Tag Archives: productivity

These are the characteristics of people most likely to cut corners at work

The Conversation

Peter O’Connor, Queensland University of Technology and Peter Karl Jonason, Western Sydney University

In a newly published study, we found that employees who “cut corners” tend to be morally compromised, low in conscientiousness, self-focused and impulsive. This in addition to the potential for corner-cutting to increase risks.

Surveying more than 1,000 Australians and Americans, we found approximately one in four employees regularly cut corners. Men are slightly more likely to cut corners than women.

Cutting corners at work

Cutting corners is a workplace behaviour characterised by skipping or avoiding steps important to a task, in order to complete the task sooner. Corner-cutting is generally considered an undesirable behaviour, with research linking it to a range of negative outcomes such as low job performance, safety violations and serious injuries.

Although corner-cutting comes with a set of risks, it also comes with a clear possible benefit – cutting corners can possibly lead to greater productivity. Consistent with this, studies have shown that corner-cutting is more likely in jobs characterised by high demands and few resources. It is also more likely in organisations that prioritise efficiency over risks.

However, even in such organisations, corner-cutting is openly discouraged. Mistakes caused by employees cutting corners are typically met with harsh consequences.

To investigate whether corner-cutters can be identified, we surveyed employees from a range of industries including health care, education, hospitality, retail and construction. We looked at several demographic variables and personality traits to determine who is more or less likely to cut corners at work. We focused on both common personality traits (e.g., extraversion, conscientiousness) as well as “darker” personality traits (e.g., Machiavellianism, narcissism).

We didn’t just stop at a questionnaire. We also exposed employees to a hypothetical scenario where they could choose to cut corners or not. We conducted two variations of the study across Australia and the US.

The personality traits of corner-cutters

Across both studies, we found that both common and darker personality traits were associated with corner-cutting. Most significantly, corner-cutters were likely to be low in conscientiousness, low in honesty and high in psychopathy (i.e., impulsive, callous social attitudes). Corner-cutters also scored high in Machiavellianism (i.e., manipulation, self-interest) and narcissism (i.e., grandiosity, pride).

Age and gender were also factors in corner-cutting, such that employees who cut corners at work tended to be younger and male.

But there are also various contexts that play into the decision to cut corners. While a third of employees cut corners when it would likely save them time, they were less likely to do so if they could be reprimanded (only one in six employees cut corners in this situation), or if there was the potential for a poor-quality outcome (only one in four cut corners then).

These results paint a seemingly negative picture of workplace corner-cutters as individuals who are generally self-interested and low in conscientiousness. However, it is plausible that employees sometimes cut corners with noble intentions. For example, the related concept of “workarounds” refers to the more accepted behaviour of “clever methods for getting done what the system does not let you do easily”.

To explore this possibility, we investigated whether corner-cutters were more proactive than those who tend not to cut corners. Our results strongly suggested that this was generally not the case.

Proactive employees were not more likely to achieve their goals by cutting corners at work, even when their goal was to save time. In fact, we found that proactive individuals were slightly less likely to cut corners at work than non-proactive individuals.

We also found little relation between corner-cutting and career success. There was no relationship between corner-cutting and income. However, it was associated with higher income for those who scored high in psychopathy.

This indicates that while corner-cutting generally does not relate to career success, it can result in career benefits for impulsive, self-focused individuals. These individuals are likely to cut corners as a strategy to be more productive, despite possible costs to the organisation or co-workers.

Implications for managers

Overall, we found that corner-cutting is not a desirable workplace behaviour. Those most likely to cut corners are likely to be poor performers aiming to meet minimimal standards in contrast to good performers looking to excel. The possible exception is individuals high in psychopathy looking for short-cuts to get ahead.

Clearly, it makes sense to minimise the number of employees with corner-cutting tendencies. This is particularly true for jobs in which mistakes caused by cutting corners can lead to serious injury (e.g., jobs in mining, construction). At the very least, we suggest employers take into account certain characteristics of applicants (e.g., conscientiousness, psychopathy) when selecting for such positions.

The ConversationPeter O’Connor, Senior Lecturer, Business and Management, Queensland University of Technology and Peter Karl Jonason, Senior Lecturer in Personality or Individual Differences, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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The backlash against open plan offices: segmented space

The Conversation

Libby Sander

Looking back on the changes in office design over the past 30 years, it is easy to see why some employees feel as if they have been subjects in a giant ongoing experiment.

For decades the office has moved from private, to open plan and more recently, no desk at all. These changes have been driven almost simultaneously by the push to reduce real estate cost and to also increase collaboration among employees.

While savings in real estate costs appear to have been achieved, the negative effects of the open plan office on employees have now been well documented. A large body of research shows these offices are noiser; employees have difficulties concentrating and are unable to hold private conversations.

The promise of increased collaboration in open plan appears to have very little evidence to support the idea. A study of more than 42,000 employees found that open plan office environments did little to increase interaction.

Given all this evidence, it is perhaps unsurprising that a recent study by Oxford Economics found the impact of open-plan office design is far greater than executives realise. The report found both productivity and employee peace of mind suffers in the open workplace. Although there appears to be a growing realisation of the negative effects, the results showed few companies have effective strategies in place to address the problems.

Another key issue in the open plan office is that it doesn’t cater to either differences in individuals or differences in the type of work that needs to be undertaken. The time workers are spending on collaborative tasks is decreasing, while time on quiet concentrated work is increasing.

In response to these issues, organisations have been experimenting with ways to segment workplaces to overcome these problems. Articles on new office design are peppered with concepts such as “caves”, “campfires”, “town squares” and “city zones”.

The segmented office is based around the idea that different spaces are needed to support different tasks and different personalities. Sleep pods, library spaces, mobile-free zones and cafes are becoming standard features in new office designs.

Employees are encouraged to move between the different areas based on what they are doing at the time. Tasks such as taking a phone call, holding a meeting, doing work that requires focus and quiet or work that needs collaboration with others are all allocated separate areas.

While seen as a positive move by some employees, the changes often don’t go far enough to allow concentrated, productive work. What if your co-workers are just noisy people in general?

Julian Treasure, sound consultant and author of the book Sound Business, suggests employees are one-third as productive in open office designs as in quiet rooms. In research I am currently conducting, many employees report that having to find a space to work each morning is tiring, while others resent having to move around to do different tasks.

The practicality of moving to different spaces, carrying laptops, power cords and other documents and materials needed to complete work can be tiresome at best and impractical at worst. The inability to find co-workers when needed appears to be another common complaint in early results of the study I am undertaking, with some employees opting out of IT-based location identification systems in order to not be interrupted.

Other key issues emerging in my research on this topic are that often the number of phone booths and meeting rooms are limited, resulting in wasted time and frustration trying to find somewhere to meet or take a call. When the need for confidential conversations arise, such issues often need to be dealt with immediately. Employees report to me that finding private places to converse in such situations is challenging, and being told to “book a room” or “go to a coffee shop” is not uncommon.

The overall office size in Australia is relatively small. As a result, offices being designed to embrace the segmented idea can end up having a gym with a rowing machine as well as the cafe space within metres of the open plan desk area.

It seems we still have a way to go. Recent research in the Harvard Business Review indicates the push for collaboration is too much of a good thing and staff are increasingly demanding quiet spaces to work where they can focus and concentrate.

With many working from home or other third places to get work done, does the office still matter?

Some authors suggest the office will die out all together. Nikil Saval, in his book Cubed, goes so far as to suggest leisure is over as the office now follows its employees everywhere thanks to the cloud.

Yet the imperative to get it right appears more important than ever. While we may indeed be able to work from anywhere, it seems we still want to come to the office.

Two-thirds of employees prefer to build relationships face-to-face, and the majority prefer to build that connection in an ideal workplace. How we create the ideal workplace remains to be seen.

The ConversationLibby Sander, Lecturer

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Flat-earth economists lead the hysteria over budget deficits

The Conversation

Beth Webster, Swinburne University of Technology

Back in the good old days of the 19th century when market economies oscillated between boom and prolonged recession, economists believed that nations were like households. They had to balance their budgets. If they spent more in one year they would have to save more the next to pay off the debt. Sound advice for a household. But not so for an economy as a whole.

Welcome to the Keynesian revolution

Keynes proved this in 1936, and subsequently governments followed this theory to get their economies out of depression and onto the long economic boom that lasted until the mid-1970s.

What essentially did Keynes, and his doppelgänger Kalecki, argue? Let’s use a very simplified model to illustrate the point. Say there are two types of people who are active in the market economy: employees and investors. The investors own the assets of the business in which the employees work.

Altogether the businesses in a country produce $100 of goods and services in a year. If they could sell these goods and services, then say for illustrative reasons, that $70 would go to the employees as wages and salaries and $30 goes to the investors as a profit (return on their capital).

Now the businesses can only sell their goods and services if people with incomes (the same employees and investors) spend $100 buying these goods and services. No business keeps producing things that are not bought. The employees may be happy to spend their $70 on goods and services. But the investors will only spend their $30 if they can feel confident that they will get their $30 back plus a return for risk. This return may be 5% or more depending on the economic climate. Suppose the optimistic investors, in the first year, spend their $30 of dividends (or profits) on the goods and services. But at the end of the year, the business only makes $100 of sales and the investors only get back $30 (as $70 goes to employees). Not a good investment. Rate of return = zero.

So what do investors do? In the next year, they only spend $20 on investment goods and services. But then the combined purchasing power of employees and investors is $70+$20 = $90. The business cannot sell all their product ($100). With only $90 in income they pay wages of $70, leaving $20 for the return to investors, but in addition, they cut back on production and retrench staff in the following year. Investors also cut back on spending as they also got a rate of return below what they feel reasonable given the risk of investing. It is safer to leave the money as cash in the bank or under the bed. And so the economy enters a downward spiral. Investors cut back, businesses sack staff and unemployment rises.

Downward spiral

What stops this downward spiral? There needs to be an external injection of spending into the system. This is the essential Keynesian message. By external, we mean something that does not originate from employees (householders) or the investment community. It has to come from either the government in the form of
perpetual budget deficits or perpetual exports.

Clearly from the point of view of the world as a whole, exports cannot be the source. Some countries, for some of the time, can get income stimulus from exports (i.e. China for the last 30 years) but this is at the expense of other economies. At the end of the day, the stimulus to incomes has to come from governments who control the money supply and can thus spend without having to borrow. Essentially, they can monetise the debt. They do not have to pay this debt back – it is spending financed by central banks. The point is that if the government adds to spending (and production) without extracting an income for itself, it allows investors to realise the minimum rate of profit necessary for them to invest again.

This is what occurred for the 25 years following WWII. So what stopped it?

Inflation

Inflation. Inflation instigated by a series of oil price shocks but then prolonged by excessive government spending in the US to finance the Vietnam war. Governments in the late 1970s and 1980s reacted to inflation by drastically cutting spending. But the rate of inflation did not fall until the price of oil fell in the 1990s and China flooded the world with cheap manufactured goods. Certainly, if an expansion of the money supply is excessive we will get inflation. But taken to an extreme in the other direction, we get low growth and unemployment.

Where do you think we are in 2016? With 700,000 official unemployed, close to another 700,000 under-employed, and an inflation rate below 2%, I would say we are swung too far to the parsimonious side. It is all about balance. It should not be about blind and mechanical fear mongering about government budget deficits. The current political debate is on level with a Tony-Abbott-climate-change debate. Misguided, low brow and damaging to the well-being of many people.

Productivity growth

And incidentally, for those wondering, productivity growth will not break the deficient-demand impasse described above. Productivity growth would have to achieve a consistent rate of over 5% per annum to fill the void in spending. Given the historic rate has been about 1%, I would not count on it.

The ConversationBeth Webster, Director, Centre for Transformative Innovation, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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Collaboration: Too much of a good thing?

The Conversation

Libby Sander, Griffith University

It’s not your imagination. Involvement by managers and employees in collaborative endeavours has increased by 50% in the past two decades, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review. The study found that in many companies, the time spent in meetings, on the phone and answering emails takes up to 80% of employees’ time. Collaboration is seen as a vital precursor to the production of creative ideas, problem solving and improved social capital.

In designing new workplaces, collaboration is often the holy grail against which all other office requirements are measured. Some workplaces are now so open and transparent, that it is possible for a group of employees to talk face-to-face about a work problem while seated simultaneously in the office cafe, at the work station area and on a rowing machine. At Apple’s new campus in California, the design is intended to get employees to collaborate in key interaction areas, such as the restaurant. However, if an employee’s desk is at the wrong end of the building, walking to the restaurant will mean undertaking an 800 metre trip.

The focus on open workplaces is driven in part by a desire to reduce real estate costs for organisations, but also by a belief that increased interaction leads to increased collaboration. However, a study of 42,000 employees showed there was little solid evidence that open layouts improved interaction. Other research has shown that increased awareness through being able to see others doesn’t translate clearly to collaboration. The study also suggests that most office design is an experiment, and that the outcomes beyond self-report surveys are rarely tested.

Both the processes and places where work is occurring are allowing increasingly little room for employees to undertake the solitary work required to achieve results. Between 2008 and 2013, a survey showed that amongst knowledge workers, time spent on collaborating had decreased by 20% while time spent on focussed work requiring deep thought had increased by 13%. When employees can’t focus and think clearly they actually collaborate less and become more withdrawn.

Further, the perception that collaboration adds value and improves team productivity is likely to be overstated. The Harvard Business Review research has shown that in most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees. Other research has shown that a single employee in a team who constantly goes above and beyond the scope of their role, can drive team performance more than the rest of the team combined.

Employees feel increasing pressure to assist others and go beyond their scope. University of Oklahoma professor Mark Bolino told the Harvard Business Review this phenomenon is called “escalating citizenship”. The result of this is increased burnout and lower satisfaction. Employees who are seen as the best source of information and most helpful collaborators score the lowest on engagement and career satisfaction.

To address this situation, organisations need to reconsider how to balance focussed and collaborative work both from a process and space design perspective. Knowing which employees are bearing the brunt of the collaborative burden is essential. Putting up your hand to take on more and more is seen as an essential prerequisite for career advancement. Alarmingly though, given the nature of collaborative helping, this extra work can often go unnoticed, leaving employees burnt out and disillusioned. The best solution to a problem may not involve having a meeting, forming a committee, or a putting together a new project team.

The ConversationLibby Sander, PhD Candidate, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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The rabbits of Christmas past: a present that backfired for Australia

The Conversation

By Andrew Bengsen, University of New England

On Christmas Day 1859, the Victoria Acclimatisation Society released 24 rabbits for hunting, to help settlers feel more at home.

Given the millions of dollars in damage to agricultural productivity that ensued, as well as the impacts on biodiversity as the rabbits bred and spread to cover 70% of the continent, this could be seen as Australia’s worst Christmas present.

Now, given our current climate change commitments, controlling rabbits could be “Santa’s little helper” in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2007, Australia committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to at least 5% below 2000 levels, by the year 2020. This commitment remains central to our climate change policy, and we should expect greater emissions reduction targets in future if we comply with the international target of limiting global warming to plus 2 deg C.

Storing carbon in the land

There’s been plenty of talk of planting more trees. But case studies and evaluations of government programs such as Bushcare show that this is an expensive way to re-vegetate.

Instead, many people now recognise there are better ways to manage carbon across large areas. Livestock grazing and fire (such as “savanna burning”) are often cited as important factors to manage and enhance carbon storage in plants and soils across vast areas.

Some significant gains might also be achieved by reducing the damage caused by some of our most serious pest animals.

Eating us out of house, home and carbon

Rabbits are well known for their ability to strip grasslands bare and destroy the seedlings of woody shrubs and trees. Even in low numbers, rabbits can completely prevent some important woody species from regenerating.

Mulga woodlands, for example, cover vast tracts of inland Australia, and mulga trees are likely to be a very important carbon store in these areas. However, rabbit numbers as low as one animal per hectare can effectively stop the replacement of old trees by destroying seedlings.

Distribution of rabbits (orange, left) and mulga woodlands (green, right) across Australia. Rabbit data from West 2008.

Recently, Tarnya Cox and I reviewed the potential benefits of controlling rabbits and other invasive herbivores for reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. We unearthed a multitude of similar stories about the extensive damage that rabbits can cause to vegetation and ecosystem function, and how that may affect the ability of these systems to capture and store carbon.

Importantly, much of the damage that rabbits cause to the environment can be reversed.

In many areas, Mulga and other species flourished for the first time in 100 years after rabbit numbers were reduced by up to 95% in the 1990s by rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (previously known as calicivirus).

Many other studies have also found sudden increases in plant growth after rabbit populations were reduced by disease or intensive conventional control.

A rabbit opportunity

Dying mulga tree and narrow-leaved fuchsia bush in a rangeland area degraded by rabbits and goats. Robert Henzell

The regeneration of Mulga and other woody species over broad areas can make significant contributions to our emissions reduction targets. Mulga and other arid zone acacias are long-lived, grow slowly, and have very dense wood. This means that mature trees can store large amounts of carbon for their size, and keep much of it locked up long after the death of the plant.

Regenerating Mulga woodlands in western Queensland and New South Wales are estimated to capture over half a tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, per hectare per year, in woody biomass alone. This equates to about four air passengers travelling from Sydney to Brisbane per hectare of mulga woodlands.

Rabbits inhabit most of the 143 million hectares of Australia’s Mulga woodlands. If their populations can be controlled, then there is considerable potential for natural carbon sequestration to help us meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Other invasive herbivores – such as camels and goats – can also reduce vegetation cover and plant carbon storage. However, we already have a solid understanding of the rabbit’s impact on the environment, and they are very widespread which means that their eradication could have large positive impacts.

How to control rabbits

Conventional rabbit control operations – such as warren destruction and poison baiting – can be more cost-effective at regenerating native vegetation, than planting more trees. This would be useful for the large areas of road-side reserves and stock routes which need revegetation. They rival the size of the National Park estate in terms of total area across south-eastern Australia.

These areas would be suitable for conventional rabbit control. Even a small increase in tree density due to rabbit control would help us achieve our greenhouse gas reduction targets. Rabbit control is often required to allow tree plantings to establish and flourish.

A rabbit feeds on a planted tree surrounded by a tree guard, despite an apparent abundance of green vegetation outside the tree guard. Mark Hillier, Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, Author provided

Of course, there are many challenges in reducing the damage caused by rabbits, and improve our chances of achieving our greenhouse gas reduction targets. Most importantly, we need accurate estimates of the effect of rabbit control on natural carbon sequestration. We also need a means of monitoring actual carbon sequestration amounts, that complies with the stringent carbon accounting rules of the Kyoto Protocol.

Another major challenge is the declining effectiveness of rabbit hemorrhagic disease. Fortunately, a major cooperative research program is already underway to counter the virus’ diminishing effect, though biological control alone cannot be expected to completely mitigate rabbit impacts.

As we hark back to that fateful Christmas Day in 1859, a future of climate uncertainty, agricultural hardship and the loss of our unique biodiversity, we must be prepared to act on these challenges.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged with permission). Read the original article.

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