WHAT WE'RE READING

AND WHAT WE THINK ABOUT IT

For Heaven’s sake, go home!

In the early 1990s, I lived in Japan, and was taken aback the first few times I saw people get on the subway, and go about their daily business wearing surgical-type masks whenever they were sick. Over time, I started to realize what a smart practice this was. This time of year, I wish my fellow Americans would put medical masks on as they sneeze and cough spreading their germs all around. 

So, is it okay to call in sick with a common cold? Should you tough it out and keep working or go back to bed—for everybody’s sake? Having a cold doesn’t really warrant a day off; or does it? Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), suggests, “If you are really not well and your symptoms mean you are not going to be productive, it’s better to [call in] sick [rather than] spreading your germs around the workplace.” It’s also important to remember to “be more mindful of those with severely compromised immune systems” or those caring for others with compromised immune systems. 

If you still can’t shake that cold, don’t be afraid to take the day off. You (and your co-workers) will be glad you did. Read More Here 

Making Dr. King’s Dream A Reality

I was four years old when Dr. King was killed, and I spent the ensuing days bombarding my poor parents with questions.

Three and a half decades later, when our son was four and our daughter was seven, we were sitting around the dinner table when my husband questioned them: “Do you know why you didn’t have school today?” They both knew it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “Who was Dr. King?” we asked,  and our four-year-old responded, “He don’t want you to fight with people.“ We accepted that answer. We turned to the seven-year-old. Her answer started with Rosa Parks and a bus. She understood that the peace part had something to do with racial injustice.

My husband then looked at our children and told them that they needed to realize how very different their lives would be if it hadn’t been for Dr. King‘s dream and his work. They would not have Jewish friends who invited them to Hanukkah parties. Our daughter probably couldn’t have a best friend who was African-American, because what were the odds that she would even go to school with kids that look different than herself? So many things that our children took for granted were things that three and a half decades earlier were unfathomable for most Americans. The best part of the evening was when our seven-year-old got out of her chair and put her hands on her hips and said, “I’m sorry I just don’t understand.  How could this be?!”

Today, as Americans pause and remember Dr. King‘s legacy, some of us will be doing exactly what Dr. King would expect of us—committing acts of service, or acts of peace, extending a hand to our neighbors, and taking steps to bring his dream a bit closer to reality. But for those of us who are not part of one of those activities today, could we pause and think of the classmate or neighbor, colleague, best friend, or person we love; who, because of Dr King’s dream, is now an integral part of our lives. Today, let’s think about the person we couldn’t dream of NOT having in our life. Let’s give thanks for an American with a bold desire for justice, a thirst for equality, and a conviction that all our lives would be richer working together rather than living apart.

New Year’s Resolutions, Part II

Would you like permission to not get everything done on this year’s to do list and have the scientific evidence to back it up? Now armed with neurological, demographic, and technological reasons why planning for the year to come is not actually the best way to reach your potential, you can instead let things slip onto next year’s list and still feel good about it. 

It’s human nature to pay more attention to what’s right in front of us and to focus more on our immediate future, but it’s equally important to start planning for the next decade. In a recent Forbes article, Nell Derick Debevoise points out that not only have our attention spans shortened but that one’s life expectancy has also increased, thus solidifying our need for long term planning. She suggests strategies like mindfulness practice “to slow your thinking down” and using the Eisenhower Matrix to prioritize what’s urgent and not urgent and then work accordingly. 

Here’s to planning for your decade! Read More Here

New Year’s Resolutions

I stumbled across this article in the Economist several months ago, but when pondering New Year’s resolutions, its content came back to me. Few will be in a position to enact the sorts of suggestions that the authors of It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work recommend, but if you are, I encourage you to contemplate some of their ideas. 

The authors, Fried and Heinemeier Hansson, have a strategic approach for fostering the ideal company culture. Their employees work less hours, attend fewer meetings, and get more vacation time. They contend that they would prefer to invest in these perquisites rather than those they consider a waste:  free dinners, office game rooms, and snack bars. 

You do not need to copy their business techniques, but you should consider the rationale behind their decision making. Fried and Heinemeier Hansson recognize the need for deep work, and that often the office layout and culture makes it nearly impossible to accomplish any work! These authors understand the true cost of human capital when they do the math: “Eight people in a room doesn’t cost one hour, it costs eight hours.” 

In the current labor shortage, if you take any of these ideas to heart, you should be doing so to attract and retain the very best of a limited labor pool and to make sure that you give employees the optimum environment in which to use their talents. Read More Here

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 …