Healthy people = healthy profits

Wellbeing and mental health are trending topics and for good reason! Many individuals and organisations are campaigning to end the stigma around mental health by raising awareness of the issue and fighting for better treatment and support being made available.

And businesses are catching on. More organisations than ever before are prioritising employee wellbeing and mental health over company profits. And this change in business approaches is yielding exceptional results.

Reduction in healthcare costs
It goes without saying that healthy employees cost you less. Most organisations pay out around $13,000 per employee on healthcare costs every year. And if you have an employee count of over 1,000…well, you do the maths. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that, when it comes to health, prevention is nearly always better than cure.

For many organisations, introducing office perks such as standing desks, healthy snacks, mental health treatment, gym memberships, and mindfulness initiatives have been great ways to support mental health and reduce health issues resulting from a sedentary lifestyle. “High-powered professionals often prioritise work over their own health. As laudable as this is, it can be unsustainable,” says Kayla Gill, content director at LuxuryRehabs.com. “It’s possible to achieve your goals while still living a healthy life.”

People want to work for ethical companies and so adopting these kinds of programmes can provide the added bonus of attracting and maintaining top talent

The rise of obesity and stress can have an extremely negative effect on employee performance. So, by taking proactive steps and caring for the mental and physical wellbeing of your team,you will see a reduction in medical claim costs and employee absences.

Improve recruitment and retention

Employees who are unhappy leave their workplace in search of somewhere better. Organisations that don’t prioritise the mental health of their employees will see a higher rate of employee turnover and find it harder to retain their top talent. Turnover costs US employers over $1 trillion a year.

Creating health programmes and enforcing wellness activities for employees are great ways to provide a healthy outlet for managing stress. This can make for a happier working environment. And a happier team means a more engaged and satisfied one.

What’s more, adopting health and wellness programmes shows potential employees that you are an ethical company that cares about treating people right and supporting them in all aspects of their lives.

People want to work for ethical companies and so adopting these kinds of programmes can provide the added bonus of attracting and maintaining top talent.

Boost productivity and engagement

Employees that are dissatisfied at work and struggling with their mental health will often be less productive and struggle to engage. Companies that prioritise employee wellbeing will see the mental health of employees improve, as well as their resilience to stress, their decision-making, their relationships with colleagues, and their approach to work.

Employee engagement is the gold standard for business success. Engaged and highly motivated employees will always do their best work and tend to go above and beyond what is required of them. Employee wellbeing and good engagement and productivity rates go hand-in-hand. One affects the other. Employees whose wellbeing in the workplace is prioritised are twice as likely to be engaged and productive at work.

If you aren’t investing in the mental health and wellbeing of your employees, you should be. Better mental health means boosted employee productivity and engagement, ultimately leading to higher profits and success for your business.

Better customer service
The better your customer service, the more customers you will attract and retain. Great customer service is central to the success of your business. Organisations that excel in customer service see the results of their efforts in the financial success of their businesses.

However, the success of your customer service will depend on the mental health and wellbeing of your employees. An overworked, stressed, or struggling employee will ultimately result in poor customer service. And this can hurt your brand reputation.

In contrast, employees that are well looked after and have high wellbeing tend to provide far better customer service, show more enthusiasm for their job, and be more productive in their role. These factors alone can boost business turnover and help win and retain high numbers of new customers.

Improve brand reputation

As a brand, if you support the mental health and wellbeing of your employees, it won’t take long for others to hear about your efforts. Employees love to shout from the rooftops about organisations they work for that allow for benefits such as flexible working hours, unlimited holidays, gym memberships, health insurance, and paid therapist appointments.

Organisations that provide the mental health of their staff are more likely to be highly favoured by their team, potential employees, and their customers. When people know that you care they are more likely to care about you, too. And in order to grow your business, you want people to care about it. So, supporting the mental health and wellness of your team is a great place to start.

Final words
Prioritising the mental health and physical wellness of your employees doesn’t just benefit them, it can also benefit your business. Healthier employees are happier employees and that means better job satisfaction, higher motivation levels, and increased company loyalty.



Redefining presenteeism in the workplace

Matt Jenkins argues that there are many reasons why people feel they can’t bring their “real self” to the workplace, which affects their productivity and retention of talent.
Many are familiar with the phrase “”Presenteeism‘As a person who gets a job even if he is ill. From coughs and colds to burnout and illness, people who go to work are less engaged and can be distracting.With vitality Reported by the BBC in June of this year Eighty-three percent of workers reported that presenteeism was present in the workplace. The quarter says it has deteriorated over the past year. There is no doubt that presenteeism is becoming an increasing threat to businesses around the world. However, there is a whole new category of presenteeism that needs to be considered. The idea is that an individual feels that he or she cannot bring his or her true self into the workplace, such as an extroverted or introverted personality, a sexual orientation, or a true expression of race or culture.

Hidden employee
Last year’s report from the Bureau of Higher Education Statistics (Hesa) found that African-American and Caribbean-black graduates were 6.3 points and 7.9 percent less likely to be satisfied with their work than white graduates.This is in addition to CIPD study found that LGBT + employees are more likely to experience workplace conflicts It’s more harassing than heterosexual or cisgender opponents.

Before Covid-19, there was a commonly held understanding of what it meant to be ‘present’ at work – it typically meant daily attendance at a particular office building. The term presenteeism was coined to describe the phenomenon at its extreme, and most work activities were based on co-location in a physical space. In fact, most forms of career advancement were generally considered to depend entirely on physical presence in the workplace for a regimented period of time.

However, since Covid-19 accelerated pre-existing trends towards more remote and flexible working, the concept of being ‘present’ at work has shifted. The pandemic eroded the concept that presence relies on physical co-location because for the past 18 months employees have had no choice but to be ‘digitally present’ as they work more flexibly across a range of settings, including their home.

The flexibility of work has not only impacted the space we work in, but also time. ‘Presence’ was once synonymous only with synchronous work, in which people work together on things at the same time (usually at a single office location). Now it is also an aspect of asynchronous work, in which work doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone and the cloud is the key location.

The workplace of the future

It is increasingly becoming clear that this redefinition of presence asks new questions of the office building. It can no longer be a dumb and unresponsive container for work activities carried out synchronously by a workforce that is physically attendant on a consistent and unchanging basis. In the post-pandemic era; it must become a smart and connected entity that can curate and manage the interactions of an office population whose presence will fluctuate with demand and reflect more unpredictable working patterns.

The pandemic has raised several debates in corporate real estate teams about the purpose of the office. While there is no single answer to this conundrum, the universal response in that the corporate office building will remain of critical importance as a hub to build culture and generate social capital, to seed innovation and train staff. But it will no longer be the only channel for work and it will no longer require daily attendance. In what some commentators have described as ‘omni-channel working,’ employees will work in the future via multiple channels. The task of the office building will be to become a ‘destination of choice’ that brings the right people together at the right time with the right tools for certain face-to-face activities.

The future-ready connected office

If ‘presence’ in the workplace is no longer a one-dimensional idea, but an increasingly multi-faceted one, then a stable, effective and unobtrusive digital infrastructure is needed to underpin all the emerging considerations around hybrid ways of working. Software and systems architecture need to seamlessly plug into the physical workplace and connect to other systems to work effectively and seamlessly to create the most flexible and collaborative work experience. Smart systems should be modular and scalable, so that companies can test the principles of the connected office at a basic level and be future-ready to scale up. In this context, the use of LED connected lighting with embedded IoT (Internet of Things) sensors makes a lot of sense from an operational and design perspective.

Academic research in the field of environmental psychology suggests that the continuing endurance of the office building is because it enables us to invent, collaborate, and learn together most effectively. There are fundamental psychological reasons why we need to be physically co-located to support creativity and innovation. As researchers Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel predicted in the Harvard Business Review in 2016: ‘Human aggregation, friction, and the interaction of our minds are vital aspects of work, especially in the creative industries. And that is why the quality of the physical workplace is becoming more crucial than ever.’

After the pandemic, the quality of the physical workplace will increasingly include smart systems and software to connect the infrastructure as part of a collaborative ecosystem. A shift in what it means to be present at work has seen to that



A new role for business leaders: Moral integrator

Claire was looking forward to the long holiday weekend. After two brutal weeks of late nights and early mornings getting ready for a new product launch, dealing with supplier disruptions in China, and managing a sudden labor shortage in Germany, the Fortune 500 CEO was ready to catch her breath and spend some quality time with her family. The plan was to leave first thing Saturday morning to beat the traffic headed to the shore. Instead of the alarm, though, Claire awoke to her cellphone buzzing. It was her company’s general counsel. The night before, one of the company’s top executives had been recorded drunkenly berating a waiter in racist and homophobic terms. Posted to TikTok within minutes, the video had already amassed more than 2.5 million views and was spreading like wildfire across Twitter and Facebook. Social media commentators were demanding action, institutional investors were calling, and requests for comment were flooding in from major news outlets. “Claire, how do you want to handle this?” asked the lawyer on the other end of the line.

In the past, few executives might have considered addressing social issues as part of their job description. Now, in an era when a single tweet can obliterate US$4 billion of a company’s value, it’s become even more important for leaders to understand how to negotiate this sensitive territory: in fact, it’s a business imperative. Executives need to know how to make sense of and engage with these issues so they can simultaneously deliver business results that satisfy shareholders, build trust with their employees, and meet the expectation many have that organizations are responsible for driving more equitable outcomes for society.

And the issues on the table are expanding rapidly. We saw this when North Carolina passed a bill in 2016 banning transgender people from using bathrooms in public buildings that did not correspond with their birth sex. Payments firm PayPal responded by curtailing its investments in the state, and performers canceled concerts and events. Amy Cooper, an employee of financial-services firm Franklin Templeton, was summarily dismissed by the company in 2020 after social media channels exploded with outrage over a viral video of her racially charged altercation with a Black bird-watcher in New York’s Central Park. More recently, when state legislatures proposed laws to restrict voting rights in Georgia, locally headquartered companies Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola eventually came out against the move, following heated public debates. Underlying these demands is the notion that businesses have certain moral and ethical obligations to the public.

More PwC insights

Ten Years to Midnight
Increasingly, ordinary people, customers, employees, suppliers, and even social media influencers expect leaders to speak out and act ethically, and immediately, when it comes to issues of justice and equity in their organizations—and in society at large. These emerging leadership challenges cannot be delegated or outsourced if companies are to build and retain stakeholder trust. And they most certainly weren’t on the radar when most of today’s executives were in business school or working their way up the corporate ladder. No, these new challenges require a fundamental shift in how business leaders understand and practice ethical leadership.

The present conceptualization of ethical leadership considers leaders as moral individuals within their organization (and increasingly in society). But it does not address how to bridge the gap between internal and external stakeholders’ expectations. The negotiation of this complex set of relationships requires the integration of what might appear to be competing codes and values: the fiduciary responsibility to maximize investment returns versus the moral obligation to fulfill the organization’s stated purpose and contribute positively to the external world. It’s a difficult balancing act. For example, retrofitting manufacturing plants to cut carbon emissions in support of environmental sustainability goals may be the right thing to do. But it can cost a company hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades and lost productivity, negatively affect quarterly earnings, erode the balance sheet, and depress share price.

CEOs, rather than being heroes or charismatic leaders, have to become moral integrators: people who recognize this tension and have the self-awareness to use collaboration and listening skills to navigate a world in which accountability is defined in different ways by different audiences.

Defining ethical leadership
Morals are an individual’s standards for right behavior. Ethics are the codification of individuals’ morals that inform the decisions they make and the actions they take. For instance, a person who believes institutionally raising animals for food is morally wrong may choose to adopt an ethic of veganism.

CEOs, rather than being heroes or charismatic leaders, have to become moral integrators: people who have the self-awareness to navigate a world in which accountability is defined in different ways.

So, what is ethical leadership, and where does moral integration fit in? Ethical leadership came into its own starting in the early 2000s, largely in response to corporate scandals such as that at Enron, the high-profile energy company that collapsed owing to fraud. Historically, the academic literature has defined ethical leaders as both “moral persons,” meaning that they themselves act in a moral fashion, and “moral managers,” meaning that they foster an environment that inspires or compels others to behave morally.

This definition has since been enhanced by introducing the dimension of moral entrepreneurship, whereby leaders innovate new norms of behavior that contribute to society’s moral development and build stakeholder trust. Consider the CEO of Seattle-based Gravity Payments, Dan Price, who in 2015 instituted a $70,000 minimum salary among his employees, or the menstrual hygiene company that includes people of diverse gender expressions in its advertising rather than only cisgender (people whose sense of identity corresponds with their birth sex) women.

The operational and financial benefits of ethical leadership are significant and demonstrable. Studies show that ethical leadership improves the bottom line and produces returns. It directly combats corporate wrongdoing, such as financial fraud. There’s a link between ethical leaders and positive employee performance. When employees trust their leaders to act ethically, they are more willing to speak up when they see something wrong. The employees of ethical leaders tend to be more satisfied with their jobs and more willing to go the extra mile. In social psychology, that’s called organizational citizen behavior (OCB). OCB describes discretionary actions on the part of employees that are outside the formal performance management and compensation systems and beneficial (or intended to be beneficial) to the organization. For instance, OCB is demonstrated by that salaried employee who stays late and works over the weekend to help others meet a pressing deadline, or the one who volunteers to organize office-wide social events and brings homemade treats for team members’ birthdays. Ethical leaders increase OCB, and studies have demonstrated that OCB is a contributing factor to enhanced firm performance.

Two case studies
As part of my doctoral studies, I analyzed how organizations applied ethical leadership in response to publicized incidents of anti-Black racism involving their employees. The goal was to test the idea for the role of moral integrator. I focused on two cases that took place in the United States in the last three years within publicly traded companies. The cases followed the same basic pattern: a casual observer’s smartphone video of an employee demonstrating racist behavior went viral; social media users quickly identified the employee’s company and flooded its social media accounts with demands for an organizational response.

In one case, the event occurred in the workplace; in the other, it transpired outside the office, but the location did not appear to make a difference in how the public reacted. In both cases, the companies responded to the outcry with a mix of statements on social media, press releases, and traditional news interviews with corporate executives detailing the steps the company was taking to address the situation.

The employee in one of the cases was terminated as soon as the video went viral. In a video interview with a business news outlet, the company’s CEO discussed the decision to immediately fire the employee in terms of aligning management’s actions with the organization’s stated values, claiming “zero tolerance for any kind of racism.” Journalists questioned the CEO’s portrayal of the company’s ethos, noting that former executives and current board members had financially supported political candidates with ties to white nationalism and that the company’s track record of hiring and promoting underrepresented groups was abysmal.

In an open letter on the company’s website, the CEO repeated the importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) to her personally and to the company, noting that D&I directly contributed to delivering superior service to clients and returns for investors. However, none of the company’s public quarterly or annual reports bore any mention of D&I. The topic was also absent from the two earnings calls following the event. Neither the company’s leaders nor the analysts raised it.

The response in this first case exemplified a lack of moral integration by the organization’s leaders. Although the CEO made the expected remarks in the media about the incident and about the company’s values, and the company acted quickly to discipline the employee, when it came to communicating with investors and proactively taking a stand on the issue of racism, the executives were silent. The message conveyed was that the company outwardly presented an image of caring about D&I but inwardly considered it irrelevant to investors. In other words, talk of anti-racism was a show for the public rather than a topic for the boardroom. The company’s response did not move the dial or signal that this was a watershed moment. To a degree, it came from a standard tool kit. Firing an employee for behavior that violates a company’s code of conduct is an established human resources practice.

Public reaction to the company’s handling of this incident was mixed. Members of the business press heaped praise on the CEO for being so passionate about D&I. Social media commentators lamented the lack of tangible outcomes, noting that firing a single employee and returning to business as usual did not address systemic issues. Ultimately, the incident and the company’s response did not appear to hurt earnings or share price. The executives lived up to their fiduciary responsibility to investors but not to the expectations of some stakeholders.

In the second case I examined, the executives approached their response differently. The employee was not terminated as a result of the incident. Rather than focusing on the employee, the CEO and other leaders concentrated on the broader issue of racism in business and society. They framed the event as management’s failure to properly train and educate employees about unconscious racial bias. “This is on me and my team,” said the CEO. Some cable news journalists questioned whether this response from the company would make it a target for activists looking to create trouble for prominent brands. One interviewer seemed to imply that the problem was the recording and sharing of the event rather than the incident itself. The executives dismissed this notion. Instead, they acknowledged that they could not eradicate racism because it was a systemic issue in society—but they could address it within their company. And they transparently put forth a plan to start driving change there. Moreover, they made their training curriculum freely available online for other organizations to use.

The incident and the cost the company incurred in responding to it were proactively discussed by the executives on the two earnings calls following the event and mentioned in the quarterly and annual reports. Most importantly, these executives were humble. They met with the individuals who were harmed in the incident and apologized. They also listened to concerns from community groups and publicly shared what they learned. The company’s earnings and stock price rose following the incident, and the company earned praise from stakeholders across the board.

In both cases, the executives were trying to perform a delicate operation of integrating their personal ethics with both the expectations of organizational stakeholders and their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. These goals may not always seem to be aligned because of the costs involved in delivering to stakeholders in the short term. Companies know they must build and maintain trust with societal stakeholders by acting in accordance with evolving societal norms for ethical conduct. The recent focus on environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) programs and reporting reflects the awareness of this imperative among investors and analysts.

How to incorporate moral integration
How can CEOs both head off incidents that will spark a backlash and send messages that all stakeholders will accept?

In the two cases analyzed here, certain executives stood out because they simultaneously managed stakeholder and shareholder expectations, particularly regarding the ability of businesses to bring about social change in their organizations; and they listened to stakeholders and shareholders with discernment. They engaged in difficult conversations with individuals who had been harmed by the events involving their employees, and publicly acknowledged, with humility, the challenges their businesses faced.

They reframed the issue of corporate participation in efforts to promote social welfare as investments that benefited the business as well as society, not purely as an expense. For example, the CEO in the second case explained that the company was investing in its culture to directly enhance customer experience and said that this would drive revenue and market share—key contributors to share value. The CEO put the company’s actions into words that linked ethical leadership practices to fiduciary responsibilities in terms investors understood and could appreciate.

One way to emulate this approach is to learn how to have the right kinds of conversations. This is where coaching can help. Dialogue should not be performative, appropriated by corporations solely for the self-serving goal of enhancing organizational efficacy. Coaches can support organizational leaders in practicing ethical leadership by helping them make sense of these complex situations and then, through dialogue, creating lively exchanges and mutual understanding between groups with seemingly competing priorities.

Another element to encourage is heightened self-awareness. Self-awareness prepares leaders to better trust their instincts and act in alignment with their values. Both elements are critical to the practice of ethical leadership. In the second case study above, the self-aware leader instinctively acted with humility and tried to address the systemic cause of the problem: racism in society.

Self-awareness also improves resilience. The surest way to cause people to burn out is to make them do something for money they believe to be wrong. To engage in more effective and productive dialogue, leaders will need to develop a strong sense of how their words and actions affect others. Among the many ways to cultivate self-awareness, mindfulness is one of the most powerful. Mindfulness is often trivialized, despite neuroscientific research demonstrating its value.

Every day, executives are facing events and realities that require moral integration: viral videos of racist language from employees, pay equity concerns, sustainability targets, and ransomware demands, to name a few. They need the ability to operate beyond existing leadership practices. They need to understand how to connect in more authentic ways with stakeholders without compromising their integrity. As moral integrators, they can help influence their shareholders to accept initiatives aimed at advancing social justice by translating their actions into terms compatible with their fiduciary relationship. Similarly, organizational leaders can work with stakeholders to understand their concerns and desires for change and identify approaches for implementing solutions. Ultimately, these approaches can deliver results that build trust in society and produce sustainable shareholder value.



The Power of Sign Language to Create a More Connected and Inclusive World

Like most college and university presidents, I find this fall to be an especially promising time as our schools have resumed face-to-face instruction across the country. We no longer take for granted the power of learning in the physical presence of others. While learning can be effectively achieved virtually, after the hiatus of face-to-face learning for many of us over the past 18 months, we enter this new academic year with a deeper and more profound appreciation for the physical presence of our communities. Language is central to all of this.

At Gallaudet, our reunion this fall on campus is especially poignant and perhaps more deeply cherished. For our linguistic minority that uses and learns through both American Sign Language (ASL) and reading and writing English (bilingual education), being back on campus means restoring our 3D visual language and learning experience and our visual sign language vibrancy. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, we seamlessly shifted our entire educational mission into the cloud, into the digital virtual world, including our pre-K-12 educational programs. However, a majority of our students left campus to reside in predominantly spoken language environments and maintained their lifeline to the signing visual experience through video screens. Once the screen is turned off, so too, is their access to the visually vibrant signing campus. While we were able to replicate much of our sign language vibrancy online, we lost the 3D and physical vibe that we achieve when we gather and socialize, whether it’s intentional and planned or just incidental meetings in the halls or on our campus grounds.

Access to language and communication is a fundamental human right, one that all too often is denied to deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind people. Only one to two percent of deaf children worldwide have access to education in sign language. For centuries, sign and spoken language have been set up as rivals inchild development, language planning and deaf education, presenting parents with a stark binary option, pick either spoken language or sign language, denying too many children the full range of options to support their language, brain growth andlifelong well-being. Consequently, policies and practices have missed the opportunity to support families and children,embracing the full possibilities that can be achieved if every child — not only deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind children — receives exposure to sign and spoken languages. Sign language is not only beneficial for those born deaf. Most adults will suffer from late hearing loss after the age of 55. Knowledge of sign language, far more than most people realize, is a universal imperative.

At Gallaudet in 1960, a team of researchers proved that ASL was a language in its own right. Today, on our campus and in the Gallaudet neighborhood, you see the power and vibrancy of sign language everyday with both hearing and deaf people. Many of the nearby businesses have signing employees, as well as visuocentric menus and point-of-sale terminals. On H Street there is a signing Starbucks, a deaf-friendly Chase branch, and Mozzeria, a deaf-founded and deaf-staffed Neapolitan pizza restaurant. Just a few blocks away is the Apple Store at Carnegie Library with nearly two dozen deaf employees. We are seeing the power of how American Sign Language strengthens our community and brings us together in new and inclusive ways. Late deafened people and their families can now find settings where they can naturally immerse themselves in sign language to build a more inclusive family experience for everyone.

Our sign language economy in the United States is big business. It brings economic value to our cities and our neighborhoods. Our local and state bilingual education programs create thousands of jobs for deaf and hearing people who are bilingual. Colleges and universities across the nation generate more than$43 million in revenue from teaching ASL, with Gallaudet training most teachers for these programs through our Master of Arts in Sign Language Education program. Gallaudet is proud of the fact that our university and our alumni have played a major role in building a sign language economy in the U.S. now worth an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion.

There are many misconceptions surrounding sign languages. Just like there is no universal spoken language, sign language is not universal. There are hundreds of sign languages and dialects used throughout the world, including ASL, Black ASL, and protactile sign languages used by deafblind people

The human experience and research affirm that the brain does not prioritize spoken language over sign language. Science has shown that the brain recognizes sign languages and spoken languages equally. Science also has shown the benefits or “gain” of learning visual language on brain development, including enhanced reading skills and comprehension, improved complex brain functioning especially with math and music, even protection against diseases like Alzheimer’s. Importantly, research on how human brains produce language on the eyes and hands as effectively as through the ears and mouth is changing our understanding of the impact of visual learning and visual language on the development of the brain and children.

Sign languages are currently enjoying a moment in the spotlight, from the myriad of deaf actors using sign language in recent movies such as CODA and television shows such as New Amsterdam and This Close, to the use of certified deaf interpreters at recent COVID government briefings. All of this is welcomed, but these must not just be fleeting moments that fade once the cool factor wears off, an all too familiar experience for the deaf community. Sign language should be respected, embraced, valued the same as any other language each and every day.

More than ever, as Gallaudet has returned to campus and the classroom, I contemplate the power and vibrancy of sign language and its integral role not only in our students’ lifelong success but also in the creation of a more inclusive and connected world. As it has for 157 years, our university remains steadfast in its mission to expand bilingual learning opportunities across our students’ lifespan. By doing so, Gallaudet will continue to help the broader world more fully recognize, respect and embrace the value of deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind people and their contributions to our world.

But Gallaudet and the broader deaf community cannot do this alone. Our world needs a sign language mind shift, a profound societal awakening that access to any language, signed or spoken, is ultimately about the fundamental right to human connection – connection that we all rightly expect, need and enjoy – connection that is so central to our life and liberty.

Fittingly, the theme of this year’s International Day of Sign Languages was “We Sign for Human Rights.” I invite all of you to be our partners as we grow the signing ecosystem and cultivate opportunities in the local, national, and global economies. What can you do? Befriend your deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind neighbors and colleagues, take ASL classes, support deaf organizations and businesses, hire deaf talent, and immerse yourself in the vibrant signing culture close to where you live and work. We all will be enlightened through our shared experiences and the far more connected and inclusive world that we create together.



How Entrepreneurs Solve the Big Fish vs. Big Pond Dilemma

ollaboration with a partner is not strictly a two-way affair; instead, prospective partners take the entire competitive landscape into account when forming ties.

In the movie Jerry Maguire, a sports agent played by Tom Cruise is fired from his top agency after openly criticising its impersonal approach. He is forced to go it alone, but all his clients desert him, preferring to continue to be represented by a large, established organisation. That is, all except American footballer Rod Tidwell (played by Cuba Gooding Jr), who feels his career could use more personalised attention.

While movie-goers know that, indeed, things end well for Tidwell, an important question remains: When striking a partnership, is it better to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond? In a paper published in the Academy of Management Journal, my co-authors* and I looked at the particular case of developers and publishers of PlayStation2 (PS2) video games, at a time when self-publishing of titles was not yet an option and developer-publisher ties were necessary to commercialise a game. We found that the level of experience of developers and the relative uncertainty they faced in terms of getting personalised attention from a publisher were driving much of their decision to seek a certain “pond” size.

Two conflicting goals requiring a trade-off

Akin to the book industry with its authors and publishing houses, the video game industry involves developers that propose game concepts and initial development, and publishers that provide late-stage development and access to markets. Out of the 163 PS2 games which have sold more than 1 million units, only 30 were published directly by Sony, the manufacturer of the console.

When partnering up, developers typically seek two things. On the one hand, they want a close collaboration in order to develop the very best product there is. In an extremely crowded video game market, an average product may essentially be a “dead fish”, so to speak. (Over 3,800 game titles have been released for the PS2.) On the other hand, developers would also like to secure the largest market access. After all, how sad if no one ever hears about their newly launched PS2 game.

The problem is that meeting both goals to the highest degree is unrealistically difficult. Large publishers with strong connections to retailers and which are able to organise vast launch campaigns often attract many high-calibre partners. As such, a partner may not receive a lot of personalised attention. Especially if many other, stronger developers work with the same publisher. A trade-off is usually necessary.

We collected data on 367 developers of PS2 games and 170 publishers between 2000 and 2009, the time period when console games were most popular. The majority of our sample firms were based in the three countries that dominated the industry: Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom. Our data collection strategy enabled us to build a comprehensive dataset on the activities of the mostly private developers and publishers in the industry.

We supplemented our data analysis with two waves of in-depth interviews. We found that younger or newer entrepreneurs focused on getting development help and worried less about reaching the largest number of consumers. This point was particularly salient for early-stage developers. As one of them told us: “When you’re innovating … there’s always some snag and always some complication that you did not foresee. It is crucial than [an established firm] is going to support you.”

Keeping an eye on the other horses in the race

In addition, the more competitive the market – i.e. the more developers are out there competing for publisher attention – the more a novice entrepreneur might be concerned about getting the proper level of attention that will ensure product differentiation. An interviewee said: “You have to worry about the competitive set that the publisher supports. The publisher may have great capability in your title because they also publish your major competitor. Then you have to ask yourself, is it going to lead them to prioritise your project lower.”

After all, entering a collaboration is only the first step. Securing the desired resources from the partner/publisher is not always guaranteed. Established firms in technology industries may sign more developers than they can eventually support, a fact that is not lost on these entrepreneurs. The number and the quality of the “other horses in the race” create uncertainty – and a definite threat – for developers. As a matter of fact, our data showed that when a developer ranked lower than average (in terms of the quality of its previously published games), it was 26 percent more likely to have its projects cancelled than its higher-ranked peers.

In all, experienced entrepreneurs who didn’t expect to need as much support based on their track record were willing to give up almost four times as much development help as inexperienced developers to secure better market access. Of course, publishers do not wait around to be chosen. Naturally, established publishers with high market access also prefer to partner with experienced developers, reducing their risk of needing to toil over duds.

Collaboration is more dynamic than it may seem at first glance

Although our dataset concerns the video game industry, our results apply to other types of entrepreneurs who need to form collaborations, partnerships or other types of ties to go to market. These include content creators of any kind partnering with platforms or other market intermediaries that may help refine their products. Biotechnology entrepreneurs partnering with pharmaceutical firms to hone their products and gain market access are another great example.

In fact, we all face the big fish/big pond dilemma more often than we realise. When we take a job in a famous company, we accept the idea that we are (in all likelihood) going to be just one of the many very smart people working there. Standing out may prove difficult. Conversely, if we choose to work for a new start-up, we may rise rapidly, but our opportunity to shine outside the firm (through speaking engagements or media requests, for instance) may remain limited. In our personal lives, if we choose to befriend a very popular person, we may have to fight for their time and attention.

Any sort of collaboration entails a trade-off between our status, the status of the partners we have in mind, and the status of the other people interested in partnering with them. The process is a lot more dynamic than it seems. Depending on the competitive landscape, you may want your very own Jerry Maguire.



How To Be A Good Internal Consultant

As an internal consultant and a member of an internal consulting team (although “internal consultant” or “internal consulting” is not in our “official” job titles), my colleagues and I are often called on to lead, support, and offer coaching, consultation, or facilitation services on wide-ranging areas, projects, and initiatives including culture, change management, conflict management, leadership development, organizational development, learning & development, onboarding, and so much more. Indeed, now more than ever, today’s HR professionals play the role of internal consultants (Miller, 2016).

The Association of Internal Management Consultants (AIMC) says that an internal consultant provides various client support services within the enterprise. They may be in a variety of areas (e.g., project management, quality management, human resources, information technology, training & development, finance, supply chain management, process improvement, etc.).

According to Phillips, Trotter, and Phillips (2015), “The rapid rate of change coupled with heightened competition on a global basis is increasing the need for companies and public sector organizations to develop effective internal consulting capabilities” (p. 3).

Important competencies to be a successful internal consultant (Phillips, Trotter, & Phillips, 2015) include communication skills, feedback skills, problem-solving & analytical skills, and organizational skills. Additionally, several core consulting skills (AIMC, 2017) are needed, such as business acumen, business process optimization, change management, coaching & consulting skills, and project management.

If you want a company to value you as an indispensable internal consultant — especially in the human resources, talent management, and leadership development space — here are a few tips I’d like to share based on my work and experience as an internal consultant.

First, it doesn’t matter how smart or knowledgeable you are or how much experience you have or bring. If you want to excel as an internal consultant and have top corporate decision-makers listen to you, you’ll need to master the art of influence & persuasion — how to sell your ideas and convince leaders to go along with you. Leaders are short on time and attention. You must master the ability to be concise, to-the-point, and ensure that your timing is right. For instance, if you are advocating for a specific program or agenda, but it does not align with your organizations’ goals or senior leaders’ mindsets, it will be very unlikely your proposal will ever have a chance of getting off the ground. The ability to both gain senior leadership buy-in and support and navigate an organization’s hierarchy, politics, and culture is absolutely critical to an internal consultant’s success (Zentis, 2018).

Second, learn to be interpersonally savvy because it is “an essential part of getting things done within organization” (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014, p. 235). “Interpersonal savvy helps you read and address relationships appropriately and at the right time” (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017, p. 261). I have seen individuals with graduate education and degrees (i.e., knowledge) be terribly ineffective at internal consulting because they were unable or unwilling to move out of their comfort zone (i.e., relying solely or mostly on knowledge or technical skills, rather than being savvy enough to read the situation and the relationship and understand what others need and respond accordingly).

Third, a positive attitude goes a very long way in helping you gain social capital, as well as getting you to the table of these decision makers. Regardless of how smart, talented, or experienced you are, if you have a bad attitude and cannot get along with others, you will struggle to get senior executives to listen to you. They may accept your work or ideas but will never see you as a leader or a person with the potential to become one. You have to play nicely with others. Even if you are the resident “genius” and you know how to do everything, if your attitude sucks, no one will care what you have to say, even if you’re right.

Earlier, I shared important competencies needed to be a successful internal consultant. These included Communication Skills, Feedback Skills, Problem-Solving & Analytical Skills, Organizational Skills, Business Acumen, Business Process Optimization, Change Management, Coaching & Consulting Skills, and Project Management.

Here are 8 competencies (some of these will be identical, similar to, or complement the ones previously outlined, while others will be new and different) you can incorporate into your repertoire to help become an effective internal consultant:

From CCL Compass (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017):

  1. Communication (p. 9) – “Listen, convey your ideas and emotions with clarity and authenticity, and adapt your personal speaking as needed for the situation and audience to foster an environment of trust.”
  2. Interpersonal Savvy (p. 261) – “You need interpersonal skills to recognize and assess what others need. These skills involve not only listening to others, but also include noticing social cues that communicate how others are thinking and feeling, even if they don’t say so outright.”
  3. Influence (p. 17) – “Your greatest leadership asset is your ability to understand and persuade others. Influential leaders know how to get others to work with them, whether or not formal authority exists.”
  4. Tolerating Ambiguity (p. 401) – “[I]n today’s business environment, ambiguity is pervasive and affects leaders at all organizational levels. . . . Learn to handle ambiguity comfortably and confidently and learn to anticipate situations rather than simply react to or retreat from them. Make peace with ambiguity and gain greater control over how you handle key decisions in daily situations and over your career.”

From Awaken, Align, Accelerate (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011):

  1. Business Acumen (p. 159) – A leader with strong business acumen understands the global environment, business model, and key drivers of the organization, and leverages this understanding to recommend alternatives and measure performance.
  2. Building Collaboration (p. 285) – A collaborative leader participates with and involves others, promotes cooperation, builds partnerships, and resolves conflicts.
  3. Creating Alignment (p. 57) – An effective change leader creates alignment by ensuring the structure, systems, people, and processes are aligned in support of organizational goals.

From Bernholz and Teng’s Harvard Business Review article (2015):

  1. Be Entrepreneurial & “Be Scrappy” – In Bernholz and Teng’s article, in which they offered recommendations on how to build an in-house consulting team, one of their suggestions is “be scrappy” and adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. At EMC Information Infrastructure (EMC II, which has since been acquired by Dell), an information technology, storage & protection company, Bernholz (now VP, Head of Corporate Strategy at Adobe) and Teng (now VP of Global Business Transformation at Commvault) knew they didn’t have the luxury of having extensive support staff that external firms often enjoyed. So they made up for the staffing shortfall “by assigning all [internal EMC] consultants to an “office development” team, such as recruiting, training and onboarding, knowledge management, or social committee. Though these require time commitment beyond project-work, they offer team members the opportunity to shape the group’s operations and culture, instilling an entrepreneurial mindset among [internal EMC’s] consultants.”

Takeaway: Here’s my advice to those who wish to be outstanding internal consultants to organizations. To increase your chances of success: (1) Take a few steps back (figuratively) to really understand the issue or problem and absorb (like a sponge) everything you see, hear, and experience; (2) Build and maintain solid long-term relationships throughout the company; and (3) Work to connect the dots by thinking about and asking these questions: (a) “Why has this issue been a recurring one?” (b) “How many people or departments have an influence over this or play a key role?” (c) “Who truly holds the decision-making power and who are the influencers in the organization?”, and (d) “If others (inside & outside the company) have come up with a solution, why has it not worked?” By talking and listening to others, you will be in a great position to better know and understand the organization and the industry in which it sits. Finally, learn to get along and work well with others and be nice. If you are a jerk, you will have a very hard time providing internal consulting services.



Five actions to help your organization leap from survivor to thriver

A new generation of leading companies emerging from the pandemic crisis will operate by the rules of a new S-curve of growth.
To innovate at scale, organizations can take a future-back approach by using future scenarios to create a multi-horizon strategic roadmap.
Using data to understand the customer and moving from supply chains to supply networks will help companies innovate the unique experiences customers demand.
Since World War II, the global economy has followed an extended S-curve of growth. The foundation of this growth has primarily rested on the traditional value drivers of scope, scale and efficiency to measure performance and value.

However, within the last 10 years, we’ve begun to see a shift, both with the backlash against companies that ignore their systemic impacts on the world, and with the explosive rise of digitally-driven, hypergrowth “unicorn” companies that have exponentially raised expectations around the consumer experience and propelled valuations to new heights.

We expect another disruptive generation of leading companies to emerge from the current pandemic crisis, accelerating existing trends and creating new ones. They will operate by the rules of a new S-curve, where innovation timelines compress and ideation, prototyping, piloting and commercialization will happen in rapid cycles at global scale.

Examples of companies that leaped onto the new S-curve during the pandemic include a healthcare enterprise software company developing a video-based medical consultation service in 48 hours for healthcare workers in the UK, an African taxi start-up becoming a delivery service, and a Canadian biotech company that used its AI platform to identify drugs already FDA approved that had the potential to treat COVID-19.

These and other innovative companies have left behind the traditional drivers of scope, scale and efficiency in favor of long-term value creation to meet the dynamic demands of their customers or broader society. In following the path toward long-term value, organizations will need to build their performance using new transformational value drivers that put humans at the center of purpose and strategy, deploy technology at the speed where exponential benefits accrue, and innovate at scale to be at the forefront of reshaping industries and customer expectations.

innovation infograph
The magic of the next S-curve showcases solving challenges with creative approaches
Even before the pandemic, customer behaviors and preferences were shifting toward hyper-personalized, predictive and adaptive customer experiences. The pandemic, which has kept many people at home, has rapidly escalated these expectations. Customers want the companies they interact with to know who they are, what they want and how to deliver products and services that are of high value to their lives.

Companies that use data to gain a deep understanding of their customers and provide unique experiences — whether it’s individualized cancer care, custom-designed and 3D printed athletic shoes that provide a perfect fit or furniture that is ergonomically designed to relieve a customer’s specific pressure points — will exponentially accelerate along the next S-curve of growth.

To innovate at the speed and scale they’ll need for success, companies will have to transform strategically, digitally and operationally.

Companies that use data to gain a deep understanding of their customers and provide unique experiences will exponentially accelerate along the next S-curve of growth.

How EY can help
Strategy consulting
EY-Parthenon professionals recognize that CEOs and business leaders are tasked with achieving maximum value for their organizations’ stakeholders in this transformative age. We challenge assumptions to design and deliver strategies that help improve profitability and long-term value.

Read more
A future-back approach sets the strategy for innovating at scale
Innovating at scale along this new growth trajectory requires companies to take a future-back approach to strategic planning, as exponential value creators have done in previous times of crisis and change. Leaders of these companies look into the distant future and consider whether their business will be as relevant then as it is now. They then use their purpose to explore their opportunities and their vision to work future-back scenarios that make sure they are following a path where the priorities and actions of today are positioning them on a relevant and exponential trajectory for 15 or 20 years down the road.

With future scenarios as a starting point, companies can then create a multi-horizon strategic map that charts a course from the future back to today. The latest EY Megatrends report is a think-tank research report on global futures and highlights five steps for developing a future-back strategy using megatrends as a foundation. The concept of future-back planning results in an ability to break free from past assumptions, explore megatrends that will change the world and identify weak signals beginning to reveal the future. From there, organizations can use that understanding, today, to develop a better strategic investment and transformation plans.

Future-back planning provides an opportunity to break free from past assumptions, explore megatrends that will change the world and identify weak signals beginning to reveal the future. Organizations can use that understanding, today, to develop a better strategic investment and transformation plans.

Data will be the differentiator between products and unique experiences
Technologically, companies looking to make the leap from middle of the pack to exponential value creators, will need to more effectively harness the reams of data they are already collecting and generate vast amounts beyond what we collect today.

In a recent EY study, 83% of digital transformation leaders understood the value their companies could gain from leveraging data and analytics insights to speed innovation. Even 70% of digital transformation laggards see the same value.

Understanding the value data can bring
of digital transformation leaders use data to help them innovate faster.

To be successful, organizational leaders need to see data as an asset worth investing in. Further, companies will want to act on the following three innovation imperatives, as outlined in How data can help you innovate when change is constant:

Assemble the right teams that have experience across strategic change, design thinking, data science and industry knowledge. They’ll be able to ask the right questions to get the right results.
Develop a human-centered innovation business model, operating model, and culture that embraces and drives change. Using data to augment the capabilities and experiences for people in innovative new ways is the key to realized value.
Deliver insights and results fast and have a clear plan for industrialization. Analytics sprints can help teams iterate through business questions, starting simply and becoming increasingly complex to support new innovations that can be embedded at scale.
Of course, any actions companies take to strengthen their data and analytics, and artificial intelligence capabilities will need to tie back to the future-back strategy the company has set.

Customer expectations propel operational value chains into an autonomous era
Operationally, value chains will need to evolve to keep pace with making innovations tangible and real in terms of products and services for customers. For years, companies have relied predominantly on efficient, just-in-time supply chains that mass produce products to ship in bulk to customers. In delivering hyper-personalized experiences, companies will need to move toward flexible, resilient supply networks that are highly responsive to local needs, and flexible enough to reconfigure and deliver new products and services quickly.

In a networked era, supply chains will be data-driven and allow for end-to-end visibility, hyper personalization and real-time communication. This will allow companies to manufacture uniquely designed, bespoke products at scale. Emerging technologies also will play a critical role in disruptive innovation by helping companies to make real-time decisions and integrate data to source, make, sell and deliver their products.

In an autonomous era, companies will produce products at or nearer to the source of consumption. In this new autonomous reality, items would be available to customers on-demand and in real-time by accessing the flow of intellectual property and production when needed and producing products in seconds.

If the goal is to deliver hyper-personalized experiences, companies will need to move toward resilient supply networks that are highly responsive to local needs, and flexible enough to reconfigure and deliver new products and services quickly.

Along the new S-curve, the beyond is closer than we think
Along the new S-curve of growth, innovating at scale will require companies to place humans at the center of their customer journey, develop a future-back strategy, harness their customer data to deliver unique experiences and turn their supply chains into networked then autonomous supply networks. By understanding individual customer needs and delivering at scale in real time, companies can find themselves leading the next generation of post-pandemic disruptors into a beyond that is closer than we think.


The Explosive Growth In Coaching: One Of The Biggest Trends In Business

This week BetterUp announced another $300M round of funding, valuing the company at $4.7 Billion. Recurring revenues are already over $100 Million this year more than doubling year over year. Vendors like SpringHealth (Unicorn on the therapy side of coaching), CoachHub (a fast follower to BetterUp), Torch (coaching integrated into L&D), and others are now riding this wave.

As Alexi Robichaux (CEO) puts it, the world of benefits, learning, and employee development have merged. And I really have to agree. And the “digital health” industry itself has received more than $20 Billion this year, showing how explosive this new combination can be.

If you think about it as a CEO, the connection is obvious. We want our employees to feel healthy, energetic, engaged, and ready. Our Employee Experience research points this out in detail: all these benefits programs come together.

Later this month we’re going to be launching a massive study on this market, one we call The Healthy Organization. And what you’re going to see is that wellbeing programs, coaching, development, and leadership coaching are all connected together. In fact the one silver lining of the pandemic is that it taught us all a big lesson: if you don’t focus on the “whole person” at work, all these individual HR programs don’t add up.

Consider what Alexi tells me about his clients (Chevron, for example). Before the use of coaching, managers had sporadic leadership development training and many of them just struggle to learn to lead. Remote workers and staff members try to “learn to deal with stress” on their own. The wellbeing strategy is clear at the CEO level, but the head of compensation and benefits often sees these as “programs” and measures results through utilization.

BetterUp, which integrates development, coaching, assessment, and career growth, ties all this together. So this massive spending on “benefits” (which sits in the comp department) and the similarly massive investment in training (which sits in L&D) can now come together.

Chevron: Precision Development At Scale

I’ve interviewed Chevron in detail and the impact of BetterUp is amazing. Let me share some details here.

Since the start of the program in July of 2020, more than 1,200 Chevron leaders received personalized development. The Net-Promoter score of the experience is +65 (my last study of corporate L&D found that the L&D function itself has a negative net-promoter score), and 94% of these leaders say “coaching makes them more effective at their job.”

And it gets even better. Through a new offering called Coaching Circles, Chevron leaders can come together in small global groups to discuss and learn through expert facilitated discussions. These programs have now reached more than 3,000 Chevron leaders in 15 languages.

Other benefits from leaders (analyzed through self-reflection and assessment) at Chevron include a 15% increase in employee recognition, 12% improvement in business alignment, 13% improvement in problem-solving, and 16% improvement in strategic planning.

And in the case of Chevron, this initiative has helped the company transform and improve its entire performance management process. As the energy industry goes through massive change, this benefit alone more than cost-justifies the investment.

Where Is All This Going?

As you’ll read about in our upcoming Healthy Company research, Wellbeing at Work has come a long way. Going back to the Cadbury employee health and living facilities in the 1800s, today companies want to provide an end-to-end “healthy experience” for employees.

This brings together the disciplines of employee engagement, development, job design, and coaching into one integrated view. Add a dose of technology, and you get AI-enabled coaching, “whole-person” assessment, and a myriad of digital health programs added on. It’s a new whole-person focus for employees, and this brings the entire function of HR together. All in the flow of work.

And the vendor market comes together too. Vendors like BetterUp, which focuses on the whole employee “system,” will transform the way we think about corporate training, wellbeing, and leadership.

As I’ve told people many times, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s about the “unquenchable power of the human spirit.” When we give people the right support and a safe environment, they do amazing things for your company.

Start thinking about all your HR programs as investments in the “whole person” at work. It will pay off many times over.



Data Drop: Touchless Greetings, the Death of the Open Office and the Impact of Class on Collaboration

Returning to work was always going to churn up a mixed bag of feelings among employees and HR vendors are looking to get a sense of what those feelings are. Combine it with the ongoing wave of resignations, increased automation in the workplace and what you’ve got is a recipe for data telling you the story of how people are reacting to it.

As usual, my inbox is full of the latest studies and surveys being conducted by HR vendors, researchers and employers of all sizes. In today’s data drop, we’re going to take a closer look at how employees are coping with all these factors and what they aren’t looking forward to about going back to work.

No Touching
Remember the days of handshakes? Well your memory might be the only place they exist moving forward. After COVID-19, it’s only natural that a heightened awareness of contamination and swapping germs will be more commonplace. As employees return to work, employers are finding ways to give people more distance from each other or more opportunities to sanitize themselves and their environment.

When it comes to greeting each other, a Qualtrics study reveals that more than a third of employees say they’ll be using touchless greetings with colleagues, such as a wave or a friendly nod.

You might be tempted to think: what’s the big deal? It is after all, it’s just a greeting among people you already know. But the fact is, many employees have anxiety about the awkwardness of social situations and following proper etiquette when returning to the office. And for many of these people, this will be the first time they have met colleagues face-to-face. Around 57% of people surveyed said they would be meeting some colleagues for the first time when returning to the office.

While it may seem a small thing, this might be a good time to establish some norms around social etiquette, at least in the short term future while so much uncertainty swirls around COVID variants and how to ensure people are vaccinated.

Give Me My Space
As long as we’re talking about vaccinations, the folks over at interior design and architecture blog Homedit conducted a survey that revealed some concerns people have about the new workspaces they’ll be coming back to.

There were two really notable points to come out of it though. The first, was that 72% of employees feel that their employer should require some kind of proof of vaccination in order for someone to return to work. The data illustrates what many an HR professional knows to be true; the level of anxiety around COVID-19 has only eased somewhat following vaccine rollouts.

READ: Employee Experience Remains a Priority as Work Models Shift Post Pandemic

The second only illustrates their anxiety about being around each other further, with 83% of respondents saying they would prefer any other office layout than an open one. And science may have finally given us more of an understanding as to why that is.

A study released in June from the Journal of Management & Organization show that open office plans have a negative impact on employees. Specifically, it studied the impact of open office noise on cognitive performance, physiological stress and mood, monitoring things like heart rate, facial expressions and skin conductivity. The findings show a causal relationship between open office noise and physiological stress. People tended to sweat more and facial expressions show signs of tension.

After a year of people finding new levels of productivity and comfort working at home, plunging them back into any office environment could have negative impacts. If you’re absolutely certain returning employees to an office is what you want to do, you might want to consider ways to help them find spaces that ease stress levels. If you don’t, keep in mind that more than half of employees around the world are willing to find a new job if their employer eliminates the option to work from home at least part of the time.

Class Collaborators
Collaboration is a key component of a dynamic workplace these days and something that you find everyone from floor manager to C-suite executives talking about. It’s a skill that pops up in just about every job description these days and employers spend a great deal of time figuring out ways to facilitate and encourage collaboration.

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that what drives someone to collaborate may not simply be their personality type, but their life experience, particularly as it relates to class. The study looked at groups of people from varying classes performing interdependent team work. What they discovered is that groups from lower social class backgrounds had conversations that were more wide-ranging, active and balanced than their middle and upper-class counterparts, something key to high team performance.

As the study notes, these people often fail to stand out as individual star performers in a divide and conquer approach to work, but when working as part of a collective are extremely effective.

Previous studies have revealed that in most collaborative environments, 3-5% of the employees involved were contributing 20-35% of the value add. Perhaps future research will draw a link between the two, but in any case, when looking at building teams that diverse in both culture and style, class may play a bigger part than you ever imagined.

Returning to work was always going to churn up a mixed bag of feelings among employees and HR vendors are looking to get a sense of what those feelings are. Combine it with the ongoing wave of resignations, increased automation in the workplace and what you’ve got is a recipe for data telling you the story of how people are reacting to it.

As usual, my inbox is full of the latest studies and surveys being conducted by HR vendors, researchers and employers of all sizes. In today’s data drop, we’re going to take a closer look at how employees are coping with all these factors and what they aren’t looking forward to about going back to work.

No Touching
Remember the days of handshakes? Well your memory might be the only place they exist moving forward. After COVID-19, it’s only natural that a heightened awareness of contamination and swapping germs will be more commonplace. As employees return to work, employers are finding ways to give people more distance from each other or more opportunities to sanitize themselves and their environment.

When it comes to greeting each other, a Qualtrics study reveals that more than a third of employees say they’ll be using touchless greetings with colleagues, such as a wave or a friendly nod.

You might be tempted to think: what’s the big deal? It is after all, it’s just a greeting among people you already know. But the fact is, many employees have anxiety about the awkwardness of social situations and following proper etiquette when returning to the office. And for many of these people, this will be the first time they have met colleagues face-to-face. Around 57% of people surveyed said they would be meeting some colleagues for the first time when returning to the office.

While it may seem a small thing, this might be a good time to establish some norms around social etiquette, at least in the short term future while so much uncertainty swirls around COVID variants and how to ensure people are vaccinated.

Give Me My Space
As long as we’re talking about vaccinations, the folks over at interior design and architecture blog Homedit conducted a survey that revealed some concerns people have about the new workspaces they’ll be coming back to.

There were two really notable points to come out of it though. The first, was that 72% of employees feel that their employer should require some kind of proof of vaccination in order for someone to return to work. The data illustrates what many an HR professional knows to be true; the level of anxiety around COVID-19 has only eased somewhat following vaccine rollouts.

READ: Employee Experience Remains a Priority as Work Models Shift Post Pandemic

The second only illustrates their anxiety about being around each other further, with 83% of respondents saying they would prefer any other office layout than an open one. And science may have finally given us more of an understanding as to why that is.

A study released in June from the Journal of Management & Organization show that open office plans have a negative impact on employees. Specifically, it studied the impact of open office noise on cognitive performance, physiological stress and mood, monitoring things like heart rate, facial expressions and skin conductivity. The findings show a causal relationship between open office noise and physiological stress. People tended to sweat more and facial expressions show signs of tension.

After a year of people finding new levels of productivity and comfort working at home, plunging them back into any office environment could have negative impacts. If you’re absolutely certain returning employees to an office is what you want to do, you might want to consider ways to help them find spaces that ease stress levels. If you don’t, keep in mind that more than half of employees around the world are willing to find a new job if their employer eliminates the option to work from home at least part of the time.

Class Collaborators
Collaboration is a key component of a dynamic workplace these days and something that you find everyone from floor manager to C-suite executives talking about. It’s a skill that pops up in just about every job description these days and employers spend a great deal of time figuring out ways to facilitate and encourage collaboration.

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that what drives someone to collaborate may not simply be their personality type, but their life experience, particularly as it relates to class. The study looked at groups of people from varying classes performing interdependent team work. What they discovered is that groups from lower social class backgrounds had conversations that were more wide ranging, active and balanced than their middle and upper class counterparts, something key to high team performance.

As the study notes, these people often fail to stand out as individual star performers in a divide and conquer approach to work, but when working as part of a collective are extremely effective.

Previous studies have revealed that in most collaborative environments, 3-5% of the employees involved were contributing 20-35% of the value add. Perhaps future research will draw a link between the two, but in any case, when looking at building teams that diverse in both culture and style, class may play a bigger part than you ever imagined.



Five things freelancers must know about GST

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology and transformed the gig economy. Owing to the mounting uncertainty, people have switched over to freelancing. At present, India has the largest freelance workforce after the US.

A freelancer is a person who works independently and earns an income on a per-job or per-task basis. It could also be contractual, usually for short-term work. Freelancers work on multiple projects simultaneously for different clients. A freelancer is not an employee of any organisation and hence is not on pay-roll or entitled to any company benefits or perks.

Under the current Goods and Services Tax (GST) laws, any person supplying taxable services must be registered at the start from where they are providing such services. GST rate, as applicable to any other service provider (which is typically 18%), would also apply to such freelancers, based on the nature of services being provided.

GST affecting income
For registered freelancers, GST liability which is required to be deposited by them with the government is usually collected from the service recipient. This is over and above the value of services rendered by freelancers. While the same may result in slight working capital/cash flow issues with the time difference in payment to department viz-a-viz collection of their payments from customers, however, there would not be any other impact on freelancer’s income. This holds true in most cases unless the customers do not agree to pay GST over and above their value of service i.e. when the value of services are contractually agreed to be inclusive of GST.

In addition to the same, freelancers may be eligible to claim an input tax credit of GST paid to suppliers/vendors on procurement of goods or services, which are used in their freelancing business, subject to conditions. Hence, typically GST is not a cost to them if applicable.

For an unregistered freelancer, while there would not be any liability to pay GST, any GST paid on procurements to vendors would be a cost as they would not be eligible to claim input credit for the same. Accordingly, in such cases, the same would have an impact resulting in an upward increase in the overall cost of services rendered by freelancers to their customers.

Voluntary GST registration
When a person is not mandatorily required to obtain registration under GST law (usually when it does not cross the threshold limit), they can register by choice even if the turnover is less than the prescribed threshold.

If a freelancer obtains voluntary GST registration, they will have to abide by the provisions of the GST law. Also, they would be required to undertake all the related compliances and pay the applicable GST. However, obtaining voluntary registration may increase the overall compliance burden. This is seen as a preferred option while dealing with B2B customers, as they usually deal with registered persons. Obtaining GST registration would also help to reduce the input GST costs which a person may incur on procurements which would then be available as credit to such freelancers.

Services on online marketplaces
GST is generally applicable in both scenarios, i.e., where services are provided via online marketplaces like Upwork, Freelancer, etc. or directly to clients. The liability to collect/ deposit the same with the IT department would remain with the ultimate service provider in both scenarios, as per criteria mentioned earlier.

In addition to the same, in case of online marketplaces like Upwork, Freelancer etc., an analysis may be required to examine if the same would qualify as an ‘e-commerce operator’ under GST law. In such a case, additional GST compliances would have to be undertaken by such online marketplaces. Online marketplaces qualifying as e-commerce operators, would also be required to collect TCS @ 1% from persons, including freelancers who are supplying their goods and services through their electronic platform. Credit for such TCS would be available to such persons, subject to conditions.

In addition, depending on the exact nature of services being provided through online marketplaces, GST implications would have to be determined from such service providers.

Filing returns
Freelancers are required to comply with the prescribed compliances like other registered GST assessees. They would be required to undertake filing of monthly/quarterly (depending on turnover) returns, i.e., return of outward supplies (GSTR-1) and summary return for outward and inward supplies (GSTR-3B). In addition, annual compliance in the form of GSTR-9 is also required to be undertaken depending on the prescribed turnover.

In case the freelancer’s turnover exceeds INR 5 crore, annual reconciliation statement in the form of GSTR-9C is also required to be filed. Multiple penalties for non-compliances (registration, documents, invoices, etc.) of various provisions have been provided under the law, however, in case of delay in filing of monthly/quarterly returns, a late fee of INR 50 per day per return has been prescribed.

GST registration benefits

One may argue that obtaining GST registration would result in additional compliance burden on small service providers like freelancers, however, it may be noted that GST has provided a very simplified compliance process for taxpayers.

There are various benefits in obtaining GST registration such as availability of GST credit for tax paid on procurements, which in case of unregistered freelancers would be a cost. Same can also be utilized for discharging output GST liability of services, by the freelancer, thereby passing minimal burden on the end consumer.

Further, obtaining GST registration also helps service recipients gain more trust and deal more transparently with freelancers. Even the government encourages larger businesses to deal with GST compliant service providers.



The Politics of Influence in Top Management Team Meetings

Interactions between the chief executive and other members of the top management team appear to follow distinct scripts. Managers who take note can boost their standing or stay out of harm’s way.

Top management teams (TMT) have been studied since at least the 1980s for insights into how chief executives and their deputies make the strategic decisions that can make or break organisations. But little is known about what exactly happens in the decision-making process, which more often than not is steeped in politics and power play. This article is about a ground-breaking study we conducted that filmed and analysed verbal and non-verbal exchanges in TMT meetings as they happened.

Our findings, published in a new paper, suggest that, contrary to previous research that highlighted the influence of stable, longstanding alliances in organisations, coalition-building in TMTs can also be in the moment and fluid. By forming even temporary coalitions with other TMT members and deploying simple influencing behaviours, senior managers can persuade the CEO to take their side and sway key decisions.

Reading the room right

We studied two TMTs similar in size, gender composition and other key dimensions. TMT A belonged to a medium-sized computer game company based in Canada while the other, TMT B, was the top team of a business services company with global operations.

For each team, we videotaped their meetings and examined them in minute detail, from emotional tone, body posture, hand gestures to eye contact. We also interviewed each of the team members after the meetings.

Five kinds of CEO-TMT member interaction patterns emerged, which we outline below.


In the most amicable of the interaction patterns, the CEO and other TMT members see eye to eye right from the start.

What would be a wise strategy in this environment? Build on this congenial atmosphere by employing the rational argument and drawing others into the conversation.


This is when the CEO disagrees with the rest of the team at the beginning, and the team resolve their differences through a constructive discussion during the meeting. Our findings show that managers can gain legitimacy by appealing to a higher authority and, again, by using rational argument to great effect.


This is a scenario in which the CEO retreats to the background as an observer, while two team members debate an issue.

Duelling managers can bolster their case by declaring ownership (“this is my project”) and drawing on one’s experience and knowledge (“I know my team better than anyone else”). The spectating leader might be wise to delay a decision while emotions cool, as the CEOs in our study did.


This is when a disagreement between the CEO and a team member triggers an adversarial dynamic at the start of a strategic issue discussion. There is a risk the decision-making process becomes polarised.

Here, participants need to be politically savvy. They can seek support, build a coalition by directly appealing or looking at colleagues, and draw on the credibility and agenda of others. A CEO could check to see if there’s scope for an upward appeal (“the founder needs this to be done before the end of next month”).


This pattern evolves when the CEO and a TMT member are in opposition: The former challenges and undermines the latter while other members simply look on.

For those who find themselves in an undermined position, dismissed and ostracised by the team, the best chance of surviving is to duck, retreat and fight another day. In our study, one executive chose to derail the discussion, and another turned the conversation to another topic. Another magnified the risk of the rival proposal.

Playing your cards right

Importantly, we found that more than one constellation could form in a single meeting. Team members can be congruous or cooperative when they discuss one issue and adversarial or undermining another. This suggests that the TMT decision-making process is more dynamic and nuanced than shown by previous research.

How you use influencing behaviours matters. For example, we observed rational argument in all five constellations albeit with very different delivery – relaxed incongruous, emphatically with plenty of hand gestures in cooperative, and calm and authoritative in undermining. Each led to different outcomes. Thus, tone of voice and body language can be very effective influence mechanisms.

Finally, cultures also play a part. In East Asia, for example, leadership styles tend to be more hierarchical, providing fertile soil for undermining and adversarial situations, although the general patterns hold.

TMTs are contested spaces characterised by conflicts, alliances and negotiated orders. When collaboration fails to resolve differences, our study shows that executives with deft political skills are likely to prevail. In other words, those who can relate well and demonstrate situationally appropriate behaviour in a manner that inspires confidence and trust will get their way.

Our findings offer tips that could help senior managers navigate the patterns of interaction we observed. A reliable guide to reading the situation and deciding what actions to take is to ask yourself: Am I aligned with the leader? Am I aligned with my peers? How much energy do they have about the issue? Then play your hand accordingly.



Do you really want that promotion?

If you are good at your job, all sorts of push-pull forces within your organization—and society at large—will propel you into bigger roles with more responsibilities, including managing people for the first time or taking on larger teams.

And many people understandably want those bigger jobs, and the reasons go beyond the pay bump that often comes with promotions. It’s called a career ladder for a reason: it’s something to climb. As human beings, we are wired to strive for greater status, and all the markers that come with it: titles, more pay, and a better office (at least, back in the day when people had offices). Social media platforms amplify that dynamic because we share our titles with the world.

Within organizations, there can also be an assumption that all high-performers want to move higher. So, as managers assess and develop talent to be future leaders, the default belief at many companies is that people will want to move up—a point that I hadn’t quite appreciated until I interviewed Shawna Erdmann, the senior vice president of learning at Comcast, the telecommunications multinational based in Philadelphia.

“Often the leaders of a company, including boards and HR, will pick and choose among upcoming executives for promotions, but no one ever has a conversation with that individual to ask them, ‘What do you want to do? What are your ambitions? What do you see as your goals or your next steps?’” she said. “So often we miss that critical piece and then we wonder why, when we elevate someone, they might not do as well as we expected. But nobody ever asked them, ‘Do you really want that job?’ Maybe they were just super happy making a difference at their particular level, and they didn’t have the ambition to do the next thing. We need to get better at having those conversations.”

Listening up
The crises of the last 18 months have led to profound shifts in our perception of the role of organizations in society, the nature of work itself (how and where it gets done), and the qualities that matter most in leaders now. This period of disruption has also led many people to reconsider what they want to do and where they want to live. And so, with all these fundamental career questions being put on the table, I would argue that we should add one more: do people really want the promotions that everyone assumes they want?

Yes, I get that it might seem like trying to fight gravity. The reward systems we have in place are structured to create a powerful upward pull. But once the thrill of the new title and pay bump wears off, a lot of people find themselves in roles that they may not like or be suited for. It’s a fact of life that many people think they want a particular job until they actually get that job.

The reward systems create a powerful upward pull. But once the thrill of a new title and pay bump wears off, a lot of people find themselves in roles they may not like or be suited for.

It’s a point that Kasper Rørsted, the CEO of Adidas, made to me when I interviewed him back when he was CEO of the German chemicals company Henkel. During our conversation, I asked him what advice he would give to someone who was about to become CEO for the first time. His answer is just as relevant for anybody looking to move into any higher position because every senior position brings new demands and difficulties.

“I would ask them the question, ‘Do you really want the job?’” Rørsted said. “It’s such a demanding job. On the outside, it looks very shiny. But there’s a lot of hard work. You get paid to do all the uncomfortable things. You don’t get paid to go play golf in Savannah. It’s not just glamour. I’m not saying it’s hardship, but are they able to live with it? So that’s the first one—‘Is it really what you want?’”

The question is a personal one for me. Over my 30-year journalism career, before I moved into consulting four years ago, I twice turned down an offer to run a big newsroom department. I was the number two in the department, and so the assumption was that I would want the job. But in working closely with my boss, I had exposure to what his job entailed, and I knew that much of it didn’t suit my strengths or personality. And I wanted to keep doing what I enjoyed most as an editor, which was working with reporters to do great journalism. Did I pay a penalty in terms of my trajectory there? No doubt. Do I regret it? Not for a second.

The “up or out” culture that started in many fields such as law and academia—the pressure to achieve a certain rank within a certain period of time or else—has become a bedrock notion of many companies. But some CEOs I’ve interviewed over the years have applied fresh thinking to compensation and hierarchies so that talented individual contributors feel rewarded without the usual pressure to move into bigger management jobs. They include Selina Lo, who was then CEO of Ruckus Wireless, a provider of wireless networking equipment based in Sunnyvale, California.

“In my company, there is a rule that all new managers need to know: that it’s not a given that their people [under them] will be paid less than they are,” Lo told me in our interview. “That’s part of becoming a manager—that you really have to enjoy enabling people. I want people who are good managers to be managers. I don’t want people to become managers just because they feel they need to.” And she wanted people who are not manager material but have other skills to get the monetary rewards for doing their jobs well.

Think of it as the Peter Principle in reverse: rather than rising to their “maximum level of incompetence,” according to the famous maxim that describes how ambitious employees often trip themselves up by taking jobs they are unqualified for, people may realize they don’t want a particular job because it doesn’t match their skills or career goals.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for ambition. But for those considering promotions or HR leaders managing talent pipelines, the ambition should not be blind. It’s time people start asking the question more often: do you really want that job?


Is mental health any better post pandemic?

For some of us the pandemic made us prioritise and improve our health, whilst others suffered, and in many cases continue to suffer, from burnout, anxiety and stress, not to mention long Covid. So, did we learn anything about prioritising our health at work from the pandemic, or are we simply going back to the way things were? For many, we are at a crossroads.

In April 2021 McKinsey stated that at least 49% of respondents to a survey said they feel somewhat burned out. In contrast, according to the Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk) in February 2022, 78% of those who worked from home in some capacity said that being able to work from home gave them an improved work-life balance and 47% also reported improved wellbeing. The pandemic taught some to prioritise work/life balance, outdoor pursuits and the importance of community and purpose. Others felt isolated, over-worked, disgruntled and their health suffered.

Mental Health issues continue to grow

Stress has been one of the top work-related factors to affect the mental (and physical) health of adults for decades whether that be as a result of problems with demands, change, relationships, working conditions, power and support. In October 2017 The Stevenson/Farmer review, Thriving at Work, highlighted an estimated 300,000 people lost their jobs each year due to mental health problems. That was pre-pandemic, the situation is now much tougher. Work-related mental ill-health was costing UK businesses up to £45 billion in 2019, but those numbers are now £56 billion a year according to Deloitte UK, an increase of around 25%.

One of the issues facing employers today is they need to address a spectrum of mental wellbeing needs

In addition to the cost to the individuals, employee poor mental health is a huge expense to organisations because of staff turnover and loss of talent, absenteeism and the negative impact on productivity. One of the issues facing employers today is they need to address a spectrum of mental wellbeing needs because different people are affected by poor mental health in a variety of ways.

Progress in tackling workplace mental health issues
There has been some success over the last ten years in opening up dialogue and breaking down the stigma around mental health, with some employers increasingly addressing trauma, anxiety and stress at work, but there is still a huge way to go. Wellbeing has never been so important to our lives and livelihoods. We need to learn the lessons about wellbeing that the pandemic taught us and not just try to go back to the way things were. Going backwards is a losing battle which won’t succeed as workers have different and often greater expectations than they had pre-pandemic which will cause pushback.

Improve wellbeing and good mental health
Look for the signs
Leaders and managers need to be looking for the signs of burnout, long-term anxiety, pressures, trauma and grief. Responsibility and relationships are at the heart of caring for colleagues. Leaders need to show real empathy and deal with employee uncertainty and health issues with compassion. Start conversations with employees and see how best you can meet their needs. Ensure your work culture does not support long-term working out of hours, holidays not being taken and poor work/life balance,

Promote and train for wellbeing at work
Having a focus on employee wellbeing means openly communicating about good food choices, social connections, exercise, being in nature and lifelong learning. This requires specific training but taking these positive steps doesn’t just improve mental health and wellbeing, it also increases performance and cognitive function and helps to futureproof the brain.

Build internal and external community relations
Define your values, optimise learning from one another, foster connections, organise training and full team events which everyone can attend. Encourage full participation, inclusion, and respect, and build mutual understanding, especially across any interpersonal and cultural divides.

Don’t suppress trauma in organisations
A positive mindset can help but doesn’t solve all problems. Trauma, anxiety and fear cannot be left unaddressed. An empathetic corporate leadership will put its people first, rather than see looking after them as a distraction. Offer regular training across all the hierarchy on a variety of wellbeing subjects, ensuring there is something of interest to everyone.

Empower for resilience
Empowering your team often helps them build resilience. Allow people to play to their strengths. Have role models, mentors, collaborations, partnerships and a plan that can be continually adapted because resilience is built on life experiences and the world is constantly changing.

Ensure financial security
Leaders must do what they can to ensure a fair, equal wage. The cost of living crisis means many workers are grappling with rising costs and struggling to make ends meet.

Create psychological safety
This gives individuals permission to talk about what is on their minds because they feel safe and thath means they are more likely to bring their entire self to work. Safety leads to inclusion, diversity and greater levels of wellbeing.

Offer individual-based flexibility
Leaders need to think about the needs of the individual before they lose valuable talent. It is important to remember it is the individual suffering first and foremost and that is where attention should be focused in the first place.


Pros and Cons of Working From Home

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home may have seemed like a perk that only freelancers got to do. Now, many more full-time employees have experienced working remotely or in a hybrid role.

Smiling young male entrepreneur browsing the internet with a laptop while sitting on a sofa working from home

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the pandemic has resulted in over one-third of companies across a wide range of industries increasing telework for some or all of their employees. The BLS also reports that around 60% of the organizations that expanded their telework options are planning to keep them indefinitely.

If you recently joined the ranks of virtual staff, your visions of the remote working life may have been dashed by reality. Working from home may sound like an ideal situation, if you’ve imagined simply rolling out of bed and arriving at your home office in moments, without the hassles of first making yourself presentable and then commuting to a workplace with a boss and colleagues who may drive you crazy.

In reality, though, just like working in an office, remote work comes with pros and cons. The following pros and cons list emerged after conducting informal interviews with more than 100 people with remote jobs. Read on for some positive aspects of telecommuting and the challenges that come with a work-from-home lifestyle.

Benefits of Working From Home
Pro: More flexibility to take care of appointments and errands.
Pro: Fewer interruptions from meetings and chitchat.
Pro: No commute time or expense.
Pro: More time spent with family.
Pro: You can often do your work when you’re most productive.
Pro: You can get more done.
Pro: You can save money on your work wardrobe.
Pro: The ability to live where you want to.
Pro: More flexibility to take care of appointments and errands.
One of the hardest things about committing to a 9-to-5 desk job is that it prevents you from being able to handle almost anything else that comes up in your life, whether attending a routine dentist appointment or picking a sick kid up from school. When you work from home, while you still have to meet your deadlines and be available when you say you will be, you generally have wider bandwidth to tend to other responsibilities without jeopardizing your job.

Pro: There are fewer interruptions from meetings and chitchat.
It’s easier to get into a deep state of focused work when you’re in your home office without colleagues dropping by and sitting down impromptu to talk about their weekends. Limiting unnecessary interruptions from your colleagues and boss is a big plus of working from home and is one reason many remote workers are often more productive than office-based workers. While you may need to dial in for specific meetings, you’ll likely get a break from attending several others – many of which may be unnecessary to your role – that confront staff workers daily.

Pro: There is no commute time or expense.
You can save a lot of money and avoid wasting hours spent getting to and from work when your office is right down the hall. Avoiding traffic battles tops the list of benefits for some of those who work from home. Many remote workers also mentioned saving money by eschewing a pricey professional wardrobe unless they meet with clients.

Pro: More time spent with family.
Office workers must kiss their loved ones goodbye each morning when heading off to work; not so for virtual workers, who can work side by side with a work-from-home spouse or with kids who are learning in a digital classroom. By doing away with the commute time, there is more time to be spent with loved ones.

Pro: You can often do your work when you’re most productive.
When you work in an office, your schedule is rarely your own. Between the aforementioned interruptions from colleagues and meetings, plus your boss hovering nearby with agenda items and to-dos, accomplishing your focus work may be a “catch as catch can” situation, grabbing time to think and compose important reports and communications between events that others have imposed.

It’s still always essential when working from home to be mindful of your team’s needs and be available to dial in for virtual meetings. But remote employees generally have greater latitude to select their time of peak productivity to do their most important work and – depending on who else is working at home with them – have more quiet time to hone in on tasks that require concentration.

Pro: You can get more done.
A number of recent studies have confirmed the growing body of research that prove working from home can help you be more productive than you can in an office, with stats showing productivity increases of up to 77%. It makes sense when you consider the above points that you have fewer interruptions and can work when you’re at your best while working remotely.

[ READ: Work-From-Home Gift Guide. ]
Pro: You can save money on your work wardrobe.
In addition to saving drive time and gas expenses, the work-from-home crowd can generally save on clothing costs as well. While you may need to have professional garb at the ready for video calls (at least for your top half on camera), most who work from home have more freedom to wear what they want while they work.

Pro: The ability to live where you want to.
While some employers have restrictions about where you can live as a remote employee and may change your pay according to the area you reside in, a huge perk of the remote life is the ability to choose your location without needing to worry about a daily commute. Even if you’re in a hybrid role or need to make occasional visits to the office for meetings, if you don’t need to drive in each day, you have a wider range of possible places to settle besides right near the office.

Cons of Working From Home
Con: No physical separation between work and leisure time.
Con: Easy to misread cues via electronic communications.
Con: You have to make the effort to get a change of scenery.
Con: Less in-person contact with co-workers.
Con: You are not on-site for in-office perks.
Con: You have to be more self-motivated.
Con: Some bosses may be biased against those who aren’t in the office.
Con: No physical separation between work and leisure time.
Many who work from home lamented that they often find themselves working around the clock, since their labor has no definite start or end times; those lines can often be blurred. As a result, they sometimes feel as if they are always at work, making it difficult to shift to the post-work relaxation mode that many office workers take for granted.

The absence of an obvious division between the personal and professional realms means some remote workers get distracted by housework. Setting boundaries and sticking to them is important when you’re working from home.

Con: It’s easy to misread cues via electronic communications.
While few who work from home expressed feeling “lonely,” as is typically assumed, many did point to the difficulty of getting the tone right through digital communication systems, such as email, chat, social media and text. Without body language, facial expressions and other cues, remote employees have to put in extra effort to maintain positive communications.

Con: You have to make the effort to get a change of scenery.
What can be a blessing can also become a curse in the form of cabin fever. Some freelancers and others who work from home lamented that where they work during the day is the exact same place where they’ll be sitting later that evening; getting involved in their work often translates to spending a huge portion of the day indoors. Pre-pandemic, many stressed the importance of scheduling lunches and other meetings to keep them in the mix and avoid the rut of never leaving the house.

Con: There is less in-person contact with co-workers.
While you may have more time with loved ones when working from a home office, the flipside is less opportunity for face time (minus a screen) with people at your company. If your co-workers drive you crazy, then reduced time on-site might be a perk for you. But if you enjoy office-based camaraderie and like to be able to socialize with your team in person, then the remote life might make you miserable.

Con: You are not on-site for in-office perks.
You can’t swing by the break room and grab a doughnut or hit the company gym if you’re working from home. This may be more of a disadvantage for workers in industries such as tech, with impressive on-site offerings like game rooms and chef-made food among their company benefits. If there’s a perk you like about being in the office, then working from home may make you miss it.

Con: You have to be more self-motivated.
If you’re the type of person who procrastinates working unless a boss is breathing down your neck, then you might find yourself underperforming in a work-from-home role. Remote workers have to motivate themselves to get the job done, which puts more onus on people working from home to manage their time wisely to complete their projects, instead of having someone else setting the timelines and spurring them along.

Con: Some bosses may be biased against those who aren’t in the office.
A study by researchers at the University of California at Davis and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that “face time” – the amount of time that you’re seen at work either within normal business hours or outside of them – can affect how your boss and others perceive you at work. If you’re not in the office and others are, some managers may be either intentionally or unintentionally biased against you. You may find that your contributions aren’t noticed or appreciated as much by your team and may feel compelled to make extra efforts to keep on everyone’s radar screen.

Weighing the pros and cons of working from home has become even more important in the wake of the pandemic, since many companies are now giving their employees the option to not come back into the office. If you are given the choice to consider working from home permanently, be sure to think through each of the pros and cons of working from home to land on a solution that matches your priorities. Remote work has clear benefits, but no situation is perfect. Understanding the reasons to work from home – as well as the reasons not to – can go a long way in learning how to work from home successfully.


Thinking through the ethics of corporate journalism—before there’s a problem

Thinking through the ethics of corporate journalism—before there’s a problem
Three simple strategies that should form the basis of your content playbook.

It’s been 50 years since survey respondents famously told Oliver Quayle that they trusted a news anchor more than any candidate running for public office. At the top of their list of “most trusted” people in America was none other than Walter Cronkite, who dominated the evening news ratings for a generation. In that turbulent era, defined by the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, and Watergate, people tended to trust the news media—in particular Cronkite’s deft and steady delivery—more than most other institutions.

Today, we’re witnessing another shift in public trust, this time in the perception of the news media itself. For the second year in a row, “my employer’s media” beat traditional information sources (including media and government) as the most trusted news source in the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey of 36,000 people in 28 countries commissioned by communications giant Edelman. In explaining the finding, CEO Richard Edelman reasoned that most people consider their employer’s media to be depoliticized and “honest.”

Other recent research bears this out. PwC’s Trust in US Business Survey, conducted in August 2021, found that people trust businesses as much as or more than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. This increase in public faith has put pressure on companies to raise their game in communicating who they are and what they do. More than 75% of the 1,115 US adults surveyed in late 2021 by nonprofits Just Capital, Public Citizen, and Ceres said they wanted to see more corporate disclosures of business, social, and environmental practices, as well as the impact of those activities.

A bar chart lists the top qualities that build trust in business for consumers and employees. The highest-ranked quality is being accountable.

Such demand for clarity in the initiatives that companies are undertaking has given rise to so-called corporate journalism—a trend in which experienced writers and editors work on the inside of firms to create narrative-based, reportage-like content, often to augment broader public relations or marketing campaigns. (Strategy+business, where this article is published, can also be considered corporate journalism, produced by PwC.) When you factor press releases, blogs, and social media posts into the equation, companies can sometimes find themselves producing a lot of content without a coherent ethics strategy.

Ethical questions abound
For leaders navigating these crosscurrents, the challenge is delivering content that is fair and accurate while also advancing the interests of the organization. Though about 70% of global consumer-facing companies already have a content strategy to guide the formation of policies and practices for publishing content, many companies are still figuring out how to make their way through a thicket of ethical questions. Should an organization, for an example, proactively discuss controversies that would have been expedient to sidestep in the past? Should firms publish content that is accurate but not comprehensive, such as reporting on a corporate climate pledge that doesn’t note environmental shortcomings in other parts of the business? Should they invite opposing views and criticism? Should they openly admit and correct mistakes? And who within the organization makes the call if the audience for the content should desire information that clashes with the company’s corporate messaging?

Boston College associate professor Michael Serazio, who studies corporations’ efforts to promote themselves within traditional news formats and practices, says the profit motive is so powerful that it’s “unreasonable” to expect companies to become dependable truth tellers. “Would you trust Enron Magazine? Lehman Brothers Daily?” he asked strategy+business in an interview for this article.

Nobel laureate economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller would seem to agree, at least in terms of the motives inherent to modern companies, writing in their 2015 book, Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception, that “the economic system is filled with trickery, and everyone needs to know that.”

The question at the center of the debate is whether companies can thoroughly and honestly address the subject they should know best: themselves. “It’s a lot for a company to take on, but it’s doable,” author and former General Electric vice chair Beth Comstock told strategy+business. During her tenure at GE, the company hired journalists to give their content efforts more validity.

General Electric faced a public relations crisis in 2011 after the New York Times wrote that the company reported a tax benefit of US$3.2 billion in 2010 even though it had worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, including $5.1 billion from the United States. Eager to show that GE had, indeed, paid taxes, the executives debated releasing company tax returns. In the end “we shared bits and pieces,” Comstock said. “These things become so complicated.” Still, “it’s good to have the aspiration.”

But even leaders of venerable news companies become thin-skinned when they’re in the spotlight, sometimes arguing that people shouldn’t expect their organization to cover itself fairly—and wouldn’t believe the organization if it tried. Bloomberg News has a policy of not covering itself, which extended to founder Michael Bloomberg when he announced his US presidential run in 2019. Meanwhile, the movement for news organizations to hold themselves accountable with independent reader representatives or ombudspeople has largely petered out. Only a few still have such a representative, down from the 50 newspapers that had them in 1980.

In the main, corporate journalism fits a familiar pattern that also occurs when any new technology is introduced: it grows rapidly and becomes ubiquitous, and only then do companies begin to see and address the problems it creates. Though executives can’t predict the future, they can adopt a sound framework that will help them prepare for and respond to unexpected impacts. Here are three strategies that can help leaders develop a playbook based in candor.

Corporate journalism fits a familiar pattern that also occurs when any new technology is introduced: it grows rapidly and becomes ubiquitous, and only then do people begin to see and address the problems it creates.

Hire truth tellers—and listen to them. You can’t count on managers to rock the boat. Most are promoted as a reward for sticking with the company for a long time, creating a corporate culture that is inclined to avoid risks. Let the managers manage, and, separately, find some independent thinkers who know how to present information honestly, clearly, and engagingly.

It’s a tough job. “You’re never going to have the best perspective on your own organization,” ProPublica founding general manager and former president Richard Tofel told strategy+business. This is especially the case if the company is publicly traded and trying to parse securities laws’ disclosure requirements. Still, what Tofel calls “radical transparency” is “appropriate and pays real dividends” for companies with the courage to practice it. Tofel, a onetime assistant publisher of the Wall Street Journal who now, as a principal of Gallatin Advisory LLC, helps clients navigate the world of journalism, adds that “if there is a bad fact in the world, then people will eventually find it out.”

That’s why a broader ecosystem of experts and collaborators needs to be embedded into a firm’s publishing processes. Outside perspectives and expertise on fair and balanced reporting of information will go a long way toward building trust with consumers and placing societal need in line with the responsibility to grow revenues.

Engage with critics who have the public’s ear—and admit your mistakes. Few companies have the nerve to embarrass themselves in any form, let alone in their own media. For example, just 215 (23%) of 954 US companies surveyed disclosed that they conducted a gender pay gap analysis last year, according to a Just Capital study of transparency on the issue. Boards also typically swat away shareholder resolutions urging them to disclose direct and indirect payments for lobbying, even though 54 (84%) of the 64 largest institutional investors want to see it, according to the Center for Political Accountability.

It’s time to get over this reflexive secrecy and defensiveness. It’s a bad look, it’s counterproductive, and soon it might cease to be an option.

The Conference Board said that in 2021, publicly traded corporations saw “record support for shareholder proposals” calling for fuller disclosures about environmental and human capital policies, political activity, and governance decisions—and predicted the trend would “continue into 2022.” Earlier this year, the business research group said the growing public belief in stakeholder capitalism represents a “tectonic” shift driven by institutional investors that “face client pressure to invest and vote in a socially responsible manner.”

Serious critics can help a company improve itself. So why not seek them out and even give them a platform to discuss or respectfully debate their critiques, especially if those critiques are going to be heard elsewhere? Sure, some executives will object to seeing dissenting views in a company’s own media. But this is how outlets can earn an audience’s interest and trust—and distinguish their communications from mere propaganda.

Encourage question-asking. It’s hard to persuade the public to trust you if your own employees don’t. And though Edelman and others see growing public confidence in business, this faith appears fragile when you look at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ reports of growing quit rates and Gallup surveys showing increasing employee disengagement.

Employee dissatisfaction is a complex problem that defies simple solutions. But one way to promote engagement and trust is to encourage employees to ask questions—the tougher the better—and then address their concerns via the company’s media channels.

Companies can do their part by assuring employees that they’re likely to be rewarded for asking relevant questions—and never have to fear that their good-faith queries will be dismissed as stupid, inappropriate, or a waste of executives’ time. Those that want to fully embrace question-asking can offer training, which is a strategy supported by the Right Question Institute, a nonprofit that encourages self-advocacy and what it calls “microdemocracy.”

Executives who promote question-asking might discover measurable benefits for their enterprises, in addition to promoting trust. At a time of fast and unpredictable change, it’s a way to ensure that people are up to date with new directions in everything from the design, building, and operation of tools to strategy, marketing, and brand storytelling. It can help to bust organizational silos. What’s more, question-asking may help companies “see things in a slightly different way, and the result of this may be new insights, new learning,” Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald note in their 2015 book, Creating a Learning Society.

Acting with integrity
Recent research points to a historic moment for businesses. Consumers, employees, and other stakeholders expect companies to earn their trust by being honest, authentic, and transparent. If mistakes happen, leaders are now expected to commit to making things right, quickly. No longer can they tell the public whatever’s expedient in the moment.

Those accustomed to viewing trust as just a metric for the success of a self-serving brand or public relations strategy ignore the recent warning signs at their peril. They may not enjoy the soul-searching that’s needed to change their mindset or the hard work required to change their strategy and culture. But as Walter Cronkite used to say each night, “that’s the way it is.”


Using trust to combat fear in teams

Many expedition leaders have discovered this over the years. American mountaineer Alison Levine talks about a situation that occurred during one of her polar expeditions. Levine thought her teammates were plotting against her because she felt she was the weakest member of the team. Instead, they were strategising how to help by lightening the load in her sled. It was only when they had a frank and open conversation that her mistrust was laid to rest and the entire team could be productive.

It can be similar in the workplace. When there is pressure to deliver results, or an unexpected threat appears, a leader can feel unease and fearfulness, which if not addressed, can then impact on how they engage with their people. Rather than passing on their own fears, it’s down to the leader to find ways to break that cycle and motivate their team differently.

When feeling under threat by the environment – people tend to close down and focus inside

Connect people to a bigger purpose
When feeling under threat by the environment – people tend to close down and focus inside. A leader needs to be aware of this and connect everyone to a common mission. Eddie Jones, Head Coach of the England Rugby Team says “to get people enthusiastic and to get more out of them, you want people to be part of something special”. And it’s the leaders’ job to communicate what that mission or purpose is. The best way to do that is to help each person in the team to understand how what they do contributes to the bigger purpose, just as President Kennedy’s visit to NASA headquarters showed when he asked a young man cleaning the floor, what his role was at NASA. The young man replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”. More recently the CIPD report post-pandemic reinforced the importance of senior managers being more visible and reinforcing the connection with organisational goals. Helping people to transcend their day-to-day challenges is a vital leadership skill to keep maintaining motivation.

Discomfort may not last forever
A leader should also remind others that nothing lasts forever. It’s human nature for any of us to tolerate a certain level of discomfort if we know it’s not going to be permanent. Leaders would be wise to remember this human trait and to give their team some sort of timeline and additional perspective. Author Suzy Welch used the 10-10-10 approach to inform decision-making, (how will this be in 10 hours, 10 days, 10 years) and in her book explains that people do not habitually assess outcomes and consequences, and therefore do not act rationally all the time. It’s often stress that impacts decision making, therefore, to engage and motivate teams, a practical tool which gives a timeline for thinking ahead can allay fears and increase a willingness to tolerate discomfort in the short term, knowing it is not going to continue with no end in sight.

Encourage teams to become familiar with the unfamiliar
Finally, a leader should train their people to become familiar with the unfamiliar which requires conscious practice. Neuroscientists today report that people are conscious of only a very small part of their brain activity, so most of our decisions, actions, emotions, and behaviour are being undertaken by the part of the brain that is operating unconsciously. That means it takes effort to become used to the unknown, the atypical, or the unfamiliar. One way to do this is a simple exercise of ‘yes…and…’. Those who are skilled in the field of improvisational comedy may already use this approach which suggests that a person should accept what another has said, and then add to it, expanding the thinking for all parties involved.

When teams are experiencing danger or a hostile environment, the tendency will be to close down and limit thinking, whereas the opposite is really what’s needed. Matthew Syed describes it in his book Rebel Ideas, whereby the power of thinking differently is what enables teams to see beyond what is known. Syed reminds us that catastrophic effects can occur. For example, the CIA were loath to bring greater diversity into the organisation, which skewed perceptions about how real any perceived threats were. He quotes a CIA insider who said, ‘They could not believe that this tall Saudi (bin Laden) with a beard, squatting around a campfire could be a threat to the United States of America.’

Developing the skills to motivate and engage a team to be able to thrive in uncertainty and a potentially hostile environment, requires continual practice. If a leader can communicate and inspire people to connect to a bigger purpose, help them to be prepared for change, and managing expectations about time to keep people focused, it will serve them well in calmer times too – if they ever happen.


Reviving Your Compensation Plan

ve been reading a lot lately about what Compensation will look like in the future and I remembered a project that I had once worked on. It was in Hong Kong — the Asia Pacific headquarters of a global company.

Word was the employees were not happy with their pay package. Some wanted more salary, some more medical, some more vacation, etc.

For example, one single man told me it wasn’t fair that the company decided everything about his package and didn’t ask him what he wanted/didn’t want. He wanted more vacation and would take less salary in order to get it.

I couldn’t see anything unreasonable about his request. Yes, some companies offered flex benefits — but this situation included cash compensation as well.

Most companies continue to design traditional programs based on a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead of this, what if companies changed their approach? What if they handed over control to employees to configure the amount of their own benefits, perks, and cash compensation — creating a package unique to their own personal situations.

I talked with a random sample of employees — young, old, single, married with/without children. This was a diverse group and I could see why their needs/wants might be different. The recurring theme was that they would like to have some say in how their pay package was structured.

14893672221_33f420fdd4_cLong story short — the regional Controller and I calculated the total cost of each employee’s current package. Then to keep things simple, we gave each one a pie chart with sections apportioned for each pay component and its percentage of the whole pie as well as the cost of each one.

Employees then drew their own pie charts reconfigured to show components they wanted in the future as well as the percentages of each to the total package. Since they had the total cost of their current package, the total of their new package had to match it. The company wanted employees to have at least some medical and life insurance coverage so there was a minimum level for these benefits that had to be included. Everything else, the employee decided.

As we went through this process we saw several positives that we hadn’t anticipated. Getting employees involved accomplished several things:

1) Employees became aware of the total cost of their package — not just the cash portion. Traditional “benefits statements” are fine, but this was different. Just seeing their package was not as good as knowing they could change it.

2) They talked at length among themselves about the ramifications of choosing greater/lesser amounts of each available component they could “flex.”

3) Compensation and benefits became transparent and employees gained a better understanding of how Compensation worked.

The result? The best communication of compensation and benefits the company could ever have hoped for.

Unsophisticated? No doubt — but it was a start. Administrative burden? The Controller was willing to take on the extra work. It helped that the number of employees was only ~40. Best practice? This became the best practice for THEIR company.

I’m not aware of any formal research that’s been done on this approach but is that really important? If it works, isn’t that the real test? Besides research studies can’t keep up with the pace of business today. Companies have to be nimble and quick to change course. Compensation needs to be too. Waiting for research to tell you if a practice is OK will leave you behind in the dust.

We have an increasingly diverse and young workforce that has different values and work-life issues. Getting free Friday lunches is great, but some employees would rather work through lunch in order to leave the office early to spend more time with family.


Leading the Overly Self-Critical Employee

“She’s hard on herself, but it’s because she demands excellence. ” “The team is relentless in their pursuit of perfection.” How many times have you heard others – or said something similar – and meant it as a compliment? When employees demand perfection of themselves, there’s a fine line between healthy striving and self-defeating perfectionism. As with all things related to leadership communication, there is a nuance to providing this praise. And if you’re not aware of it, you may be doing more damage than good. Read on to learn more about employees who are “hard on themselves” and what you as a leader can do if their self-criticism is starting to impact their mental wellbeing and productivity.

High-Performing Employees: When is Perfection “Too Much”?
It probably comes as no surprise to you that there are “healthy” types of perfectionism and not-so healthy versions. Striving for improvement is a worthy goal and is a “healthy” type of perfectionism. As a leader, you want people on your team who set high standards for themselves and achieve their goals.

However, say experts, too much focus on perfection can swing the pendulum into unhealthy territory. Psychologists call this maladaptive perfectionism. Signs that your employee may have an unhealthy relationship with their quest for perfection:

An excessive preoccupation with controlling outcomes
Fear of making mistakes
Constantly asking for reassurance
What, then, is the “secret sauce” of striving for excellence? How can you, as a leader, encourage people to do their best without heaping extra pressure on the already self-critical employee? Turns out there’s an important combination of traits that set apart the confident and resilient individual from the counterproductive perfectionist.

[Related: Is Your Perfectionism Working For Or Against You?]

It’s Good To Be Confident (Even Better To Be Self-Compassionate)
You’ve probably noticed that your most confident employees are also among some of your most productive and satisfied. But have you ever encountered an employee who seems confident on the outside, but yet in conversation, they reveal hyper-criticism of their successes? It’s like no matter how much they succeed, they’re still not satisfied. Or, they fall apart when a project suffers a set-back and they assign a disproportionate amount of blame to themselves.

It would seem that confidence would be a leading indicator for success at work, but it turns out that the true people equation is “confidence +self-compassion = workplace success.”

According to studies by Dr. Kristin Neff, a noted researcher in the field of self-compassion, it’s those employees who have both confidence and the ability to “cut themselves some slack” after experiencing failure who are the most able to handle the stresses of their everyday work life.

If you’re noticing that a team member is being highly self-critical – and spinning in a cycle of blaming themselves – it’s time for you to step in as a leader and coach them.

Ways To Help Employees Who Are Overly Self-Critical
So, how to help an employee who is talented, but experiencing a bout of overly self-critical behavior? It’s not enough to say, “quit being so hard on yourself”; you need to help them build skill and perspective for when life hands them a bummer. And one of the best ways to do this is to help employees realize the degree to which the “stories” they’re telling themselves are getting in the way of their progress.

Acknowledge The Critic. We all have an inner critic that evaluates our actions. So it’s important to validate with your employee that “The Critic” shows up for all of us. Help them see that it’s how we handle this voice of doubt determines if we continue to ride the struggle bus or are able to bounce back.

What are Their Stories? Humans make sense of the world by carrying on an inner monologue about their observations, experiences and interactions. These “stories” in our heads seem like the absolute truth. But in reality, there are many ways to view the world. And a great leader helps people see alternate narratives that can guide people out of discouragement and into hope.

Encourage your employee to harness the power of the “champion” and “editor” voices in their heads as a way to manage their inner critic.

The champion is our internal cheerleader and says things like, “you have handled tough situations like this in the past” and “you’ve got this!”
The editor looks for unhelpful statements like, “you really blew this project” or, “there goes my chance for that promotion” and reframes them with more realistic assessments such as, “It’s true that I screwed up; and I’m going to do what it takes to get back on track” or, “Am I really the stupidest person on the planet right now? No, I made a mistake.”
Help Them Take a Step Back. To gain perspective, sometimes we need to step outside of ourselves. If an employee is really stuck in the shame/blame cycle, it might be helpful to suggest this exercise from Dr. Nef – imagine you are comforting a colleague who is feeling badly about a mistake they made at work. What would you say to them? This “what would you say to a friend?” exercise helps people gain distance from their situation. It helps mitigate what psychologists call “catastrophizing” – the tendency to take small errors and blow them out of proportion.

Encouraging employees to have self-compassion isn’t letting them off the hook for their mistakes and miscues. It’s about encouraging a healthy mindset to rebound from setbacks so they can build resilience and move on to a more productive work life. As this article from the BBC highlights, science indicates that building emotional resilience in the form of self-compassion improves health and productivity. And that’s a win for leaders and employees alike.


Consumer Streaks Are Motivating – The Key Is Keeping Them Alive

People often go out of their way to repeat a behaviour if it is logged and highlighted to them.

If you’ve ever played Wordle, learned a new language on Duolingo, or worked out with Peloton, you may be familiar with daily app notifications that nudge you to keep at it – or risk breaking a streak of consecutive efforts. Do you or do you not heed the clarion call?

If you do, you are in good company. Consumers, our latest research shows, are more likely to continue doing something when their recent repetition of that behaviour is logged and highlighted to them – as many apps are programmed to do these days. Conversely, when consumers are made aware of the fact that their streak is broken, they are less likely to keep up the behaviour.

In fact, we discovered that consumers go to great lengths to maintain these “streaks” because they deem it to be a meaningful goal in and of itself, independent of what they hope to achieve – keeping fit, learning a new language, etc. – from repeating the behaviour in the first place.

Our findings suggest ways for both businesses to better leverage technology to keep customers coming back, as well as for consumers to motivate themselves to pursue desirable goals. Organisations could also improve efforts to increase employee engagement and motivation.

Streaky behaviours

As app users ourselves (who isn’t?), we were struck by how streaks – defined in academic research as behaviours repeated at least three times consecutively – have taken a life of their own. For example, if we make a consistent effort to, say, learn French or try a different wine every day, and that streak is broken because we get busy or the app fails to ping us, it can be pretty demotivating. We may very well lose interest in learning French or wine sampling as a result. Not surprisingly, people often go out of their way to keep their streaks alive, as teenagers obsessed with their Snapchat streaks would tell you.

We theorised that the crucial factor might have something to do with whether streaks are recorded or not. Companies increasingly track and highlight streaky behaviours, dishing out badges and icons to spur app users to keep up with targeted behaviours, yet there has been little research on what impact such monitoring might have on consumer decision making. Does it draw them in and keep them hooked? Should firms downplay broken streaks when they invariably happen, be it a result of user fatigue or technical fault?

To find out, we conducted seven experiments with more than 4,000 participants on how highlighting consumers’ recent behaviour patterns could affect their subsequent engagement in those behaviours. In one experiment, we collected data from a university fitness programme, and in the others, we simulated real-life consumer interaction with apps in the popular domains of exercise, language learning and games.

Across our studies, we found that participants were much more likely to engage in a target behaviour when their intact (versus broken) streak was highlighted via an app’s behavioural log, even when their previous actual behaviour was exactly the same. For example, in one study, all participants did the same three strength exercises and successfully logged them in an app. They then completed a fourth strength exercise, but some were told that this final exercise was not logged.

What happened next was telling: More participants engaged in another strength exercise, rather than switch to a different type of exercise, when they had an intact streak rather than a broken one (66.23 percent vs. 57.86 percent). Even though all participants were well aware that they had in reality completed four consecutive strength exercises, simply having that series of behaviour framed as an intact vs. broken streak within the app’s behavioural log influenced their subsequent behaviour.

Notably, in another study, we found that the effect of intact vs. broken streaks was amplified when participants felt personally responsible for breaking a streak rather than attributing it to an external factor (e.g. app malfunction). And, in a different study, we found that the effect was diminished when participants were given an opportunity to repair their streak.

In fact, simply logging a series of behaviours can itself affect consumers’ subsequent decisions to engage in that behaviour. We tested this by having participants attempt to learn Portuguese and/or Hawaiian language via an app under development. Participants with an intact streak in answering Portuguese questions were much more likely to continue when their recent streak was highlighted via the app than when it was not. Conversely, participants with a broken streak were less likely to persist when their broken streak was highlighted compared to when it was not.

Streaks apparently have an impact beyond influencing behaviour. We found that participants with an intact logged streak felt a greater sense of accomplishment than participants whose activity was not logged at all or who had a broken logged streak. They were also more likely to continue using the app and recommend it to a friend.

Indeed the desire to maintain streaks is so strong that almost half of participants were willing to engage in an undesirable activity, such as watching an advertisement, to maintain their streaks or repair their broken streaks.

Implications for companies

Our research is the first to demonstrate that the journey, rather than the destination, often becomes a goal in and of itself. People tend to become very attached to the process of achieving a specific result, which streaks essentially chronicle. They see their perseverance in the process as a sign of self-efficacy deserving of pride and accomplishment.

Our findings offer several takeaways for companies in terms of both consumer and employee engagement.

Consumer engagement

Companies might want to avoid highlighting consumers’ broken streaks, for example by not sending notifications to alert them when they break a streak – a surprisingly common practice in many apps. It may also be a good idea to define streaks more broadly, such as allowing several exercises or games to count towards a streak, rather than confining streaky behaviour to a single type of activity. Companies might want to be more flexible in delineating streaks – counting weekly rather than daily behaviour, for instance.

These tweaks would help to keep consumers’ streaks intact and encourage them to stay and be engaged. But beware of defining streaks too loosely – most people need enough of a challenge to be, and remain, motivated.

How should firms mitigate the fallout when consumers inevitably break their logged streaks? Rather than allowing consumers to blame themselves, as our studies show, companies could communicate to users that they are partially responsible for the break. They could also provide consumers with opportunities to repair their streaks. For example, Duolingo allows users to buy a “streak freeze” with in-app currency so they can pre-emptively keep their streak intact if they ever miss a day of language learning.

Employee engagement

Keeping employees engaged and motivated has taken on increased urgency in the face of the Great Resignation and remote working. One solution might be to gamify motivation. An organisation that wants employees to come back to the office more often for in-person interactions might encourage employees to log their in-office days and reward staff who come in, say, three consecutive days per week for a month with small prizes.

Likewise, companies that engage gig workers, like Uber, could motivate drivers and food couriers by tracking their streaks. It could be something as simple as highlighting how many days or hours in a row the individual has been working and rewarding those who meet pre-determined thresholds with bonuses.

Freelancers or employees who work from home most days could self-motivate by using apps that monitor productivity, tracking specific behaviours that lead to a desired outcome, and creating streaks that are meaningful to them. For academics, for example, that might mean consistently putting in the work of writing research papers that would eventually be submitted to a top-tier journal or publication.


The Great Resignation

Why are so many people feeling so restless nowadays? I have noticed that friends are feeling that there is more to life than 9-5 and are itching for significant change in their lives, whether moving out of cities, looking for greater work flexibility or creating more meaning for themselves. Increasingly Business clients are asking for more help in developing strategies to retain their staff in the face of mounting demands. Are we facing a new wave of uncertainty around retention?

Clearly the signs are in front of us. The pandemic has thrown up issues that have been simmering beneath the surface for a while. Working from home, previously granted in exceptional circumstances, has now become normalised and there is more anxiety coming into the office. Evidence suggests that for many organisations productivity has not been affected, and in some cases increased. Counter that with businesses wanting to bring staff back to the office to build teams and release creativity.

Pressure from the government to revive city centres and breathe life back into dormant towns. Recently Jacob Rhys Mogg issued attendance tables for each civil service department in a bid to galvanise cabinet ministers into action. Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee, added support by saying “It is simply unacceptable for so many of our public servants to continue sitting at home.”

Are we witnessing a re-writing of the psychological contract between employer and employee? Specifically, the balance of power has shifted in many industries away from the employer towards the employee – they are voting with their feet. Statistics prove this: –

UK labour force survey – over one million people changed roles in the same industry between July and September 2021
Ranstad survey – 69% of people are confident about finding a new role
This has resulted in headlines such as ’The great resignation’ and provided energy in organisations to focus on retention. These include:

Strengthening the employee journey from attraction to onboarding
Reviews of the Employee Value Proposition (EVP)
Developing new policies related to hybrid working and the value of diversity and inclusion
Investment in leadership development, especially concerning empathetic conversations, diversity and inclusion and building psychological safety – aimed at creating meaningful leadership conversations. This is supported by engagement surveys which identify how pivotal the line manager/employee relationship is to retention
Creating new purpose which people can connect with, shifting with the current themes of sustainability, environment, and compelling values.
I leave you with this consideration: “What actions are your organisation taking to retain your valued staff?”


Generations in the Workplace: Understanding Ageism

“Ageism is the last acceptable prejudice in America,” said TV personality Bill Maher many years ago. Maher has railed against ageism when it comes to dismissing older Americans. He often reminds viewers that the United States puts too much emphasis on youth.

“You’re beautiful when you’re young,” he has said. “You’re wise when you’re old.”

WATCH: DEI: Create a Culture of Belonging

As Human Resources leaders aim to get four generations to work together in harmony, they should be aware of the different types of ageism that exist and how to be inclusive and equitable with employees regardless of their age.

What Is Ageism?
To begin, HR professionals must understand that ageism is a type of discrimination based on the number of years a person has lived. Young people could certainly be discriminated against, too. Just think of all the stereotypes that elders have perpetuated about Gen Z and Millennials. Making blanket statements about people, based on their generation alone, could be seen as discriminatory. Assumptions about their skills and talent could prevent them from gaining opportunities or could prevent them from fitting in.

However, in the United Staters, older people tend to be the victims of ageism. Americans, after all, put a premium on youth. In the workplace, this can lead to colleagues treating them disrespectfully, ignoring their input, failing to include them, or even forcing them to retire or laying them off.

Ageism for Generations
Now that there are four generations in the workplace, HR leaders must educate people about how their language and behavior can be more inclusive and collaborative. For example, a veteran professor at a top business school recently lamented on LinkedIn that people constantly ask him when he is going to retire. He was insulted. He expressed that others should recognize the wisdom and experience he brings to the job and how that enriches his teaching and research.

The World Health Organization warns about how damaging ageism can be:

“Ageism can change how we view ourselves, can erode solidarity between generations, can devalue or limit our ability to benefit from what younger and older populations can contribute, and can impact our health, longevity, and wellbeing while also having far-reaching economic consequences.”

Types of Ageism
In further pursuit of understanding ageism, HR professionals should consider the different kinds of discrimation committed because of age. Different websites classify the types of ageism in slightly different ways. Here are the three types named by Medical News Today:

Institutional Ageism
This is when an organization or institution systemically discriminates on the basis of age. In other words, it’s built into the workplace culture. Frankly, not hiring older people or failing to promote them could be examples of this kind of ageism. It’s baked into the organization’s DNA from the start, and it undermines the diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy that most companies claim to have.

Interpersonal Ageism
If someone discriminates against a colleague in a social situation, then they are committing interpersonal ageism. For instance, when Harry from accounting starts poking fun at an elder colleague by referencing his need for a cane or being over the hill at the holiday party, he is committing interpersonal ageism.

Internalized Ageism
Probably the worst kind, internalized ageism references the fact that people often internalize beliefs and then apply them to themselves. So, an older person who feels as though he can no longer throw his hat in the ring for a promotion because of his age would be an example.


Making Humanitarian Operations More Sustainable

Do good intentions always lead to good outcomes? Experience shows that the lack of coordinated response can lead to future humanitarian and sustainability challenges.

Humanitarian operations take place in challenging contexts. When a minute can make a difference between life and death, stakeholders from international donors to local communities are hard pressed to make decisions quickly, often with poor information and constrained budgets.

In the Ukraine crisis, while temporary homes for refugees were quickly found in European countries, the need for more sustainable semi-permanent solutions becomes clear as the crisis wears on. Households that were quick to welcome refugees in times of crisis may not be able to host them for more than a few months. Beyond a roof over their heads, refugees need jobs and schools, among other needs, to get back on track. Moreover, given how quickly refugees have been matched with hosts, mismatch can happen and they might even end up worse off (e.g. subjected to harassment or trafficking). The lack of preparedness means that solutions – which are not necessarily sustainable – have to be improvised along the way.

More often than not, the immediate post-disaster emergency portrayed in the media are but the tip of the iceberg. In addition to addressing short-term needs to relieve acute suffering, humanitarian operations must balance the long-term need to sustainably recover and to strengthen local communities. In reality, humanitarian crises last more than nine years on average.

But does sustainability stand a chance in the face of the urgency of disaster response?

Is there room for sustainability?

Sustainability, as defined in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), covers a range of economic, social and environmental factors. Thankfully, there is growing awareness that it is fundamentally impossible to meet the SDGs if some people are left behind. In fact, the “humanitarian-development gap” has been recognised for decades.

Since the mid-1990s, the fields of humanitarian operations and sustainable operations have formed the cornerstone of my research agenda. This culminated in a workshop in 2019 on “How can we make humanitarian operations more sustainable?” as I transitioned to emeritus professor. The workshop, co-organised with Charles J. Corbett from UCLA Anderson School of Business and Alfonso J. Pedraza-Martinez from the Kelly School of Business, brought together over 100 academics, logistics practitioners in humanitarian organisations (HOs) and sustainability managers from industry.

During the workshop, we demonstrated how sustainability could be better integrated into humanitarian operations in spite of the tension between immediate and long-term needs.

Given that humanitarian operations span the entire disaster management cycle, HOs can – and have to – operate in more sustainable ways in each phase of the cycle. This requires stakeholders, including HOs, donors, and watchdog organisations to think differently.

New perspectives make a world of difference

In the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the influx of donated bottled water created mountains of plastic bottles that cluttered drains and caused flooding after heavy rains. How did good intentions go so wrong?

Haiti’s experience highlights the importance of better alignment of humanitarian and environmental imperatives. At the core of this problem is material convergence – when an avalanche of in-kind donations arrive on site in the aftermath of a disaster. Better logistical coordination among HOs could have prevented the “second disaster” in Haiti.

In most disasters, water is critical only during the first two or three days before quickly becoming a low-priority item. The Pan-American Health Organization classifies donations as either urgent, high priority, low priority or non-priority. With this knowledge and with better coordination, improving material convergence can lead to reduced waste.

Ideally, donors would not contribute not donations in-kind, but cash that HOs can use to purchase the most-needed relief items. In the next best scenario, logistical support could prevent non-priority items from entering the disaster area, such as by sorting the items in the donors’ home countries before shipping. There would be an appropriate level of coordination that ensures that relief items are sent to a specific receiving organisation, with a bill of lading, or cargo list, detailing the items in the package. Relevant local information from the disaster area could also ensure that priority items are in the most appropriate packaging, such as water in 10-litre bottles instead of small bottles.

Long-term vs short-term perspectives

Better planning and coordination cannot happen if stakeholders do not recognise that rather than a single event, the entire humanitarian operation – as detailed in the disaster management cycle – consists four phases: preparedness, response, rehabilitation and mitigation.

First, funders need to recognise that most funding systems pose a barrier to capacity building in the longer term. When donors earmark funds for emergency response, the same funds cannot be used for long-term investments such as improving coordination between local and global HOs. Unfortunately, such investments in preparedness are typically categorised as overhead and hence frowned upon by potential donors. Overcoming these barriers requires discussion with local communities, HOs, local governments, international donors and other stakeholders.

At the operational level, HOs need to recognise the importance of pivoting to a different time-scale when needed. During the Ebola virus outbreaks, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) operating model was designed to stop the outbreak within three months, but the Ebola virus programmes became longer and the operating model must change. Initially, the WHO rented 600 vehicles, but buying them might have been wiser and acquiring motorcycles would have helped them to reach rural areas with no paved roads more efficiently.

In fact, merging supply chains for short-term emergency response and long-term operations has enabled the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to expand its global warehouse network while reducing cost and lead time. This involves allowing stocks earmarked for long-term operations to be used in emergencies, and for stocks left over from emergencies to be used in longer-term operations. While this fruitful endeavour has led to both cost and time efficiency, it requires close collaboration between relief and development operations.

Global vs local

When disaster strikes, HOs do not always adequately include local communities even when these communities have invested in disaster preparedness. In fact, local knowledge is key to ensuring sustainability. A great deal of work remains to be done to improve coordination between global HOs and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

For global HOs to work more effectively with local HOs, they must accept that the people who live in a disaster area know the local conditions best. For example, dark bread was shipped internationally to Albania, which was not favoured by the local population. For months, international humanitarian workers were eating dark bread at every meeting to avoid throwing them away.

The voices of beneficiaries must be heard to implement sustainable solutions that respect their culture and dignity. Local volunteers are also immediately operational and familiar with the context, as we have seen in the Ukrainian crisis.

“Local or global” must again be addressed in procuring the necessary relief items. Although local procurement might be more sustainable, it is often stymied by the effectiveness of the global machinery. Using local procurement would require better interfaces between local and global organisations that operate using different technologies.

The more standardised offering by global HOs would reduce the need for coordination and detailed information, which could result in more efficient response. However, if disaster response is too standardised, it may not match local demands and would create more waste. Greater adaptation to local needs means that items are earmarked for specific populations, which reduces the flexibility achievable by pre-positioning supplies. This trade-off between the benefits and disadvantages of standardisation remains an important topic for operations management research.

Navigating trade-offs for sustainability

In many ways, tough trade-offs are required if sustainability is to be integrated in humanitarian response. At the end of the day, a key deterrent is cost. How should short-term and long-term damage and costs be measured and compared?

Sustainability in humanitarian operations involves diverse stakeholders, ranging from global donors to local beneficiaries. Stakeholders need to think differently about the balance between short-term and long-term interventions and the role of local vs. global organisations. At the same time, their decisions and action are often driven by their own metrics and incentives. Therefore, it is important that they set the appropriate metrics and incentives with a long-term perspective, such that they do not miss the woods for the trees.

While carbon footprint is a key measure of sustainability in supply chains, other environmental aspects may be more relevant in the humanitarian setting. There are no clear standards for measuring societal impact, even if intergenerational justice is often mentioned. There is a need for more benchmarking in the humanitarian sector, and those benchmarks can be more integrated in decision making.

Overall, when humanitarian operations are seen through the lens of the disaster management cycle, there are long-term actions that can improve their sustainability. Most of these actions must be put in place either before a crisis or during the long-term rehabilitation that follows the immediate response. It is more feasible to incorporate sustainability during preparation, rehabilitation, and mitigation than during the immediate response to disaster.