Wayne Hochwarter, a professor at Florida State University’s College of Business who specializes in organization behavior, conducted a field study this summer as part of an ongoing project on the anxiety-inducing effects of political conflict, in which he surveyed 550 full-time workers across the US about a variety of work-related issues, how politics are affecting their day-to-day interactions in the workplace. Discussing his findings at the Conversation, Hochwarter reports that he found evidence of heightened political stress, which correlated with negative workplace outcomes:
Twenty-seven percent of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that work had become more tense as a result of political discussions, while about a third said such talk about the “ups and downs” of politicians is a “common distraction.” One in 4 indicated they actively avoid certain people at work who try to convince them that their views are right, while 1 in 5 said they had actually lost friendships as a result. And all this has serious consequences for worker health and productivity.
Over a quarter said political divisions have increased their stress levels, making it harder to get things done. Almost a third of this group said they called in sick on days when they didn’t feel like working, compared with 17 percent among those who didn’t report feeling stressed about politics. A quarter also reported putting in less effort than expected, versus 12 percent. And those who reported being more stressed were 50 percent more likely to distrust colleagues.
Hochwarter’s field study relied on student-recruited sampling, so he acknowledges that his respondents may not be representative of the entire country; his findings are consistent with what other surveys have found over the past two years, as well as with the widely-recognized atmosphere of heightened division and polarization in American politics today, and particularly since the 2016 presidential election.
Significantly more North American employers are offering “Summer Fridays” to their employees this year, the latest data from Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor shows. A poll conducted in the second quarter of 2018 of more than 144 HR leaders in North America found that 46 percent of organizations were giving employees the option of leaving early, working remotely, or taking the day off on Fridays this summer—a jump of more than 30 percentage points from 2012.
Though some companies worry that summer schedules can have a negative impact on productivity, but as Gartner’s own Brian Kropp notes, “most companies have told us that with this benefit in place, they’ve found employees work harder earlier in the week because they know they have to complete their work before Friday,”
Summer Fridays won’t work for every organization, of course, or for every workforce, but Kropp outlines an alternative option too:
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.