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    Entries in work (186)

    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!

    Monday
    Oct242016

    The Geometry of the Deal

    So do you want to know what I did this past Saturday night? 

    Scratch that, I assure you that you do not, as you would likely become distracted having to navigate the simultaneous emotions of boredom, pity, and incredulity.

    So let's pretend for both of our sakes that I didn't spend a good portion of Saturday night re-watching (thank you Amazon Prime), the 1996 HBO movie The Late Shift, a 'based on real events' telling of the late-night TV wars of the 1990s following the retirement of TV legend Johnny Carson, long time host of NBC's The Tonight Show.

    (Ok, just between us, this is what I did on Saturday night, don't judge, and roll with me on this)

    Quick recap of the movie's key elements: 

    1. Johnny announces his plans to retire from TV in May of 1992, giving NBC effectively a full years notice and time to select his successor

    2. NBC has to decide who will be the next host of The Tonight Show, an extremely important decisions because (at least in 1992), The Tonight Show was still very popular, and extremely profitable. This was a big deal for NBC, (and their corporate owner at the time, GE).

    3. There are only two candidates. One, Jay Leno, who was well-liked, funny, (he was), and had become Johnny's regular guest host in the last few years of Johnny's run. And two, David Letterman, who had been hosting the Late Night Show on NBC, (the 12:30AM show that ran right after Johnny) for the past 10 years, and who was also popular, if slightly more edgy and hip than Leno.

    4. The rest of the movie, (I won't spoil it for you, as if I need to worry about dropping a spoiler for a 20 year-old movie), runs through what happens in the run-up to NBC's eventual decision, and the chaos and corporate drama which almost immediately ensues.

    I decided to watch this movie again for one specific reason, and that was not because I could not remember who did get The Tonight Show.

    No, it was because I recently was in a discussion with a friend regarding a real-life contract negotiation, and during that discussion I wanted to advise my friend to essentially 'think bigger', to not necessarily get bogged down in trying to 'win' on the small items, but rather to try and garner support for something more expansive, something more wide and far-reaching, frankly for a pretty significant re-interpretation and definition of the business relationship altogether.

    And then the phrase I was wrestling with trying to articulate finally popped into my head - I wanted him to change 'the geometry of the deal'.

    And then, I remembered where I first, (and I am pretty sure the only) time I heard that phrase - the movie The Late Shift.

    About a third of the way through the movie, Letterman comes to realize that NBC intends on awarding The Tonight Show host job to Leno, and is frustrated and confused and doesn't really know how to move forward. His ally (and Carson's producer), Peter Lassaly advises Dave to meet with a Hollywood agent, something Dave has in the past had no interest in doing. Lassally does convince Dave to meet with one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood, Mike Ovitz, and the 'geometry' line comes from Ovitz, when he sits down to meet with Letterman and Lassally.

    (Note: I can't find a clip of just the Ovitz meeting, below is a YouTube embed of the full movie, fast forward to 35:12 for the meeting, which is only a little over 2 minutes long). Email and RSS subscribers, click through.

    Here's the text of the Ovitz speech as well, in case you can't be bothered to mess around with the clip:

    Michael Ovitz: Peter, I know Dave's circumstances, and so I know why you're here. Dave is a star of such compelling stature that frankly it makes me personally angry he finds himself this abused. We pride ourselves here at CAA in developing a career plan for our clients that protects them as much as it enriches them. David has set such an incredibly high professional standard and yet he is going disturbingly unrewarded. That just doesn't make any sense; it's simply bad business practice. Obviously, we have an interest in establishing a business relationship with you Dave, and you Peter. Frankly, we have worked out a career plan for David, and it includes securing everything for Dave that he wants. EVERYTHING. Of course that means an 11:30 television show. Dave will be offered an 11:30 show, and he will be offered it by every network. The geometry of the deal will be far larger, the studios will be in, the syndicators, the full range of the entertainment industry. We shall frame a deal that will make you one of the giants. And if you give us the privilege of working with you, CAA will take care of everything your talents deserve, and his spirit desires.

    Awesome, right?

    And if you did watch the clip in the movie when Ovitz makes the speech you will catch his confidence, his preparedness, ("Peter, I know Dave's circumstances"), and his all-around dominance of the proceedings. Dave leaves the meeting much more confident himself, which is how all the best coaches, agents, teachers, leaders, or bosses make the people they work with feel.

    But most of all, and why this is so cool is that phrase - 'The Geometry of the Deal'. It's been in my head for 20 years, and now, hopefully, it's in your head too.

    Go kick some a$$ this week.

    I will try to as well.

    Friday
    Oct212016

    REMINDER: LinkedIn is still not the real world

    In what has become an annual tradition on the blog, as beloved as the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the running of the bulls in Pamplona, or me passing out on the sofa in a turkey/stuffing coma each Thanksgiving, I wanted to offer my quick reminder that the world of LinkedIn has only a partial, if not passing, resemblance to the real world of work, workplaces, and the kinds of jobs most people have.

    What prompts this regular reflection and reminder? As in years past, (here is what I wrote about this last winter), LinkedIn has released what they call 'The Top Skills That Can Get You Hired in 2017', based on their data set of member profiles, job posting activity, and their assessment of the candidate skills that were more likely to generate recruiter interest and hiring activity. They publish this list of 'top' skills both globally, and for a selection of countries and more or less the narrative that follows is something along the lines of 'If you want to get hired next year, you should try to acquire one (or more) of these skills.'

    Here is the list of these 'top' skills for the USA for 2017, per LinkedIn:

    As has been the case in the last couple of years, these 'hot' skills are dominated by the latest in IT trends and innovations. Cloud computing, user interface, algorithm design, etc., are all skills (and roles), that have certainly seen an increase in employer demand, and is often reported, can be difficult to find in candidates. So simple supply (which is not enough), and demand, (which continues to increase), for these skills naturally make them 'hot' and the folks that possess them remaining in demand.

    Makes sense. Good to know. Interesting to think about if you are just starting your career and want to have at least some level of comfort about your chances of employment.

    But as I like to point out, and did the last time LinkedIn shared with us what was 'hot',  these skills, or said slightly differently, the kinds of jobs that require these skills, still make up a really, really small percentage of overall employment in the USA, and are not the ones that the vast majority of people are doing.

    Here's the latest data that is available from our pals at the Bureau of Labor Statistics on 'Major Occupational Groups as a Percentage of Employment', (from 2015):

    Did you see the grouping for 'Computer and Mathematical', where the majority of jobs that required most of the 2017 LinkedIn 'hot' skills would typically reside?

    It is down towards the bottom of the graph just after 'Personal care and service' and before 'Healthcare support'. If you go to the actual BLS data, 'Computer and Mathematical' makes up 2.9% of all jobs in the USA, about the same as it has been the last couple of years.

    Even allowing for the fact that some of the 'hot' skills would be in demand in other general employment categories, is still stands to reason that just about all of the jobs where these skills are being sought out for represent, still, a sliver of the US labor market, and do not reflect the jobs that the vast majority of people are actually doing, (and will be doing for some time).

    Sure, it is trendy to think that the LinkedIn skills represent the future of work, and perhaps they probably do, and I would encourage anyone, especially younger folks to think about pursuing them,  but these skills don't really represent the 'present' of work, not in a substantial way anyway.

    LinkedIn is a fantastic business, a staggering success, and not at all like the real world where the overwhelming majority of workers reside.

    Have a fantastic weekend And don't spend so much time on LinkedIn.

    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.