Why America is in decline

Posted July 26th, 2012 in Articles, Blogs by admin

The recent mass shooting in Colorado has prompted many observers to claim it is only a symptom of serious problems in American society. The United States has been the strongest and most powerful nation in the last century, a beacon of progress and the good life for the world, but that view is becoming suspect. While predictions have been made before about the decline of America, there is good evidence now that makes the prediction more valid.

Great nations and empires have risen and fallen before. Alfred McCoy, writing in The Nation, contends, “Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.”

What is the evidence for the decline, if there is one?  Here are some very convincing facts that come from the United Nations, the OECD, The Legatum Institute, The U.S. National Intelligence Council, Congress and other respected institutions:

  • The U.S. is the number one arms dealer in the world, selling military weapons to a variety of countries.
  • The U.S. currently has (depending on the source of information) somewhere between 800 and 1,000 military bases in over 50 countries, and still regards itself as the world’s police force.
  • The U.S. has the highest poverty levels of all countries in the OECD.
  • The U.S. has the highest levels of income equality of all Western nations and ranks the 42nd worst in the world according the CIA Factbook.
  • U.S. adult life expectancy ranks 44th in the world, and worst among all Western nations. In the Legatum study, the U.S. ranks 27th for the health of its citizens; life expectancy is below average compared to 30 advanced countries measured by the OECD and obesity is the highest in the U.S. among all those countries.
  • The U.S. ranks 34th of all countries in terms of child mortality.
  • The U.S. ranks #1 of all Western countries in terms of violent crime. The U.S. is responsible for over 80% of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries combined. At least 24 Americans every day (8-9,000 a year) are killed by people with guns – and that doesn’t count the ones accidentally killed by guns or who commit suicide with a gun. Count them and you can triple that number to over 25,000.
  • After leading the world for decades in 25-34 year olds with university degrees, the U.S. is now in 12th place. The World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. at 52ndamong 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction in 2010. Nearly 50% of all graduate students in the sciences in the U.S. are foreigners, most of whom will be returning to their home countries.
    • According toe the OECD 15 year olds in the U.S. rank 17th in the world in science and 25th in math. The U.S. ranks 12th among developed countries in college graduation, and 79th in elementary-school enrollment.
    • The U.S. ranks 23rd in the world in terms of infrastructure, well behind that of every other major advanced economy. The American Society of Civil Engineers prepared a report card on the state of America’s infrastructure-roads, bridges, dams etc. In the latest version the overall “GPA’ for the U.S. was a “D,” and the cost of bringing all systems up to adequacy, not an “A” was estimated at $2.2 trillion.
    • In 2008, the U.S. had fallen from first to third in global merchandise exports. The U.S. trails Japan for worldwide patent applications, but China will soon bypass both. In 2009, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation reports that the U.S. ranks last among the 49 nations survey when it came to “change” in “global innovation-based competitiveness” in the last decade.
    • The Legatum Institute, a London-based research firm publishes an annual “prosperity index” and ranks the U.S. 9th, five notches lower than last year.
    • The U.S. ranks 13th in terms of well being according to the United Nations Human Development Index, and ranks 11th in the OECD’s measure of “life satisfaction.”
    • ·                Ten years ago the U.S. was ranked first in terms of average wealth per adult. In 2010, it fell to 7th
    • In 2001 the U.S. ranked 4th in the world in per capita broadband Internet use. Today it ranks 15th.
    • The U.S. has lost over 40,000 factories since 2001 and has lost 32% of all its manufacturing jobs since the year 2000.
    • Manufacturing employment in the computer industry in the U.S. is at the same level in 2010 that it was in 1975.
    • According to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute, if the U.S. trade deficit with China continues to increase at is current rate, the U.S. economy will lose over 500,000 jobs in one year; between 2000 and 2009 America’s trade deficit with China increased nearly 300%.
    • The Congressional Budget Office is projecting that U.S. government public debt will hit 716% of GDP by the year 2080.
    • 25-30 percent of the U.S. federal budget is spent on the military. The cost for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is now creeping up to $10 trillion.
    • Fortune magazine’s ranking of the world’s largest companies has only two American firms in the top 10–Wal-Mart at No. 1 and ExxonMobil at No. 3. And there are already three Chinese companies in the top 10.
    • In their book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, Professors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, present data taken from multiple credible sources that show the gap between the poor and rich the greatest in the U.S. among all developed nations; child well being the worst in the U.S. among all developed nations; and levels of trust among people in the U.S. among the worst of all developed nations.

The Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight of the U.S. Congress’ House Committee on Foreign Affairs stated, after examining the issue of the U.S.’s declining image abroad, “the decline in international approval of U.S. leadership is caused largely by opposition to the invasion of Iraq, U.S. support for dictators, and practices such as torture and rendition. They testified that this opposition is strengthened by the perception that our decisions are made unilaterally and without constraint by international law or standards-and that our rhetoric about democracy and human rights is hypocritical.”

What conclusions do experts come to regarding this chilling information?

In an article in The Nation, Alfred McCoy argues that “the demise of the United States as a global superpower could come far more quickly than anyone imagines,” suggesting it will be complete by 2025.  The U.S. National Intelligence Council admitted in 2008 that America’s global power was declining. A Global Trends 2025 report said, “the transfer of global wealth and economic power is under way from West to East,” without precedent. Citing an opinion poll, McCoy reports that in August 2010, 65% of Americans believed the country was “in a state of decline.”

McCoy argues that a big contributor to the U.S.’s decline is militarism; specifically what he calls “micro-militarism,” which has plagued previous empires. These are foreign military adventures, which are not full blown “wars” that end up costing horrendous amounts of money or end in defeats. He says, as “allies worldwide begin to realign their politics to take cognizance of rising Asian powers, the cost of maintain 800 or more overseas military bases will simply become unsustainable, finally forcing a staged withdrawal on a still-unwilling Washington.”

In his book, America’s Engineered Decline, William Norman Grigg, editor of the New American contends that America’s decline has occurred because it is exhibiting the same characteristics of poverty, crime, and illiteracy and ill health that are found in third world countries. Grigg cites a quote by Mahatma Gandhi who said the roots of conflict and violence within a nation are “wealth without work, pleasure without conscience knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principle.”

Gideon Rachman, writing in the prestigious journal, Foreign Policy, comments in the new economic and political order which is witnessing America’s decline: “Britain, France, Italy, even Germany–are slipping down the economic ranks. India, Brazil, Turkey are on the rise. They each have their own foreign-policy preferences which collectively constrain American’s ability to shape the world.”  He concludes, “America will never again experience the global dominance it enjoyed in the 17 years between the Soviet Union’s collapses in 1991 and the financial crisis of 2008. Those days are over.”

Economists J. Bradford DeLong and Stephen Cohen of the University of California write in their new book, The End of Influence, “it [influence] is gone and it is not likely to return in the foreseeable future…The American standard of living will decline relative to the rest of the industrialized and industrializing world…The United States will lose power and influence.”

James Fallows, writing in The Atlantic magazine, says, “our government is old and broken and dysfunctional and may even be beyond repair….it will make a difference if we improvise and strive to make the best of  the path through our time –and our children’s, and their grandchildren’s,” rather than stay on the current path.

Whatever the causes, the decline of America as a dominant world power, with serious internal economic and social issues, has already begun, and is not likely to be reversed, without substantial political, economic and social changes The current situation presents monumental challenges to political and social leaders to create the kind of country and culture that’s desired, a path that is unlikely given the wide divide in perspectives that currently exist.

 

Why “busyness” is not productivity

Posted July 22nd, 2012 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Talk to almost anyone today, and they complain about having “no time,” about being too busy. And we now equate that busyness to productivity and a characteristic of a successful life. The truth of the matter is that busyness does not result in greater productivity and that busyness is contributing to a culture of continuous anxiety and stress.

“If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyhone how they’re doing,” contends Tin Kreider, in his article, “The Busy Trap,” in the New York Times. He says often this is said as a boast, “disguised as a complaint,” but often these same people complain about being dead tired and exhausted.

U.S.A. Today published a multi-year poll in 2008, to determine how people perceived time and their own busyness. It found that in each consecutive year since 1987, people reported that they are busier than the year before, with 69% responding that they were either “busy,” or “very busy,” with only 8% responding that they were “not very busy.” Not surprisingly, women reported being busier than men, and those between ages 30 to 60 were the busiest. When the respondents were asked what they were sacrificing to their busyness, 56% cited sleep, 52% recreation, 51% hobbies, 44% friends and 30% family. The respondents also reported that in l987, 50% said they and ate at least one family meal everyday; by 2008, that figure had declined to 20%.

I work as an executive coach and advisor to many senior executives and professionals. Almost without exception they either complain or observe that they can “barely keep up,” or “have not time for vacations,” or to do things for fun, and that their families often suffer. The result is often that they are overstressed and overworked, but tell me there is no choice—the job requires it.

Even children today are overscheduled. Today’s adolescents and teens are overtaxed and overburdened and stressed to a degree that was once seen only in child psychiatric patients, according to an analysis of research spanning five decades by Jean Twenge, PhD, a psychology professor at San Diego State University.

Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, “Overscheduling our children is not only a widespread phenomenon, it’s how we parent today,” he says. “Parents feel remiss that they’re not being good parents if their kids aren’t in all kinds of activities. Children are under pressure to achieve, to be competitive. I know sixth-graders who are already working on their resume’s so they’ll have an edge when they apply for college.”

Kreider argues that overly busy people are busy because “of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and read what they might have to face in its absence…They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.” He says that busyness serves as a kind of “existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness.”  For busy people’s lives cannot possibly be “silly or trivial or meaningless” if they are completely booked with activities, and “in demand every hour of the day.” Krieder contends that our culture has assumed a value position that idleness or doing nothing is a bad thing. But “idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice,” he says, “it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.”

In essence, we have lost our belief in “dolce far niente,” how sweet to do nothing. Our inability to do this is exacerbated by our incapacity to unplug from the digital world. I argued in my article “Why it’s so hard to unplug from the digital world,” we may be actually addicted to the digital virtual world, which can physically disconnect us from others and our inner selves.

It seems like “work is no longer a place; it’s a state of mind. It’s become les bout when I turn off the office lights and more about when I turn off (at least mentally) the inbox, Christa Carone, Chief Marketing Officer of Xerox said, as cited in Louise Altman’s excellent blog, The Intentional Workplace.

In my article in Psychology Today,  “Workaholism and the myth of hard work,” I argued that a “contributing factor to the problem of workaholism is the prevailing belief in hard work as the route to success, particularly wealth. Notions of hard work are predominantly held by the middle class and poor people and originate from the industrial revolution and Protestant religious tenants, which viewed hard work both as a virtue and magic formula for success. Hard work has never been a belief embraced by the upper class and wealthy.”

We now equate busyness and overwork with productivity but the two are not the same. In the same way, we’ve equated “seat time,” that is time workers spend in their seats at their desks or in meetings, as equivalent to productive work. It may be the reverse.

In a New York Times article, “Let’s Be Less Productive,” author Tim Jackson defines productivity as “the amount of output delivered per hour of work in the economy.” Jackson’s perspective underscores that perception that productivity in all its forms is measured in economic terms and in terms of time. Jackson goes on to say, “time is money…We’ve become conditioned by the language of efficiency.”

Sara Robinson, writing an insightful article in Salon magazine, on the issue of overwork, “Bring Back the 40-hour Work Week,” says “150 years of research proves that long hours at work will kill profits, productivity and employees.” Yet, for most of the 20th century, the broad consensus among American business leaders was that working people more than 40 hours a week was “stupid, wasteful, dangerous and expensive—and the most telling sign of dangerously incompetent management,” Robinson argues. Citing the work of Tom Walker of the Work Less Institute’s Prosperity Covenant, “That output does not rise or fall in direct proportion to the number of hours worked is a lesson that seemingly has to be learned each generation.”

Robinson also cites the work of Evan Robinson, a software engineer who published a paper for the International Developers’ Association in 2005 that argued throughout the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, and ‘60s research studies conducted by businesses, universities, industry associations and the military supported the shorter (maximum 40 hour) work week. The research indicated that productivity does not rise substantially in extended work days or weeks. Extensive data showed that longer hours of work actually resulted in reduced efficiency and catastrophic accidents, which brought with them substantial liabilities to employers. The research showed that extended hours resulted in reduced brain functioning and physical fatigue, which actually results in loss of productivity. A Business Roundtable study found that after just eight 60-hour weeks the fall-off in productivity is so marked that the average team would have actually gotten just as much done and been better off if they’d just stuck to a 40-hour week all along. And at 70-or 80 –hour weeks, the fall-off happens ever aster; at 80 hours, the break-even point is reached in just three weeks. Studies on this subject conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics , U.S. Department of Labor, Proctor and Gamble Company, , the National Electrical Contractors Association, and the Mechanical Contractors Association of American produced similar results. All of them showed that continuing scheduled overtime has a strong negative effect on productivity, which increases in magnitude proportionate to the amount and duration of overtime.

Critics of these studies cite the fact that they focus on physical jobs and don’t apply to the majority of employees who are “knowledge workers.” Robinson argues that research shows that actually knowledge workers actually have fewer good hours in a day than physical workers—about six. U.S. military research has shown that losing just one hour of sleep per night for a week will cause a level of cognitive degradation equivalent to a .10 blood alcohol level. And what’s worse, most of them “typically have no idea of just how impaired they are,” says Robinson. Robinson cites the follow-up investigations on the Exxon Valdez disaster and the Challenger explosion, where investigators determined that overworked, overtired decision-makers played a significant role in bring about those disasters.

So what has accounted for our sudden loss of memory of knowledge about working hours and productivity that pervaded most of the 20th century?  Robinson points to two factors. The first of these is the development of technology as a cornerstone of our economy, and the culture at the center of that technology—Silicon Valley. The jobs there have attracted a unique breed of brilliant young men and women who fit a particular profile: “single-minded, socially awkward, emotionally detached and blessed (or cursed) with a singular, unique, laser-like focus on some particular area of obsessive interest. For these people, work wasn’t just work; it was their life’s passion and they devoted every waking hour to it, usually to the exclusion of non-work relationships, exercise, sleep, food and sometimes even personal care,” argues Robinson.  Overwork and overtime didn’t even appear in their vocabulary.

The new technological corporate ethics and slogans reflected these young overworked employees. For example, Microsoft’s “churn’em and burn’em” which translated meant hiring young programmers fresh out of university and working them 70 hours a week or more till they dropped, and then firing them and replacing them with new ones.

The second and related development which strengthened the prevalence of overwork was management philosophy and leadership style. Taking management guru Tom Peters’ message of passion for work was translated into working more is the only answer to productivity. And so any aspiring manager or executive worth his salt, who worked 40 hours a week or less would not be considered promotable talent, or worse, laughed out of the office for appearing to be lazy.

The recent recession has entrenched the notion of overwork as a necessity now, as opposed to an optional strategy. The recession has resulted in massive layoffs across all industries, but the level of work expected of the employees who remain has not just remained the same, it has increased to compensate for lost employees. And even where businesses have shown some improvement now, managers are loath to rehire or hire new employees, because the norm of fewer employees with the impression of equal productivity is an argument against doing so. As Robinson argues, “for every four Americans working a 50-hour week, every week, there’s one American who should have a full-time job, but doesn’t. Our rampant unemployment problem would vanish overnight if we simply worked the way we’re supposed to by law.”

Yet, the prevailing popular and business cultures continue to perpetuate the myth that we must work harder and longer to be more productive, and that in turn will produce a better life and better economy. This philosophy flies in the face of all we know from brain science research, productivity research for most of the 20th century, and comparative data with other nations about how to measure the quality of life.

When it comes down to it, how can we ever have work-life balance, when the scales are tipped by dominant management views of the necessity for overwork as the only solution to increased productivity?

I now consistently advocate to my individual and corporate clients to embrace the life style that less is more—work less and your productivity and life satisfaction will increase.

 

 

 

 

The rise of incivility

Posted July 16th, 2012 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Has the recession growing economic equality been a catalyst for growing incivility in America? Just look at our TV shows–the superficial pettiness and backstabbing of Orange County or Vancouver housewives, New Jersey shore grotesques, bullying chefs, rude and disrespectful contest judges, talk show hosts, news program hosts, and politicians.

Repeated public opinion polls have voiced the concern of Americans over the erosion of civility in government, business, media and social media. The most recent poll by Weber Shandwick, reported that 65% of Americans say the lack of civility is a major problem that has worsened during the financial crisis and recession. What’s even more distressing is that nearly 50% of those surveyed said they were withdrawing from the basic tenants of democracy—government and politics—because of incivility and bullying.

The second survey of Civility in America was conducted by KRC Research in late May 2011 using an online survey of 1,000 U.S. adults. The 2011 results from Civility in America fall into several key areas in this report — civility in politics, education, the workplace, the Internet and
the marketplace. Most Americans report they have been victims of incivility (86%). Their most common encounters with rude or disrespectful behavior come while driving (72%) or shopping (65%). Americans also admit to perpetrating incivility — approximately six in 10 (59%) Americans acknowledge that they themselves have been uncivil.

Uncivil behavior is also increasingly showing up in our classrooms, not just at work. Half of American parents (50%) report that their children have experienced incivility at school and nearly half of Americans twenty years and older (45%) say that they’d be afraid to be teenagers today because of incivility’s frequent occurrence. One in 10 (11%) parents report that they have sent children to a different school due to problems with incivility.

With incivility a growing problem in America, the risk of companies losing business over it is becoming more of a reality. Approximately seven in 10 Americans (69%) have either stopped buying from a company or have re-evaluated their opinions of a company because someone from that company was uncivil in their interaction. Further, nearly six in 10 (58%) have advised friends, family or co-workers not to buy certain products because of uncivil, rude or disrespectful behavior from the company or its representatives. All of these reported buying behaviors have significantly increased since one year ago.

Cyber bullying — when someone is threatened, harassed or embarrassed by another using the Internet — is of great concern to Americans today. Nearly seven in 10 Americans — 69% — report that cyber bullying is getting worse. An equally large number (72%) worry about children being cyber bullied. The National Crime Prevention Council recently reported that a sizeable 58% of fourth to eighth graders have had mean things said to them.

Pier M. Forni, an award-winning professor of Italian Literature and founder of The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University and author of The Civility Solution: What to Do When People are Rude says, “In today’s America, incivility is on prominent display: in the schools, where bullying is pervasive; in the workplace, where an increasing number are more stressed out by coworkers than their jobs; on the roads, where road rage maims and kills; in politics, where strident intolerance takes the place of earnest dialogue; and on the web, where many check their inhibitions at the digital door.”

Nowhere is the problem of incivility more promiment than in politics with political discourse between candidates degenerating into attack ads and worse. The NAACP recently published a report called “Tea Party Nationalism,” exposing what it calls links between various Tea Party organizations and racist hate groups in the United States, such as white-supremacist groups, anti-immigrant organizations and militias. The NAACP report , which counts among its authors, Leonard Zeskind, one of the country’s foremost scholars of white nationalism, says the Tea Party has become a site for recruitment by white supremacists and others.

Forni of Johns Hopkins’ Civility Initiative says the onslaught of rude, bullying and uncivil behavior—intensified by the 24/7 reach of the Internet and social-networking sites such as Facebook—adds to the stress people are already feeling and can translate into real and very tragic consequences.

“The weak economy, wars, the threat of terrorism, the hostile political environment, the two major parties warring with one another and exchanging salvos that are not very civil—these are not the most pleasant or stress-free of times,” says Forni. “When we are stressed, we are less likely to be considerate and kind to others. We retire, retreat into the citadel of ourselves and we shut the door. We are more prone to anger. We are less tolerant of the mistakes of others.”

Forni says feelings of insecurity only exacerbate the problem. “When we are insecure or not sure of ourselves for whatever the reason because the economy is bad, or we think we are going to lose our jobs … very often we shift the burden of that insecurity upon others in the form of hostility,” he says. “It is the kick-the-dog syndrome. You make an innocent pay for how badly you feel in order to find some kind of relief.”

Incivility and bullying behavior is also often a precursor to physical violence, says Forni. According to the Department of Labor, there are about 1.8 million acts of physical violence in the American workplace in any given year.

“How in the world can we stop bullying in schools, in the workplace, in politics, when it is so close to our national character right now?” asks Dr. Gary Namie, a psychologist and cofounder of the Workplace Bullying Institute , a Washington state–based nonprofit.

Writing in the Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, Roddey Reid, a professor of cultural studies at the University of California, “Although a universal problem, bullying enjoys a virulence and prevalence in contemporary U.S. culture virtually unmatched anywhere else in terms of its reach, depth, and legitimacy. Unlike in many European nations and Canada it is not illegal in the U.S.”

Reid argues that Americans should not be surprised at the levels of incivility. It’s not like there wasn’t ample warning. “So much macho bluster. Strutting around, talking tough. But following close behind came the actions: fire-bombings of abortion clinics, serial capital executions, gay bashings—not to mention “three-strikes” laws and mandatory sentencing that send citizens off to long prison terms for petty drug offenses, tripling the U.S. prison population within twenty years. Next to come in for brutal treatment were the schools and workplaces: from the presence of police in hallways and zero-tolerance drug tests to factory closings and the downsizing of middle-management, to the cutting and privatization of public services and government programs. Even the Post Office became a ‘profit centre of excellence’ meant to compete with private sector enterprises; it also became a centre of workplace violence and shootings,” Reid contends.

Incivility and bullying has carried over into the workplace. Look at the popularity of Donald Trump’s Apprentice TV show, where people eagerly await Trump’s now famous edict—“you’re fired,” as some kind of pleasure. Stanley Bing wrote in the early 1990s:

“So it is today, where bullying behavior is encouraged and

rewarded in a range of business enterprises. The style itself

is applauded in boardrooms in business publications like

Business Week, as “tough,” “no nonsense,” “hard as nails.”

When you see these code works, you know you’re dealing

with the bully boss…thanks to the admiration in which

bully management is held in American business and

academic gurus who perpetuate the techniques.”

Little is said in the U.S. media or public discussion about how the continuing obsession with short-term profits and the awarding of exorbitant executive pay lay the foundation for a surge in abusive behavior in the workplace to begin with, let alone how the introduction of best-practices of flexible employment, outsourcing of traditional company tasks, and the recourse to workers reclassified as “independent contractors” have opened the door to “management by terror” Reid contends. These changes compounded worker vulnerability in those workplaces already left to the tender mercies of “at-will employment,” a workplace regime dating from the 19th century and unique to the U.S.

The workplace is increasingly characterized by incidents of incivility and bullying, and this may be part of a general societal trend, exacerbated by tough economic times.

A startling 37% of American workers–roughly 54 million people–have been bullied at work according to a 2007 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute. The consequences of such bullying have spread to families, and other institutions and cost organizations reduced creativity, low morale and increased turnover. According to the Institute, 40% of the targets of bulling never told their employers, and of those that did, 62% reported that they were ignored.

According to a 2007 survey by Zogby International, almost 50% of the U.S. workers report they have experience or witnessed some kind of bullying–verbal abuse, insults, threats, screaming, sarcasm or ostracism. One study by John Medina showed that workers stressed by bullying performed 50% worse on cognitive tests. Other studies estimate the financial costs of bullying at more than $200 billion per year.

The recent economic downturn, with layoffs and financial pressures on managers to perform may have exacerbated the bullying problem. Research conducted by Wayne Hochwarter and Samantha Englehardt at Florida State University concluded that “employer-employee relations are at one of the lowest points in history,” with a significant decline in basic civility.

According to the Department of Labor, there are 1.8 million acts of physical violence in the American workplace every year. According to Time magazine columnist Barton Gellman, threats against President Obama’s life brought him Secret Service protection at the earliest on record for any presidential candidate, and the number of extremist groups in the U.S. increased 244% in 2009.

According to a 2008 study published in the Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, allegiance to many old public virtues such as the Bill of Rights, the Geneva Convention and the rule of domestic and international law is now commonly mocked or dismissed as quaint by significant people in power and persuasion.

In the The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It, well-known author Os Guinness argues that civility needs to be rebuilt in western societies like the USA if they are to survive: “Civility must truly be restored. It is not to be confused with niceness and mere etiquette or dismissed as squeamishness about differences. It is a tough, robust, substantive concept… and a manner of conduct that will be decisive for the future of the American republic”.

 

Trevor Cairney, writing for the Center for Apologetic Scholarship and Education, says that civility refers to the behavior between members of society that create a social code and is a foundational principle of a civilized society. The Romans in creating an empire that expanded around the world put great emphasis on civil virtue. The Romans believed in honest debate, civility in the streets and treating adversaries with respect, even if defeating them in battle. Historians looking at the fall of the Roman Empire have tried to find reasons why the great Empire failed. Many see the loss of the civil society as a symptom of the loss of civility in general as a major reason for the fall of the Romans. People stopped treating each other with respect. The Empire itself stopped treating those they conquered with respect. What was once a society of mutual respect for all became a society of overconfidence of complacency. The very values that made the Roman Empire great were the very values that were left behind.

Jim Taylor, a psychologist at the University of San Francisco, writing in the Huffington Post, contends that “Civility is about something far more important than how people comport themselves with others. Rather, civility is an expression of a fundamental understanding and respect for the laws, rules, and norms (written and implicit) that guide its citizens in understanding what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. For a society to function, people must be willing to accept those strictures. Though still in the distance, the loss of civility is a step toward anarchy, where anything goes; you can say or do anything, regardless of their consequences.”

So what is to be done about incivility? Forni, co-founder of the Civility Project, defines the basics of civility as the Three R’s: Respect, Restraint and Responsibility. These fundamental components of civility were echoed strongly in our research. When Americans were asked to define “civility,” the words “respect” and “treating others as you would want to be treated,” predominated.

Civil communication begins early. The more that incivility infiltrates our culture, the more we may become dangerously indifferent to its existence and pass it down to the next generation. Many Americans agree that there should be civility training at school and at work. Perhaps a national public education program starting in the schools, cities and public squares across America could turn the tide on incivility and help restore respect and pride as a country.

“A national public education campaign endorsed by political leaders, schools, PTAs and corporate America and distributed through the media might be an important first step towards bringing civility back to our shores,” argues Jack Leslie, Chairman of Weber Shandwick.

A second step may have to be legislation that proscribes incivility. In the U.S., 20 states are exploring legislation that would put bullying on the legal radar screen. In Canada, the provinces of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec have passed legislation that addresses workplace bullying, although both countries are far behind some European nations and New Zealand.

One thing is for sure, and that is if the culture of incivility, and along with it bullying, continues to escalate in America, it could fan the flames of violence and anarchy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Left Side Is Your Best Side: Our Left Cheek Shows More Emotion

Posted July 14th, 2012 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Your best side may be your left cheek, according to a new study by Kelsey Blackburn and James Schirillo from Wake Forest University in the US. Their work shows that images of the left side of the face are perceived and rated as more pleasant than pictures of the right side of the face, possibly due to the fact that we present a greater intensity of emotion on the left side of our face.

 Their work is published online in Springer’s journal Experimental Brain Research.

Others can judge human emotions in large part from facial expressions. Our highly specialized facial muscles are capable of expressing many unique emotions. Research suggests that the left side of the face is more intense and active during emotional expression. It is also noteworthy that Western artists’ portraits predominantly present subjects’ left profile.

Blackburn and Schirillo investigated whether there are differences in the perception of the left and right sides of the face in real-life photographs of individuals.

The authors explain: “Our results suggest that posers’ left cheeks tend to exhibit a greater intensity of emotion, which observers find more aesthetically pleasing. Our findings provide support for a number of concepts — the notions of lateralized emotion and right hemispheric dominance with the right side of the brain controlling the left side of the face during emotional expression.

“Participants were asked to rate the pleasantness of both sides of male and female faces on gray-scale photographs. The researchers presented both original photographs and mirror-reversed images, so that an original right-cheek image appeared to be a left-cheek image and vice versa.They found a strong preference for left-sided portraits, regardless of whether the pictures were originally taken of the left side, or mirror-reversed. The left side of the face was rated as more aesthetically pleasing for both male and female posers.

These aesthetic preferences were also confirmed by measurements of pupil size, a reliable unconscious measurement of interest. Indeed, pupils dilate in response to more interesting stimuli — here more pleasant-looking faces, and constrict when looking at unpleasant images. In the experiment, pupil size increased with pleasantness ratings.

A new look at leadership and emotional intelligence

Posted July 8th, 2012 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Despite the considerable research from psychology and neuroscience leaders who are clearly deficient in emotional intelligence continue to be recruited, chosen and promoted in organizations.

In working as a consultant and executive coach to senior executives and boards, I am still amazed at how they continue to be attracted by the stereotypical charismatic ego-driven leaders who see no value in developing self awareness, emotional self-management and building positive relationships.

The term emotional intelligence or EQ was popularized in the mid-1990’s by Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional Inteligence, which was based on the work of researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey. In addition to creating initial legitimacy for EQ in comparison to general IQ, this work and the research that followed, opened the door to seeing emotions as a legitimate aspect of performance in the workplace . Up to that point, the discussion of emotions and feelings as a leadership competency had almost been taboo.

Howard Gardener and others subsequently identified multiple intellligences and unlike general IQ, which may be fixed for life, EQ was seen as something that could be developed. Subsequently, neuroscience identified aspects of our brains’ workings that have signficant implications to how we lead and how employees behave and perform. David Rock very nicely described this in his books Your Brain At Work and Quiet Leadership. 

While researchers identify and describe varying characteristics of EQ, the main ones are self-awareness, self-management, social intelligence and relationship management.

Shirzad Chamine, the Chairman of CTI, the largest coach training organization in the world, in his very insightful and useful book, Positive Intelligence, argues that only 20% of teams and individuals achieve their potential. He describes 10 mental sabateurs that prevent successful performance and actually cause significant harm. Postive Intelligence or PQ is the “percentage of time your mind is acting as your friend rather than your enemy; or in the other words, is the percentage of time your mind is serving you versus sabotaging you,” Chamine contends.

Chamine focused his research on two dynamics:

  1. Often our minds are our own worst enemies by harboring characters that actively sabotage happiness and success;
  2. The muscles of our brain give us access to our greatest wisdoms and insights that have become weak by not being used.

Positive Intelligence provides a great personal leadership model and template for dynamic change through practical and yet simple strategies and exercises.

Our organizations can no longer afford to ignore neuroscience research and now, well-documented findings on the importance of implementing EQ knowledge in choosing and training our leaders. The cost will continue to be too high to do so.

Are you a workaholic?

Posted July 7th, 2012 in Articles, Blogs by admin

In a society where job dedication is praised, workaholism is an invisible addiction. Work is at the core of much of modern life. If you work excessively you can be both praised in the corporate world, and criticized because of a lack of work-life balance.

“It’s easy to miss the signs,” says Ronald Burke, professor of organizational behaviour at the Schulich School of Business, York University, in Toronto. “Work addicts are rewarded, valued members of an organization. But what’s going on in their deepest souls, the signs of pain are not visible.”

Leslie-Anne Keown, writing in the Statistics Canada publication Canadian Social Trends argues that being a workaholic is part of the person’s identity, “the perceived demands of the job have become the lens through which they view all their other priorities.”

In Japan, working yourself to death is called karoshi  in China it is guolaosi. There is no word yet in English, but as people increasingly put in longer hours and suffer more stress there may soon be.

There is mixed information on whether there is there a relationship between workaholism and laws governing hours of work. For example in Korea, the 40-hour work week is legally mandated, but most Koreans work far more than that. In general, Asian countries have higher work weeks. All European nations have shorter work weeks (except Britain) than the United States or Canada. However, at least 134 countries have laws setting a maximum length. The U.S. does not. According to the OECD, 85.8% of males and 66.5% of females work more than 40 hours a week. According to the ILO, Americans work 137 more hours a year than Japanese workers, 260 more than British workers and 499 more than the French.

In the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force study in the December, 2006, issue of Harvard Business Review, authors Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce outlined their conclusions about American’s obsession with work. They state that professionals are working harder than ever and that the 40-hour work week is a thing of the past. In fact, 60 hours is commonplace. Hewlett and Luce say 62% of high-earning individuals they studied worked more than 50 hours a week and 35% worked more than 60. Most respondents indicated they worked on average 16 hours a week more than they did five years ago. The study also noted that vacations are shrinking, with 42% reporting they take 10 or fewer vacation days a year, which is less than their entitlement.

According to Statistics Canadaalmost one-third of employed Canadians aged 19 to 64 (31%) identify themselves as workaholics. This percentage has not changed since the General Social Survey (GSS) first began collecting these data in 1992.

Overachieving professionals today are seen as road warriors, masters of the universe. They work harder, take on endless additional responsibilities and earn a lot more than their counterparts in earlier times, and their numbers are growing. And it is these individuals who bring into clear focus the question of work-life balance.

In a report entitled, “No-Vacation Nation,” for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, authors Rebecca Ray and John Schmitt detail the stark contrast between the United States and the 21 other wealthy nations. They provided the following description of vacation time in America:

The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation. European countries establish legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, with legal requirement of 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries. Australia and New Zealand both require employers to grant at least 20 vacation days per year; Canada and Japan mandate at least 10 paid days off. The gap between paid time off in the United States and the rest of the world is even larger if we include legally mandated paid holidays, where the United States offers none, but most of the rest of the world’s rich countries offer between five and 13 paid holidays per year.

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A 2007 report by the World Tourism Organization reported that even Koreans who work hundreds of more hours per year than Americans average nearly twice the number of paid vacation days. On the other side of the scale, people in The Netherlands, which has weathered the recession quite well, work hundreds of hours less per year than Americans, and averaged 45 paid days off at one time.

An American study, published inOccupational and Environmental Medicine, points out that overtime and extended work schedules are associated with an increased risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, fatigue, stress, depression, musculoskeletal disorders, chronic infections, diabetes and other general health complaints. In Japan, most karoshi victims succumb to brain aneurisms, strokes and heart attack.

A new study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, concluded thatpeople who work 11 or more hours a day have a 67 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease than people who work seven or eight hours a day. The more hours people worked in a day, the higher their risk of developing coronary heart disease, the results of the study suggested. People who worked 10 hours a day had a 45 percent higher risk of heart disease and those who worked 11 hours a day had a 67 percent higher risk of heart disease than people who worked 7 to 8 hours a day, according to the study.

And the cost of workaholism may not be limited just to health; it also impacts the quality of family life.

Tony Schwartz, chief executive of The Energy Project, and co-author of The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, argues that productivity means “managing energy in all facets of our lives. Emotional depth and resilience depend on active engagement with others and with our own feelings.”

Schwartz says the issue is not just the number of hours worked, but what happens to employees’ energy, and their use of time outside of work. Schwartz recently conducted a poll on Huffington Post about people’s experience in the workplace. Of the 1,200 respondents, 60% said they took less than 20 minutes a day for lunch, 20% took less than 10 minutes and 25% said they never left their desks. That’s consistent with a study by the American Dietetic Association, which found 75% of office workers eat lunch at their desk at least two to three days a week.

What are the signs that you may be a workaholic?
 A workaholic is preoccupied with work, whether at the workplace or not. Unlike someone who simply works hard, an addict is driven to work, feels compelled to work, is unable to delegate to others, has a lot more stress, is a perfectionist, and may be using work as an escape. Other signs include working overtime, neglecting meals, leisure, and relationships, refusing to take days off, and taking on more that one person can handle.

What to conclude? First, it’s obvious, the American workplace (and to a lesser degree, the Canadian workplace) is out of step with every other advanced nation regarding the allocation of vacation time, legislated vacation days, and regulation of working hours. Second, the achievements in productivity may have come at the price of a developing culture of workaholism.

There’s no laundry list to become super successful

Posted July 7th, 2012 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Want to be successful in your career and life? Just follow the example of the superstars of business, celebrities, professional athletes and entertainers. Emulate the habits of Tiger Woods (before his personal crisis), Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Lance Armstrong or Sir Richard Branson. Or at the organizational level, just follow the examples of Apple, GE or Google. Thousands of books, movies, seminars, consultants and self-help gurus, exhort people to follow the same steps, habits and secrets of the super successful, and they too will achieve outstanding results.

The problem with this advice is it doesn’t work. When people try to do as suggested, they tend to fail, and become even more demotivated. I’ve coached hundreds of people who came to me with great disappointment or despair, after following the dictums of a recipe for success taken from the lives of the super successful. In some cases they have spent thousands of dollars on seminars, books, personal advisors and media sources.

If finding great success was as easy as following a laundry list of habits or skills, then we would have millions of highly successful people and the superstars would be difficult to identify. By definition, superstars stand out because they are so few.

Exceptional performance is often a convergence of the right person at the right time — Winston Churchill and the Second World War, and his rejection by the people after the war, for example. It’s not possible to replicate all the variables of context for anyone at any time, regardless of skills and abilities.

New research provides an additional perspective on the issue. Chengwei Liu of the University of Warwick Business School and Jerker Denrell of Oxford Said Business School published recent research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which shows society should stop rewarding top performers, because that leads to problems.”

The authors argue that the idea the exceptional performers are the most successful is flawed. “The reason is that exceptional performance often occurs in exceptional circumstances. Top performers in business are often the luckiest people, who have benefited from rich-get-richer dynamics that boosts their fortune,” they write.

They cite the example of Bill Gates, who became the richest man in the world. Scores of writers and “experts” recommended following the habits and path of Gates. He may have been very talented, but Liu and Denrell argue, “his extreme success tells us more about how circumstances beyond his control created such an outlier.” For example, Gates’ upper class background enabled him to gain extra programming experience, and his mother’s social connection with IBM’s chairman enabled him to gain a contract from the then leading PC company.

“Our research found that even though observers were given clear feedback and incentives to be accurate in their judgment of performers, 58% of them still assumed the most successful were the most skilled when they are clearly not, mistaking luck for skill.”  As a result the authors argue, this assumption is likely to led to disappointment.  Even if you imitated everything Bill Gates did, you would not be able to replicate exactly his resources and connections.

In a similar vein, Sir Richard Branson admitted in his autobiographical works that he probably wouldn’t have achieved success if his mother hadn’t bailed him out of serious financial difficulty at least once in his life.

So what is the alternative to trying to imitate the most successful? The researchers say “this also implies that rewarding the highest performers can be detrimental or even dangerous because imitators are unlikely to achieve exceptional performance without luck unless they take excessive risk or cheat, which may partly explain the recurrent financial crises and scandals.”

The research has important implications for those in my profession, who are trying to help individuals achieve greater success, fulfillment and happiness in life, as well as businesses trying to make it to the top. For example, many business books present the formula for improving from “good to great.” The researchers would argue, and I would agree with my experience in helping others, that establishing a standard of “doing the best I/we could, given the circumstances,” is more constructive and motivating for individuals, rather than creating some standard of perfection.