Is Mind Wandering a Good or Bad Thing?

Posted April 11th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Is mind wandering a good thing or bad thing? Is it the same as being on “autopilot,” without being conscious of what you are doing? There seems to be several differing perspectives on these questions.

One of the original pieces of research on the subject of mind wandering was completed by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, is described in the journal Science. (link is external) Killingsworth and Gilbert concluded that people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. In the research, entitled “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert argue: “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn’t going on around them: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all. Indeed, mind-wandering appears to be the human brain’s default mode of operation.

To track this behavior, Killingsworth developed an iPhone web app that contacted 2,250 volunteers at random intervals to ask how happy they were, what they were currently doing, and whether they were thinking about their current activity or about something else that was pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant.

Subjects could choose from 22 general activities, such as walking, eating, shopping, and watching television. On average, respondents reported that their minds were wandering 46.9 percent of time, and no less than 30 percent of the time during every activity except making love.

“Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities,” says Killingsworth, “This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present.” Killingsworth and Gilbert found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer.

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”

The researchers estimated that only 4.6 percent of a person’s happiness in a given moment was attributable to the specific activity he or she was doing, whereas a person’s mind-wandering status accounted for about 10.8 percent of his or her happiness. Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.

“Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to ‘be here now,’” Killingsworth and Gilbert argue. “These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

Michael J. Kane and Jennifer C. McVay, writing in Current Directions in Psychological Science (link is external) argue while mind wandering might lead to creative insights, involuntary mind wandering can also take us away from the important activities and tasks at hand. In this article, Kane and McVay discuss the relationships among working memory, task-unrelated thoughts, and task performance. Using both laboratory-based and daily-life assessments, their research has shown that people with lower working memory capacity are more likely to mind wander, at least during demanding tasks. This propensity to mind wandering may partly explain why people with lower working memory capacity are also more likely to make errors. Kane and McVay argue that involuntary mind wandering can provide psychological scientists with a unique window into aspects of the mind’s mechanisms for cognitive control, including how, when, and for whom these mechanisms fail.

Researchers Daniel B. Levinson, Jonathan Smallwood, and Richard J. Davidson asked the question our working memory acts as a sort of mental workspace that allows us to juggle multiple thoughts simultaneously, but what role does it play in mind wandering? Does working memory inhibit or support off-task thinking? Their research was published in Psychological Science. (link is external)They decided to put this question to the test.

The researchers asked volunteers to perform one of two simple tasks — either pressing a button in response to the appearance of a certain letter on a screen, or simply tapping in time with one’s breath — and compared people’s propensity to drift off.

“We intentionally use tasks that will never use all of their attention,” Smallwood explains, “and then we ask, how do people use their idle resources?”

Throughout the tasks, the researchers checked in periodically with the participants to ask if their minds were on task or wandering. At the end, they measured each participant’s working memory capacity, scored by their ability to remember a series of letters given to them interspersed with easy math questions.

In both tasks, there was a clear correlation. “People with higher working memory capacity reported more mind wandering during these simple tasks,” says Levinson, though their performance on the test was not compromised.

The result is the first positive correlation found between working memory and mind wandering and suggests that working memory may actually enable off-topic thoughts.”What this study seems to suggest is that, when circumstances for the task aren’t very difficult, people who have additional working memory resources deploy them to think about things other than what they’re doing,” Smallwood says.

Interestingly, when people were given a comparably simple task but filled with sensory distractors (such as lots of other similarly shaped letters), the link between working memory and mind wandering disappeared.

Working memory capacity has previously been correlated with general measures of intelligence, such as reading comprehension and IQ score. The current study underscores how important it is in everyday situations and offers a window into the ubiquitous — but not well-understood — realm of internally driven thoughts.

“Our results suggest that the sorts of planning that people do quite often in daily life — when they’re on the bus, when they’re cycling to work, when they’re in the shower — are probably supported by working memory,” says Smallwood. “Their brains are trying to allocate resources to the most pressing problems.”

In essence, working memory can help you stay focused, but if your mind starts to wander those resources get misdirected and you can lose track of your goal. Many people have had the experience of arriving at home with no recollection of the actual trip to get there, or of suddenly realizing that they’ve turned several pages in a book without comprehending any of the words. “It’s almost like your attention was so absorbed in the mind wandering that there wasn’t any left over to remember your goal to read,” Levinson says.

Where your mind wanders may be an indication of underlying priorities being held in your working memory, whether conscious or not, Levinson says. But it doesn’t mean that people with high working memory capacity are doomed to a straying mind. The bottom line is that working memory is a resource and it’s all about how you use it, he says:”If your priority is to keep attention on task, you can use working memory to do that, too.”

People whose minds wander whilst driving, especially when intense, are significantly more likely to be responsible for a crash and are threatening safety on the roads, warns a study by C. Galera and colleagues published in the British Medical Journal (link is external)

All drivers experience occasional drifting of their minds towards internal thoughts, a temporary “zoning out” that might dangerously distract them from the road. External distractions (such as from mobile phones) are known to be linked with crashes, but inattention arising from internal distractions (such as worries) is still poorly understood in the context of road safety.

A team of researchers from France therefore wanted to see if mind wandering would increase the risk of being responsible for a crash.

They interviewed 955 drivers injured in a motor vehicle crash attending the emergency department at Bordeaux University Hospital between April 2010 and August 2011. All participants were 18 years or older.

Patients were asked to describe their thought content just before the crash. Researchers also assessed how disruptive/distracting the thought was. Mitigating factors considered to reduce driver responsibility, such as road environment, traffic conditions, traffic rule obedience and difficulty of the driving task were also taken into account.

Finally, blood alcohol level was tested as well as the driver’s emotional state just before the crash.They classified 453 (47%) drivers as responsible for the crash and 502 (53%) as not responsible. Over half (52%) reported some mind wandering just before the crash, and its content was highly disrupting / distracting (defined as intense mind wandering) in 121 (13%).

Intense mind wandering was associated with greater responsibility for a crash — 17% (78 of 453 crashes in which the driver was thought to be responsible) compared with 9% (43 of 502 crashes in which the driver was not thought to be responsible). This association remained after adjusting for other confounding factors that could have affected the results.

The authors conclude that the association between intense mind wandering and crashing “could stem from a risky decoupling of attention from online perception, making the driver prone to overlook hazards and to make more errors during driving.”

More recent research seems suggests that there are different kinds of mind-wandering, some of which are actually beneficial.

According to a new study published in the (link is external)Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (link is external), a wandering mind can impart a distinct cognitive advantage.

Scientists at Bar-Ilan University are the first to demonstrate how an external stimulus of low-level electricity can literally change the way we think, producing a measurable up-tick in the rate at which daydreams — or spontaneous, self-directed thoughts and associations — occur. Along the way, they made another surprising discovery: that while daydreams offer a welcome “mental escape” from boring tasks, they also have a positive, simultaneous effect on task performance.

The new study was carried out in Bar-Ilan’s Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory supervised by Prof. Moshe Bar, part of the University’s Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center which Professor Bar also directs.

While a far cry from the diabolical manipulation of dream content envisioned in “Inception” — the science-fiction thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio — the Bar-Ilan University study is the first to prove that a generic external stimulus, unrelated to sensory perception, triggers a specific type of cognitive activity.

In the experiment — designed and executed by Bar’s post-doctoral researcher Dr. Vadim Axelrod — participants were treated with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a non-invasive and painless procedure that uses low-level electricity to stimulate specific brain regions. During treatment, the participants were asked to track and respond to numerals flashed on a computer screen. They were also periodically asked to respond to an on-screen “thought probe” in which they reported — on a scale of one to four — the extent to which they were experiencing spontaneous thoughts unrelated to the numeric task they had been given.

Bar — a long-time faculty member at Harvard Medical School who has authored several studies exploring the link between associative thinking, memory and predictive ability — the specific brain area targeted for stimulation in this study was anything but random.

“We focused tDCS stimulation on the frontal lobes because this brain region has been previously implicated in mind wandering, and also because is a central locus of the executive control network that allows us to organize and plan for the future,” Bar explains, adding that he suspected that there might be a connection between the two.

As a point of comparison and in separate experiments, the researchers used tDCS to stimulate the occipital cortex — the visual processing center in the back of the brain. They also conducted control studies where no tDCS was used. While the self-reported incidence of mind wandering was unchanged in the case of occipital and sham stimulation, it rose considerably when this stimulation was applied to the frontal lobes. “Our results go beyond what was achieved in earlier, fMRI-based studies,” Bar states. “They demonstrate that the frontal lobes play a causal role in the production of mind wandering behavior.”

In an unanticipated finding, the present study demonstrated how the increased mind wandering behavior produced by external stimulation not only does not harm subjects’ ability to succeed at an appointed task, it actually helps. Bar believes that this surprising result might stem from the convergence, within a single brain region, of both the “thought controlling” mechanisms of executive function and the “thought freeing” activity of spontaneous, self-directed daydreams.

“Over the last 15 or 20 years, scientists have shown that — unlike the localized neural activity associated with specific tasks — mind wandering involves the activation of a gigantic default network involving many parts of the brain,” Bar says, “this cross-brain involvement may be involved in behavioral outcomes such as creativity and mood, and may also contribute to the ability to stay successfully on-task while the mind goes off on its merry mental way.”

While it is commonly assumed that people have a finite cognitive capacity for paying attention, Bar says that the present study suggests that the truth may be more complicated. “Interestingly, while our study’s external stimulation increased the incidence of mind wandering, rather than reducing the subjects’ ability to complete the task, it caused task performance to become slightly improved. The external stimulation actually enhanced the subjects’ cognitive capacity.”

Bar says that, in the future, he would be interested in studying how external stimulation might affect other cognitive behaviors, such as the ability to focus or perform multiple tasks in parallel. And while any therapeutic application of this technique is speculative at best, he believes that it might someday help neuroscientists understand the behavior of people suffering from low or abnormal neural activity.

Benjamin Baird, Jonathan Smallwood, Michael D. Mrazek, Julia W. Y. Kam, Michael S. Franklin, and Jonathan W. Schooler published research in Psychological Science (link is external) to test the theories of mind wandering.

They designed an experiment in which they asked participants to perform an Unusual Use Task (UUT), listing as many unusual uses for an item as possible. The participants were then split into four groups — one group was asked to perform a demanding task and a second was asked to perform an undemanding task. The third group rested for 12 minutes and a fourth group was given no break. All participants then performed the Unusual Use Task again. Of the four groups, only the people who performed the undemanding task improved their score on the second UUT test. Participants in the undemanding task reported greater instances of mind wandering during the task, which suggests that simple tasks that allow the mind to wander may increase creative problem solving.

So it seems like there are two different perspectives on mind-wandering and its negative or positive effects. How this research intersects with the growing field of mindfulness as a way of managing mind wandering from an “autopiolot” perspective should prove to be most interesting.

Have We Lost the Need For Physical Touch?

Posted April 5th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Has our hi-tech, media-socialized world lost something critical to our species—non-sexual human physical touch? Hasn’t human physical contact set us apart from other animals, and has helped us develop complex language, culture, thinking and emotional expression?

Two hundred years ago, a creature looking somewhat human, was sighted running through the forests of Southern France. Once captured, scientists determined he was age 11, and had run wild in the forests for much of his childhood. One of the fathers of psychiatry at that time, Phillipe Pinel, observed the child—named “Victor”—and concluded, erroneously, that the Victor was an idiot. A French physician attending Victor, disagreed with Pinel, concluding that the child had merely been deprived of human physical touch, which had retarded his social and developmental capacities.

We know from child developmental research that the absence of physical bonding and healthy attachment between an adult and child may result in life-long emotional disturbances. James W. Prescott, an American developmental psychologist, proposed that the origins of violence in society were related to the lack of mother-child bonding. Harry Harlow completed extensive studies on the relationship between affection and development.

In Communist Romania, dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, in a pathological program to raise the birth rate through “science,” established numerous orphanages. When the world was able to see these orphans after his overthrow, they were shocked to see severe underdevelopment in their social skills and values. The commonality for all these orphans was a lack of human physical touch, particularly of the loving kind.

Sharon K. Farber, writing in Psychology Today contends “being touched and touching someone else are fundamental modes of human interaction, and increasingly, many people are seeking out their own professional touchers and body arts teachers—chiropractors, physical therapists, Gestalt therapists, Rolfers, the Alexander-technique and Feldenkrais people, massage therapists, martial arts and T’ai Chi Ch’uan instructors. And some even wait in physicians’ offices for a physical examination for ailments that no organic cause—they wait to be touched.”

Daniel Keltner, (link is external) the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, says “in recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.”

Keltner cites the work of neuroscientist Edmund Ross, who found that physical touch activates the brain’s orbitfrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. Keltner contends that “studies show that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassion response and a simple touch can trigger release of oxytocin, aka “the love hormone.” Keltner also describes the research that shows the economic benefits of physical touch, citing his own recent study of NBA basketball teams, concluding that teams whose players touch each other more win more games.

Keltner also says that “touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. Basic warm touch clams cardiovascular stress. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassionate response.”

Research at University of California’s School of Public Health found that getting eye contact and a pat on the back from the doctor may boost survival rates of patients with complex diseases.

Paul Zak, author of The Moral Molecule, conducted a “neuroeconomics” study, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, in which he argues that hugs or handshakes are likely to cause the release of the neurochemical oxytocin, and increase the chances this persons will treat you “like family”, even it you’ve just met him or her. Zak argues “We touch to initiate and sustain cooperation.”

French psychologist Nicolas Guéguen reports in the journal Social Psychology of Education, t (link is external)hat when teachers pat students in a friendly way, those students are three times as likely to speak up in class. Another recent study has found that when librarians pat the hand of a student checking out a book, that student says he or she likes the library more—and is more likely to come back.

Touch can even be a therapeutic way to reach some of the most challenging children: Some research by Tiffany Field suggests that children with autism, widely believed to hate being touched, actually love being massaged by a parent or therapist.

According to research (link is external)conducted at the University of North Carolina, women who receive more hugs from their partners have lower heart rates and blood pressure and higher levels of oxytocin.“Hugs strengthen the immune system…The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the Solar Plexus Chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, which keeps you healthy and disease free.”

Whether we get a friendly slap on the back, a sensual caress, or a loving kiss –interpersonal touch has a powerful impact on our emotions. In fact, our skin contains receptors that directly elicit emotional responses, through stimulation of erogenous zones or nerve endings that respond to pain (Auvray, Myin, & Spence, 2010).

Although psychologists have learned a great deal about the significance of touch, the scientific inquiry of touch is still in its infancy. One important complexity that has yet to be addressed is that touch is inherently a multisensory experience. During interpersonal touch, we typically experience tactile stimulation, but also changes in warmth, along with changes in what we see, hear, and smell. Nevertheless, inputs from other senses can have independent effects. For instance, researchers Laurence A. Williams and John A. Bargh (link is external)found merely being in a warm room or holding a warm drink can make people feel closer to others compared to when they are in a cold room or holding a cold drink.

What does all this have to do with today’s world and workplace? Two things. The growing prevalence for human interaction through digital media—particularly for young people—versus personal physical contact, and the social and legal restrictions over physical contact in our schools and workplaces may have unintended negative consequences.

Josh Ackerman, a MIT psychologist, claims that people understand their world through physical experiences, and the first sense is through touch. He says that you can produce changes in peoples’ thoughts through different physical experiences. His study, published in Science (link is external)magazine, is the latest in the growing field of research called, “embodied cognition,” a field of research that supports the concept of mind-body connection.

In an article in Wired Magazine, (link is external) Brandon Keim contends, based on this embodied cognition research, that studies show children “are better at math when using their hands while thinking,” and “actors recall lines better when moving.

And when it comes to catching a woman’s interest, little beats a man’s winning smile and a touch on the arm. Studies have shown that a gentle brush of a woman’s arm can boost his chances in love and another study showed that two-thirds of women agreed to dance with a man who touched her on the arm a second or two before making the request.

In our desire to have a politically correct and safe social environment, or an environment of instant communication, have we lost sight of the most important aspect of human development and culture—physical touch?

Additional References:

Auvray, M., Myin, E., & Spence, C. (2010). The sensory-discriminative and affective-motivational aspects of pain. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 214-223.

Paladino, M.P., Mazzurega, M., Pavani, F., & Schubert, T. (2010). Synchronous multisensory stimulation blurs self-other boundaries. Psychological Science, 21, 1202-1207

Wilhelm, F. H., Kochar, A. S., Roth, W. T., & Gross, J. J. (2001). Social anxiety and response to touch: Incongruence between self-evaluative and physiological reactions. Biological Psychology, 58, 181-202.

Is America Addicted to War?

Posted March 25th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

War has become the new normal for the U.S. Militarization, the justification for violence, and the privatization of war are now firmly entrenched.

The U.S. is number one in the world in terms of both war and domestic civilian gun deaths. It leads all countries in the military arms industry, worth approximately 2.7% of the world’s GDP. Russia and China are ranked 2nd and 3rd. Of all the military spending in the world, the U.S. is responsible for 39% of it alone. In comparison, China is second with 9.5% and Russia third with 5.2%. The U.S. currently has (depending on the source of information) somewhere between 800 and 1,000 military bases in over 50 countries.

A study of history will show that since the founding of the U.S. in 1776, it has been at war 214 out of 235 calendar years, leaving only 21 calendar years in which the U.S. did not wage war (during the Depression). Starting with the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. has had two decades of non-stop fighting: Somalia in 1992, Haiti in 1994, Bosnia in 1995, Serbia-Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan starting in 2001, and Iraq and Libya and Syria since then. And that doesn’t count the drone warfare in Pakistan and Yemen.

The economy of the U.S. has become captured by the military and intelligence organizations. Vietnam cost the U.S. $450 billion. Iraq alone will end up costing the U.S. some $6 trillion according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. That’s twice the amount needed to make Social Security solvent forever.

In an article in The Atlantic, (link is external) James Fallows describes how U.S. military expenditure has risen 10 times as fast as household consumption, while government non-military expenditure has fallen. This continues a longer trend. Since the beginning of the 21st century, U.S. GDP, in inflation-adjusted terms, has increased by 21 percent, U.S. government non-military spending by 11 percent, and U.S. personal consumption by 28 percent, while military expenditure increased by 52 percent.

Being at war, whether it’s against other countries or “against terrorists” has become big government business, much of it unseen by the public and many people in government. A Washington Post (link is external) article by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin describes how the top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work. They have identified some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

Barbara Enrenreich, an award winning author and political activist, author of the book Blood Rites (link is external), in which she confronts the mystery of the human attraction to violence: What draws our species to war and even makes us see it as a kind of sacred undertaking. She says, “War has dug itself into economic system, where it offers a livelihood to millions, rather than to just a handful of craftsmen and professional soldiers. It has lodged in our souls as a kind of religion, a quick tonic for political malaise and bracing antidote to the moral torpor of consumerist, market-driven cultures.”

The use of war and torture by the U.S. has not only become an instrument of political and foreign policy but become increasingly an accepted moral norm, and even glamorized in media and movies. The movie American Sniper, poised to be the biggest box office movie of all time, is a case in point. American Sniper is not the first movie to capitalize on the insatiable hunger for stories of brave and sacrificing commandos, as witnessed by the other recent blockbusters: Lone Survivor, and Zero Dark Thirty. Hollywood has found a successful formula with a small number of unstoppable special forces, promoting the belief that special forces and drone warfare can do anything that a conventional army can.

As many movie reviewers have commented, the movie American Sniper doesn’t depict the truth. It’s not really the story of Chris Kyle, as would become obvious when you read his autobiography. The movie implies that it would be wrong to kill civilians, particularly children. According to many U.S. war veterans, no such ban exists, and if it does occur, subsequent reports of the incidents are often altered accordingly.

Despite the lie, still believed by many Americans, that Iraq was behind the 9/11 tragedy, it is perpetuated in the movie. And in the movie, every Iraqi, including women and children, are either evil butchers or insurgents or terrorists. As Kyle has commented, “they are all savages.” In many ways, American Sniper lionizes America’s gun culture, it’s blind adoration of the military, and promotes the belief that the U.S. has to impose its values and rights on “lesser ethnic cultures.”

Kyle’s book is more disturbing than the movie. In the movie, Kyle is portrayed as a reluctant solider, one forced to do what is necessary by orders. In Kyle’s book, he clearly shows that he loves killing and war. He says in his book, he wishes he had killed more. In a 2012 interview with the BBC, Kyle said “Every person I killed I strongly believe they were bad…When I do go face God there is going to be lots of things I will have to account for, but killing any of those people is not one of them.” The Guardian author Lindy West argues “ The real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer. Why are simplistic patriots treating him as a hero?”

In many ways the message of American Sniper is that Muslims are evil and should be killed. This belief feeds the argument that the civilized world is at war with Muslims who are all either terrorists or fighting a “jihad” against the Western world.

Chris Hedges, writing in TruthDig, (link is external) cites his conversation with Reagan White House staffer and former Air Force officer Mikey Weinstein who describes the growing Christian fundamentalism within the U.S. Military. Weinstein notes the extreme right-wing Christian chauvinism, which calls for the creation of a theocratic “Christian” America, a sentiment that is particularly acute among elite units of the SEALs and Special Forces.

American Sniper is disturbing because it glorifies death and violence, blind obedience and loyalty and diminishes the capacity for empathy and compassion. The more the American public exalts movies like it, the more the moral compass of the nation will be dangerously off course.

Does Chris Kyle represent the typical combat soldier—one of little compunction for killing or remorse for doing it? Not according to research and the experience of most war veterans. Dave Grossman, a Special Forces colonel, an instructor at West Point and author of the book, On Killing (link is external), which basically makes the case and presents massive data to show that far from being innate warriors who are just dying to kill people, the vast majority of men are extremely reluctant to kill other people. A large survey done of U.S. combat veterans in World War II found that numerous combat soldiers were not firing at all or were firing away from the enemy. They did not want to kill someone. As a result, the Army completely revamped its training to boost the firing rates of combat soldiers. They also boosted the rates in the Korean War and especially in the Vietnam War. but Grossman said the result has been higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.

America’s moral compass is also being compromised by its disregard for international law. While just over six years ago (link is external) the U.S. public ranked among the world’s most enthusiastic supporters of international law (falling just behind the Germans and the Chinese in global surveys), it now appears that vast majorities of Americans reject the applicability of international law when it comes to the actions of the U.S. government in the “global war on terror,” and the use of illegal detainment and torture at Guantanamo prison, despite widespread international condemnation (link is external)of this policy.

Daphne Bramham, writing in the Vancouver Sun (link is external), describes how 80 million cluster bombs were dropped by the U.S. on Laos in an illegal war there: “Between 1964 and 1973 America dropped more bombs on Laos than had ever been dropped on a single country or continent. It did that without ever officially declaring war on Laos.” She goes on to describe how these bombs remain buried in the soil, and nearly as many Laotians have died from bombs since 1974 as died during the nine years of the “secret war.” Cluster bombs have also been used in South Sudan and Syria in 2014, she reports. More than 150 countries passed a cluster bomb convention, but the U.S. joins Israel, Russia and China as non-signatories to the convention.

The U.S. has expanded the definition of war by the use of drone warfare. Drones, as Grégoire Chamayou argues in his new book, A Theory of the Drone (link is external), are changing warfare and their potential to alter the political arena of the countries that utilize them.

The United States now uses more than 150 weapons-carrying drones which are used not only in Afghanistan but also in countries officially at peace with the U.S., such as Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. In Pakistan, CIA drones carry out on average of one strike every four days. Although exact figures of fatalities are difficult to establish, the estimated number of deaths between 2004 and 2012 vary from 2562 to 3325.

The drone wars, however, are introducing risk-free ethics of killing. Moreover, drones change politics within the drone states. Because drones transform warfare into a ghostly “teleguided” act, orchestrated from a base in Nevada or Missouri, whereby soldiers no longer risk their lives, the critical attitude of citizenry towards war is also profoundly transformed, altering, as it were, the political arena within drone states. In the future, politicians might not need to rally citizens because once armies begin deploying only drones and robots there will be no need for the public to even know that a war is being waged.

Finally, there are some myths about the effectiveness and results of American wars, particularly in the Mid-East. Tom Englehardt author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, identifies these in a recent article. (link is external) He concludes the following:

  • America’s war against the terrorists hasn’t succeeded, citing the RAND report figures of the growth of jihadist groups by 58% between 2010-2013.
  • America’s wars haven’t solved foreign countries’ problems from the time of Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and the CIA’s drone assassination campaign in Pakistan have actually destabilized those countries.
  • America is not winning its wars if you measure a positive goal a subsequent result of the war. The last true war in which America was a victor in those terms was WWII.

Where will the increasing militarization of the U.S. end? How much of its economic resources will continue to be committed for military and intelligence purposes? What will happen to the once vaunted and highly respected American reputation as the world’s moral leader and defender of the rule of law? And what happens to the public conscience when movies continue to justify violence and killing being perpetrated by “heroes?”

 

Leaders: We Love Humble Leaders But Idolize Narcissists

Posted March 25th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

The public in general and even management experts are hypocritical about what makes a good leader. On the one hand we exalt and praise leaders who are basically nasty and abusive (called a****les by some) because they are financially successful and on the other hand, research shows that humble leaders whose focus is to serve others are equally successful, but more importantly, capture the hearts and loyalty of others. Which do we value more?

When we think of egotistical, and even narcissistic and abusive leaders, the names of Steven Jobs, Donald Trump and Larry Ellison comes to mind. Not that their hubris doesn’t pay off according to a research study (link is external) completed by Charles A. O’Reilly III at Stanford’s business school. O’Reilly and his colleagues surveyed employees in 32 large, publicly traded tech companies. He contends that bosses who exhibits narcissistic traits like dominance, self-confidence, a sense of entitlement, grandiosity and low empathy, tend to make more money than their less self-centered counterparts, even if the lower-paid CEOs exhibit plenty of confidence. O’Reilly says of the narcissists, “they don’t really care what other people think and depending on the nature of the narcissist, they are impulsive and manipulative.” O’Reilly goes on to argue the longer narcissistic leaders are at the helm, the higher their compensation in comparison with the rest of the leadership team, or in some cases the narcissistic bosses fire anyone who dares to question or challenge them.

There is a dark downside to this appearance of success however, O’Reilly contends. Company morale often declines, and employees leave the company. And while the narcissistic or abusive leaders may bring in the bigger paychecks, O’Reilly says there is compelling evidence that they don’t perform any better than lower-paid, less narcissistic counterparts. This argument has been supported by Michael Maccoby in his book, The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership. (link is external)

While Steve Jobs was a charismatic visionary, and brilliant innovator, Walter Issacson’s biography showed him to be rude, controlling and mean-spirited, never hesitating to humiliate Apple employees and take credit for others’ work. Since his death, there has been a flood of articles and books and seminars extoling Job’s leadership style, many of which argue that it’s okay to be an “asshole” as long as your financially successful. In may article in The Financial Post (link is external) I make the point “The concern I have, and that it is reflected by other leadership experts, is the faulty cause and effect, and “ends justifies the means” arguments that hold up Jobs as a leader to be emulated. It goes something like this: It doesn’t matter what kind of boss you are like (meaning abusive), as long as you get results (financial); and any methods to get there are okay, including abusing people.”

I’ve encountered many young men, aspiring to be leaders, espousing flawed thinking goes something like this: “If Steve Jobs was a jerk and he was one of the most successful leaders in one of the most successful companies in the world, if I act like him, maybe I’ll be successful too.”

Robert Sutton one of the first leadership experts to draw attention to the prevalence of abusive bosses and how organizations should screen them out, as detailed in his book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t (link is external). He points out that tech firms, particularly those in Silicon Valley where abusive leaders thrive. His article in the Harvard Business Review on the subject received an overwhelming response of affirmation.

A University of Iowa study, “Perpetuating Abusive Supervision: Third-Party Reactions to Abuse in the Workplace” (link is external), found “when a supervisor’s performance outcomes are high, abusive behavior tends to be overlooked when they evaluate that supervisor’s effectiveness.” In other words, while people might not want to be friends with an abusive, overbearing bosses, they’ll tolerate their behavior as long as they are productive.

So it seems that abusive, narcissistic bosses are alive and doing well in the business world (and politics), and even exalted by the media. This is in sharp contrast to the research showing that humble bosses actually perform better and are better for the organization.

Peter Smuelson, a psychologist at Fuller Theological Seminary along with psychologist Sam Handy at Brigham Young University published a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology (link is external) described the need for humble leaders. They recruited 350 participants and gave them an open-ended questionnaire about real life problems. They found two clusters of traits people used to explain humility: The first from the social realm—sincerity, honesty, unselfishness, thoughtfulness. The second was learning—curiosity, logic, awareness, open-mindedness.

Humble leaders are more effective and better liked, according to a study published in the Academy of Management Journal. (link is external)”Leaders of all ranks view admitting mistakes, spotlighting follower strengths and modeling teachability as being at the core of humble leadership,” says Bradley Owens, assistant professor of organization and human resources at the University at Buffalo School of Management. “And they view these three behaviors as being powerful predictors of their own as well as the organization’s growth.”

Owens and co-author David Hekman, assistant professor of management at the Lubar School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, asked 16 CEOs, 20 mid-level leaders and 19 front-line leaders to describe in detail how humble leaders operate in the workplace and how a humble leader behaves differently than a non-humble leader.

Although the leaders were from vastly different organizations—military, manufacturing, health care, financial services, retailing and religious—they all agreed that the essence of leader humility involves modeling to followers how to grow.

“Growing and learning often involves failure and can be embarrassing,” says Owens. “But leaders who can overcome their fears and broadcast their feelings as they work through the messy internal growth process will be viewed more favorably by their followers. They also will legitimize their followers’ own growth journeys and will have higher-performing organizations.” The researchers found that such leaders model how to be effectively human rather than superhuman and legitimize “becoming” rather than “pretending.”

But some humble leaders were more effective than others, according to the study. Humble leaders who were young, nonwhite or female were reported as having to constantly prove their competence to followers, making their humble behaviors both more expected and less valued. However, humble leaders who were experienced white males were reported as reaping large benefits from humbly admitting mistakes, praising followers and trying to learn.

In contrast, female leaders often feel they are expected to show more humility than their male counterparts, but then they have their competence called into question when they do show humility.

“Our results suggest that female leaders often experience a ‘double bind,’” Owens says. “They are expected to be strong leaders and humble females at the same time.”Owens and Hekman offer straightforward advice to leaders. You can’t fake humility. You either genuinely want to grow and develop, or you don’t, and followers pick up on this.

Leaders who want to grow signal to followers that learning, growth, mistakes, uncertainty and false starts are normal and expected in the workplace, and this produces followers and entire organizations that constantly keep growing and improving. A follow-up study that is forthcoming in Organization Science using data from more than 700 employees and 218 leaders confirmed that leader humility is associated with more learning-oriented teams, more engaged employees and lower voluntary employee turnover.

The more honesty and humility an employee may have, the higher their job performance, as rated by the employees’ supervisor. That’s the new finding from a Baylor University study published in in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (link is external)that found the honesty-humility personality trait was a unique predictor of job performance.

“Researchers already know that integrity can predict job performance and what we are saying here is that humility and honesty are also major components in that,” said Dr. Wade Rowatt, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, who helped lead the study. “This study shows that those who possess the combination of honesty and humility have better job performance. In fact, we found that humility and honesty not only correspond with job performance, but it predicted job performance above and beyond any of the other five personality traits like agreeableness and conscientiousness.”

The Baylor researchers along with a business consultant surveyed 269 employees in 25 different companies across 20 different states who work in positions that provide health care for challenging clients. Supervisors of the employees in the study then rated the job performance of each employee on 35 different job skills and described the kind of customer with whom the employee worked. The ratings were included in order to inform higher management how employees were performing and for the Baylor researchers to examine which personality variables were associated with job performance ratings.

The Baylor researchers found that those who self-reported more honesty and humility were scored significantly higher by their supervisors for their job performance. The researchers defined honesty and humility as those who exhibit high levels of fairness, greed-avoidance, sincerity and modesty.

“This study has implications for hiring personnel in that we suggest more attention should be paid to honesty and humility in applicants and employees, particularly those in care-giving roles,” said Megan Johnson, a Baylor doctoral candidate who conducted the study. “Honest and humble people could be a good fit for occupations and organizations that require special attention and care for products or clients. Narcissists, on the other hand, who generally lack humility and are exploitative and selfish, would probably be better at jobs that require self-promotion.”

Amy Y. Ou and her colleagues at Arizona State University published a study in Administrative Science Quarterly (link is external) in which they suggested it would be interesting to look at some of the leadership traits associated with Confucianism. Those traits include self-awareness, openness to feedback, and a focus on the greater good and others’ welfare, as opposed to dwelling on oneself. Ou, who is now an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore, thought that China would be a good place to gather data, because of Confucianism’s influence. She also had a network of corporate contacts there and she teamed up with another Chinese colleague at the business school, Anne Tsui, who had connections in China.

Together with three other colleagues in the U.S. and China, the researchers wound up interviewing the CEOs of 63 private Chinese companies. They also gave surveys to 1,000 top- and mid-level managers who worked with the CEOs. The surveys and interviews aimed to determine how a humble leadership style would affect not so much the bottom line as the top and mid-level managers who worked under the CEOs. Did managers feel empowered by CEOs’ humility, did they feel as though they were invited into company decision-making, and did that lead to a higher level of activity and engagement? The study’s conclusion: The more humble the CEO, the more top- and mid-level managers reported positive reactions. Top-level managers said they felt their jobs were more meaningful, they wanted to participate more in decision-making, they felt more confident about doing their work and they had a greater sense of autonomy. They also were more motivated to collaborate, to make decisions jointly and to share information. Likewise middle managers felt more engaged and committed to their jobs when the top boss was more humble. “There is a negative stereotype that humble people are weak and indecisive,” Angelo Kinicki, one of the co-authors of the report, “That’s just not the case.”

In an article in the Harvard Business Review (link is external) entitled “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve,” leadership expert Jim Collins argues Level 5 leaders, the best leaders exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful.
  • Acts with quiet, calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.
  • Channels ambition into the company, not the self; sets up successors for even more greatness in the next generation.
  • Looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck.
  • Looks out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company—to other people, external factors, and good luck.

Rob Nielsen, author of Leading with Humility, argues that some narcissistic business leaders are treated like rock stars but who leaders who are humble and admit mistakes outshine them all. There’s a difference between being a humble leader and being wishy-washy or overly solicitous of others’ opinions, says Arron Grow, associate program director of the School of Applied Leadership at the City University of Seattle and author of How to Not Suck as a Manager. He says being humble doesn’t mean being a chump and describes 6 ways in which leaders can be more effective by being more humble. Elizabeth Salib takes up on this theme in her article in Harvard Business Review (link is external), contending the best leaders are humble leaders. She cites Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, who says humility is one of the traits he’s looking for in new hires.

A recent Catalyst (link is external) study backs this up, showing that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included. In a survey of more than 1500 workers from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico, and the U.S., Catalyst found that when employees observed altruistic or selfless behavior in their managers—a style characterized by acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes they were more positive and committed to their work teams.

When are we going to stop idolizing business leaders, needing them to be bigger than life in a way reminiscent of celebrities and movie stars, and start appreciating the value of humble leaders, and accept the research evidence that will serve us better?

Why is the Glass Ceiling Shatterproof?

Posted March 25th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

March is Women’s Month worldwide, intended to celebrate the advancement of women’s accomplishments and equality. While there are many individual accomplishments to celebrate the overall picture is not rosy, particularly in the U.S. The glass ceiling is still shatterproof.

In an article I wrote in the Financial Post (link is external) in May, 2010, entitled “What’s Happened to the Glass Ceiling,” I said, “Call it a glass ceiling, glass wall or a glass floor—there is still a barrier blocking senior women leaders in organizations. High-powered executive and professional women are increasingly opting out of, being bypassed, or otherwise disappearing from the professional workforce. While this exists, true diversity in organizations will not happen.”

There is clear evidence that the situation for women in North America, but particularly in the U.S. is actually deteriorating according to research data from the workplace, and the clear ultra conservative agenda of right-wing political groups in the U.S. that are attacking women’s rights.

Justin Wolfer, writing in the New York Times (link is external), makes the point that “fewer large companies are run by women than by men named John, a sure indicator that the glass celling remains firmly in place in corporate America.”

A 2015 Ernest & Young report (link is external) examining gender composition on boards and in the senior executive positions showed that women as a percentage of new board members at S&P 1500 companies in 2014 was still only 14% and the percentage of board seats held by women since 2006 has risen only from 11% to 16%. In addition, the percentage of women occupying the role of CEO in the S&P 1500 companies in 2014 was only 4% and that of CFO, 10%.

Previous research from a 2011 Grant Thornton International Business Report found that women now hold 20% of senior management positions globally, a decline from 24% in 2009, and also found that the percentage of organizations that have no women in senior management has risen to 38% in 2011 from 35% in 2009. Only 16% of women in G7 countries held senior roles while 27% in Asia-Pacific did so, with increasing numbers in Hong Kong and Thailand. Globally, only 8% of companies had female CEOs, and in the U.S. only 3.6% of Fortune 500 companies. In contrast in Asian economies, Thailand had 30%, China 19% and Taiwan 18%.

A new report in the Economist (link is external), (link is external) shows that the Nordic countries of Finland, Sweden and Norway still score the highest of 28 countries in the Economist’s index for gender equality with Canada ranking 11th and the U.S. ranking 18th.

The U.S. in particular is taking steps backwards with respect to gender equality. In the field of law, women are more than 50% of the law students, but less than 25% of law firm partners, federal judges, and law school deans. In 2012, women are expected to earn 63% of master’s degrees and 54% of doctoral and professional degrees, but comprise only 20% of full university professors and only 25% of college presidents. Internationally, the U.S. ranks 85th in the world in its share of women in national legislative bodies. Of the largest 100 cities in the U.S., only 9% have female mayors. Various studies have shown that women have made only incremental progress at the highest levels of Fortune 500 companies and the World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. 19th and Canada 20th respectively among 132 countries, in stark contrast to significantly larger numbers in Europe, Asia and South America. In my article “Why Women May Be Better Leaders Than Men,” I described detailed research on the glass ceiling in current times. As Louise Altman points out in her blog (link is external), “While most Americans tend to think of the U.S. as an egalitarian culture, women in 63 other countries have been elected as heads of state in the past 50 years.”

In recent times, women’s inability to crack the glass ceiling in a substantial way has been blamed on their lack of initiative or aggressiveness, which is akin to blaming a victim of a crime. For example, an article published in Business Insider, (link is external) “Ways women unknowingly sabotage their success,” blames women for not being being aggressive enough in their careers. In part, these articles reflect a perspective championed by successful executive Sheryl Sandberg, as espoused in her book, Lean In. In my previous article (link is external) on the glass ceiling I describe how critics of Sandberg say she does what some other successful women have done—blame other women who are less successful for not trying hard enough. From that perspective, doesn’t Sandberg reinforce the views of male dominated organizations who can use her argument against upwardly mobile women—“you’re not trying hard enough?” One of Sandberg’s chief critics has been Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor who published an article in Atlantic Magazine, (link is external) argues Sandberg is holding women to unattainable standards for personal and professional success. Sandberg makes no reference to the millions of single mothers in the workplace, while advising women to find supportive spouses as part of the solution to leaning in. Other critics say Sandberg has a host of assistants and household help to allow her to devote substantially more attention to her career, a luxury most middle class and lower income women don’t have.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) chaired the Senate’s Intelligence Committee for five years. So when she suggested that investigators should make public a report on the U.S.’s interrogation techniques because it would “ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted,” one might have seen it as the strong words and fair assessment of a person who has deep experience on the issue. But on Fox News, Bush-era National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden suggested that Feinstein actually encouraged the public release of the interrogation techniques report because of her emotions, implying that because Feinstein was a woman she was too emotional to make rational statements. Feinstein is not the first female political or business leader to be attacked because of her gender, and it primarily comes from conservative politicians and media. It reflects a reluctance of male dominated leaders to accept women as equals.

A Pew Center Global Attitudes Project found that 75% of respondents in the U.S. and 80% in Canada believe that women make equally good political leaders, and the numbers were much higher and Europe, Asia and parts of South America. Another Pew Center study, Social and Demographic Survey found women leaders possessed more leadership traits of honesty, intelligence, compassion and creativity than men, whereas men scored higher only in decisiveness. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, authors of The Inspiring Leader: Unlocking the Secrets of How Extraordinary Leaders Activate, and authors of an article in the Harvard Business Review on the subject said, “based on their 2012 research study of 7,280 leaders in organizations, found that in 12 of the 16 categories of leadership traits, women were rated higher than men, including areas that are traditionally thought of as male strengths (eg: drive for results; taking initiative). Other studies by the Harvard Business School and Catalyst Corporation found that large companies with the highest proportions of women in senior management significantly outperformed those with the lowest proportion in terms of return on investment.

For the past few years, I have been working as a mentor and leadership trainer with graduates of several business schools in British Columbia, the majority of whom are female, and I must conclude that their preparation, positive attitude and capabilities as a group are far superior to the male students.

So what are we to conclude and do about the thickening glass ceiling? Harvard’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Robin Ely argue that a critical mass of women in senior leadership and on boards is required, and that may mean passing legislation as Norway has done, required at least 40% female board members.

A 2011 McKinsey and Company study which reviewed over 100 existing research studies on the subject and interviewing over 2,800 male and female leaders, concluded that there were four problems that must be overcome: structural-the lack of role models for women, exclusion from informal networks, and absence of sponsors; lifestyle issues-women who also value family life and are not prepared to commit to an executive’s 24/7 working lifestyle; imbedded institutional mindsets—entrenched beliefs held by male managers that women can’t handle leadership jobs; and imbedded individual mindsets that indicate that women are less satisfied with careers than men.

Clearly, leaders in our private and public organizations, and politicians need to take note of this growing problem in North America, particularly the U.S. Perhaps a clue to the present start and stop progress is given by feminist movement pioneer Gloria Steinem: “Classically speaking, resistance to change comes at two points. The first is right at the beginning, when you break the rules and people say, No, women can’t do that. And the second comes when you reach a critical mass, as if the other group might have great influence, or, in the case of women, might actually outnumber them. We’re now in the second stage of resistance.”

How Workplace Bullying Destroys Well-being and Productivity

Posted March 25th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Workplace bullying has become a silent epidemic in North America, one that has huge hidden costs in terms of employee well-being and productivity. Also known as psychological harassment or emotional abuse, bullying involves the conscious repeated effort to wound and seriously harm another person, not with violence, but with words and actions. Bullying damages the physical, emotional and mental health of the person who is targeted.

Bullying at work grinds victims down and makes them an ‘easy target’ for further abuse according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

The study published in the journal, Anxiety, Stress & Coping: An International Journal, (link is external)reveals a spiral of abuse in which the victims of bullying become anxious, leaving them less able to stand up for themselves and more vulnerable to further harassment. The research suggests that employers should not only crack down on workplace bullies, but also help victims gain the skills to cope with difficult situations.

Ana Sanz Vergel, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Business School, said: “This study shows that the relationship between workplace bullying and the psychological impact on victims is much more complex than expected.”

Examples of bullying at work include harassing, offending, or socially excluding someone repeatedly over a period of around six months.

“Workplace bullying leads to poor health because the victim is exposed to a very stressful situation – resulting in anxiety and lack of vigor. We wanted to see whether deteriorated health could make the employee an easy target for bullying. For example, the victim may have less energy to respond to difficult situations and therefore receive less support from colleagues or supervisors,” Vergel reported. She goes on to say, “Another explanation is the so-called ‘gloomy perception mechanism’ in which anxious employees may evaluate their environment more negatively.”

The research team, which included colleagues from the Complutense University and Autonomous University of Madrid in Spain, tested their theory on 348 Spanish employees. Participants were interviewed about their experiences of bullying and assessed for anxiety and vigor. Vergel contents, “We found that being exposed to workplace bullying leads to deteriorated mental health and decreased well-being. But at the same time, showing anxious behavior puts the victim in a weak position and makes them an easy target – leading to a spiral of abuse.”

A second recent study by Christine Sprigg, Carolyn Axtell and Sam Farley of the University of Sheffield, together with Iain Coyne of Nottingham University was presented at the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) annual Festival of Social Science in November. They shine a light on this relatively new phenomenon—cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying can be defined as using modern communications technology such as e-mails, texts or web-postings to abuse people. And it is as common in the workplace as ‘conventional’ bullying. Yet, the way cyber bullying influences both the victim and witnesses are more hidden in the workplace according to new research by occupational psychologists.

Until now the impact of cyber bullying has mainly focused on younger people in environments such as schools rather than adult workers. The researchers reveal suggestions on how employers should tackle and prevent cyber bullying in the workplace. This will become more important as communication technologies continue to evolve and become more widespread.

The study included three separate surveys among employees in several U.K. universities, asking people about their experiences of cyber bullying. “We gave people a list of what can be classed as bullying, such as being humiliated, ignored or gossiped about, and asked them if they had faced such behavior online and how often,” said Coyne.

Of the 320 people who responded to the survey, around eight out of ten had experienced one of the listed cyber bullying behaviors on at least one occasion in the previous six months. The results also showed 14 to 20 per cent experienced them on at least a weekly basis — a similar rate to conventional bullying.

The research team also examined the impact of cyber bullying on workers’ mental strain and wellbeing. “Overall, those that had experienced cyber bullying tended to have higher mental strain and lower job satisfaction,” Coyne said. “In one of our surveys, this effect was shown to be worse for cyber bullying than for conventional bullying.”

The research team also found that the impact of witnessing cyber bullying was different than that seen for conventional bullying. “In the research literature, people who witness conventional bullying also show evidence of reduced wellbeing. However, in our research this does not appear to be the case for the online environment,” Coyne said.

“Witnesses are much less affected. This might be because of the remote nature of cyberspace — perhaps people empathize less with the victims. This could affect the witness’s reaction to the bullying and potentially whether to report it or otherwise intervene.”

Another Canadian study shows bullying gives employees the urge to quit their jobs, which again, can be a significant cost to employers

Merely showing up to work in an environment where bullying goes on is enough to make many of us think about quitting, a new study suggests. Canadian researchers writing in the journal Human Relations (link is external), have found that nurses not bullied directly, but who worked in an environment where workplace bullying occurred, felt a stronger urge to quit than those actually being bullied. These findings on “ambient” bullying have significant implications for organizations, as well as contributing a new statistical approach to the field.

To understand whether bullying in the work unit environment can have a negative impact on a worker’s desire to remain in their organization, independent of their personal or direct experiences of workplace bullying, organizational behavior and human resources experts from the University of British Columbia surveyed 357 nurses in 41 hospital units.

Their analysis of the survey results showed that targets of bullying were more likely to be thinking of leaving. They also showed a statistically significant link between working somewhere where bullying was going on and a wish to leave. Next the researchers used statistical analysis to test the relationship between turnover intention and whether an individual was experiencing bullying directly. They found that the positive relationship between work unit-level bullying and turnover intentions is stronger for those who rarely experienced direct bullying compared with those who are bullied often.

A number of previous studies have shown a strong correlation between a high staff turnover and bullying within an organization, especially when there is other employment readily available. From an organization’s perspective, staff turnover is costly, and when the word gets out about bullying this can also be damaging to reputation.

The study has wider implications in the field of human resources, the authors say, because they examined a broad, varied and generalized experience of bullying. Further, because they relied on hierarchical linear modeling techniques, the researchers could accurately examine the simultaneous impacts of direct bullying and ambient bullying, showing each unique effect above and beyond that accounted for by the other (something not possible with earlier statistical techniques).

“Of particular note is the fact that we could predict turnover intentions as effectively either by whether someone was the direct target of bullying, or by how much an environment was characterized by bullying,” said corresponding author, Marjan Houshmand. “This is potentially interesting because we tend to assume that direct, personal experiences should be more influential upon employees than indirect experiences only witnessed or heard about in a second-hand fashion. Yet our study identifies a case where direct and indirect experiences have a similarly strong relationship to turnover intentions.”

The authors theorize that although individuals may experience moral indignation at others being bullied, it is perceived as being even more unfair when others are bullied and they are not. The work contributes to a growing area of human relations study, which looks at how third party experiences affect individuals within organizations.

“This work provides insight into the bullying targets’ understanding of their experiences and it challenges the ‘passive’ view of workplace bullying that characterizes the targets of bullying as hapless victims who are too vulnerable and weak to fight their bullies,” Houshmand suggests. “Instead, the targets of bullying see ‘escaping’ their own and other people’s bullies as a means to create turmoil and disrupt the organization as an act of defiance.”

In my previous article in Psychology Today, I argue, “One thing is for sure; the problem of workplace bullying will not go away anytime soon, and may never be fully remedied until enough people call for a return to a culture of civility and demand that leaders in organizations do something about the problem.

Why Work-Life Balance is Becoming Critical

Posted March 25th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

The problem of work-life balance is becoming more acute in organizations, and there is a disconnect between employers’ and employees’ perspective on this issue.

A study of the issue of work-life balance in Europe completed by Joan Lazar and published in the journal, European Research Studies (link is external), showed that competing and multi-faceted demands between work and home responsibilities have increased substantially in Europe, and the result has been many government-led policy initiatives. Her research shows that workers who feel they have some control over their working environment tend to suffer less stress-related ill-health; and turnover is less frequent.

Millennials will represent the majority of the workforce within the next few years. Employers that grasp the importance of understanding Millennials will be better positioned to adjust their employer branding strategies and employment offerings around the expectations of Millennials. Of these expectations, two stand out: Millennials rank achieving wealth below spending time with family followed by personal growth and learning. They spend a much higher value on having enough personal time. Work-life balance is critical to them.

WorkplaceTrends.com, a research and advisory membership portal servicing forward-thinking HR professionals, and CareerArc, a global recruitment and outplacement firm, announced the results of a new study (link is external)entitled, “2015 Workplace Flexibility Study.” The study was based on a national survey of 1087 professionals. The study included the following conclusions:

  • 67% of HR professionals think that their employees have a balanced work-life, yet 45% of employees feel that they don’t have enough time each week
  • 65% of employees say that their manager expects them to be reachable outside of the office
  • 64% of HR professionals expect their employees to be reachable outside of the office on their personal time
  • 87% of HR leaders believe that workplace flexibility programs lead to employee satisfaction, and 70% of HR leaders use workplace flexibility programs as a recruiting and retention tool
  • 50% of employers ranked workplace flexibility as the most important benefit they believe their employees desired, compared to 75% of employees
  • 79% of employees ranked financial support, such as tuition assistance, as being most important after time off.
  • Only 34% of the organizations surveyed currently offer outplacement assistance to their laid-off employees.

Dan Schawbel, Founder of WorkplaceTrends.com and New York Times best-selling author of Promote Yourself, said “Technology has expanded the 9-to-5 workday into the 24/7 workday, which has made it extremely difficult for employees to have personal time… In the future, every company will have flexibility program and those that don’t will lose the battle for the top talent.”

Part of the problem can be seen in the debate or push-back from employers. They are concerned that giving workers too much flexibility or “free time” will result in abuses. At the same time, there is no evidence to support the proposition that “face-time” or “seat time” is the equivalent of engagement or productivity, which can realistically only be measured by results. There are new studies now available that show that in organizations that provide flexible work-life balance arrangements productivity actually increases.

The other perspective that becomes part of the issue of work-life balance is that of gender. With the increase in the numbers of women in the workforce, combined with the predominant expectation that they will continue to shoulder most of the responsibilities of child-rearing, the lack of work-life balance becomes more acute.

My experience in coaching CEOs and senior executives is that work-life balance is a serious and troublesome issue for them. Increasing demands on their time, and brutal meeting schedules regularly interfere with their intentions to spend time with their families. But most interestingly, many of them express dissatisfaction about not having time for themselves, because precious little time is left over.

It’s clear from recent studies such as the WorkplaceTrends.com and CareerArc study, that the issue of work-life balance is becoming more significant, particularly in light of the large influx of Millennials into the workplace. Smart employers would do well to take note and become proactive.

How Abusive Bosses Can Destroy Teamwork

Posted March 25th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Hate your boss? You are not alone! We’ve all heard the story of the egotistical boss or the one that terrorizes and intimidates employees. There is increasing evidence that there is a clear link between bad leaders and employee health and productivity problems, which is turn, can be a huge liability for organizations.

Recent research shows that abusive supervision leads to a variety of negative individual and organizational outcomes such as decreased job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and well-being and increased turnover, burnout, and hostility in the work environment. Most of that research has focused on the impact abusive bosses have on individual employees. Now there is new evidence to show the impact on teams.

Robert Sutton of Stanford University who wrote: The No Asshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t (link is external) says in business and sports it is assumed that if you are a big winner, you can get away with being a jerk or abusive boss. He says such bosses drive good people out. A jerk in the workplace is defined as someone who oppresses, humiliates, de-energizes or belittles a subordinate or a colleague. Sutton claims this behavior affects the bottom line through increased turnover, absenteeism, decreased commitment and performance. He says the time spent counseling or appeasing these people, consoling victimized employees, reorganizing departments or teams and arranging transfers produce significant hidden costs for the company.

Swedish researchers, led by Anna Nyberg at the Stress Institute in Stockholm, have published a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (link is external) on the issue of leaders’ behavior and employee health. They studied more than 3,100 men over a 10 year period in typical work settings. They found that employees who had managers who were incompetent, inconsiderate, secretive and uncommunicative, the employees were 60% more likely to suffered a heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac condition. By contrast, employees who worked with “good” leaders were 40% less likely to suffer heart problems.

According to a 2010 survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 35% of the American workforce (or 53.5 million people) has directly experienced bullying–or “repeated mistreatment by one or more employees that takes the form of verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, humiliation or sabotage of work performance”–while an additional 15% said they have witnessed bullying at work. Approximately 72% of those bullies are bosses.

“Bullying in the workplace is similar to the school playground in that people are being demeaned or exploited,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job. (link is external)“But in the office, bullying is far more subversive and challenging to overcome, as these grown bullies are adept at finding non-assertive victims and staying under the radar.”

Abusive bosses often run into problems themselves, eventually, especially in organizations that require a high degree of teamwork and collaboration for both individual and business success – increasingly the norm, today. Nevertheless, many companies continue to harbor or foster unhealthy, toxic management. In fact, some research suggests that it’s on the rise, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Supervisors who are abusive to individual employees can actually throw the entire work team into conflict, hurting productivity, finds new research led by a Michigan State University (MSU) business scholar.

The study, conducted in China and the United States, suggests the toxic effect of nonphysical abuse by a supervisor is much broader than believed. Published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology (link is external), it’s one of the first studies to examine the effect of bad bosses in employee teams. Teams are increasingly popular in the business world.

Lead investigator Crystal Farh said supervisors who belittle and ridicule workers not only negatively affect those workers’ attitudes and behaviors, but also cause team members to act in a similar hostile manner toward one another. “That’s the most disturbing finding,” Farh said, “because it’s not just about individual victims now, it’s about creating a context where everybody suffers, regardless of whether you were individually abused or not.”

Farh, assistant professor of management in MSU’s Broad College of Business, said the findings could likely be explained by social learning theory, in which people learn and then model behavior based on observing others, in this case the boss. Previous research has shown that workers emulate supervisors’ positive behaviors, she said, so it only makes sense they would follow negative behaviors as well.

For the study, Farh and Zhijun Chen from the University of Western Australia studied 51 teams of employees from 10 firms in China. Average team size was about six workers and the teams performed a variety of functions including customer service, technical support and research and development.The study was replicated in a controlled laboratory setting in the United States, with nearly 300 people participating.

The study looked at nonphysical abuse such as verbal mistreatment and demeaning emails. Employees who directly experienced such abuse felt devalued and contributed less to the team. At the same time, the entire team “descended into conflicts,” Farh said, which also reduced worker contributions.

“Teams characterized by relationship conflict,” Farh said, “are hostile toward other members, mistreat them, speak to them rudely and experience negative emotions toward them.”

The findings have implications for companies faced with rehabilitating a team of employees following abusive supervision. In the past, companies may have simply targeted abused employees with efforts to restore their self-esteem. While that’s still important, Farh said, efforts should also be made to fix the team’s interpersonal relationships by re-establishing trust and harmony.

So, in conclusion, employers should be aware of the tremendous costs to individual employee health and well-being caused by abusive bosses, but be doubly aware of the impact they have on team functioning.

Millennials and the Impending Leadership Development Crisis

Posted March 25th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

As large numbers of Millennials or Gen Y moves into the workplace, we will be encountering a leadership development crisis.

The New Leader’s Council and Virtuali have published a report (link is external) “Engaging Millennials through Leadership Development: Teaching Millennials to lead is the key to talent acquisition, employee engagement and retention.” The report is based on a sample of 527 U.S. based Millennial professionals.

The report underscores the impact that changes in the workplace, in which we will see a growth of 30% or more of Millennials, become the majority of workers.

According to the report, 50% of the Millennials are already in leadership positions.

It’s of interest to note that 64% of those surveyed felt “unprepared” when assuming their leadership roles and report difficulties managing people and resolving conflicts.

Millennials consistently rate leadership development among the most important employer benefits. At the same time, they expect it to be delivered differently from that to Baby Boomers, expecting it to be highly individualized and on-demand and experiential in nature. More than 60% of the respondents indicated companies are not providing sufficient leadership training.

It will be difficult for employers to keep top talent if there aren’t additional incentives based outside job titles and financial compensation, respondents reported.

Ninety-five percent of Millennials surveyed aspire to be leaders in their careers, despite the fact that less than 50% have found leadership roles. Why? Because they have a more egalitarian perspective. They see leadership not as an organizational chart or direct reports, but rather as relationships , networking and developing others, regardless of titles.

Millennials value people-centric leadership, underscoring the importance of communication and relationship skills, and place less value on “hard skills” such as technical competence or industry knowledge.

Millennials identified coaching and mentoring as the most important developmental activities by a wide margin, which emphasizes also the importance of experiential learning.

Deloitte has released a report, “Mind the Gaps: The 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey.” (link is external) The study collected the view of more than 7,800 Millennials representing 29 countries. Among the conclusions of the report were the following:

  • Millennials believe that business needs to “reset” in terms of paying as much attention to people and purpose as it does to products and profit;
  • More than 7% of those surveyed believe businesses should have a positive impact on society first;
  • Millennials want to know that businesses are acting ethically and in accordance with their own values;
  • Millennials view leadership in a way that runs contrary to how they see it today; they would like to see leaders place a higher priority on employee well-being and development rather than financial rewards;
  • Millennial women place a higher value on employee well-being than Millennial men.

It’s clear that Millennial or Gen Y will have a significant impact on the workplace just from the perspective of their large numbers. But also because their values about work-life, leadership and the purpose and impact of business on society and the world is of great importance to them.

And while progressive companies such as Google have taken positive steps to address the issues mentioned, most employers have yet to come to terms with how the Millennial generation is on the cusp of drastically changing how we view work and business. And may end up doing so at the cost of insufficient talent strategies and retention problems.

 

A Powerful Strategy to Increase Productivity

Posted March 25th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Working to benefit a good cause increases productivity by up to 30 percent, according to the findings of a new study from the University of Southampton.

When workers are given a social incentive such as a charitable donation linked to their job, performance increases by an average of 13 percent, rising to 30 percent amongst those who are initially the least productive.

“A lot of studies have shown how financial incentives, like bonuses and stock options, can improve performance,” says University of Southampton economist Dr. Mirco Tonin, lead author of the study. “But our results provide empirical support for the growing recognition that some workers are also motivated by advancing social causes through their efforts.”

Performance was most improved (increasing by 26 percent overall) when workers could decide how much of their pay they wanted contribute. When donations were optional, over half of participants chose to give a proportion of their own pay to a charity of their choice.

Researchers offered students at University of Southampton the chance to take part in the study, which involved completing four one-hour online data entry sessions over the course of a week. Productivity was measured by the number of entries students made within the sessions and the accuracy of those entries.

Students received £20 for completing the four sessions and were divided into four groups, each with different levels of additional financial and social incentive. Some groups were given various increments of performance related pay, based on the number of entries they made, while others were given differing forms of social incentives; from a lump sum donation to a charity (given upon finishing the task), to donations made for each completed entry.

“Both varieties of social incentive (lump sum and performance based) were equally effective at increasing performance,” says Dr. Michael Vlassopoulos, co-author of the study. “We can see that social incentives have a positive impact in the number of entries made, without compromising accuracy.

“Our results indicate that social incentives may be slightly less effective than financial incentives in motivating workers, but the difference is not as large as one might have expected. The motivational impact of social incentives, coupled with sufficient tax breaks or additional advantages coming from customers, regulators, or investors, would make them as effective for employers as offering financial incentives.”

When participants could choose how much of their performance related pay they would like to share with a charity, and how much they wanted to keep for themselves, performance increased considerably. Those who chose to donate gave an average of 20 percent of their per entry rate, with women being more generous than men.

“We find that offering subjects some discretion in choosing their own payment scheme leads to a substantial improvement in performance,” says Dr. Tonin. “This suggests that firms willing to introduce corporate giving programmes may want to consider giving employees the opportunity to ‘opt in.’”

The study “Corporate Philanthropy and Productivity: Evidence from an Online Real Effort Experiment” will be published in the forthcoming edition of Management Science.