WHAT WE'RE READING

AND WHAT WE THINK ABOUT IT

Is there a magic formula?

People have been trying to use compensation plans for years to alter behavior believing that just the right comp system will manage people. Compensation is a type of algorithm. In the mid to late 1990s, people were convinced that stock options were magic. While they could certainly be an effective tool for some companies, in some instances, they could never replace managing people.

Having been a comp consultant for nearly a quarter of a century (now there’s some scary math!) there is one thing that I am sure of: managing people takes more nuance than some simple formulas can yield.

In a recent Forbes article, Enrique Dans poses an interesting question, “Is Using Algorithms In Human Resources A No-Brainer–Or Something More Sinister?” He discusses the impact of using algorithms in Human Resources. He references Laszlo Bock, who co-founded a company called Humu to create algorithms aimed at improving employee satisfaction. “Bock and his colleagues say their nudges are not about getting people to do things they don’t want to do, but instead are simply recommendations to implement small changes that for whatever reason haven’t previously been suggested.”

Now, this article struck me less as sinister and more as “Here we go again …” Like compensation algorithms, I’m not sure there’s a formula that will “improve satisfaction” or “create a better work environment” for all; Perhaps there are quantitative measures that can guide managers conversations with their employees? Read More Here

Does Mr. C need a consultant?

Could Santa’s shop run more efficiently? The Economist recently ran an article, “If Consultants Ran Christmas,” offering Santa Claus some advice regarding brand name, data protection, animal welfare, and even outsourcing. It’s playful and makes some valid points about some of the challenges Santa faces and brings to light some of the questions we’ve all wondered over the years. Of course only consultants would think to ask Santa about succession planning.

Even though we found this piece amusing, we don’t intend to get into the business of consulting Santa or setting mandates for the working conditions of his elves. After all, Santa has been in the business much longer than we have. Read More Here

‘Tis the Season for Spandex

While some bemoan the continuous encroachment of activewear into offices, this is exactly the time of year when we’re all a little grateful for some stretch in our waistbands.

In a recent article for The Atlantic, Derek Thompson discusses how “athleisure” or “activewear” has revolutionized fashion. Over the past two decades, companies like lululemon athletica have “injected prodigious quantities of spandex into modern dress and blurred the lines between yoga-and-spin-class attire and normal street clothes.”

It turns out that this crossover fashion is not such a new trend after all. Deirdre Clemente, a fashion historian at UNLV,  believes its origins are in the late 19th century when shoes with rubber soles were invented for lawn sports and tennis courts.  College men started playing sports and then didn’t bother changing for the classroom, so they kept their athletic wear on all day. Clemente says, “Athleisure dropped the prefix and became, simply, leisure. The theme of the past century of Western fashion is this: We take clothes designed for activity, and we adapt them for inactivity.” So whether you are “active” or not, spandex—and other athleisure—is more than appropriate no matter where you’re going and what you’re doing.
 It’s also very stretchy if you’re stuffed from latkes, eggnog, or sugar cookies. Read More Here

Don’t Give Up on the Liberal Arts

Should colleges only offer majors with “clear career pathways?” It’s a valid question. I will confess. My major was interdisciplinary – studying the interconnectedness of economics, politics, regions, and history. At its heart was a liberal arts foundation with the requirement of two courses in each of these disciplines: theology, philosophy, and English literature.

I had scanned the article below at the beginning of the summer when it was first published. But a conversation I had last week forced me to re-read it.

I was lucky enough to have lunch with a rising college junior who was filling me in on her summer internship. As this article highlights, too many universities seem willing to throw out the liberal arts in order to embrace STEM, in fact in order to eliminate vast swaths of the liberal arts to make more rooms for but STEM.  Yet at lunch this young woman regaled me with what her main task had been all summer: translating all of the work that the programmers were doing (you know, those kids who can’t seem to move beyond STEM) so that the rest of the world could understand what they were doing, and whether they were accomplishing anything that anyone else was interested in.

I’m going to make wild for prediction here:  Too few people are going to possess the skill set that a liberal arts education gives: the ability to read, synthesize, detect critical issues, write a topic sentence, and be understood by a wide audience.  In the long run, the world will be clamoring for those who have honed their logic skills thanks to Plato’s Dialogues, cultivated their empathy via Shakespeare’s characters, and nurtured ethical decision making because of the theological and moral frameworks they learned.

So I for one, will not be giving up on the liberal arts just yet. Read More Here

Is Your Commute Actually LOWERING Your Stress? (or, Bunny Slippers Part II)

About 20 years ago, a client called me exasperated. A brand-new CEO from out-of-town had made a decision without consulting HR: the company’s headquarters was leaving the Loop and moving to the suburbs. His main fear was losing experienced staff who would have no way of reaching the new suburban location. But a year later, this same client called me, and labor markets were not his only issue. In the year that he had stopped taking the train, which involved a slight walk across town, and started driving to work, he had gained 20 pounds.

Well it turns out that this is not just an anecdotal story. There is growing evidence that commuting to work, especially commuting via public transportation, can be very beneficial to your health and your career. In a BBC article this month, David Robson highlights some of the benefits of the commute.

 

The commute provides time to transition between your roles at home and at work. It can be hard to switch mindsets so quickly, and this can often add conflict and stress at work. Jon Jachimowicz of Columbia Business School suggests that “a few moments thinking about the day in front of you can therefore ease the change of gears, reducing the stress once you arrive in the office.” He has found that “people who engage in ‘work-related prospection’ tend to weather the stresses of the journey better than people whose minds wander aimlessly.” By using the time spent commuting to think about your upcoming day, work week, and plans to achieve your goals, it leads to greater daily job satisfaction.

 

Commuting after work also offers time for reflection. Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School found that workers performed 20% better when given 15 minutes of reflection time at the end of every day. Setting aside time to reflect on the day during a commute could increase productivity and lead to a sense achievement.

 

And indeed there is the benefit of greater physical health. A Taiwanese study found that people who used public transportation were 15% less likely to be overweight compared to those who traveled by car. Richard Patterson of Imperial College London found that about a third of public transportation commuters met the recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day during their commute alone. Now no one is suggesting that exercising during a commute should replace other physical exercise, but it’s an unexpected perk.

 

Lower stress levels and better fitness? We’ll sign up for that commute any day. Read More Here

Always dreamed of working remotely? Think again…

It may seem appealing, and even luxurious to be able to work from home in your pajamas, or work remotely while sipping lattes at a local outdoor cafe. There is a growing body of research that highlights the drawbacks of WWWBS (Working While Wearing Bunny Slippers).

In a recent Crain’s Chicago Business article, Ryan Bonnici highlights how remote work may not improve our work-life balance Read more here.  He cites studies that suggest working remotely creates many problems. One, the reduction in social interaction leads to people becoming more lonely and isolated. Another downside is that work often continues during off hours, since “the office never closes.” Research also indicates that working alone inhibits the sort of “spontaneous interactions” that encourage creativity and promote collaboration.

Other recent articles on this topic include this laundry list of issues Fast Company assembled. If you’re STILL not running back to a cubicle, you can read about how disruptive working from home is to a team environment from The Week.

Where do we sit … on this topic? It depends.

It depends on the nature of the work, the time in a person’s career, the type of work someone does, the current child and elder care issues at home.  It depends on a person’s personality! Perhaps an employee needs both stimulation AND isolation to complete their assignments.  What should the best solution depend upon? A manager that understands their employees and the unique skills and talents each brings and what environment(s) allow each to thrive, together and individually … so that the organization gets the greatest return on Human Capital.

So don’t throw away the bunny slippers just yet …

Need Increased Productivity? Perhaps Working Less Will Do the Trick.

In a recent New York Times article, Charlotte Graham-McLay shares that a New Zealand firm reduced its workweek to 32 hours, while still paying employees for 40 hours. The trial was such a success that the firm is planning on making the change permanent. The firm found that workers wasted less time and increased their productivity while at work.

“Jarrod Haar, a human resources professor at Auckland University of Technology said employees reported a 24 percent improvement in their work-life, and came back to work energized after their days off.”

Aside from company productivity, Andrew Barnes, the firm’s founder, believes the change in hours could also offer economical and environmental implications if more companies embraced a similar approach.

This isn’t a solution for all companies, but an inspiration to innovate. What was it about this schedule that led to this workforce increasing their productivity? What changes could your company make to increase its productivity? Read More Here

Fearless Female Entrepreneur

Our third entry that draws inspiration from this year’s travels is a video from the BBC Idea’s Habits of the Highly Successful video series. I probably would have missed this video if I were in the US, but one of the many perks of traveling is being exposed to different new stories. In this three-minute video, “Why You Should Always Wear Trainers to Work,” Justine Roberts, founder of the website for parents, Mumsnet, shares four important tips to help you make the best of your career.

Roberts’ advice is a great reminder for daily lives and careers. One of her insights applies not only in the office, but especially when traveling. When talking about running your own business, Roberts says, “It’s almost impossible to fit in everything you want to,” and the same is true of travel. You have to be willing to appreciate the fact that nothing is perfect, and sometimes you have to be willing to “embrace the chaos” around you. Read More Here

p.s. her advice ties in with an article we shared about what do women wear in a casual work environment. Read More Here

Need to Attract Employees? Subsidize their time AWAY from the office.

I once worked for an Australian bank here in the U. S. What was even more shocking than the amount of their annual vacation time (at least four weeks to start), was the fact that while on vacation, employees were paid 117% of their typical salary. Why? “Because, it costs more to go on holiday,” they would answer us wondering why we would ask such a silly question.

So, I was intrigued when I stumbled across this article about a company that includes an Airbnb stipend. The CEO of NodeSource, Inc., Joe McCann, explains how challenging it is for emerging companies to compete salary-wise with larger corporations and why he needed to go beyond typical compensation packages to attract employees.

Is a traveling subsidy a cost or an investment? When people travel, they see different things; but most importantly, they see different WAYS of doing the everyday. I’ve redesigned closets, rooms, and workflow based on how space-constrained Europeans and Asians have to fit things in tiny spaces. It’s not just space you might rework – when you observe different approaches to the mundane, you can re-think all sorts of thought processes. A person can indeed come home from traveling and re-engineer, and improve, a way to approach a process, a problem, or a project.

For companies that are dependent on innovation, or expanding into global markets, I am not sure how they can afford to NOT give their employees a stipend to travel. Read More Here

The Return on Idleness

Returning from vacation, it only seems fitting to produce something profound on the merits of vacating, being idle, and staring up at the ever-changing clouds. Luckily for me Brian O’Connor, a professor of philosophy at University College Dublin, wrote a significant essay about this very thing for Time while I was away in …Ireland.

He includes a favorite vignette of mine often used in stories on productivity and efficiency. The original, published in 1963 by German writer Heinrich Böll, tells a fictional story of a visitor to a small fishing village somewhere in the West of Europe. In the story the precursor of an efficiency expert thinks he has a way to help this fisherman find more leisure. We were in a fishing village in the most western part of Europe, as I practiced being idle. Yet the pressures of productivity are waves that keep lapping at the shores of modern Ireland. On our last day we met a fascinating artist and entrepreneur. She told us of a movement in Ireland to slow down and have a cup of tea as a way of checking in with people; to see how they are really doing. So perhaps these words in O’Connor’s essay remind us of the ROI on idleness: “…yet Böll’s story captures a recognizable time when work was considered a necessary evil, second in value to other goods like friendship, rest and community.” Read More Here