All posts by Andrew McIlvaine

Grumps Shall Inherit the Workplace

“If you want to be happy, be,” Leo Tolstoy once said. But, if you want to be more effective at work–to make fewer mistakes, better decisions and be a sharper communicator–then by all means, be miserable.

Joe Forgas, a professor at Australia’s University of New South Wales, recently told Australia Science magazine that, based on his research, a grumpy person can cope with more demanding situations than a happy one because of the way the brain “promotes information processing strategies.”

Forgas conducted a study of a group of volunteers and found that the ones asked to dwell on negative things in their lives and watch sad movies subsequently outperformed others in the group who were asked to focus on positive things and watch happier  movies.  “Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world.”

“A mildly negative mood may actually promote a more concrete, accommodative and ultimately more successful communication style,” said Forgas.

Well, there you have it: If you’re feeling a bit unproductive or downright useless, simply turn on coverage of the BP oil spill or think about our exploding national debt and then watch your productivity go up, up and up.  The scowl on your face and the furrow in your brow will inspire awe among your colleagues about what a productive, clear-thinking, precise communicator you surely are.  Or maybe they’ll just think you were rooting for France to win the World Cup.

Why It’s Hard to be a Woman Boss

I’m in the process of writing a story about how women bosses are perceived in the workplace. Just about all the research I’ve uncovered reveals that female bosses tend to be less popular in the workplace than male bosses. The experts I’m interviewing have a number of theories as to why, and what HR can or should do about it. In the meantime, thought I’d share what consultant BJ Gallagher, a management consultant, author of “It’s Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been” (and a woman), has to say about the double standards that female manager-types face in the workplace:

HOW TO TELL A MALE BOSS FROM A FEMALE BOSS

~ A male boss is aggressive; a female boss is pushy.
~ A male boss is attentive to details; a female boss is picky.
~ A male boss doesn’t suffer fools gladly; she’s a bitch.
~ He knows how to follow through; she doesn’t know when to quit.
~ He stands firm; she’s inflexible.
~ He’s a good leader; she’s bossy.
~ He’s ambitious; she’s driven.
~ He loses his temper occasionally; she can’t control her emotions.
~ He isn’t afraid to say what he thinks; she’s mouthy.
~ He’s a stern taskmaster; she’s hard to work for.
~ He’s a man of action; she’s impulsive.
~ He controls his emotions; she’s cold.
~ He’s a good team player; she just goes along with the crowd.
~ He thinks before he acts; she can’t make up her mind.
~ He thinks before he speaks; she second-guesses herself.
~ He tells it like it is; she’s tactless.
~ He’s authoritative; she’s caustic.
~ He makes things happen; she’s lucky.
~ He’s a ladies’ man; she’s a slut.

Google Not Sold on Employee Engagement

For an upcoming feature story in our July issue, I’m interviewing Google’s Prasad Setty, its director of people analytics and compensation. Setty and his boss, Google CHRO Laszlo Bock, both feel that the concept of employee engagement is of limited use, to say the least. “Engagement is one of those nebulous concepts that appeal to HR people but are very tough to get across to business people,” Setty told me.

Here’s what Bock had to say: “It’s impossible to define what ‘engagement’ means: Does it mean I like my work, my colleagues, my manager? Does it mean I live only for work? It’s such a general term.”

Setty and Bock both feel that focusing on employee engagement simply adds an unnecessary step to getting at what Google’s line managers and business leaders really care about: retention and innovation. That is, are the people that the company needs to keep planning on sticking around and are they being creative and innovative in their jobs?

At Google, Setty oversees Google’s employee survey, called “Googlegeist,” that’s designed to get the answers to those two questions. Focusing on engagement would simply be a waste of time, they say.

“You have to explain to managers why engagement matters–that there’s a link between engagement and productivity,” said Setty. “So why not just measure retention and productivity directly?”

I find Google’s stance noteworthy, especially considering the emphasis that the HR vendor community has placed on employee engagement within the last few years. You can’t throw a stick at an HR convention without hitting a consultant who wants to tell you all about his firm’s employee engagement tools, or how his product or service will ramp up your company’s employee engagement. Is it simply yet another HR trend that will come and go? If you consider Google a trendsetter, then the answer’s definitely yes.

Hoping for a Second Chance

Two years ago, a variety show was held in Indiana that featured comedians, spoken-word performances and singers described as “every bit as good as the performers on American Idol.” The twist? All of the performers were inmates at the state’s Putnamville Correctional Facility.

The show—The Redemption Project: Inmates Got Talent—was the brainchild of Johnny Collins, a comedian and documentary filmmaker who was interested in helping prisoners discover their inner talents and, in the process, gain the confidence necessary for finding gainful employment upon their release.

“I’m not trying to justify what these guys did to get put in prison, but most of them feel like they’ve been forgotten, that they’ve been discarded, and it stays with them when they get out,” says Collins, who says he was inspired to start the project in part through his interaction with “Big Mike” Mitchell, an ex-convict who’d gone on to forge a successful career as a comedian and comedy producer.

Approximately 100 inmates auditioned for the show, with 15 ultimately selected to perform a series of shows before an audience of inmates and prison employees, says Collins.

“Some of the inmate comedians were so good, I could easily see them having their own shows on Comedy Central,” he says.

The shows were taped as part of a documentary film that Collins is currently seeking a distributor for. He hopes to expand the talent-show concept to other prisons throughout the country, and is in discussion with other state corrections departments about it.

Ultimately, however, he wants the nation’s employers to take notice.

“Let’s face it, in this economy it’s tough to get jobs and it’s really tough when you’ve got a prison record—many ex-cons end up feeling beat down and discouraged and wind up back in prison,” he says. “It’s important for companies to see that they deserve a second chance—if we can recycle paper bags, why can’t we recycle people?”