose as their major. I think the answer was 'Business' or 'Physics', like I said, I was faking interest at this point, but the entire conversation made me think about just what 'should' the child have chosen, forgetting for now what they are interested in/good at. If the child wanted to make a purely rational, economic decision, what might be the direction to head in terms of college major?

    I confess to not knowing the answer, but a recent piece from the Nieman Lab about trends in employment in selected information industries, (copied below), at least provides one set of data points to (hopefully), better inform these kinds of economic decisions. Take a look at the Nieman Lab chart, (knowing by accessing the BLS data in the link above, you could create similar charts across other or all industry classifications), and then some comments from me after the data.

    The point of the Nieman Lab piece was more or less 'Gee, what a crappy last decade it had been for the newspaper business, and the people working in it', but examining this kind of data a little more broadly can be instructive on a number of levels.  Sometimes this kind of data validates what we think we know or have observed in our own lives - do you know anyone who actually reads a newspaper anymore?

    Other times the data can be a bit surprising too. I personally had no idea that employment in Motion Picture and Video Production had just about doubled since 1990. Are there really that many more films being made? Besides the Sharknado series I mean?

    Back to the original question raised in the post - what should someone making what they hope to be is a rational, economically sound decision choose for their college major? 

    Some topic or subject that maps easily to an industry group we think holds bright employment prospects for the future? 

    I still have no idea I suppose. But at least I would tell them to not plan to work for a newspaper after they graduate. 

    And then I would take a minute to explain what a 'newspaper' is.

    Happy Wednesday. Have fun with the data.