Category Archives: corporate culture

For Women, ‘Assertive’ Still Means ‘Mean’

We really haven’t come that far, fellow females.

Not when recent polls show too many women in business — whether by their own fault or by their being mislabeled — are still being 162892062 -- bitchy bossperceived as too gruff, too assertive, too downright mean when they’re in positions of authority.

When Lawrence Polsky wrote an article about “bitchy bosses” earlier this year, he garnered hundreds of responses, clearly touched a nerve and sparked a nationwide conversation about why women leaders are perceived differently than men, according to one release I read about the article .

“Ninety percent of the leaders I have coached over the past 20 years [have been] women,” says Polsky, managing partner at the Princeton, N.J.-based global consulting firm PeopleNRG.com. “I have found the reason they are called bitchy or some  version of that, by their team or colleagues, comes down to one thing: the perception of being ‘too’ assertive. It can also be a way for employees to undermine a woman leader they don’t like or are jealous of.”

Polsky followed his article up by polling 221 professionals on their perceptions of the article for a survey he appropriately titled “Bitchy Bosses” as well.

That poll found:

  • 76 percent of women reported having a “bitchy boss” in the past, compared to 64 percent of men;
  • 89 percent said it reduced team productivity;
  • 87 percent said they or someone on their team left their job because of it;
  • 79 percent said it made them less motivated to do a good job;
  • 62 percent of men said they were lied to by the boss, compared to 52 percent of women;
  • 36 percent told human resources about the problem, yet only 10 percent said HR did anything to help the situation; and
  • 15 percent called in an outside consultant, and of those, 79 percent said that didn’t help.

A recent post on this blog by Senior Editor Andrew McIlvaine supports this notion that we have a problem out there, women. His post describes, as one linguist uncovered through her research, “what seems to be a powerful bias against women who are seen as ‘too assertive’ in the workplace — and the bias seems prevalent regardless of whether the review was conducted by a man or a woman.

That research, which surveyed 248 performance reviews from 28 companies, showed women received much more critical feedback than men did. (About 59 percent of men’s reviews included critical feedback, while nearly 88 percent of women’s did.)

Some of the criticisms against women written in the reviews included: “Stop being so judgmental” and “You can come across as abrasive sometimes.” In fact, the linguist found the word “abrasive” was used 17 times to describe 13 different women, but the word never appeared in men’s reviews. (McIlvaine’s post also includes a link to an HRE piece addressing this.)

More recently, in her October column addressing the scuffle caused by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s comments on women’s pay, Susan R. Meisinger, our HR Leadership columnist, acknowledges this double standard in how we come across affects pay as well.

“Some women aren’t comfortable asking for more money,” she writes, “because they fear it will adversely impact how they are perceived. The fear may be valid: Research shows that both male and female managers are less likely to want to work with women who negotiate during a job interview, since women who press for higher pay are considered pushy.”

Boy, we really can’t win for losing, can we?

Of special concern to Polsky, from the research he did, is that HR doesn’t appear to be all that effective in mitigating the perception problem, at least as it concerns female bosses.  What this means, in his estimation, is that:

“HR cannot rely on hearing about a bitchy boss from employees but must be proactive to discover if the problem exists. [HR leaders] need to look for clues, such as a leader complaining to HR: ‘The people on my team are not stepping up to the plate.’  Another sign is if you sit in team meetings and many team members are very quiet. Both are clues that there is no space for the team to contribute. This points to the fact that either the leader hasn’t built trust or is eroding it.”

He offers these tips for dealing with this issue (as well as how he gave them to me below). If HR does hear about this type of behavior in a female manager or leader:

  1. Encourage employees to talk directly to the boss. Direct feedback is the most helpful for leaders to understand the impact they are having. Our research showed 43 percent of people spoke to their troublesome boss about the problem and about one in five said it helped improve the situation.

  2. If more than one person brings it up, then they need feedback. This needs to come from their manager, not HR.  Why?  If they are to turn this around, it could get messy before it gets better.  They need their manager on their side through the process, to make them aware of the perception problem. Often, these leaders are not aware of how they are being perceived.  Their manager needs to discuss the situation with them.

  3. Oftentimes, the team and the leader need support to move through this problem.  The leader needs help pulling back and being less aggressive while the team needs help being more assertive.  Most of the times I have been involved, the team needed to learn to be more assertive to push back on an overly assertive leader’s aggressive communication. What often gets forgotten, and what we always do, is help the team go through a process of open, honest dialogue with the leaders. This creates healing and forgiveness. Employees will forgive and move forward if they believe the leader is sorry and will change.

  4. If the leaders do not change, after six months of coaching and support from HR and/or a qualified coach,  then they need to be moved to a different position where they can thrive or be removed from their job.

Also, overlook it, he says, if it’s a one-off. If there is only one person complaining, make sure this is not an employee with an axe to grind. Check into it. “I have seen where an employee with an axe to grind gave anonymous feedback to make the leader look bad,” Polsky says.

Also overlook it if the female leader has been charged with implementing a new vision/strategy/approach. “Employees,” he says, “might be complaining because the leader is  pushing them more than the previous manager/leader/situation required.”

This notion kind of feeds into a piece by Mark McGraw, posted here earlier this month, suggesting there are times when “being a jerk” can be effective in business. Unfortunately, the researchers in his piece don’t address the “bitch” factor, only the multi-gender “jerk” factor.

I guess the million-dollar question that has yet to be answered is: Why are women getting the lion’s share of the “bitch” complaints? And (perhaps for Polsky to take on in 2015) what can HR do to even that score?

 

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Does Being a Jerk Really Work?

work jerkA good leader knows when to be forceful and when to use finesse.

Of course, some have to fight their naturally aggressive impulses in delicate situations, while others must dig deep to find their inner Type A traits when the circumstances call for assertiveness.

A pair of laboratory studies outlined in a recent Journal of Business and Psychology article contrasted uncompromising approaches with more diplomatic methods in the workplace , and when each may be best, in terms of sharing and utilizing original ideas at work.

College professors Samuel Hunter and Lily Cushenbery sought to “investigate the relationship between lower levels of agreeableness (i.e., disagreeableness) and [the] innovation process, such as idea generation, promotion and group utilization, as well as potential contextual moderators of these relationships.”

Or, in plain English, the researchers essentially wanted to find out if being kind of a jerk helps one to spawn and advance ideas in the workplace.

The overarching theme emerging from both studies seems to be that obnoxiousness doesn’t necessarily give birth to brilliant ideas, but it may help coerce colleagues into buying what you’re selling.

That’s according to the findings of Hunter, an assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, and Cushenbery, an assistant professor of management and director of the Leadership & Conflict Research Lab at Stony Brook University.

In their first study, 201 college students completed personality tests before strategizing together, in groups of three, to develop a marketing campaign. The authors found no real connection between disagreeableness and the originality of ideas created, but did identify a link between unpleasantness and group utilization of ideas.

The second study placed 291 individuals in an online environment to examine the originality of ideas shared with group members after manipulating both feedback and originality of ideas generated by others, and to determine the effect that creative and supportive co-workers have on the sharing of ideas.

This analysis yielded results similar to the first, with the caveat that a bit of belligerence may actually be an asset in environments where new ideas aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms.

“Disagreeable personalities may be helpful in combating the challenges faced in the innovation process, but social context is also critical,” said Cushenbery. “In particular, an environment supportive of original thinking may negate the utility of disagreeableness and, in fact, disagreeableness may hamper the originality of ideas shared.”

Ultimately, “being a ‘jerk’ may not be directly linked to who generates original ideas,” added Hunter, “but such qualities may be useful if the situation dictates that a bit of a fight is needed to get those original ideas heard and used by others.”

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A Finger on the Employee Pulse

employee pollWe all know that employee surveys provide very usable and valuable data. But how much employee input do you need, and how often should you be asking for it?

If a recent Wall Street Journal article is any indication, some companies are searching for the sweet spot by taking a “more (and more often) is better” approach to employee surveys.

In the piece, the paper’s Rachel Emma Silverman examines the rise of “so-called ‘pulse surveys,’ ” highlighting a few employers relying on short monthly, weekly or daily polls to “provide data on how their teams actually feel and catch problems before they fester.” (Short and frequent surveys are even replacing annual employee surveys at some organizations, says Silverman, although she notes that others—Google Inc., for instance—use a combination of both.)

For example, Limeade Inc., a Seattle-based corporate wellness firm with 115 employees, sends it people quick, one-question surveys each week, seeking feedback on issues ranging from customer service improvements to holiday party ideas.

Workers answer anonymously, and the results are discussed at bi-weekly company meetings. Limeade CEO Henry Albrecht told the Journal these polls revealed that the firm’s remote workers were generally less happy than those working from headquarters, and the company has since invested in more teleconferencing tools to “reconnect [remote workers] with the mother ship,” according to the article.

As many as three times a week, Boston-based public relations and marketing firm Metis Communications asks employees what they are most proud of and whether they feel their managers listen to them. Rebecca Joyner, director of content services at the company, told the Journal that a pair of standing desks appeared at Metis HQ within two weeks of one such survey, which asked employees if they were happy with their office chairs.

It’s worth noting that these organizations—as well as most of the other firms included in the Journal article—are on the small side, in terms of number of employees, and pay about $50 a month or anywhere from $15 to $100 per employee for pulse-survey tools delivered by companies such as knowyourcompany.com, TinyPulse, BlackbookHR and Gallup.

We’ll see if more large companies go this route, but it seems at least some are already taking similar steps to get a handle on how employees are feeling.

Sears Holding Corp., the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based owner of Sears and Kmart, has launched Project MoodRing, an initiative designed to “record store employees’ moods at the end of their shifts,” according to WSJ.

Workers choose a color-coded emoticon on a screen, to describe how they’re feeling when they clock out, be it “unstoppable,” “so-so,” “exhausted” or “frustrated,” for instance. The article notes that Sears anticipates it will receive about 28 million daily mood responses a year, and has already found “a correlation between slightly higher sales and customer satisfaction at stores where employees are in positive moods rather than neutral or negative moods.”

While conducting surveys—even short ones—with such frequency can get repetitive and eventually begin grating on employees’ nerves, keeping the questions fresh may be one of the keys to successful employee polls.

Quirky Inc., for example, asks its approximately 150 employees about the challenges they’re facing at the moment, and who at the New York-based invention company has demonstrated great leadership in the past week, according to the Journal. Rochelle DiRe, chief people officer at Quirky Inc., told WSJ that the company has begun rotating questions more frequently, as a way to maintain employee participation and interest.

“Without some kind of variation,” says DiRe, “it can get a little bit like homework for some people.”

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Ford Fouls Up

Editor’s note: Correction appended below.

Will they ever learn?

Amid all the talk recently about the need to re-engage employees and strengthen your employment brand against the backdrop of an improving economy and tightening labor market, Ford Motor Co. decided to downsize 90 workers from its Chicago assembly plant — via a robocall (and on Halloween, no less).

Many of the workers assumed the call — which they received at home –was merely a prank, and showed up at the plant for their Saturday shift only to learn that their badges no longer worked: They were barred from their plant. Because they really had been fired. And that robocall had not been a prank.

In a statement to AOL News, Ford said that it did not normally fire workers via robocall and that it expected the layoffs to be temporary: “As part of our business process, we have temporarily adjusted our workforce numbers at Chicago Assembly Plant by approximately 90 team members. Our goal, as always, is to return the workers back to their positions as soon as possible based on the needs of our business.”

And to think, those workers had probably assumed they’d be getting a welcome break from annoying robocalls, now that the mid-term elections are finally over.

Ford is hardly the first company to bungle a layoff announcement, of course. Just a few months ago, Microsoft executive Stephen Elop received plenty of well-deserved criticism when he announced a massive layoff near the end of a long, rambling email to Microsoft employees within his division. Layoffs are often a necessary evil, of course, frequently dictated by business cycles over which the company may have little control. But a company — HR, in particular — does have control over the manner in which the announcements are made, and the remaining employees won’t soon forget how their ex-colleagues were treated.

In summarizing his thoughts about the Microsoft email, Bill Rosenthal, CEO of New York-based Communispond, explained it to reporter Jill Cueni-Cohen this way: “It’s tough to make hard decisions, and I don’t think what Microsoft did was a bad decision; it was the message that was bad. It was the way he delivered it.”

Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Stephen Elop as the CEO of Microsoft Corp. Satya Nadella is the CEO; Elop is an executive vice president.

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The Fabrication of Culture

myth vs. factLaurie Ruettimann lumps the whole “corporate culture” concept in with the likes of Sasquatch, unicorns and Keyser Soze.

In other words, it’s a myth.

In a Nov. 4 blog post that I’m guessing has already been forwarded through a few HR departments, Ruettimann takes the idea of a super-duper corporate culture—and those who espouse the importance of having one—out to the woodshed.

“You are incorrectly applying the word ‘culture’ to a group of people who behave a certain way because their lives are dominated by a few powerful figures in your office,” writes Ruettimann, a consultant, speaker, writer, blogger, HR Technology Conference and Exposition® panelist and a former HR leader.

“That’s it,” she says. “Your [lousy] software company or little marketing agency doesn’t have a culture—it has a CEO and a leadership team that has particular points of view about how work should ‘feel.’ ”

There’s more.

“I’m on record saying that ‘culture’ is what we talk about when a company’s products and services are unremarkable,” continues Ruettimann. “We pay employees in culture when we can’t pay them in cash.”

We could debate how “culture” is defined, and could argue whether employees care about a great working environment as much as they care about the size of their paychecks. But saying that a company’s culture doesn’t matter—or even exist—is sure to raise some eyebrows throughout HR and beyond.

Take this response posted to Reuttimann’s blog, for instance.

“Maybe there’s a better term for it … but corporate culture is the thing that makes [or] breaks an individual’s experience at a company. The other tangibles are very important too … I don’t care how much a company pays me, if the environment is [shabby] I’m not sticking around.”

Provided he is paid fairly, another commenter says “it’s company culture that dictates whether I flourish, stick around or leave. Of course senior leadership need to set the rules, describe how they want their employees to operate … it’s their [bleeping] business that they are in charge of running.”

(Incidentally … Ruettimann and the commenters on her blog aren’t stingy with the expletives, are they?)

But salty language aside, it’s not as if some of what Ruettimann is saying shouldn’t resonate with readers.

For example, she urges her “friends and colleagues in human resources to start making evidence-based decisions.” Whether it’s based in reality or perception, there’s certainly a school of thought that says HR is still much more of a touchy-feely function than a true “strategic partner” or contributor to the bottom line.

While many within the profession would contend that HR has made great strides in using data and analytics to connect the function’s role to business performance, others feel there’s still a long way to go.

“I just want to say this article actually had me screaming YES!” writes another commenter. “… I am so tired of being associated with decisions and practices being made that are based off nothing!”

Another reader notes that “we try to sell people on culture when there is a lack of selling points in other areas. If you’re paying me a market-appropriate salary, providing good benefits, decent PTO and don’t let crazy people manage, I’m going to be happy and stay. Forget the complimentary Keurig, or the Foosball table, or the fully-stocked kitchen. Those things are [OK], but they’re not going to keep me.”

While free snacks and table soccer don’t begin to sum up what goes into creating a company’s culture, this comment still starts to get at what may be the biggest takeaway from this provocative post. It may be extreme to classify the notion of corporate culture as a figment of HR’s imagination, but it seems fair to say that employers and HR should be careful to provide their people with a lot more than just a “cool place to work” if they want them to stay.

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Psst … Gossip Isn’t All That Bad

More than a few times in your career, I’m sure you’ve walked by the watercooler and witnessed two folks talking in a whisper. Were you to assume the participants were engaging in some gossip (hopefully not about you), you’d probably be right. We all know gossip is one of the most popular of sports—one most of us have engaged in at some point in our working life (perhaps more times than we’d like to admit).

148242887Gossip, typically, is seen as something that’s unhealthy and counterproductive—and therefore something that should be discouraged. (Remember, no one likes a gossip, right?) But I recently ran across a just-released study (published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin) suggesting that being on the receiving end of gossip can actually be beneficial, helping individuals adapt to their social environments, illustrating how they can improve or revealing potential threats.

To reach these conclusions, the researchers at the University of Groningen (in the Netherlands) conducted two studies. In one, they asked participants to recall an incident in which they received either positive or negative gossip about another individual. They then were asked questions intended to measure the self-improvement, self-promotion and self-protection value of the received information.

It turned out that the individuals who received positive gossip had increased self-improvement value, whereas those who received the negative gossip had increased self-promotion value. (Negative gossip also increased self-protection concerns.)

In the second study, participants were assigned the role of a sales agent and given either negative or positive gossip about another’s job performance. (Not boring you with the details, this study specifically looked at the differences between those with a “salient performance goal” and those with a “salient mastery goal.”)

Like the first study, positive gossip in the second study had more self-improvement value, whereas negative gossip had greater self-promotion value and raised self-protection concerns. Negative gossip, meanwhile, elicited pride due to its self-promotion value since it provided individuals with information that justified their self-promotional judgments.

The researchers said they figured the participants would be more alert after receiving positive rather than negative gossip because they might find positive gossip provides a source of information they can learn from. But to their surprise, alertness was high in both positive and negative gossiping situations, probably because both forms of gossip are highly relevant for the receiver.

In a press release on the findings, lead researcher Elena Martinescu also noted some gender differences in the studies. “Women who receive negative gossip experience higher self-protection concerns, possibly because they believe they might experience a similar fate as the person being the target of the gossip, while men who receive positive gossip experience higher fear, perhaps because upward social comparisons with competitors are threatening.”

Of course, no one, including myself, is saying employers and HR leaders might start to design workplace initiatives that encourage gossiping. (I’ll leave it to you to imagine what such an initiative might look like.) But Martinescu and her colleagues suggest that we might want to be more open-minded about such behaviors, noting that being on the receiving end of gossip about other people might provide a valuable source of knowledge about ourselves.

Richard Marcus, a business psychologist and executive coach based in Philadelphia (who I recently shared the two studies with), agrees the findings offer a few insights worth considering, including the notions that discussion about an individual’s performance could have a positive value whether he or she is there or not;  informal communication about performance could help to raise the bar by getting everyone involved and staying focused on performance; and that indirect criticism could have value both for the individual who is the subject of the criticism and those around him or her.

But Marcus also adds that the findings don’t diminish the fact that gossip can also have some obvious negative consequences, including putting too much focus on the individual and not the team; breeding distrust among co-workers; and wasting energy worrying about how individuals are being perceived and judged.

All points that are also well worth considering the next time you head in the direction of the watercooler.

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Lutz on Leaders: Why So Nice?

happy leaderRetired automotive executive, former Marine and best-selling author Bob Lutz is also fluent in several languages. And he’s probably pretty outspoken in all of them.

Never known for holding his tongue, the former vice chairman of General Motors took part in a Q & A with the Washington Post earlier this week. And he offered up his usual, unvarnished take on subjects ranging from Mary Barra’s performance as GM’s chief executive so far (“too early to tell,” but “the early signs are outstanding”) to the increasingly guarded stance taken by executives when addressing the public (“nobody is speaking clearly anymore”).

Lutz also spoke at length about what makes for a great leader. While he praised the “quiet, somewhat low-key, persuasive and very effective” style that Barra has displayed at the helm of GM, Lutz seemed to suggest the leadership model prevailing at many organizations in 2014 is, well, a little soft.

When asked to name the best leader he’s ever worked for, Lutz went all the way back to his high school days in Switzerland, calling teacher—and future member of the Swiss National Council—Georges-Andre Chevallaz “an extremely effective individual” who could “convince intellectually, and … had the ability to motivate positively. You never wanted to let him down.”

The corporate community could use a few more like Georges-Andre Chevallaz, according to Lutz.

Today’s leaders “follow a politically correct line and listen to all the 1980s Total Quality Management consultants who say you should always respect everyone, that there’s no such thing as a bad idea,” he told the Post. “Of course we all know that’s hogwash. Good leaders have to be able to criticize constructively. We just have too little of that in American business now. Everybody is way too nice to everybody.”

A dearth of constructive criticism aside, Lutz sees something else lacking in the workplace: Fear.

“I can’t tell you how essential that is: a fear of consequences, of messing up, of letting the team down, of doing something unauthorized,” said Lutz. “That fear has to be there; otherwise the place is out of control. All of the consultants who say you’ve got to take fear away in a corporation don’t know what they’re talking about.”

While he may espouse some old-school ideals when it comes to leadership style, Lutz also warned that too much of the same old, same old can actually damage an organization’s culture; a lesson he says he learned decades ago.

Looking back at his stint as head of product development with Chrysler in the 1970s and ’80s—when the company was integrating an influx of talent from Ford and GM to go along with “the old Chrysler guys”—the culture at Chrysler “was a ragtag bunch of misfits,” he said. “At Chrysler, everybody was from somewhere else. It made for a very interesting environment, because there was no dominant culture. What you rarely heard in meetings was, ‘You can’t do that, because we’ve always done it this way.’

“It was messy,” he continued. “But it was very effective and everybody had a lot of fun. The nice thing about an enduring culture is that you have stability. But stability in a rapidly changing environment can be a very bad thing.”

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Cannabis Business Charges Full Steam Ahead

It came to my attention recently — actually in the writing of a news analysis last month — that there’s a big business growing around 465923899 -- cannabismarijuana, with 23 states now allowing for its medical use and two, Colorado and Washington, allowing for its recreational use.

(For the record, here’s that Sept. 29 news analysis — which actually aired Sept. 30 — examining the issue and what employers can really expect as more laws are passed. It was written just before the Colorado Supreme Court was to hear the case of Coats v. Dish Network and the issue of whether the plaintiff’s positive drug test should have been allowed under the state’s medical-marijuana statute. The court has yet to decide.)

With a keener understanding of this railroad coming down the tracks that is marijuana legalization and the business opportunities on board that train, I took special notice of the Hartford Courant‘s recent coverage of callback selections for a new web series called “The Marijuana Show,” aimed at giving specially selected and very “lucky ganjapreneurs” the chance to become “the next marijuana millionaire,” as the story puts it.

I also happened to notice in the piece that a handful of even-luckier finalists just finished participating in “an intense three-day business boot camp” that ended last Sunday, Oct. 12, prior to the finalists then pitching their marijuana-money-making ideas to investors in hopes of receiving financing, mentorship and attention on the show after the entire process has been filmed. (Here, too, is the Cannabis Business Times’ version of all this.)

So I reached out to co-producers Wendy Robbins, also the show’s director, and Karen Paull, to find out what I could about the boot camp. Their comments did nothing to quell the notion that there’s a most-definite marijuana-business movement afoot.

The camp, says Robbins, included “attorneys, an accountant [and] a branding expert [among others, and focused on] financial help with valuations, regulations, business-plan help, pitching advice and [of course] social media too.” Five out of the 10 finalists were even offered financing and some got mentoring help with their ideas — which ran the gamut from cannabis retail or leisure outlets to supply and distribution centers to growing establishments.

“Most shows have one winner, so we were blown away that half of the contestants got some sort of deal,” Robbins says.

“This is not a scripted show, nothing is predetermined,” adds Paull. “It’s a very organic process.” Indeed.

Looks like airing begins in December.

My story in September also references a Cannabusiness Accelerator job fair held in Seattle Sept. 19, “with the support of the [fast-growing marijuana] industry’s leaders to serve as a locus of networking and informational know-how [for job seekers], as well as a showcase for program partners, all suppliers to the new industry,” according to that company’s release about the event.

But the story does also include employment attorneys’ cautionary comments about the need for employers to not get too worked up. They needn’t, they say, ready themselves for all this marijuana-legalization and cannabis-business momentum to lead to across-the-board pot-induced workplaces (though statistics do show more employees are showing up for work under the influence).

Marijuana, they say, is still against federal law and employers still have every right, and responsibility, to maintain zero-tolerance policies because of that, and for safety and productivity reasons.

As Mark A. de Bernardo, executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace and a Reston, Va.-based senior partner at Jackson Lewis, told me for that piece:  “This is not a crisis for employers. Their backs are not up against the wall.”

Not yet anyway, legalization supporters and cannabusiness entrepreneurs would probably say.

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Get Outta Here!

leaving officeMany contend that the unique perks the Googles and the Qualcomms of the world offer employees—on-site dry cleaners, pet-friendly workspaces, employer-hosted farmers markets—are as much about keeping people at work as they are about making their lives easier.

So it was interesting to read this recent Washington Post article, which highlighted a few companies that seem intent on helping their employees actually stay away from the office, and remain disconnected from their work after punching out for the day.

For instance:

  • Redwood, Calif.-based software company Evernote offers employees a $1,000 stipend for taking a full week away from work.
  • FullContact, a Denver-headquartered provider of contact-management software, gives employees $7,500 a year if they take time off of work. According to the Post, use of vacation time among the firm’s employees shot up after the policy was introduced.
  • Dutch design firm Heldergroen makes it impossible—or at least pretty uncomfortable—for workers to hang around the office past 6 p.m., when employee desks are lifted to the ceiling via steel cables, and all furniture is cleared from the floor.
  • Menlo Innovations opts not to offer technological tools for remote work. No employer-provided laptops, no virtual private networks and no remote-access software. The message to employees is clear, according to Richard Sheridan, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based software design firm’s CEO. “You can’t take work home with you,” Sheridan told the Post.
  • Quirky, a crowd-sourced consumer product maker with headquarters in New York, takes things a step further, shutting down completely for four weeks out of the year. Founder and CEO Ben Kaufman began the practice in early 2013, closing Quirky’s doors the first week of every new quarter.

Yes, most of these and the other examples cited in the Post piece are smaller and/or start-up type tech companies. But, with larger, more traditional-minded organizations always looking for ways to help employees strike that ever-elusive work/life balance—and position themselves as “cool” places to work—wouldn’t it be interesting if we started to see more Fortune 500 firms co-opt this piece of the freewheelin’, forward-thinking start-up culture?

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Men, Women, Competition and Cooperation

Common stereotypes may tell us that men are more competitive and women are more cooperative, but researchers at Aalto University in Finland recently studied the physiological responses to both competitive and cooperative play in order to investigate respondents’ emotions to see how males and females are motivated to behave in these situations.

So, what did the researchers find?

While males did enjoy competition more than cooperation, females enjoyed both competition and cooperation equally.

(The results of the research were published in an article in the international science journal PLOS ONE.)

“Although there is a lot of research on gender differences, nobody has studied the emotions – the physiological mechanism that steers our behavior – of competitive and cooperative activities in males and females before. This gives a better insight into why people behave the way they do. You may unconsciously give false information about your motivations, but your body doesn’t lie,” said researcher Matias Kivikangas.

Kivikangas also said the results suggest that parts of the common stereotypes are untrue, at least in that women are not enjoying cooperation any more than competition.

And, he added, “it seems that the fact that men do enjoy competition more than cooperation might actually be a consequence from gender expectations rather than innate differences.”

According to the press release announcing the findings, the two studies employed cooperative and competitive digital games to test the responses. While this makes the responses more natural than a contrived experimental procedure, the intrinsically motivated nature of the activity limits the generalizability of the results.

‘Neither males or females experienced notable differences in negative emotions, indicating that only positive emotions are relevant in motivating competitive behavior. However, separate studies with other activities should be carried out as well, because I’d suspect that competition that the individual has not chosen themselves might elicit different emotional reactions’, Kivikangas added.

The implications of this study could indeed have some far-reaching  consequences in the workplace, especially in terms of how work groups are organized (i.e. competition-based vs. collaboration-based).

But for this admittedly male writer, the findings only confirm what I already learned from my childhood experiences playing (and losing) board games with my mom and sister: Women can be just as competitive — if not moreseo than — men.

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