Archives for category: historic rambling 2006

Business issues that create workplace trends

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 25 – November 30, 2006

I have been in New Zealand so much that I am beginning to wear nothing but black and white. You will note the affect this has had on me at the Christmas party when I break out into the Hakka after a few drinks. Needless to say it has been quite a busy time, so when the request came out to attend a session to discuss workplace trends my first response was, sure I’ll get right on that in my plentiful spare time. Fortunately, it occurred to me that  I could kill two birds with one stone and turn this exercise into this months Ramblings. One item off the to do list – 7000 to go.

You can view this months ramblings like the fashion magazine’s yearly “ The big hair issue” except in this case it will be the “Big trends in workplace” issue you have all been waiting for. What I have done is assemble a collection of what I believe are the pressing issues that drive workplace trends. This is after all the purpose of the Ramblings, especially now that the thrill is gone from the secondary purpose of Futures Ramblings – summed up beautifully by my friend Susan in Seattle who wrote in an e mail  “It is ALMOST not as fun to poke fun of Bush these days. Since the elections he has been so humble it is nauseating”

One of the challenges we have in identifying workplace trends is the gravitation toward thinking about responses before thoroughly considering the issues that drive the response. Business, social and political issues are catalysts  that companies react  to, which in turn start trends. We put a desk on wheels to respond to a desire for greater flexibility which is a response to a volatile business climate.  This is why I believe it is necessary to consider broader issues as a starting point, mostly because it will give us a greater number of touchpoints to generate interesting solutions from.

Imagine five blind men trying to describe an elephant. The blind man holding the tail says it is as skinny as a snake, the blind man holding the ear says it is big and thin like a fan, the blind man holding on to the elephants leg says it is strong and solid like a tree trunk – you can see where this goes. It is impossible to effectively define or describe something if you can’t  see the big picture. Such is the case with understanding trends, this is why I have formulated what follows into issues.  I am hoping that you will begin to see the more of the whole picture, you will begin to see the way the issues link to one another and hopefully by having more to grab on to will generate many more fantastic ideas for how we solve these problems.

  1. ISSUE –       Shrinking talent pool  –  To focus on recruitment      and retention is too limiting, this is a broader issue. There are fewer      people to choose from when it comes to finding talent, not only do we need      to make sure our clients are able to attract the dwindling source of      company sustainability, the cities and countries  we live in are in the same boat. They      too are trying to attract people, and people attract companies, and      companies bring money and then the city thrives.  This elevates the discussion a bit. It is      not just about getting people to work for our company, but getting them to      come to your country or community. What makes them come? assuming we are      after young talented knowledge workers they want to be in places where the      ‘three T’s’ are present.  Talent –      more smart people to learn from and hang out with Technology – a      government and community that will finance research and development and      embrace new technology (eg if I am an up and coming biologist am I going      to go live in a place where the government will not allow the type of      research I want to do, such as stem cell research?).  Tolerance – living in an area that      tolerates diversity: age, sex, religion, sexual preference. These are the      types of communities that will be attracting the next generation of      talented workers.  What does this      mean in terms of environment: We need to create environments for knowledge      transfer and to create learning communities that give younger workers      exposure to senior workers enabling their careers to advance – this too      plays into generational drivers. For the same reasons the environment must      be used as a communicating device (perhaps through technology) to let      workers know what else is going on within their company and the community,      and the world.
  2. ISSUE –       Outsourcing / off shoring / partnering –  As companies respond to      shrinking talent pools and increased competition they will want to      leverage themselves for competitive advantage. Particularly in places like      New Zealand,      a country who is geographically isolated but has an  insatiable passion to align with the      rest of the world in technology/ consumer goods/ art/ fashion ideas etc.      For a small country like NZ to play in the big world scene they need to      join forces or partner with others to       become a part of a larger community. Increasingly smaller companies      and countries are doing this as a means to increase scale and reach. What      does it mean in terms of environment – the physical environment will need      to accommodate people who do not work for them but are working on projects      for specific periods of time. We need to design more ‘partnering rooms’      that can be a home base for employees and outsiders. Technology will need      to be better to enable clear inexpensive communications with out sourced,      off shore partners (this is why the HP halo communication is making such a      big splash) Also security issues will need to be addressed physically and      virtually.
  3. ISSUE – Conflict resolution – Not a new idea but one that has hidden      impact on how a business will perform. While we cannot make people get      along and work together many of our clients hope that the environment can      help repair severed bonds (the same way couples think babies will fix      there problems perhaps?) Some times there is conflict due to personalities      and differences, an extreme case is our client Ngai Tahu who are joining      several  Maori tribes to come      together to promote their culture and business proposition. The issue of      conflict resolution or difference is more often seen with companies that      have merged and are attempting to create a single culture. What do we do –      This one is really tough, going back to the couple analogy perhaps focus      on what the common goals are and create an environment that support common      values but allow the differences to still exist? EG the building and work      environment  communicates      overarching value but each employee has a name tag that is customised,      graphics to define groups?
  4. ISSUE – Technology and technology backlash – While we demand and      require great technology that is simple to use and gets beyond security      issues, we also need to consider that many people are bloody sick and      tired of it. There is a bit of generational differences here too, the      younger generations have much more tolerance for multiple points of      stimulation. We need to consider environments that provide opportunities      to just get away, Cisco has done this in San Jose with the creation of a library      space where there is no technology or noise permitted. Do we help our      client develop signals and protocol (like PMC did last week with no e mail      Friday)? Obviously, creating spaces that foster community – particularly      as workers have greater mobility and flexibility in work hours,  will encourage face to face      communication to augment the great freedom we will have due to technology.
  5. ISSUE Consumer activism, awareness, corporate social responsibility  –  This      is a big issue. People are beginning to question authority more and are      drawing stronger connections with a companies values and their behaviours.      Companies in the US      are spending lots of time and energy defending themselves and their      motives – taking out full page ads in the New York times to tell everyone      they are really good guys and not just a big multi national that only care      about money.  A while ago I wrote      about Wal Mart creating a ‘situation room’ to brainstorm and respond to      negative press. The public and employees have greater expectation that      companies do not behave the way Enron, Worldcom or the AWB did.  What does this mean in terms of      environment? – Clear ESD implications, also alignment of brand values to      building and workplace image. Provision of community spaces on company      premises .
  6. ISSUE Faith and meaning – As people we are searching for meaning, I      am not sure why there is more of this now than before, but there is. There      is a definite push in the US      toward religion to achieve this – sadly thru fundamentalist views, just as      there is with other cultures and religions. Countries like New Zealand and Australia have a large number      of new immigrants, and are also seeing more ethnic gang activity and      violence. In a simplistic level these gangs are a means of providing      community, connection and meaning to people who cannot find another way to      fit with the culture – in the US I believe it has more to do with social      and economic differences. Others are increasingly finding meaning through      other means, such as yoga obsessions, or environmentalism – which has been      coined as the new religion. What does this mean – People want a community,      people want meaning in their life, particularly gen Y. Work environments      must support differences and provide a sense of community that allows each      person to feel like they belong.
  7. ISSUE Depression, stress general well being – As I described in last
  8. months Future’s Ramblings organizations are now being held responsible for      the well being of their employees. About a week ago Michael       Greer sent out an article describing an Australian      company that was in some hot water because they did not tell their      employees before hand that they were shifting from offices to open      worksettings. What does this mean?       Depression and stress are closely related, and we can certainally      have an effect by designing workplaces that don’t drive people nuts. It sounds      like design 101 but: zoning loud activities away from quiet activites to      avoid distraction, use full height spaces as buffers, provide a variety of      ‘fit for purpose’ spaces, create areas to decompress, provide good      acoustics,
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Depression in the workplace

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 24 – October 18, 2006

Do you ever have those days where you feel like the black dog is getting the better of you? The black dog is the term Winston Churchill used to describe depression. Churchill, like many other famous people including Dawn Frasier, Buz Aldrin, Claude Monet, Mozart, John Cleese and even Prince Charles all suffered from depression. In fact 72% of famous writers, 42% of the artist, 36% of intellectuals, 35% of composers, 33% scientists and 41% of politicians suffer from depression.

In the past, if I had woken feeling a bit blue and decided the best way to remedy that was stick the pillow over my head and call in sick I would have felt like a complete loser.  Now that I know Buz Aldren does the same thing I feel a sense of empowerment that comes from having a special alignment with the FIRST MAN ON THE MOON CONSARNIT. Yep me and Buz Aldrin who said

“There were days I could not get out of bed.  Some mornings I responded to the doctor’s questions, other mornings, I ignored his questions and carried on my litany of self-doubt and self-hate. At times I felt hopelessly snarled in the tangle of my mind.

Okay so I am not in the hospital and you would be correct in pointing out that going to the moon is not tantamount to going to New Zealand – even though sometimes it can feel that way. Never the less,  there is something quite sobering about discovering the flight crew on the Qantas Sydney to Auckland route, the customs guys and cashiers at the duty free liquor counter all know your name, but your kids greet you with who are you? when you walk in the door after a business trip – Ouch.

Everyone experiences days when they feel a bit down, and most of us have pulled a sickie at some time in our working career, except for my pal Neil Shoebridge at the Financial Review who has NEVER called in sick in 18 years. The bigger issues is that the greater portion of the population  go to work when they are not emotionally prepared  – you could say a few bricks shy of a load, they have one oar in the water, or are one enchilada short of a combination meal –  they go anyway. It is these walking wounded, particularly those with serious depression or anxiety disorders, that are wreaking havoc with workplace productivity and that is what we need to pay closer attention to.

The leadership and workplace gurus don’t talk much about depression, it has been coined the last taboo of workplace issues. Having confronted discrimination on the basis of age, gender, race, sexual orientation and religion, we are only just now beginning to scratch the surface on the implications that mental ill health has on business. I am not referring to days where there is a minor setback that ruins your morning, such as feeling like skipping work because your butt looks too big in these pants, or the baby puked down your back and the other suit is at the cleaners. I am talking about genuine physical illness which impacts ones ability to do their work the same way the old work -related illnesses did: coalminer’s lung, match girl’s jaw and chimney – sweep scrotum. Real stuff.

It is estimated that a quarter of workers will suffer some depression, anxiety or related substance abuse problem each year. One in five of us will experience this at some point in our adult lives (If the empty beer bottles after Friday night drinks are any indication I would say that substance abuse is affecting all of us here simultaneously – forget the one in five) Depression is the most common reason for people being off work in the public sector and it has the greatest negative impact on productivity for non manufacturing companies. In the UK Mental ill health is costing up to Pounds 9 billion a year in pay alone, in the US untreated mental illness cost the USA $105 billion in lost productivity each year, and in Australia it cost 3.3 billion dollars a year in lost productivity.

If those figures were not convincing, here are a few more to sober you up complements of Beyond Blue the National Depression Initiative:

  • Un healthy workers had 18 days sick leave compared with 2 day for healthy ones.
  • Unhealthy employees worked an average of 49 effective hours a month compared to 143 hours a month for healthy employees.
  • There are 6 million days lost each year due to absenteeism, and another 12 million days lost each year due to lack of productivity

At Geyer most of us work in teams so it will be no surprise to hear that the cost of a health related absence is often more than just lost wages paid to the worker who is out sick, there are broader implications to productivity. When it comes to measuring the cost of ailments to companies, diabetes, arthritis and circulatory disorders were responsible for higher direct medical costs; but interestingly depression / anxiety had the highest cost, particularly when “Impaired presenteeism” is taken into account. This is the term used for the impact on others, of those who come to work while ill. I love that term impaired presenteeism, you could take the idea much further: impaired jerkism, impaired moronism.

In Australia we have started to pay more attention to depression and mental health after the resignation of WA premier Geoff Gallops. More recently Queensland’s attorney general Linda Lavarch resigned from the ministry and Labor’s front bench for similar reasons. As has been mentioned, it is tough going for the politicians 41% are depressed. In fact Comcare the federal government’s mental health program has seen clams increase from 5.9% in 2004 to 22%. I would imagine these figures would be higher in the US given the dismal performance of the current administration there (if they were real men would go stick there head in the oven given their track record). By the way mid term elections in the US are in the next two weeks – I live in hope!!!!!!!!!!!

One of the biggest problems depression presents to an organization is the cost. In Australia mental stress claims have risen from 6813 in 2001 to 8093 in 2004 and that trend is likely to accelerate. For those with serious depression the average claim is $80,000. Naturally, with money to be earned the lawyers are not far behind, in the US you can sue your employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act, issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if they do not account for your depression. In 2004 federal guidelines were issued in the US describing how employers could make ‘accommodation’ for employees with serious mood disorders, such as changing their work hours; and if they didn’t their employees could sue .

In 2004 the EEOC took in $469,000 in financial settlements for employees who complained they were discriminated against because of their depression, this has ballooned to more that 3 million in 2005. Wipe that smug look off of your face, its not just happening in the US! In 2003 the WA Supreme Court awarded an employee $856,742 after they were diagnosed with depressive illness. The employer was found negligent for not heeding the warnings that the employees work load was too great.

As an example of how this could work, my niece who is a university student in PhoenixArizona works part time at a department store where she is a manger of her area. As the manger she has no recourse over an employee who frequently decides not to come in to work or is late, because the other girl has gone on record as being ‘depressed’. The other girl shows up when she pleases and leaves when she pleases and there is nothing that her manager can do about it. Just imagine trying to run one of our projects with a team like that.

The last thing I want to do here is make light of depression, but it would be safe to say it is tricky situation when the symptoms pretty much describe a typical work week for many of us. Unfortunately for some of you in Melbourne, and you know who you are, traits like irritability, anal pickneyness or chronic lateness are considered behaviours and not mental impairments that would require ‘accommodation’ by your employer. The real symptoms are:

  • Persistent sadness or anxious mood
  • Loss of interest in or pleasure from ordinary activities (I know I am in trouble when I lose the will to be cynical)
  • Decreased energy, fatigue or feelings of being slowed down
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Eating disturbances
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or attempts at suicide – interesting they don’t mention thoughts of boss homicide
  • Irritability
  • Excessive crying
  • Chronic aches and pains
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions.

If Australia follows in the footsteps of the US, as it often does, employers will need to make accommodation in the workplace for those with mental health issues. If the lost productivity doesn’t drive such initiatives then potential legal ramifications will. Commonwealth Bank is already taking depression in the workplace seriously. Commonwealth Bank Chief Executive Ralph Norris says “Commonwealth Bank is committed to the health and well being of our staff and is proud to offer our employees access to information and advice about depression and how to identify it or seek treatment for it,” he goes on to say “We are pleased to provide the resources and information for our staff and to be recognised as leading edge within the finance sector for this type of initiative.” “The program will ultimately lead to positive outcomes across the Bank – first and foremost for our people – in addition to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and reduced direct and indirect costs.”

I am going to leave you with an assignment.  I would like all of you to go away and challenge yourself to come up with ways, even seemingly insignificant ones, that the physical environment could be used to combat workplace depression. Send them back to me and the futures team will distribute prizes for the best ones. You see, I am feeling a bit depressed, I heard through the grapevine that there is an expectation that Future’s identify new workplace trends. Well I’ll be gosh darn, that’s why I write these Futures Ramblings! (I would use other words but you know how picky that mail marshal is)

So to be perfectly clear – one of the trends you should think about when designing a work environment is the possibility that employees may be depressed.  If the environment you create can in anyway elevate that, for instance through happy face upholstery fabrics, that would put Geyer on the leading edge.

Sources

“Depression, a disease that we must defeat”

By Richard Layard

The Observer

une 18, 2006

“Aetna to Pay For Program To Manage Depression”

New York times

November 2, 2005

“Stressed Out”

By Amita Tandukar

BRW

23/02/06

“Depression Knows No Boundaries”

By Shane Nichols

The Australian Financial Review

February 23, 2006

“Third of men drink to drown out job stress: Survey links depression to long hours and insecurity”

By John Carvel

The Guardian London, England

June 8, 2006

“Sick Job Syndrome – The Office Psychologist”

By John Nash

The Times – London England

March 30, 2006

“Beyond Blue: Opening our Eyes to the Cost of Depression in the Workplace”

Web site

Multiplier Effect: The Financial Consequences of Worker Absences

Knowledge at Wharton

December 14, 2005

“Workplaces Quit Quietly Ignoring Mental Illness”

By Stephanie Armour

USA Today

August 22, 2006

Holidays and Baseball

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 23 – September 18, 2006

As most of you know I have just returned from being in the United States for two week where I was watching my son play baseball and visiting friends and family, if you have any expectations that this version of Future’s Ramblings will be about workplace or business issues you should stop reading now. Other than chatting with friends in the industry, and a quick sojourn to Minneapolis to visit the Medtronic’s campus, it may shock you to learn I did very little thinking about work. So as advised when I first started writing these newsletters, there could be times when Ramblings gets reduced to a bit of fluff and this is one of those times.

My return to the office coincided with the monthly Geyer ‘Show and Tell’ lunch, which I attended. As I was going up to get my third helping of food Matt Sheargold made the comment that sitting between an American and a buffet table was an unfortunate place. Pretty cheeky don’t you think? Matt is lucky I am thick skinned, besides if I had gotten upset about that comment it may have spoiled my digestion and I would have had to skip desert. Never the less, I have given this some thought because this is the second time in a matter of weeks an Australian has made comment about American eating habits. Prior to leaving Australia my son’s baseball coach gave the boys this bit of advice “Those Americans all eat way more than they should, and you will need to exercise self control when you’re around them to remain in peak physical condition”.

Sadly after spending time in suburban New   Jersey I did wonder whether there was some truth to these slanderous comments. I began to notice that every meal was excessively large and generally deep fried. If the size of the typical beer gut was any indication, the fried food gets helped down with a few cold ones, particularly if you happened to be dining in a sports bar which I rarely go, but in suburban New Jersey there was little choice. Sports, beer and fried food kind of go together like Larry, Moe and Curly Joe. And Allen, I was wrong, you can watch both baseball and football at the same time because they have extended the seasons and if you got to a sports bar to do it you can have lots of beer and fried food too.

You will think that I am making this up, but at the ball park in New Jersey they actually served deep fried Oreo cookies. This guy in the stands told the woman sitting next to him, who was stuffing them in her mouth that it was giving him adult onset diabetes just watching her. What a great comment, they didn’t know each other. I miss the brutal honesty and obnoxious candor of Americans and that one made me feel warm and cozy. As another example, at the ballgame the parents were yelling “Hey umpire, how about you watch the game with your good eye” you don’t hear that at Aussie baseball games. Perhaps it is an unfair assumption because I have never been to one, but I just can’t see anyone yelling anything like that at a cricket game. Heck at a cricket match I figure you would need to go around with a mirror to see if anyone in the stands or the field is alive let alone spirited enough to yell rude comments.

I would have been quite disturbed about my birth land and what it had come to if I hadn’t spent a few days in Manhattan after the baseball tournament. At least there people there are normal! There was the woman I saw walking her dog that had shoes on – not the woman the dog. After a week of fried food and beer drinking I felt the need to do a bit of Bikram yoga. At the studio in Chelsea there was a tall black man next to me in class with waist long dread locks, he must have been working on them since he was five years old. When it started to get hot he tied them in knots at either side of his head which impacted my ability to meditate, he looked like Princess Leigha. That aside, I felt more alignment with this guy and the other yogis with their tattoos and body piercing than I did with the woman taking up a pair of seats in the bleachers eating fried Oreo cookies.

So it is with a heavy heart that I must admit that in that region of the country the stereotype of Americans eating habits are accurate. Another change I noticed was more religion. While I have always been aware that parts of the US were more God fearing than others, my theory was that the closer you got to major metropolitan areas the less R& R you get (religion and republicans). This is why I advise sticking to the East and West coasts if you’re visiting just to be safe. That being said, Chicago is an exception, what a coincidence I am from Chicago. Chicago is a city firmly divided along the supporters of the two baseball teams:  Sox fans and Cubs fans. Despite the deep divide, both ball parks – Wrigley Field and ComiskeyPark mark the top of the 7th inning with the tradition of the ‘Seventh Inning Stretch’. This is a chance to take a bit of a break, stand up and stretch your legs and if you’re not too drunk and join the other fans in singing “Take me Out to the Ballgame”. Guess what they sang in New   Jersey? God Bless America.

To my surprise, the kids from the US teams would have a group prayer prior to the start of a game. You will be happy to know the Australian kids did what baseball players are supposed to do: a few stretches, eat a hot dog, and adjust and readjust and adjust and readjust their cup (or box as you call it here).

Mixing sports and religion is bad, but not nearly as bad as mixing religion and politics. In the US there is meant to be a clear distinction between church and state, one progressively blurred by the current administration. If you think I am wrong go stand out in front of the white house with a sign that says US out of Iraq, or Show me the weapons and see how long it takes them to relinquish your right to free speech.

Unfortunately, like Australia, many parts of the United States are suffering from drought conditions. I read a story in the Chicago Tribune about some politician; I can’t remember whether he was the governor, in the house or senate of South Dakota requesting his constituents “pray for rain”. He was not suggesting a silent personal prayer, but a formal moment of silence where everyone in the state would stop to pray for rain. This is the country where we stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance when I hit the 8th grade because of the “one nation under God” part.  Now people in government are encourage all to formally pray for rain.

To be honest, I did succumb to the power of prayer. After having my laptop nicked somewhere between Sydney and New York, my luggage lost from LA to New York, my luggage lost from New York to Chicago and both me and my luggage caught in the security line while my flight from Chicago to Phoenix departed, I too turned to the power of prayer. It paid off, both my luggage and me got on the flight from Phoenix to Seattle without a hitch. To top that, I was not arrested for telling the woman feeling me up for weapons in the security “a little to the right, up a bit more”. In fact she even laughed when I asked her if it was as good for her as it was for me, and if she would be sure to call me.

I will admit I lied, I did think about work when visiting the new Apple store on 5th Ave. which is entirely underground and open 24/7. The purpose of an all night computer store is beyond me; perhaps it is a geek mecca that your geek genes draw you to when you hear the calling? Further up 5th Ave I visited the new Abercrombie and Fitch store with the appearance of a nightclub rather than a clothing store, including two ‘bouncers’ at the entry. Both of these boys were clones of the larger than life photos of male beefcake on the walls of store (the photos were clearly not of models from New Jersey). A friend told me the store was involved in a law suit when it first opened over a request that the boys out front be half naked, blond haired and white. After being slapped with a discrimination lawsuit they wear A&F button down shirts and are of mixed ethnicity.

While visiting these places I asked myself as I often do what would Peter Geyer do in this instance? The answer came to me – obnoxiously take photos of everything whether your allowed to or not. Sadly, I have learned nothing about clandestine photography from hanging out with Peter because I was immediately caught and asked to leave.

MoMA had and exciting exhibit by Herzog and De Meuron, it was the Artist’s Choice where artists are invited to organize exhibits from MoMA’s collection, so unfortunately not a representation of their architectural work. The exhibit titled Perception Restrained consisted of thirty plus plasma screens attached to the ceiling of the gallery. Each ran a two or three minute segment of a scene from a movie, some I recognized and some I did not, each with explicit reference to violence, drama and sex. Under the plasmas were benches with small mirrors enabling you to watch the ceiling without straining your neck. I appreciated this because after viewing the explicit sex scenes for two or three hours I would have gotten quite a kink in my neck. I got kicked out of there too.

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz I agree there is no place like home. I also live in hope that the republicans get kicked out of office, and then I might even consider living there again. For the time being visits like this one will have to do and they are good because they enable you to close chapters of your life out. There are a few issues I have put to bed, such as feeling like I’m fat. I also felt a sick sense of justice in learning that the ballet teacher who told me I was too fat for the boys to lift me now must relying on an oxygen tank to breath. Or the joy in letting those close to you know the impact they made – I got to remind my brothers that I will forever be messed up as a result of their farting into their cupped hands and releasing the smell in my face. For these reasons trips home are priceless.

As a last thought, I want to share with you the questions about Australia I was most often asked.

  1. The obligatory      and horribly boring – does the toilet whirl go clockwise or counter      clockwise?
  2. What’s with      your e mail, when are you going to get rid of all of that blatant      promotional material and PLEASE tell the mail marshal to lighten up we      can’t use any of our favorite words.
  3. Is that Steve      Irwin guy for real?

Making Mistakes

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 22 – August 14, 2006

Alexander Pope said ‘A man should never be ashamed to own he has been wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday’. I came across this quote at the same time that I saw the July 2006 AFR Boss Magazine on CEO Mistakes, which oddly coincided with the passing of Kenneth Lay the former CEO of Enron. (Did you know that if you type in hugs and a kiss on an e mail –XXOO- the spell checker comes back asking if you really mean Enron? Interesting don’t you think?)

My misguided belief about CEO’s is that they should know all of the answers and not be making any mistakes. After all, some of them earn an average salary which exceeds our company’s yearly earning. That doesn’t even include their bloody bonuses – I see in the AFR today that Sol Trujillo got a $2.6 million dollar bonus, Allan Moss from Macquarie Bank rakes in 21.2 million a year salary, and our client Wal King from Leighton Holdings earns the pittance of 12.8 million per year. Therefore my reaction to seeing a magazine about CEO mistakes is “what the”.

In researching the topic of mistake making in greater depth I discovered that making mistakes in business can have high payoffs, but only if the mistakes are smart.  Great business ideas such as Fed Ex’s distribution system were the happy outcome of what many in that business considered to be a major blunder. Along the same lines, Thomas Edison pursued the ideal of the phonograph even though he considered the idea to have little commercial value. Organizations need to make mistakes in order to improve and to challenge themselves to discover new things.

Mistakes are a critical part of our learning which can help us avoid traps in our thinking and decision making. By intentionally taking the wrong road, high payoffs can be achieved. In his book “Celebrate Your Mistakes” author John W. Holt Jr. says “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking risks, and that means you’re not going anywhere” “The key is to make errors faster than the competition, so you have more chances to learn and win”. It is through the process of making mistakes that great ideas are born. It is unfortunate that many business today create organizations where mistakes are rare; rather than creating cultures where it is understood that the process of trial and error is not only a necessary cost of doing business, but can also ensure you remain competitive.

It is not hard to understand why companies don’t like making mistakes, after all they are made of people, and people don’t want to make mistakes. Generally as humans our driver is fear, the fear of failing, of looking like a jerk, of being rejected, or not being liked, and of course the fear of making a mistake. On a human level the reason we don’t like to make mistakes has much more to do with our own psychology, but we see the same expressions in the culture and strategy of organizations. The main reasons we avoid mistakes are that we as individuals are:

1. Overconfident and often blind to our limitations.

2. We do not effectively challenge ourselves to get the best because we are risk adverse and are rewarded        for good decisions and penalized for bad ones.

3. We look for confirming evidence to support our self serving perceptions; we favor data that supports our         beliefs and don’t see alternatives.

4. We assume that the feedback we get is reliable (which it can’t be if we do number three, it is tantamount to determining how cute you are by only asking your mother, sister and grandma who will of course vote for the affirmative).

The experts say that to get the most out of them, your mistakes must be deliberate. It is a bit of a paradox in that a mistake committed on purpose is what many of us would call an experiment, but the experts don’t agree. The Harvard Business Review explains that conducting experiments to confirm your assumptions is quite different from making a mistake; the difference is that deliberate mistakes are expected to fail, because they are based on your current assumptions. When a deliberate mistake unexpectantly succeeds, your assumptions are turned on their side, and that is when break through innovation happens. A good example is the advertising pioneer David Ogilvy, who deliberately included ads that he thought, would not work in order to test and improve his rules for evaluating advertising. More often than not the ads were failures, but the few that succeeded led to innovative approaches in advertising.

The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article “Israel admits mistake in Qana attack” The article described the attack on a residential building in the southern Lebanese town of Qana, causing the collapse that killed dozens, mostly women and children. Clearly this was not a deliberate or good mistake to make. The expense of a failed mistake should not be too high in comparison with the reward; naturally companies need to limit their risks in their mistake making. A company like Qantas would be foolish to test their jet engines on airplanes full of people, but would be really smart to test them in a simulator or wind tunnel.

To analise the trade off between making mistakes and the potential risk of those mistakes, companies should consider the following:

  • The potential gain outweighs the cost of the mistake.
  • Decisions are made repeatedly – e.g. Geyer would be better off making a deliberate mistake in the selection of a chair, than of a new headquarters sight for a client. The chair decision will be repeated again, so if we were wrong we could learn and make adjustments. The building decision is something our client will live with for 15 to 20 years; you don’t get a second shot.
  • The environment has dramatically changed – there is a new competitive landscape and the current approach may no longer work
  • The problem is complex and the solutions are numerous, the more complex the problem the less likely you will be to understand it completely. Your chances of getting it wrong are increased.
  • Your organizations experience with a problem is limited – if you are unfamiliar you should be open minded in your approach again your chances of getting it wrong are high.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates noted that “every company needs people who have made mistakes – and then made the most of them”. This is really the key to mistakes isn’t it? We must learn from them and hopefully be smarter the next time round.  Executive coaches, customer service gurus and people on the front lines of business offer the following six steps to help you learn from mistakes

  • The surest way to diffuse a mistake is to fess up early. However they advise against using highly charged phrases like “I screwed up” or it is “all my fault” because people will remember such phrases and may well come back to haunt you. Apparently some companies prefer to call these “teachable moments” or “opportunities for improvement” but being from the ‘call a spade a spade camp’ I am the sort that needs to hit over the head pretty hard to get it. If someone told me I had just experienced a ‘teachable moment’ I would worry they were trying to get me to join the Church of Scientology or something.
  • If it is your team, it is your mistake – If you lead a team or business unit and a mistake happens it is yours whether or not you had a direct role in creating it. Guess that points to the end of Ji Wei being my scapegoat.
  • Follow – up and follow through – Mistakes don’t always have simple causes, they can be the result of a systemic problem that will happen again if not corrected. Since mistakes often involve more than one person it is worthwhile to conduct a thorough evaluation, which may well reveal something about you, or your colleagues work process.
  • Isolate the ‘moment of truth’ these are the rare times when people can gather to learn from their mistakes. To do this you must act quickly and gather people for a play – by – play analysis of what went wrong to avert similar errors in the future. It is recommended that if you embed learning in your process you will not make the same mistake twice.
  • The smartest mistakes you make are the ones you make yourself. However, avid supporters of doing things for yourself must acknowledge that there is danger in doing this too often. You must pick your lessons and learn from them, you can’t have 15,000 lessons.
  • The best fix is a quick fix. For most of us who are struggling with keeping up with the pace of work it is difficult to find time for post mortems or learning plans. According to Bill Rosenzweig a partner at the San   Francisco based Venture Strategy Group which consults with emerging companies on brand marketing and organizational development we at Geyer should pay particular attention to this. Rosenzweig says that “in companies that value passion and creativity over discipline and focus, people often claim they don’t have the time to evaluate their mistakes. I would argue that you don’t not have the time”

It is the people who most need to make mistakes that are the ones least likely to admit they have made one. Over confident individuals, and businesses, are generally not interested in subjecting themselves to being proven wrong. Such views are shortsighted, and can often impact the ability to succeed in the long run. Around the turn of the century Thomas Edison created a place where people could tinker, test their ideas and in some cases blow things up and try again. It is in this kind of environment that a tolerance for failure can be developed, and in turn real progress can be made. If a company wants its people to come up with ideas quickly, they need to cut some slack and tolerate failure.

I will leave you with a quote from the American baseball player Babe Ruth “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way”.

Speaking of baseball, I will be heading back to the United States this Thursday to watch my son participate in the Babe Ruth Junior World Series. Unlike the real World Series this tournament includes other countries such as Australia. My next Rambling will be from the road and may be less about workplace and business and more about airport security, perhaps supporting Peter Ruehl’s suggestion in this weekend’s AFR that the only solution to the airport security issues is “that people board planes in only their underwear. This should speed things up, make the trip more interesting and boost Mile High Club membership”

Sources

The Wisdom of Deliberate Mistakes

By Paul J. H. Schoemaker and Robert E. Gunther

The Harvard Business Review   June, 2006

CEO Mistakes

By Mike Hanley

Financial Review BOSS Magazine July, 2006

When NOT to Trust Your Gut

By Max H. Bazerman and Deepak Malhotra

HarvardBusinessSchool Working Knowledge

July 31, 2006

Undies Only, the Safest Way to Fly

By Peter Ruehl

The Weekend Australian Financial Review

August 12 -13 2006

Big Rewards Can Stick in the Craw, Howard Admits

By Fleur Anderson

The Weekend Australian Financial Review

August 12 -13 2006

It’s OK to Make a Mistake

By Robyn Henderson

www. Positivepath.net

Israel Admits Mistake in Qana Attack

By AP Digital – breaking news

The Sydney Morning Herald

August 3, 2006

My Smartest Mistakes

By Pamela Krueger

Fast Company October, 1997

Make Smarter Mistakes

By Pamela Krueger

Fast Company October, 1997

Why Can’t We Get Anything Done?

By Alan M. Webber

Fast Company May, 2000

 

Middlescence

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 21 – June 27, 2006

A lot of you know that I do Bikram yoga, it is the type done in a room heated to 39C. This past weekend I went to a special class with one of Bikram’s most experienced instructors who came over from the US to teach a handful of masters’ classes in Australia. I found this teacher very inspiring, not only did she have a great command of the postures and their medical benefits but she looked great too. As you might imagine, when one exercises in that kind of heat they wear as little as is legally possible, and the teacher from the US was no exception in a black one piece bathing suit. Watching her move through the room I couldn’t help but want to be like her, be as smart, as peaceful and look that good. Fortunately for me, I still have some time to catch up, she is in her 80s. When I wasn’t thinking about being nauseous and on the verge of fainting from the heat, I was thinking I would like to have the confidence to walk around in a bathing suit,  do an effortless sit up and be a yoga teacher when I am 80. Doing the math, I could go to the 8 week Bikram training in Los Angeles now and still get in a solid thirty plus years teaching before I hit 80.

I thought the fixation about what I should do next in my career was just a passing phase; I seem to have an insatiable quest to find things that give me a greater sense of purpose in life. Naively, I thought that I was the only one who did this and assumed the rest of you were content with your chosen professions. I imagined you were all like my old boss Art Gensler, once when I said good morning to him he replied “if I was any better there would be two of me”.  It was surprising and disappointing to suddenly read that I am not the only one who spends time thinking about what’s next.  In fact it is quite common. Go figure, my crisis is not even my own, and it is not even unique, it is so common with people my age that it even has a name.  Middlescence!

Like adolescence, middlescence can be a time of great frustration and confusion which explains the poor state of my household with a pair of each. People like me, mid career employees, between the ages of 35 and 54 make up more than half the workforce and we work longer hours than our older and younger counterparts. Unfortunately, only 43% of us are passionate about our jobs, 33% of us feel energised by our work, 36% say they feel they are in dead- end jobs and 40% feel burnt out. As a group we have the lowest satisfaction rates with our immediate managers and the least confidence in top executives.  We are working more, enjoying it less and looking for something else to do that may put a little joy back in our lives.

When it comes to mid career employees, the companies they work for mistakenly believe they are settled and content, the solid backbones of the organisation; and unfortunately often ignore them. This can lead to middlescents becoming so dissatisfied that they will leave their jobs, or worse stay and fester with a bad attitude. Every day companies all over the world are paying the price of lost energy, enthusiasm and a lack of innovation and focus from their middlescent employees, which is often more threatening to productivity than employee turnover. The Harvard business review states “companies are ill- prepared to manage middlescence because it is so pervasive, largely invisible, and culturally uncharted”.

The outcomes for business are not good, with fewer emergent workers entering the workforce and those that are, planning their exit, many companies could be caught out by their valuable experienced people quitting sooner than necessary. As workforce demographics shift over the next ten years, it would be wise for any company that wishes to control its fate to learn to recognise the early warning signs of middlescence frustration, and to actively develop strategies to combat it.

For obvious reasons I will not disclose which of these symptoms that I still have or had. However I will confess to having already gone through one middlescent crisis. Because it was more than shrimps on the Barby and distaste of the Republican administration that got me to: move around the world, switch jobs, and do something completely different. In the event you in the 35 to 54 age group and fear you may have this condition, here are some signs of middlescence:

  • Being stuck in a bottleneck – you are competing for too few leadership positions in an organisation
  • Stuck in work life tension, once referred to as the sandwich generation you’re caught between caring for the kids and the parents
  • Burnt out, being in a career for 20 or more years, you are stretched and stressed and find your work unexciting or repetitive.
  • Disappointment, realising that you haven’t achieved what you thought you would and probably never will.
  • Unimpressive boss, distrust of the company, great gaps in compensation between you and those above
  • Lengthening horizon, realising that you can’t retire and will have to work for quite a while longer.

As most of you know, Bill Gates has retired from Microsoft. While he plans to maintain a large holding in the company, he and Melinda are going to put all of their energy into the philanthropic organisation they founded several years ago. His primary motivation in retiring is a desire to spend more time on the issues that he really cared about. Whadaya reckon, Middlescence? Yes it is perhaps easier to search for greater purpose in life when you are worth 50 billion US, and you are the boss. Never the less, it is somewhat comforting to see that this condition can happen to just about anyone regardless of your position in a company or the number of noughts on your pay cheque.

For those of us without a spare billion let alone million to finance our pursuit of greater meaning, there are other strategies for revitalizing careers that are more attainable for us commoners. First is what the employer can do, followed by a few tips on how to take matters into your own hands.

For employers, it is advised that two preliminary steps are taken before embarking on the six following ideas. The first preliminary step is to remove barriers to occupational mobility, such as the policies within your company that may block employees. Second, it is advised that you ‘find the keepers’ and this means going beyond the stars in your organisation, who are probably already recognised, to identify the people whose skills and experience you need and want to retain. Once you have done that you can zip up a mid career employee by doing the following:

  • Offer fresh assignments in different geographical locations or other parts of the company.
  • Offer an internal career change, allow the employee to assume a different job.
  • Put experienced employees into mentoring, teaching and other knowledge sharing roles
  • Offer fresh training, refresher courses, in depth education to develop new skills in new areas
  • Let your people take Sabbaticals, (only 5% of the 500 organisations surveyed by Hewitt Associates offered sabbaticals)
  • Expand leadership development; there are shortages in leadership succession. Corporate restructuring and flattening of organisations has eroded career paths. The result is people can’t accumulate needed leadership skills on the job anymore.

In the event the company you work for does not recognise the signs or worse chooses to ignore them.  How can you take charge of your own work/life and find meaningful absorbing work?

Richard Leider founding partner of the Inventure Group has over three decades of experience as a career coach and counsellor. He believes that each individual is born with a reason for being and that life is a quest to discover that purpose. To help people decide where they are going he asks his clients to answer two questions honestly: What do you want? And how will you know when you get it? Leider believes that people have their own solutions; they just don’t know how to discover them or avoid that discovery. He goes on to say that if you want to make good decisions for your work in life, it all comes down feeding your three hungers.

The first hunger is to connect deeply with the creative spirit of life; not in the classic sense but to “touch creative energy and be touched by it” this could come from bringing a child into the world or introducing playfulness and creativity to the workplace.  (or for you clients might I suggest you could just hire Geyer) The second is to know how to express your gifts and talents, each of us has something to contribute we just need to figure out what that is. Aristotle said “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation” Determine what needs doing in your organisation? What needs doing in the world?  Finally you must know that our lives matter, we are here to leave behind something of ourselves. Work can and should give you a sense of joy, you spend 60% of your life doing it, make the most of it.

Many of us know all too well that there is nothing like a few kids, aging parents to care for, a mortgage and school tuition to make you feel like you have lost the opportunity to search for meaning and purpose.  We all want and need money but we also want to use our talents and want the ability to control our own time. We want to work on something we feel is worthwhile. Sadly, many of us measure our worth by our work. The good news is we don’t always measure this in dollars anymore. “The search for meaningful work is the heart of middlessence, just as the search for an identity – a calling – marks adolescence.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes said “Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us” From the time we are small children we are asked what we want to be when we grow up. Looking at my children, both teenagers, it is hard for me to imagine them making a career choice now that will satisfy them for another 50 or 60 years. They’re not bad kids; it is just the chance of getting it right the first time is slim.  If research on career choice has any validity, they will not be the only ones.  The reality is that most people don’t choose their career their career chose them; they start down a path and never stop to ask what their calling might be.

According to Leider you need to understand your choices as well as understand the different points in life. He likens it to a spiral, there are times when you’re on a plateau and all is balanced and then something comes along and knocks you off balance. It is when these events occur that you need to take stock. You need to look at everything you’ve been carrying with you, unpack your bag and then repack it considering these four elements: discover how to live from the inside out, discover your gifts, discover what moves you and finally discover solitude because it is there that you will be able to deal with the first three.

I will leave you with a letter written to Fast Company magazine in response to the article “Are You Deciding On Purpose” Now, at 78, retired from major industry, I was stuck with the profound truth and beauty of your philosophy. In retrospect, you could have been writing about me… Now that I am retired and doing what I truly enjoy, looking back I wish that I had taken a few more risks and dealt with the opportunities that I chose to ignore. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

One last question, following the popularity of Big Brother can you e mail me back you thoughts on what you feel would be the best opportunity for me:

Vote A or B

A – Laurie should be a yoga teacher in her next career

B – Laurie should become a romance novelist, focusing on sleazy workplace trysts (keeping with my passion for the workplace and its issues)

Sources

Managing Middlescence

By Robert Morison, Tamara Erickson and Ken Dychtwald

The Harvard Business Review   March, 2006

My Battle with the Misery and Malaise of Middlescence

By Lucy Kellaway

The Financial Times May 15, 2006

Are you deciding on Purpose (extended interview with Richard Leider)

By Alan M Webber

Fast Company  February, 1998

Are you leading two lives?

By Richard Leider

The Inventure Group On Purpose Journal Vol. 6 No. 1

Gates to Reduce Microsoft Role as Era Changes

By John Markoff and Steve Lohr

The New York Times June 16, 2006

Personal Business; A Burnout Cure That Few Companies Prescribe

By Lynnley Browning

The New York times June 6, 2003

Downsizing Worm turns

By Deirdre Macken

The Australian Financial Review October 7, 2005

 

Talking Up

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 20 – May 29, 2006

At the recent opening party of our Brisbane office someone overheard me greeting Peter Geyer. Later they confessed surprise at my greeting, I am not sure whether they had an expectation that I curtsied or lay prostrate on the floor, but telling Peter that I had prepared myself for seeing him by taking a double dose of anti depressants that morning was not what they expected. The person said “you talk like that to your boss”? My reply, actually I report to Peter Mac but hell yeah why not just because the guy’s name is on the door doesn’t mean he’s not up for a laugh. Maybe it is the camaraderie built from catching 6am flights from NZ together that has given me this sense of comfort; on the other hand Eliza has been ill so perhaps there has been a delay in issuing my pink slip.

It is great to have fun at work and I confess to be the kind of person who likes to laugh which is why I have not chosen a profession where joking is prohibited. You will never see me working at the X-ray machines at the airport. I am lucky I can keep my mouth closed long enough about the Bush administration to walk through the machine; if the queue is long the pressure on me to not make a smart mouth remark is almost unbearable. For many of us, it is unimaginable to think of a day going by without sharing jokes or our thoughts with co workers, regardless of their rank with in the organisation. Unfortunately, in many businesses ‘talking up’ is discouraged; and those companies that do not encourage free and open interaction between all workers can suffer greatly for the loss of knowledge and experience.

Last year I wrote about my brother the rocket scientist and the little mishap they had at NASA with the space shuttle. You may recall that the disintegration of the shuttle was blamed on damage caused to the heat shields of the ship that occurred when a piece of insulating foam hit the hull on take off? Junior engineers at NASA expressed concern about the damage, but their superiors told them to mind their own business and shut up. This is an extreme example of the negative impact of not being able to speak up at work; fortunately for most companies the stakes are not so high.

According to Julie Cogan from the Australian Graduate School of Management, office culture can encourage or discourage employees from speaking up. Organisations need a culture and process for employees to voice dissent or bad news. “If you don’t – you keep vital information under wraps” Cogan says. There are a number of ways companies can encourage employees to share their views. One is to appoint a rotating devils advocate, another is to  employ some of Edward De Bono’s techniques of provocation –  the six hats theory or introducing a process of presenting alternative views such as the ‘fishbone diagram’. What ever a business uses, it is important to encourage employees to speak up and communicate positive and negative ideas at work.

Research done by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson and Professor James Detert from Penn State explores the reasons we are hesitant to speak up to internal authorities in the workplace. They believe that it is possible to create environments that encourage employees to engage both their “latent voice” and “upward voice”. The latent voice is when an employee considers speaking up about an issue, problem or an improvement opportunity and chooses not to. It is all of the potential communications that may not in fact occur. Having exposed you to this term, we can now have a secret language within Geyer. Similar to the way that mothers gently correct a loud child with “honey lets use our inside voices” we can softly urge one another “Can you please make that statement with your latent voice” in other words time for you to shut up already.

Where latent voice refers to the things we thought of saying but didn’t,” upward voice” refers to the fear or hesitancy in communicating with people higher up in the company, those with the perceived power to actually act on your suggestion. The hesitation comes from not wanting to subject yourself to embarrassment or the fear of losing your job. The research suggests that it is in this area that the signals leaders send are important. To encourage communication a leader must be open, interested and most important, willing to act on a subordinate’s voice. Anything an organization can do to prevent the widespread belief that voice is unsafe or not worth your time is likely to increase the upward communication flow. This in turn will create greater value by getting more ideas on the table by utilizing the knowledge and experience that exists within.

There are two factors that lead people to feel more or less safe in speaking up in the workplace: individual differences and contextual factors. Not everyone has the personality or disposition to communicate to the boss and having the ability to challenge in a way that does not cause others to become defensive is a developed skill. Context refers to the type of organisation we work for, is it hierarchical or egalitarian, does the company make the time or have a venue for such conversations, a suggestion box or gripe session? Interestingly, one of the reasons we are hesitant to speak up is instinctive human behaviour. Since living in caves we knew it was better for survival to avoid risks or threats, therefore according to Edmosdson and Deterts research we have “inherited emotional cognitive mechanisms that motivate us to avoid perceived risks to our psychological and material well-being”

It is critical to note that in encouraging people to express their ‘upward voice’ may not produce what some people think is a “nice” workplace. Receiving direct criticism or comments from your co-workers whether they are senior or junior can make you feel pretty bad. It is important to remember that the bad comes with the good and to grow and learn and progress in our careers we need open and honest feedback. At my last job I was responsible for leading several groups of designers, once they all banded together to let me know how “mean” I was because I had told them that the vinyl wall coverings they were considering were inappropriate. After I explained that it had nothing to do with them personally, it was and issue of choosing a high maintenance product for low maintenance client they still did not get it. I had to knock them over the head with a club; workplace violence is a terrific motivator!

To grow and learn as an organisation, or as individuals, it is important to get honest feedback about the work we do. Responding to issues we are unaware of is good for the psychics amongst us, but for the rest of us poor sods we need the facts. For many the prospect of directly challenging or delivering bad news, is so uncomfortable they figure why bother? I suppose you bother because you really want to go out there and make a difference. We should all consider ourselves lucky in that in our line of work we will never have to deliver really bad news to anyone, not yet at least. “Sorry Mr. client we need to inform you that the groovy paint we specified has been emitting higher than normal  VOC levels and it is likely to cause brain damage to most if not all of your staff ”  Laurie’s latent voice

Some of the changes that we can make in environments to encourage upward voice are obvious. Creating workspaces with fewer barriers, allowing people to interact with greater frequency. It has also been proven that people speak up more in smaller groups and in settings that are more intimate. For companies where there is physical distance between sites, along with the added burden of cultural and generational differences there is a real challenge. As we begin to design more spaces on larger floor plates, and those with side cores we may want to think hard about creating intimacy.

Last year we designed a space for a company that had merged with another, we created wonderful lounges that provide the organisation physical space to connect with one another, unfortunately we heard that the two groups remain distinct to the point they will not even share a beer together on Friday nights. One group has their drinks an hour before the other!  In addition, there is further division created by people speaking different languages in the office. Before the merger, the reigning CEO felt it was the companies point of differentiation to hire people who spoke different languages, the new CEO did not. What had been a good thing quickly turned to a bad thing. The point is that a lot of this has nothing to do with the physical space; a company may change leaders as they did in the example above, leaders can change philosophies, they can be arrogant or too busy or lack the interpersonal skills. All of these factors contribute to an organisations ability to speak up.

From the research that I have done for this piece the most disturbing thing I learned is the degree of fear that appears to be the present in many people’s work life. Being older and have a bit more experience under my expanding belt, it is unimaginable to think that many workers are too scared to challenge their boss and as a result are put in harms way. The Sydney Morning Herald did a feature article on the risks younger workers are at because they are hesitant to question or challenge their bosses: one kid had his arm caught in a dough mixer in a bakery, another fell from an unfenced platform, another died when the forklift he drove tipped over on a ramp. The risk is not only for youthful employees but also for those that are part time. Unfortunately the new industrial relations legislation will exacerbate the vulnerability of the young and temporary workers; this could lead to Australian businesses being slow to innovate.

We must consider ourselves very lucky that in our line of work the dangers are minimal; yes I know that Ella Lee almost broke her foot when she dropped a stack – perhaps she should avoid the materials library after the two martini supplier lunch. Oh I’m just joking and I was joking when I told PG I needed a double dose of antidepressants to face him. The real message is that we should not fear sharing and talking and being honest with one another and in the likely event we go out and hurt someone’s feeling we just need to go back and say I’m sorry. Even if it hurts, it is what makes us great.

Sources

Do I Dare Say Something

By Sarah Jane Gilbert

Working Knowledge – HarvardBusinessSchool Publication   March 20, 2006

Latent Voice Episodes: The Situation – Specific Nature of Speaking up at Work (Research Abstract)

By Amy Edmondson and James Detert

Double Whammy under New Industrial Laws for the Young Worker

By Michael Quinlan

The Sydney Morning Herald April 24, 2006

Dissent Vital Part of Organisations

By Fiona Smith

The Australian Financial Review May 16, 2006

 

 

 

 

Office Snooping and Gossip

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 19 – April 18, 2006

When I was less than two weeks old I developed a life threatening ear infection, to relieve the pressure in my tiny head doctors punctured one of my eardrums, the other ruptured on its own. Other than having to endure listening to my mother tell every date I ever had what an awful crying infant I was, the fact that I have damaged eardrums has had little impact on my life with the exception of not being able to hear very well when there is background noise.

It is for this reason that I am not a very good at office snooping, it is difficult for me to hear the detail of hushed conversations and telephone calls that could provide useful fodder for gossip. Even with the recent office move, which has located me directly next to Peter McCamley, I know less gossip about our company than the guy that works at the Manhattan Cafe on the corner. Not knowing the office gossip is affecting my self esteem. This is a common side effect of not being in the know, confirmed in a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, which explained that our access to gossip within the workplace is a “useful barometer of our overall importance within a group”. The article goes on to say that gossip plays an important role in the workplace as a means to alleviate stress and anxiety as well as for entertainment.

Gossip can be good fun, at my previous place of employment the office gossip put bestselling books and television to shame for entertainment value. This continues, it was recently reported to me by a former colleague there, that the whole of the 23rd floor believes he is the father of another friend’s unborn child. This is what happens when you are seen one too many times at the many Starbucks in the building sipping a latte together. The best part of this is that the woman is happily married, and the man is happily gay. He said “I know I don’t skip down the halls in rainbow tights but I thought everyone here knew, I’ve never kept it secret”

There is of course a downside to office gossip, 50% of Australian employees have been victims of false gossip at work; and don’t think it is just the girls gossiping, according to Dr Grant Michelson from the University of Sydney school of business “men are just as adept”. Gossip tends to happen more in companies where there is a high level of uncertainty, such as during a take over or restructure and is prevalent when people don’t have all of the information they need or crave. When you don’t know what is going on, what choice do you have but to make it up?

Finding accurate information to be a good gossiper is tough these days, how do you get it; especially when there are pesky passwords and firewalls, or you are like me and can’t hear too well? Toby Miller a certified Intrusion Analyst and employee of a ‘major internet security firm’ – so secret they can’t name it – claims this is relatively easy in the workplace; despite the security measures many workplaces have in place. He reasons that as human beings, we rarely question actions that we consider normal and those actions are the very ones that make us vulnerable. “Social Engineering” is the term he uses to describe “an attack method used to take advantage of complacency at work”. His examples of Social Engineering listed below make you wonder how any thing stays secret, as it just about describes what most of us spend our day doing.

  • Friendships – where trust can be exploited
  • E-mail –  exploits trust  as well with the added ability to easily spread to others
  • Dumpster Diving- going through the trash bin to get information
  • Office snooping – looking and listening when you should be working
  • Trust – Social engineering exploits human trust
  • Time – obviously some people have too much of it.

By having no friends and not trusting anyone, shredding all documents, and religiously cleaning our desk we can sleep at night knowing the office snoop will have nothing on us. But you know as well as I, that there are far more sophisticated methods for snooping now a days than digging through your bosses garbage can. Most workplaces now have security cameras; they are so common today that we consider them benign.  Do you really care if the security guard in the building watches you pick spinach out of your teeth after lunch or adjust your underwear in the lift? We are so used to this level of snooping, or voyeurism, that we don’t pay it much attention. We also pay little attention to the forms we sign when we start a job giving consent for the company to read our e mails and review computer files whenever they want.

The fact is that this type of monitoring is very common in today’s workplace and we should expect some level of snooping to occur at work. That being said office snooping must be handled with the upmost sensitivity. Not only are there ethics and employee moral at stake, there is the need to be fair and consistent. The mistake many companies make is that they don’t take snooping seriously and this puts them at risk. Often employees assigned to be the snoops are those that understand the computer systems and have the necessary access to hardware and software. This can lead to inconsistency if surveillance is low on that employee’s priority list. Don’t fear being snooped on at Geyer. Our information technology specialists are far too preoccupied teaching me the ins and outs of my blackberry to have any time left over to snoop on you.

In some companies spying on employees is taken quite seriously, mostly to protect theft of proprietary data and software but also to patrol loss of productivity and sexual harassment. An American Management Association survey on electronic monitoring states that nearly three – quarters of the large American companies that responded said that they routinely record and review employees phone calls, e mails, internet connections and computer files. Since one in four companies will fire an employee over what the surveillance turns up you would have an expectation that who ever is doing the snooping would take their job seriously .

This is one reason snooping is taken so seriously in America. Employers there cannot knowingly let an employee do something that is illegal, and this gives them an excuse to snoop. By example, not only could one employee’s surfing a porn site impact productivity; it could also be used to prove the company allowed sexual harassment in the workplace. It is not just what a person does, it is the impact they have on those around them that is considered when establishing whether a workplace is ‘a hostile work environment’. Corporate executives can now be held responsible for misconduct of their subordinates and this is why the courts are no longer buying (unless you have excellent legal counsel or are reporting to the Cole enquire) the line “I don’t recall, or I can’t remember” or “I had no idea that we were selling wheat to Iraq”.

All of this has led to an increase in new applications for snooping like Security Call Analysis, Monitoring Platforms and Scamp. These database technologies allow access to about nine weeks of calling information. It was through technologies like these that AT&T helped crack the Moldovan porn scam – a group in the former Soviet republic  tricked users of internet sites into downloading software that disconnected them from their local telephone company and redialled a 900 number in Moldova. You would see the benefits of this if you were a shareholder of AT&T. Similarly if you are running a business and your employees are making phone calls to Moldova when they should be working you would be pleased. In a survey by Elron Software one tenth of the respondents said they had seen co-workers viewing porn sites at work even though company policy explicitly prohibited it.

As I write new tools are being developed to help mine data and this will enable the application of software analysis tools, now used by law enforcement agencies, to identify activities that would be missed by human eavesdroppers. Data mining is used now by credit card companies to stop fraud and insurance companies to predict risk but in the future it will be used to draw connections between unrelated pieces of information by using mathematical or statistical techniques to scan for hidden relationships in streams of digital data.

This technology has attracted the interest of the US government who recently dispatched a group of National Security Agency officials to the Silicon Valley to go shopping to find the best snooping software money could buy. They were scouting out this cutting edge technology to support the Bush administration’s anti-terrorist eavesdropping program. As a US citizen, I am subject to having my e mails and computer files searched by the US government, as well as by my employer! The new data mining software could track how many times seemingly unrelated bits of information might occur together, such as the presence of the words president and incompetent in the same sentence in one of my emails. This could well earn me a little vacation to Guantanamo Bay. Given this information we had better ramp up our secession planning sooner rather than later.

The reality is that we can’t complain about the lack of anonymity or privacy we have at work or in our lives. Most of us willingly embraced the convenience of mobile phones, GPS devices, EZ passes, and BPay. We like knowing that our security pass keeps vagrants out of our workplaces. We cannot then be enraged when RFID tags or “spy chips” are placed in the products we buy, from shoes to milk to give retailers the ability to amass and analise our buying patterns. Nor should we be surprised when our employers want to use similar applications to track our movements. Particularly as mobility and distributed work environments become more predominant. That day is already here, two years ago Allan and I visited Paddy from Cisco systems, he demonstrated for us how he could find an employee, an acquaintance of mine in Santa Clara. In less than one minute he knew which building she sat it, which seat she sat in, where she was – travelling or at home, and he pulled up a picture of her to boot. This was a few years ago, I bet now he could tell us what she is having for lunch.

It does make you wonder about the great concern so many of our clients have about being overheard in an open office environments. With the technology that exists today the concern should not be for the guy sitting next to you snooping in on your phone calls, but for your employer digging through your computer files and finding out that you have over extended yourself on your mortgage, visit a Barbie Doll collectors web site with frequency, or have been viewing porn from Moldova. There are some things you just don’t want everyone knowing about.

By the way, did you hear that Andrew Isaacson has resigned

Sources

Extent of UK snooping revealed

BBC News

The Latest on Office Gossip

By Owen Thompson

The Sydney Morning Herald  March 25-26, 2006

Fast Company

Office Handbook – Chapter 63 Busybodies

Issue 78 January 2004

By Ryan Underwood

Taking Snooping Further; Government Looks at Ways To Mine Databases

By John Markoff; Scott Shane contributer

The New York Times February 25, 2006

The Right Thing; As Office Snooping Grows, Who Watches the Watchers?

by Jeffrey L Seglin

The New York Times June 18, 2000

Executive Life; New Kind of Snooping Arrives at the Office

By Marci Alboher Nusbaum

The New York Times July 13, 2003

A Growing Web of Watchers Builds a Surveillance Society

The New York Times January 25, 2006

Social Engineering

By Toby Miller

Security Focus Web site June 19, 2000

Just How Fair is the Workplace?

News Release – SauderSchool of Business August 30, 2001

 

 

 

Being Fair

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 18 – March 24, 2006

My younger son is a baseball player; he spends several nights a week going to practice and then has a game on one or both days of the weekend. Clearly this is not a passing fad for him, but something he loves and cares deeply about. The bad thing about caring so much is that when something doesn’t go quite right it is ten times more painful than it is for those things that you might have a lukewarm connection to.  In a recent game Charlie was called out by an umpire who was in a poor position to make a call, his line of site to the play was blocked. The fair thing to do would have been to consult the plate umpire, who had an unobstructed view of the play. The spectators were outraged at the call; this was exacerbated by knowing the umpire was the father of one of the children on the opposing team.

I found it a challenge to console my son, because it just wasn’t right and sadly my words of wisdom ‘honey life is not fair – get over it already’ didn’t ease the pain he felt. Despite being taught as young children that we should ‘be fair’ it is one of those things that doesn’t happen as often as it should and while saying ‘life is not fair’ might work when something bad happens that you have no control over, it doesn’t carry much weight when genuine unfairness occurs. I believe there is a difference between bad luck and unfair behaviour. For instance it was not an absence of fairness that friends of ours were driving from Seattle to Spokane three weeks ago on a two way road at the exact moment when a driver coming the other way had a heart attack and crossed the road. It was bad luck that they were there, it was bad luck that their cars collided, and it bad luck that they were killed, it is bad luck that one of their kids is still in a coma and if and when he wakes up his life will be far different than he imagined it before those two cars collided. This wasn’t unfair, it would not have been fairer if you or I were in that car, it was just stupid bad luck.

When people are treated fairly and with respect, they are more likely to accept decisions, or the outcomes of those decisions. In the context of a work environment this is called practicing ‘process fairness’. Just as there is a difference between fairness and luck, there is also a difference between process fairness and outcome fairness. We don’t always agree with what happens at work, which doesn’t mean that it was not fair. Unfortunately, the reality is that oftentimes what happens really isn’t fair, and the consequences of obvious unfair actions can have a negative impact on an organisation.

When people feel hurt by their companies they tend to retaliate. Reactions can vary from withdrawing at work, to leaving, to extreme cases of sabotage or violence. I recognise that this is not something dealt with in Australia. I made a comment once about ‘going postal’ and got one of those stunned mullet looks from the person I was talking to. The phrase ‘going postal’ was quite popular in the US after a bad string of violent incidents in workplaces occurred, for some unknown reason it seemed to happen more in post offices than other work environments. Perhaps there was too much stress with the imminent demise of their livelihood with the onset of e mail? The term going postal refers to being so unhappy, so fed up that you march into your place of employment with a handgun and shoot everyone, and everything that was getting on your nerves. Living in a kinder gentler society in Australia, you might not understand being pushed to such extremes; I noted there is nothing in gPool on boss or co-worker homicide.

A study in the late 90’s by Duke University’s Alan Lind and Jerald Greenberg from Ohio State found that only 1% of employees who felt they were treated with a high degree of process fairness filed lawsuits for wrongful termination, versus 17% for those who felt they were treated with a low degree of process fairness. HBR has put this in monetary terms. The expected cost savings to a business for practicing process fairness is $1.28 million for every 100 employees. With the new workplace relation laws coming into effect in Australia we might see a similar impact to business.

The benefits of being fair can be seen in many industries, medical practitioners who practice process fairness are less likely to be sued for malpractice. Patients who feel they have been treated disrespectfully and who have not had their problem explained to them, or been allowed to question and discuss treatment with their doctor are more likely to file a malpractice lawsuit than those that feel they got poor treatment. There is legislation being drafted in the US now that will allow a doctor to apologise for medical errors without increasing the risk of lawsuits. By making an apology inadmissible during a lawsuit doctors could express regret without worrying about legal action and this would give us all a bit more of what we all want – common courtesy and respect = fairness.

In researching this article I found examples of the benefits of process fairness in Hollywood of all places. It seems that the in thing in many TV dramas is to kill off one of the main stars of the show. Apparently, this is the only way to keep us hooked on the dramas and off reality TV. The script writers have found that if they tell the actors that they are going to die before they discover it practicing their lines it keeps the actors from getting angry.

Process fairness pays off in other areas beyond avoiding lawsuits. Process fairness can be used to inspire employees to carry out a company’s vision or embrace a new strategic plan, rather than sabotage it. The fact is that most strategic and organisational change initiatives fail in their implementation and not their conception. The same could be said for embracing a new work environment, which is why we always suggest a change management program run in parallel with our design work.

Process fairness plays a role in creative environments too. Studies show employees working in creative fields that have a high degree of autonomy have a higher degree of creativity and innovation. The connection here is that operational autonomy is a version of process fairness. When employees feel that they are being micro managed creativity will suffer.

So if being fair is so good for people and business why don’t more of us do it? Part of the reason is due to a perception gap that exists between managers who think they are being fair and respectful and the perception of their direct reports. I attended a conference last year where this gap in perception was highlighted. When coaching managers Human Synergistic has both manager and his direct reports take a survey. The difference in results was sobering, which goes to show you that what you see in the mirror when you wake up in the morning could be something quite different to what others see.

One reason given for more businesses not practicing process fairness is the lack of obvious benefits to executives. Another reason is that in some cases corporate policy hinders process fairness. I have had to lay off employees in the past and was advised by the human resources department to say nothing. At another place of employment that also started with a G we were all told that if anyone ever called for a reference on another employee we were  to say that they worked here from date X to date Y. Couldn’t say anything about whether they designed well, showed up for work on time or embezzled from the company.

The most common reason for managers not being fair in the workplace is the desire to avoid uncomfortable situations. Leaders have to manage their own internal dramas as well as their anxiety about interpersonal sensitivity, for many it is simply easier to avoid the situation. “Emotional contagion” comes into play; this is when we mimic the emotions of others. When someone laughs you laugh, when they cry if you are a manager, you might prefer to head for the hills.

Studies
have shown that fair process training can make a big difference so it is surprising that more companies do not make this a top priority. If what we saw in our Net Gens workshop is any indication the next generations will have a much greater expectation of fairness in the workplace than we have today. We are already beginning to see a subtle shift of focus away from what is achieved or produced by a business and the fairness of the process used to create it. I sold all of my shares in Enron.

Ultimately each of us decides for ourselves what we believe to be fair. I will leave you three drivers of process fairness that you can use for a guide. The first is how much input we have in a decision, are our opinions requested and if so are they given seriously consideration. Second we look for consistency and knowledge that the decision was based on accurate information. Did the person making the decision do their homework? Finally the way that people behave when a decision is made has the ability to alter its impact. Do they treat an employee with respect, actively listening to any concerns that they may have. If we were all to follow these tips the lawyers would be driving Holdens.

Sources

Fairness In The Workplace

Australian Council of Trade Unions Website

Working Toward a Better Future

By Leo Hickman

The Guardian September 1, 2005

Best Practice – Why It’s So Hard to Be Fair

By Joel Brockner

Harvard Business Review March 2006

Management: Seasoning Compensation Stew; Varying the Recipe Helps TV Operations Solve Morale Problems by Jonathan D Glater

The New York Times March 7, 2001

As the Plot Thickens, No One is Safe

The New York Times March 14, 2006

The Bottom Line; Weight At Work; Obesity Has Become a National Problem. That Means it Has Become a National Business Problem  By Gwendolyn Freed

Star Tribune October 19, 2003

Just How Fair is the Workplace?

News Release – SauderSchool of Business August 30, 2001

 

 

Keeping Up Appearances

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 17 – February 16, 2006

Since releasing the last Futures Ramblings I have been engaged in several conversations with people  who have intimated that they believed the newsletter was my personal vehicle for having a go at the company, its policies or people. Since I am now up to issue 17, and in the time that I have been writing these many employees have departed and joined Geyer, I thought it might be appropriate to reiterate to you all why I do this.

At Geyer we are very different, but the one trait we share with many design firms, is the tendency to get carried away with the ‘design current’. It is our passion, our driver –  the air we breath. Unfortunately, many of our clients are breathing a slightly different mix of air, and for them there are many other issues that they need to consider. Some of these can be pretty far off our radar as design professionals. The purpose of the Ramblings is to put these issues on the screen. We pride ourselves in taking a holistic approach to projects. In fact, our briefing process is designed to dig out the variables that exist in our client’s business strategies, brand and culture to enable us to create a design uniquely suited to them. So it is with the hope that we will create better design solutions, that I write these.

It comes as no surprise that Geyer, as an organisation faces some of these same issues I write about. It is also not startling to find that  that some of these articles have  hit a nerve with you personally. This is after all a company, and people work here, we do share similarities with the rest of the world.  However, please note (just like in the cop shows on TV) the similarities between these stories, and characters in real life is circumstantial. I will confess that with the exception of my comments about US foreign policy, and the competency of my home land’s ‘Commander and Chief,’ there are no intended secret messages. If you think you see one, well you are probably the kind of person who could see the face of Jesus in a tortilla, and saw great meaning in Paul McCartney being barefoot in the photo on in the ‘Abby Road’ album cover.

It’s about the issues that businesses face, nothing more.

It  is intended as an internal publication,  but I do send it to my husband, my brother and a special few people who I believe can stomach my sarcasm and I hope they are the kind of people who will take it in the spirit it is intended. Therefore, the idea of you, a client or my brother reading these and formulating some opinion on Geyer is an interesting offshoot. Should I now watch what I say because we have an appearance to keep up? After all it is not like we are like the USA madly scrambling around trying to keep the story about the Vice President accidentally shooting his hunting buddy in the chest from the public! Or the big developer in town who is always leaking to the Financial Review that the new hot client in town has committed to their building.

Communicating a companies brand values in their work environment is something we are very familiar with,  our reputation in the market for this is quite unparalleled. Where do you draw the line: the workspace, the marketing material, the people, their clothes, their hair, their behaviour outside of the office? We have all heard stories about people being fired for doing something in their personal life that was inconsistent with their public image. Poor Kate Moss, Hugh Grant and Pee Wee Herman. Personally I think that the ability to snort coke at night and still look good  is quite an effective  testimonial for cosmetics!  Since all of these people were being paid to represent a company’s image their fate is understandable, but what about the normal worker?

I know that a number of our clients that have instituted dress codes, to complete the appearance of their new work environments. They believe that this will encourage their employees to behave differently and I think we would all agree that clothing, like lighting, and space can influence  behaviour. Also, no one would argue that if you are in the public eye, the way you look creates an impression of the company that you are employed by. Unfortunately, when it comes to dictating appearance it is a challenge to know where to draw the line. One of our clients confessed they were having a real problem identifying the application of the  dress code to call centres where there is no client contact. Really, who cares what you wear in a call centre, except maybe the person that has to sit near you? We should all call our favourite help desk and ask them to describe what they’re wearing before we ask for tech help and see if this somehow changes our perception of their service. “ a really light, clingy, sexy, hardly even there – SARI –   because it’s damm hot in Mumbai”

The Sydney Morning Herald recently ran an article about women in China undergoing voice – alteration surgery in hopes of obtaining a voice with a higher pitch. Apparently in a business climate still dominated by men, a woman with a high, sweet falsetto voice will have better opportunities in China. Dr Yu Ping, from the People’s Liberation Army GeneralHospital in Beijing said that her voice clinic, which has only been opened for a year, is treating an average of 40 people a day! Even though the surgery cost hundreds of dollars women are willing to pay the price if it will give them an edge in the increasingly competitive job market. Chinese universities now churn out about 4 million graduates a year, so it is tough.

As many of you may know Andrew (ZAC) spent five weeks in South America over the Christmas holiday. He returned with stories of a culture obsessed with physical appearance to the extent that a common gift from a parent  to a sixteen year old child is some form of plastic surgery. This mirrors a program I saw highlighting young girls being told by modelling agencies in South America that they needed to have surgery before they should even consider modelling. The surprising part of this story was their parents allowed them to do it. I must be old school, because I believe: 1. If you ask your mother about your appearance the appropriate response should always be “ oh honey you’re fine just the way you are” and  2. At age 12 or 13 few people are very reasonable, which is why we don’t let them drink, drive or vote; they should not be exposed to people who would suggest to them that it is a good idea to have major surgery if they don’t need it.

Unfortunately the realities of ‘appearance’ discrimination in the work environment is wide spread and it is alive and well here in Australia.  Plastic surgeon Dr Warwick Nettle claims that ten years ago the average age for plastic surgery was mid 50s, now it is mid 40s. Nettle says “ I think there’s a huge range of motivation for seeking beauty, but probably a common motivation these days is to stay in the workforce”. This is what Shirley Dean, in her mid – 40s, and needing to raise two children on her own learned. She applied for 30 different positions and was rejected on all of them, even though she had the skills and experience. She elected to have a facelift to improve her employment prospects and almost immediately landed a new job. Whether it is from the new appearance, or the confidence that came with it, there is no doubt that appearance has a lot to do with today’s workforce.

Research shows that despite laws to protect against discrimination in the workplace, 85% of Australians think appearance and presentation is a major influence in earning power and success. Recruitment agency TMP International studies have shown that interviewers tended to make up their mind about someone in the first four minutes of an interview. So it is no surprise that the Equal Opportunity Commission of Victoria deals with countless cases involving people who have been refused employment, denied promotion, suffered hurt, harassment and humiliation because they do not measure up to someone’s ideal of how they should look

A national poll in the US showed public opinion was sharply divided on regulating appearance – from weight to tattoos – in the workplace. The most surprising finding in the poll is that roughly half the nation’s employers have absolutely no policy or regulation that addresses this complex workplace issue. According to the poll most of the employee claims in the past have involved direct – customer contact businesses like retailing, restaurants, and transportation, but they are  now seeing image or appearance – based claims in virtually every employment sector.

So it is only a matter of time before Geyer will need to deal with this issue, in our own workplace or those we design. We might get a jump start by changing out the bad fluorescent lighting in our lifts and loos that make us all look like we have been up all night drinking shots. If we do the same in every job we design the boost to employee confidence should hold off the need for more radical measures by a few years.

In the event that time does come, and you fall into the tortilla watcher category of people who reject my disclaimer, believing this is a message for you personally; here is what you should expect to pay for an appearance tweak:

  • Nose job: $1,500 to $4,000
  • Liposuction: $500 to $5,000
  • Breast enlargement: $3,000
  • Breast reduction: $3,500 up
  • Facelift: $2,500 to $5,000
  • Eyelid lift: $1,200 to $3,000
  • Tummy tuck: $3,500 to $5,000
  • Chemical skin peel and abrasion: $600 up
  • Laser skin surfacing: $800 up
  • Ear job: $500 to $1,500
  • Cheek implants: $500 to $1,500
  • Chin implants: $500
  • Brow lift $1,500 to $3,000
  • Collagen $200 to $4600

For those that reject my disclaimer and believe this is a message for our company. Well then we had better immediately draft up a policy on plastic surgery and permanent body markings. Of course we will engage Simone  as National Design Leader to develop a guideline on body art and size.  I would suggest we start by only allowing tattoos in grey ink, Arial Narrow text, and to limit the images to hearts with the initials PG on the inside, or just a simple elegant text tattoo that says Geyer rules.

Sources

Surgery for the sake of work

A current affair July 23, 2001

Dodging Unintentional Discrimination in the Workplace

By Kathleen Wells, Ph. D. BlueSuitMom.com

What a Waist: Why the Fat Deserve Equal Opportunity – by Diane Sisel

The Age August 4, 2002

Women Make Pitch To Land a Better Job

The Sydney Morning Herald February 1, 2006

The Bottom Line; Weight At Work; Obesity Has Become a National Problem. That Means it Has Become a National Business Problem  By Gwendolyn Freed

Star Tribune October 19, 2003

Public Opinion Divided on Regulating Appearance In The Workplace By Judith Bevis Langevin

Press Release Gray Plant Mooty

Workaholics

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 16 – January 16, 2006

Although it may not be of interest to you, I want to share with you what I did on my holiday and I what got for Christmas? Besides the stellar fluorescent beach towel and a good bottle of champagne from the Melbourne hamper draw, I got a blackberry from Geyer! Don’t get jealous, it’s not really a Christmas present, the arrival of this device just happens to have coincided with the arrival of the baby Jesus in the manger. Even though it had nothing to do with the holiday it had quite an impact on mine. I mean no hurt when I admit that normally I spend little if any time thinking about any of you when I am on holiday, but since I got my blackberry – front of mind every day!

Our holiday was spent at our friend’s beach house in Sorrento, the mornings all began the same: my friend on the phone to the Financial Review IT guy, navigating her way through the firewall into her e mail. My husband and older son waiting to get on to their e mail, followed by two others in our group waiting to get on to their e mail. Me checking my e mail with my new blackberry, and my younger son playing his PSP, which can access the internet to check e mail if you desire. Alas he is young and innocent and does not have an e mail account yet but suspect that will be a request in the near future.

Afternoons held greater variation: check the computer for tides tables, if the beach is not an option check to see what movies are playing, check to see what boat is in the lead in the Sydney to Hobart. The computer even played a part in our evenings; no opening a nice bottle of wine to relax in the sunset for this crowd, not when you could log on to the internet for new and unusual drink recipes.

I can only imagine the tragedy that would have ensued if the power had gone out and we all had to go on a technology cold turkey. Evidently at some point, when we were not paying attention, myself, my family and my friends all got addicted to both technology and work. I found myself wishing things were simpler, I dreamed of Homer Simpson’s description of the internet – the mesh inside of your swimmers, and logging on to your internet only happened when you got a real fright.

Technology is meant to make life easier but in reality it has blurred the boundaries between work and the rest of life. According to psychotherapist Bryan Robinson author of Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them (New York University Press 1998) overwork is this decade’s cocaine. He defines workaholism as “an obsessive-compulsive disorder that manifests itself through self-imposed demands, an inability to regulate work habits, and an over – indulgence in work – to the exclusion of most other life activities”

25% of the population qualifies as workaholics. They have significantly higher rates of depression and anxiety and according to a survey by the AmericanAcademy of Matrimonial Lawyers; preoccupation with work is one of the top causes of divorce. Workaholics also abuse alcohol more, have more extramarital affairs, and have more stress related illness.

What is it that we find so seductive about work? One reason is it keeps us from dealing with other issues in our lives that may be more challenging. Communicating beyond the superficial with your spouse or children, losing some weight, eating better are all other common pressures we may wish to procrastinate on a bit. No doubt our clients understand this in a subtle way, when they resist changes in their work environment which for many may represent a place in their lives of calm and stability.

Our culture rewards those that work endless hours and denies that there is any price that is paid by doing so. Being a workaholic is not typically seen as a problem by our society and in fact it is sanctioned. After all, unlike alcoholism which does nothing good for one’s self or others the consequences of workaholism is greater productivity which companies benefit from.

Needing more money is another common delusion that encourages us to overwork. The cycle of working more to acquire more possessions is never ending. The more things that we buy the more time it takes for us to tinker with them, and the less time and money we have to spend focusing on other things in life. With a family of four each having mobile phones, e mail addresses and now broadband I expect our average monthly bill to be in excess of $200. The amount of time spent setting up, monitoring and maintaining these devices is staggering.

People today work more than they need to and it is often their own fault, they treat time as a status symbol. Not having time is considered a symbol of prestige, the more time you have on your hands the less important you are. Similarly, when we take a call on our mobile while meeting or talking with others we foolishly feel that this action symbolizes our importance, instead of being just plain rude. Unfortunately, if you are the person being talked to the message is clear, you are not nearly as important as that person on the phone. Now if you happen to be chatting to a brain surgeon, taking the call may be justified; this is rarely the case.

Two time promising myths we subscribe to: First we believe that knowing more will save time. We live in an economy where information is plentiful, it’s cheap and we can get it fast, but most of it is usually irrelevant. Lots of information is useless, the right information is invaluable. Never the less we fall into the trap of over informing and over doing because it justifies our positions. Hmmmmmmm…. It takes more of our precious time to sift through the dribble to find the relevant information, so no time gained there. Secondly we believe that if we organise ourselves, and often we look to technology as our savior in this regard, we will gain greater efficiency. Do we save any time? Beware, better organization results in temporary savings followed by an increase in expectations that means more work. The moral there is get organized but don’t tell anyone about it

It takes courage, strength and dedication to break engrained habits of overworking. Groups like Workaholics Anonymous are around to help people simplify their lives. Unfortunately, their meetings are poorly attended because a workaholic will not take time out of work to attend a meeting. Whether it is with the help of a group, or on your own, the key to breaking the cycle comes from within. Everyone needs to draw the line for themselves and learn when enough is enough

Recognising that more, or faster technology, will not lead to greater efficiency or more time is a critical step in finding balance. These devices will slowly infiltrate your life; you will feel you have to respond. Consequently these labor saving devices will demand that we labor more, any time day or night. Creating time, takes time, a strategy is in order. Begin by cutting back one hour a day from work to reflect on your life, what makes it complicated and how can you eliminate those complications?

No one can maintain more than three priorities at once, especially men who are lucky if they can pull off one. We need to follow the advice of Ronald Reagan’s wife Nancy’s who told all of the addicts in the US to just say NO during the ‘war on drugs’. Saying no to work and technology is tantamount to cutting out the breakfast beer for an alcoholic. No is a hard word for most of us to say, we want to be included, feel we are required, and for many of us we have not gotten over that phase children go through around age four. We want to wear a cape, put our underpants over our heads, jump off the lounge and be a superhero.

Sources

“Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything” James Gleick

Keep it Simple – by Michael Warshaw

Fast Company Issue 15 June 1998

Scripture, Meets the Web: Placing Limits on 24/7 by Bob Tedeschi

The New York Times January 9, 2006

“My name is Tony, and I’m a workaholic.” By Tony Schwartz

Fast Company archive

Time Pressure and Creativity: Why Time is Not on Your Side

by Sean Silverthorne

Harvard Business School Working Knowledge publication date Jul 29, 2002

Technorecovery? By Bob Davis

Fast Company Magazine Issue 60 July 2002

The Web Is Cooking  by Susy Pilgrim-Waters

Fast Company Magazine Issue 29 November 1999

Defeating Overwhelm by Stever Robbins

Harvard Business School Working Knowledge publication date