Archive | February 2013

If Stress Reduces Productivity, Then…

Some people work better under a little pressure, such as a deadline.  Some prefer a more relaxed atmosphere.  To each his/her own.  Except, when we work in an organization, we don’t always get to design our environment.  Over the years, I have sensed that at most workplaces, people are getting more and more stressed out, feeling as if there is not enough time to do most things (definitely not everything), and even more acutely, the need to attend to everything now.  The ubiquitous emails follow you everywhere, via laptop and smartphone, till you go to bed, and even then…  While research has pointed to the diminishing productivity of multi-tasking, we keep juggling — and feel the need to do so — several tasks day in and day out.

Just thinking about it makes me tie knots in my stomach, and I don’t even work for anyone these days.  So, the very title, “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive,” by Tony Schwartz in New York Times (link below), elicited “YES!!” from me.

Mr. Schwartz’s major points are these:  While time is a resource, it is limited and cannot be renewed.  In order to carry out the increasing workload, we hardly can ask for more time; instead, we need to renew our energy level to execute what we need to do.  And no, 5-hour energy drinks, or any other stimulants, aren’t the long-term answer.  We need to relax, going for a jog, taking a nap, reading for fun, or meditating…etc.  Mr. Schwartz mentions that interdisciplinary research has shown “strategic renewal [of our energy] boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”  Furthermore, “Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity.”

Another paradox of relaxation:  Body tired, spirit soaring!

Another paradox of relaxation: Body tired, spirit soaring!

Mr. Schwartz indicates that he practices what he preaches, and structures his company with designated areas to relax, and allowing employees to take lunch hours away from office sites, to work from home when needed, and to not answer emails after 6PM.  He has consulted and incorporated such principles for many organizations.  I wonder if those organizations have carried out such practices, and if the practices have been sustainable?  I suspect that organizations that actually allow a sane work environment and lifestyle are the exceptions rather than the rule.

The readers’ responses to this article are fascinating and disheartening.  Out of 200+ responses, only a handful of readers seem to have, on their own, found some means for relaxation.  Most readers express dismay at such utopian notion and/or resignation to reality.  One person says it well, “In this country, one does not ‘chose’ a way of life, one ‘affords’ a lifestyle.”  This person mentions she doesn’t have medical insurance coverage.  Another wonders if this article is for decision-makers or the workforce at large. Yet another makes an excellent point about “profit” dictating market economy.  Indeed, employees in the financial industry seem to treat 70-80 hours/week work schedules as badges of honor.  And look at what that industry has done for us?!  (“You promised me Mars colonies. Instead, I got Facebook”:

I am quite aware of how seemingly futile it is to buck the system most of the time.    So, help yourself and your colleagues, however small effort it may be, to find ways to chill occasionally.  Of course, please don’t make this an all-consuming goal!

Wishing you a relatively relaxed week.  Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

A “New-ish” Niche For Intro-Extrovert: Ambivert

Obviously this personality type isn’t new but the term, ambivert, is relatively new.  Actually, the term has been around since 1920 but hasn’t been adopted widely; so, it’s new-ish.  On a scale of 1 to 7, 1 being extreme introvert and 7 being extreme extrovert, the ambiverts score 3,4, or 5.

Most of us have the preconceived notion that extroverts are perfect for sales jobs, whereas introverts are likely to be borderline disasters when trying to persuade people to buy things.  Hiring managers have largely followed this presumption as well.  But as Daniel Pink (whose Ted talk on motivation is one of my all-time favorites on social science and management) stated in a recent Washington Post article, “There’s almost no evidence it’s actually true.”  Social scientists have done many studies examining how personality impacts sales performance, and have found that the correlation between extroverts and sale records comes close to zero, as in “.007!”

Once again, managers practice opposite to what the evidence indicates.

In his article, Mr. Pink cited a study done by a Wharton professor comparing introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts sales records.  You would be right if you chose introverts’ record to be lowest, but you’d be wrong to think extroverts would fare much better than introverts, even if you now know enough to suspect that ambiverts would come out on top.   It turned that in this Wharton study (conducted by the youngest tenured professor, Adam Grant), while introverts did score the lowest sales, average $120/hour, extroverts only netted $125/hour.  That is not “much better,” wouldn’t you agree?  So, just how much better were ambiverts than the others?  By 24% over extroverts, at an average of $155/hour!  The best individual in this study, an ambivert, took in $208/hour.

Agility saves the day!  Or, the hide!!

Agility saves the day! Or, the hide!!

So, what’s so special about ambiverts?  Nothing we don’t already know.  They are the ones who are comfortable in keeping quiet when they need to be, and talk when they think the situation calls for it.  Extroverts don’t always know when to shut up, and introverts are, by definition, uncomfortable speaking loudly and forcefully.

For me, the interesting questions to contemplate are:

  • Why do we always assume a bi-modal distribution of, just about every dimension?  The bi-modal assumption takes on the “us vs. them” shade.  Such is the erroneous premise for competitiveness, which turns out to be NOT good for innovation and creativity.  In fact, Daniel Pink, in my favorite Ted talk, demonstrated that competition is a bad motivational stick.
  • So, might these three categories fit onto a normal bell curve of our population distribution?  Might ambiverts actually be at the peak of the bell curve, thus constitute the norm?  Or, are these three categories likely to be three distinctive modes, as in “tri-modal?”
  • What are the implications for organizations/management if extroverts are not always in the driver’s seat?

Do you have verifiable evidence to answer any of these questions?  Please share.

If I don’t post an entry for next week, that means I’ll be skiing down somewhere… Till whenever the next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:

That Pesky Gender Difference – this time about reaction to social cues.

A recently published study found that at workplace women care about peer opinions more than men do (the Dec-Feb/2012 issue of Academy of Management Learning & Education).  The study was done in the context of leadership development.  I don’t take this to mean only in the managerial ladder, but in any kind of leadership, such as situational where an individual would take on a leadership role for a short period or for a certain task.

The four major areas chosen for measuring the qualities of “leadership” in this study are:  self-confidence, self-management, interpersonal understanding, and behavioral flexibility.  The study was done with MBA students, with a ratio of 3:1 male to female participants.  The researcher measured participants’ self rating and peer rating at three separate times over the course of a year.

04-assessment and recognition

04-assessment and recognition (Photo credit: leighblackall)

One of the results was that both men and women tended to rate themselves better than their peer’s rating of them. What is interesting is the women’s gradual convergence between self-assessment and peer’s assessment over time, while men’s self-assessment continued to be more inflated.  An interpretation may be that women are more willing to modify their behavior, or their self-assessment of their behavior, for the sake of their development.  Or, men are more cocksure of themselves!

Of course, these findings are double-edged swords for both women and men.  Women may be too concerned about others’ opinions and allow self-doubt to overshadow their judgment, and men can be too insensitive to others’ suggestions. I would add another layer:  Women might allow too much noise to interfere with setting up priorities and men could prioritize the “wrong” thing.  Listening is a crucial asset for all of us, but even more pertinent is our ability to discern/discriminate/distinguish among different voices.  Not all feedback is equally important, or accurate.

Personally, I think it is a tremendously delicate dance between caring about what others think of you (or, better yet, what others think) and staying true to your own conviction of who you are, or what you think needs to be done.  However, men still dominate in the management ranks in the corporate world as well as not-for-profit organizations.  Conventional wisdom still treats men who are more thoughtful, willing to listen, and do not “boldly” make a decision as “soft,” while more warily viewing women who are “decisive and aggressive/assertive.”  Neither gender has the monopoly of truth, but I like to believe that whoever has the humility to incorporate suggestions for self-development will ultimately advance.

Things don’t change quickly; individuals change even more slowly.  But I remain hopeful.  May you find something new, big or small, during this week as you listen with your heart and soul.

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact: