Archives for category: Workplace brains

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It came as quite a shock to many to hear of Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to call back its thousands of remote workers to the slave yards (albeit very nice slave yards, no doubt) for the 9-to-5 grind.

Many at first glance (myself included) thought it sounded a death knell for the modern, flexible workplace: if industry trendsetters like Yahoo! aren’t into it, my employer just got grounds to haul my ass back into the fluorescent lighted, open-plan, modern factory for over 40 hours of my working week.

The giddy enlightenment that many modern employers were beginning to realise – that the happiness, and longevity of their employees at their companies is inextricably linked to their work-life balance, ability to see their families, and prioritise other important things like their health, (not to mention the key element of inherent trust it implies between colleagues) – seemed smacked in the face by such a decision.

And when Google piped-up to back Mayer’s call, it really felt like a backflip into old-school, big business rules, where dollars rule people, and your people come second.

But, while it might seem a shame these industry giants are opening these familiar doors once again, the reason could well be valid.

Huge, bloated, and with unhealthy vital signs, Yahoo! is like an overweight person at risk of a business cardiac – it needs to trim the fat, stat.

And the cause of the disease appears be one that is ages old, and that is a diagnosis of ‘social loafing’.

Social loafing was a term crowned by social psychologist Max Ringelmann in 1913 when he noticed that a group working together collectively produced less. The reason for this was not only poor coordination, but crucially a lack of motivation.

Later tests further showed that people will ‘social loaf’ if the goal is meaningless to them, and if individual input is not identifiable as part of the whole.

(Those of you who are measured by both group and individual performance in your workplace may now see why).

Other interesting outcomes showed;

– The magnitude of social loafing is reduced for women and for individuals originating from Eastern cultures.
– Individuals are more likely to loaf when their co-workers are expected to perform well.
– Individuals reduce social loafing when working with acquaintances and do not loaf at all when they work in highly valued groups.

So if all the above is true, how we end up on this road to remote working?

The theory goes that when we find work difficult, others presence is distracting, making work harder still (hello open plan offices!). But where our work is easy and fairly boring, having others present acts as a drive, forcing ourselves to compete (even if working independently). When two people work on the same goal this is even more pronounced: most animals will eat, run, and even procreate at an accelerated rate of productivity in the presence of other. Insert gym buddy here.

Perhaps initially the work at Yahoo! was challenging enough to allow workers this much space to roam. And then things got too easy…

Hopefully for Mayer, the effects of drive theory from the company’s new workspace will kick in soon.

Hopefully for us, the flow-on effects of this flexi recall don’t tip the delicate gains in flexible working for us mere mortals not located in Silicon Valley.

Drive and motivation for many people can also reside in the hope that we won’t have to spend ever day of the average 13000 working days in our lives chained to a desk.

Sickie, anyone?

Image courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk

Bad day at the office?

In the Olympics, if you choke, it’s 4 years ’til your next review.

Canadian swimming psychologist Hap Davis made his athletes watch video re-runs of their failures on repeat and scanned their brains to see what was going on under the lid.

Initially when watching the video, high level blood flow to their amydala (responsible for emotions) and low-level to their motor cortices (where movement is executed). This likely reflected their physical reaction at the time.

Once they talked it through and explained the feelings of the race, he asked them to re-watch the race.

This time, blood flow to the amydala and pre-frontal cortex (which controls planning) was less, and blood flow to the motor cortex more.

Effectively, talking it out took away the negative emotion.

Who knew?

Image courtesy of Justin Metz at Newsweek.

Been online for 8 hours today?

Churning through emails, checking Facebook, posting Powerpoints, playing with pixels?

Guess what.

You’re brain is on crack.

MRI scans in the US and China are showing that people who spend 38 hours a week online (that’s not hard) are producing brains that look like drug addicts’.

The grey stuff (the smart stuff that controls motor function, memory, emotion, senses and more) shrinks by up to 10-20%, and the white stuff (involved in spreading messages quicker, attention and decision matter) grows in its place.

Your cerebral cortex, the part responsible for thought, changes shape. And it can start to morph after a week of practice. And it continues to.

So we’re becoming quicker thinkers. But we can’t remember about what.

And we pay more attention to that cat video, but can’t tell someone why it’s funny.

Same goes for gamers; speed, agility and skill vs smiles, memories and living in that weird thing called reality.

The advice from the doctor? Switch off.

More on this at Newsweek.com

How People Spend Their Time Online

According to trendwatching.com, 2012 is the year when we’ll all crave a little solitude. Switching off from life’s littanys, loves and ‘likes’ is just what we’re all secretly craving, they say.

The US average time spent daily online of 62 minutes vs a stolen snippet of morning meditation just doesn’t quite redress the imbalance.

Last year, Swedish telecoms provider Telia launched a free download that enabled customers to disable the internet for a set period of time at home and also set up internet-free zones in several public locations across Sweden.

Why? We’re too contactable. And too addicted.

Internet addiction will be listed in the Psychology Disorder Almanac, DSM V, as a listed psychological problem as of next year. But that means most people I know are sick sick sick.

We’re not at fault for communicating constantly all day, everyday. In fact the genius of the internet and social media is that it’s flattering the one thing humans love doing most; chatting, gossiping, storytelling and beating our own chests. It’s actually highly caveman behaviour. Just with more hashtags. And keys.

But now the internet is having its way with us. From young net addicts performing Fuicide to the  ‘Kony 2012‘ producer losing his marbles from ‘reactive psychosis’ due to net-addiction, our brains are screaming out for more time off. Even a holiday isn’t a holiday anymore unless your phone is switched off too.

So who’s going to lead/jump onto this ‘disconnection’ idea? After all, a break means you’ll have more energy to post with more punch afterwards, right?

So, on the count of three, join me and turn close your computer and go and see the real world.

One,

Two,

Still here, right??

Three. You’re hooked.

Read more about it at Newsweek.com

Tom Daley

Tom Daley missed a medal ranking today

This Olympic Games have shown some serious grit from British athletes.

In the wash of narrowly coming 4th, 5th and or even last, they bowl up to an expectant BBC camera, look down it, and vow solemnly one of these lines straight out of Sports Psychology 101:

‘It was the journey, not the destination’

‘This is just a bump in the road’

‘Obviously I’d have liked to have done better but I’m happy with that’

‘It’s just great to be here’

etc etc

All while beaming, shrugging their shoulders, and seeming generally 150% ok with that.

Really?? After HOURS and HOURS and HOURS of tedious, lonely, painful, stressful, sometimes boring, sober, early, late, long, hours of training… that’s your gut reaction?!

That’s medal-worthy if you ask me.

How about some Andy Murray tears?? We’d understand! Really, we would.

You’ve just not entered the history books in front of your home crowd. We’d understand a quivering lower lip.

There must be some gun sports psychologists led by Dr Mark Bawden, who is also the head sports psychologist at the EIS.

Oop, just seen on the Beebs – they fudged the starter gun in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke Final so the girls had to wait for techies to fix it.

Just another hurdle to jump!

Think Rugby is all braun, not-so-much brain? Think again.

The current clash of countries playing in the Rugby World Cup 2011 has caused much upset: the Aussies lost to the Irish, Wales gave South Africa a run for their money and Argentina put England on their guard.

The pressure on these young athletes is unimaginable for us, but it is imperative that these players understand stress management to become professionals in their sport.

If their brains don’t feel the healthy stress, then effectively their bodies aren’t clocking-in for work: on-field butterflies and adrenaline-fueled “dead legs” need to be channelled into a win. To regard them as positives separates them from an amateur player.

However, off-field, in the heat of the multi-million-dollar, multi-million-eyeball contests, it’s the chat over the water-coolers which can cause the biggest psych-outs.

National sports media can be known to go to town on visiting countries’ teams to create heat, tension and general collusion amongst the home team, with the ill-effects of that of course intending to lie somehere on the neigbouring team’s shoulders.

Criticism, nit-picking, and comparisons all create a heavy burden of expectation for players, raising the fair question: are the countries, and the fans in those countries, responsible for the players’ attitudes, or are the players themselves responsible only?

For football fans, the benefit of the game lies in the experience of watching your team, says Welsh commentator Derrick Brockway. For him and his national team it’s the values of rugby which are important for the brain – of comradery and shared emotions, and watching the game together with his friends that makes the game what it is.

Thanks to Chris Corcoran on BBC Wales4 for sparking these thoughts. Listen to his full podcast at  www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01425tv.

‘Twlight’ by Stephanie Meyer. Not everyone’s cup of tea.

Interesting research has surfaced recently from University of Buffalo, suggesting that reading fiction increases your likelihood to feel empathy towards another person.

The study involved 140 undergraduate students who read Stephanie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ and JK Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Philsopher’s Stone’. The participatants were then asked questions designed to measure their identification with the books – including “How long could you go without sleep?”, “How sharp are your teeth?” and “Do you think, if you tried really hard, you might be able to make an object move just using the power of your mind?”.

The study found that participants who read the ‘Harry Potter’ chapters self-identified as wizards and participants who read the ‘Twilight’ chapter self-identified as vampires.

“It is the first empirical finding, so far as I know, to show a clear psychological effect of reading fiction,” says Keith Oatkey, a professor in the department of human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto.

“It’s a result that shows that reading fiction improves understanding of others, and this has a very basic importance in society, not just in the general way making the world a better place by improving interpersonal understanding, but in specific areas such as politics, business, and education.”

Is that why we feel like we ‘take books on’ when we read them? Why the best-written stories stay in your mind long after you’ve put them down?

The feeling of community and escapism to another “fantasy” world when reading a good fiction very clearly has real, positive psychological effects.

Though be careful what you choose to read; ‘Twilight’, for example, has been voted the No.1 ‘Worst Book of All Time’ AND ‘Best Book of All Time’ on goodread.com. 

Read Alison Flood’s full story on The Guardian 

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