The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia has been consuming the attention of football/soccer fans around the world over the past two weeks and will continue to do so until the final match on July 15. The world’s most-watched sporting event, the World Cup has viewers tuning into matches from every country and at all hours of the day—including during work hours. Just as the Super Bowl and the National College Athletic Association’s Division I basketball tournaments have been demonstrated to cause a dip in productivity in the US, this quadrennial international event is bound to have an economic impact in many countries.
New research attempts to calculate just how big that impact is likely to be. Maude Lavanchy, a research associate at IMD Business School, and Willem Smit, an assistant professor of marketing at the Asia School of Business and an international faculty fellow at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, built a model to predict the productivity cost of the 2018 World Cup in a number of major countries based on how many matches were scheduled to take place during work hours in that time zone and how the expected outcome of each match (based on betting odds from UK bookmakers) would affect workers’ happiness—positively if their team wins, and negatively if they lose. The researchers outlined their findings in an article at Bloomberg earlier this month:
In all, we found that half of the 48 group-stage games could have economic consequences. Although such calculations are inherently speculative, they can nonetheless tell a useful economic story. And in this case, it doesn’t look good.
The digital age has its pros and cons for the workforce. Technology provides employees with faster, easier access to information and data. It also allows for greater personalization and more interaction between employee and employer. Yet the digitalization of the workplace does have its downsides. Consider smartphones, for example: They can be alternately distracting and distressing; they can create barriers to action like information overload and decision fatigue, as well as work-life balance issues stemming from an “always-on” mentality.
Some managers, frustrated with the ubiquity of these devices and their ability to distract employees, are banning phones from meetings or otherwise limiting their use in the workplace, the Wall Street Journal’s John Simons wrote in a feature last week. Simons points to studies indicating that executives and managers consider smartphones “the leading productivity killers in the workplace” and that the presence of a phone can harm people’s cognitive performance, even when they are not using or holding it. He also notes Google’s recent announcement that the next version of its Android operating system will introduce a feature enabling users to see how much time they spend on their phones, which apps they use the most, and how often the phone gets unlocked.
Our recent research at CEB, now Gartner, also underscores these downsides of technology at work. While solutions to help employees minimize time wasted on tech, like Google’s forthcoming Android time tracker, might be helpful, our research suggests that no technological intervention can have a meaningful impact on employee performance or the employee experience by itself. The limitations are striking, given the large investments organizations (and HR functions in particular) are making in technology to support employees. But the challenges employers face are human and organizational, not just technological—and the same must be true of any solution.
Time management is a perennial challenge for any professional. As HR practitioners’ roles become more strategic, they find themselves under increasing pressure mitigate the time costs of non-strategic activities, as well as to figure out ways to improve time management throughout their organizations. A recent study led by London Business School professor Michael Parke points toward a possible solution.
Parke and one of his co-authors, Justin Weinhardt from the University of Calgary, discussed their findings in a recent Harvard Business Review article. Workers juggling competing demands on their time, they explain, can significantly increase their engagement and productivity at work by moving away from the traditional time management approach, toward a new approach they call “contingent planning.” In this type of planning, people “consider the possible disruptions or interruptions they may face in their work day and devise a plan to address them if they occur.”
“Contingent planning is less commonly used than time-management planning because individuals frequently make plans that overestimate how much they will get done and underestimate (or fail altogether) to account for how their work will be disrupted,” they add.
The researchers found that either type of planning positively impacted daily engagement and daily productivity in the absence of significant interruptions. However, when employees faced many interruptions in the course of a day, only contingent planning had a positive impact.
Talent Daily reached out to Parke for more ideas about how professionals can practice contingent planning in their day-to-day work, and he provided the following five tips:
In a randomized, controlled experiment at Gap, researchers Joan C. Williams, Saravanan Kesavan, and Lisa McCorkell sought out the effects of more versus less predictable schedules on the productivity of retail employees and the profitability of stores. “The results,” they write at the Harvard Business Review, “were striking”:
Sales in stores with more stable scheduling increased by 7%, an impressive number in an industry in which companies work hard to achieve increases of 1–2%. Labor productivity increased by 5%, in an industry where productivity grew by only 2.5% per year between 1987 and 2014. Our estimate is that Gap earned $2.9 million as a result of more-stable scheduling during the 35 weeks the experiment was in the field. Given that out-of-pocket expenses were small ($31,200), our data suggest that return on investment was very high. (If stable scheduling were adopted enterprise-wide, transition costs might well entail the costs of upgrading or replacing existing software systems.)
Unlike the typical way of driving sales through increase in traffic, the sales increase from our intervention occurred due to higher conversion rates and basket values made possible through better service from associates.
These findings, the authors underscore, contribute to a growing body of empirical evidence that lean staffing practices, with most employees on part-time, unstable, and on-call schedules, are not the money-savers they are often believed to be. It is indeed feasible for retailers to offer their employees more stable and predictable schedules, they add, but employers often overstate the benefits of an on-call system (reduced labor costs) while ignoring its drawbacks (such as poorer customer service and more management time devoted to scheduling).
This research comes at a time when schedule predictability has emerged as a focal point of labor activism and attracted the attention of regulators. San Francisco became the first major city to mandate predictable scheduling with its “retail workers’ bill of rights” in 2014, while Seattle passed a mandate in 2016 and New York City introduced a fair scheduling law for retail and fast food employees last year. Oregon became the first state to enact such a regulation statewide last summer and other states are mulling laws of their own.
While smartphones have revolutionized the way business is done, employees having the Internet in their pockets all day also has the obvious downside of making limitless distractions available to them at work. Whether they’re on social media, streaming movies and television shows, or getting addicted to mobile games like Pokémon Go and HQ Trivia, smartphones offer employees all kinds of ways to waste time. It’s no wonder that so many employers say their employees’ smartphone use decreases productivity in their workplace.
Even when we aren’t actively using our smartphones, new research suggests that merely having them in sight can be distracting. At the Harvard Business Review, business and behavioral science scholars Kristen Duke, Adrian Ward, Ayelet Gneezy, and Maarten Bos present the results of an intriguing study they conducted, which suggested that the mere presence of a smartphone reduced people’s cognitive abilities:
Our intervention was simple: before completing [a series of cognitive] tasks, we asked participants to either place their phones in front of them (face-down on their desks), keep them in their pockets or bags, or leave them in another room. Importantly, all phones had sound alerts and vibration turned off, so the participants couldn’t be interrupted by notifications.
The results were striking: individuals who completed these tasks while their phones were in another room performed the best, followed by those who left their phones in their pockets. In last place were those whose phones were on their desks.
In the UK, as in the US, persistent wage stagnation has been a painful long-term consequence of the financial crisis and the Great Recession. A new survey from XpertHR finds that employers there are increasingly optimistic about the raises they will be able to offer this year, predicting an average increase of 2.5 percent, Ashleigh Wight reports at Personnel Today:
A survey of more than 200 private sector employers found that they were more optimistic about the pay increases they plan to offer their staff in 2018 than six months ago, when they expected to offer a 2% pay rise. Of the organisations surveyed, the most common pay award prediction remained at 2%, with 28.9% of employers expecting to offer this level of increase. One in 10 (11.4%) employers forecast a pay increase of 4% or more, while just 5.3% of employers predicted a pay freeze.
In the three months to the end of February, XpertHR found there was a 2.5% median basic pay increase, based on data from 169 pay awards. … XpertHR pay and benefits editor Sheila Attwood said: “It is several years since employers have been so optimistic about prospects for pay rises. If private sector pay awards stick at 2.5% over the course of the year, this will mark the first time since 2012 that increases have been consistently above 2%.”
These findings mirror a survey of US employers conducted in the last quarter of 2017, which registered growing levels of business optimism and predicted that wages could rise 4.27 percent in the coming year, compared to the 3.39 percent figure PwC found in Q3 and just 2 percent a year ago.
Reports issued recently by two leading think tanks paint very different pictures of the economic outlook for UK workers, however. In early November, the Resolution Foundation asserted that the average pay package in Britain in 2022 would still be £20 lower than it was before the financial crisis, according to the Guardian:
The National College Athletic Association’s Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, better known as March Madness, are upon us in the US. In the next few weeks leading up to the championship game on April 2, millions of Americans will devote millions of hours to watching the games, talking about them, betting on them, checking scores, and comparing tournament brackets with other fans. Last year’s tournament was watched by an average of 10.4 million television viewers and generated 98 million live streams, while the television audience of the championship game averaged 23 million viewers.
So if you’re a US employer, it’s reasonable to assume that at least some of your employees are going to come down with March Madness this month, potentially distracting them from their work. An OfficeTeam survey conducted in February found that the average worker spends 25.5 minutes per workday on sports-related activities during the tournament, or a total of about six hours. Nearly half of the professionals surveyed said they love celebrating sporting events like March Madness in the office.
The cost of that distraction? According to an estimate from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, US employers could stand to lose “$2.3 billion per hour in time employees are engaged with the tournament at work”:
More than 40 million Americans fill out tournament brackets, according to the American Gaming Association. Applying the current employment-to-population ratio to that figure indicates that 23.7 million workers will fill out brackets for this year’s games. Of course, the distractions do not end with filling out the bracket. Even more productivity is lost over the first two full days of tournament play (Thursday and Friday), when a dozen games are played during work hours.