Friday, October 17, 2014

Does Your Company Need A Chief Birthday Officer?

Some many co-workers, so many birthdays. How is a harried office manager supposed to stay on top of it all?

Well, Edible Arrangements, which makes yummy edible arrangements, has come up with its own solution to this age-old, company-wide problem! It's hiring for a brand-new position called Chief Birthday Officer.

The Chief Birthday Officer is a C-suite role, and this new hire will "act as a designated birthday ambassador, social media maven and the go-to person for all things birthday" at Edible Arrangements. The CBO's job responsibilities include handling internal company birthday celebrations.

In other words, planning the employee birthday party!!!

As we digest our lunch and wait to leave early for the weekend, I have to wonder if the Chief Birthday Officer is an idea whose time has come. I mean, it's a natural fit for a party planning-oriented employer such as Edible Arrangements, but what about a 20,000-employee technology company? Would it work there? Well, we do know that the Silicon Valley Chief Birthday Officer would have the technology to put together quite the stellar birthday e-card.

Still, having the internal birthday planning function run through one management-level hire could be a wave of the future that can start happening now. We already know that the average office manager would absolutely love handing off all the birthday planning to the Chief Birthday Officer. Office managers already have too much on their plates to worry about birthday cakes, too.

Employees could react very positively to knowing that somebody in the C-suite cares enough to remember, and potentially plan something for, their birthdays, especially since employers pulled back on celebrating employee birthdays during the recession. Let them eat cake, indeed.

But that's so 2012! Just imagine nobody hitting you up for $10 at your desk anymore to fund co-worker so-and-so's birthday present, when you just threw $10 into the pot last week for the boss's birthday. Now that's a change many employees might love.

Sick Employees Think the Boss Appreciates Their Presenteeism

Staples Advantage's fifth annual flu survey is out this week, and it says that the percentage of employees coming to work with the flu has dropped for the first time in five years. Now for the bad news.

While fewer employees are coming to work with the flu, four in 10 office employees Staples surveyed said there is simply too much going on at work to stay home when they're feeling sick.

The most alarming statistics, however? Nearly half of the 1,500 employees surveyed feel a need to "tough it out" at work when feeling sick, while nearly one-third surveyed (31%) will come to work sick because they think the boss "appreciates" it. Apparently, these employees think the boss will see them as a dedicated team player for showing up, anyway.

What a trooper! Thanks for powering through it and staying productive!

With flu season on the horizon, now is a good time for managers to tell employees that they're not going to earn any brownie points for coming to work sick. Not only does coming to work sick set a terrible example in the long term, it could make our co-workers nervous in the short term. Employees might also wonder what precautions the employer is taking to keep them from getting sick. A company-wide reminder could be just what the workplace doctor ordered.

Meanwhile, more than one-quarter of employees (27%) in this year's Staples Advantage flu survey said that workplace illness is worse for office productivity than a security breach, a natural disaster or a product/service issue. Let me repeat that: Worse than a security breach or a natural disaster. And that was before this week's news cycle put everyone on edge.

Creating open lines of communication with employees about how to proceed at the first signs of illness would be a smart move for management at companies large and small. Let's look out for each other on the job, and everywhere else. And let us not be afraid to tell our clammy-looking co-worker to go home until he or she feels better. Now that's something all of our co-workers could appreciate right now.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sure Thing? Study Finds Uncertainty Can Be A Motivator

Uncertainty. It's everywhere these days, and nobody likes dealing with it. Or do we?

A new University of Chicago Booth School of Business study reveals something very interesting: We humans can be more motivated to succeed when we don't know exactly what's going to happen. Let's turn the page to see what it could mean for the workplace!

For sake of simple example, say our supervisor offers to pay us a $5 bonus for a job well done. Are we feeling stoked yet? Ready to tackle the work in return for a sure thing? Well, we might feel more motivated to get the work done if the boss had posed his or her offer something like this:

I'll pay you a bonus of anywhere between $2 and $5, depending on how it goes. Now get out of my office, slacker, and don't let the door hit you on the way out!

How does it work? I'll let the press release clear up any last-minute reservations:

In "The Motivating-Uncertainty Effect: Uncertainty Increases Resource Investment in the Process of Reward Pursuit," Professors Ayelet Fishbach and Christopher K. Hsee of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Luxi Shen of the University of Hong Kong compared the time, money and effort that people put into winning a certain reward versus an uncertain reward, and found that the uncertain reward was more motivating.

The researchers ran several experiments that established this motivation. For example, in one study they asked college students to drink a large amount of water in two minutes. Some were told they would receive $2 for completing the task, while others were told they would receive either $1 or $2. They found that more people finished the water to receive the uncertain amount of money. The team calls this phenomenon the motivating-uncertainty effect.

So a sure thing can make us less motivated, not more! Could the "motivating-uncertainty effect" work in the workplace to "incentivize" employees? Is "incentivize" actually a word? It is rather clunky, as most nouns tend to be when verbified for business purposes. Hmm. We're still feeling rather unmotivated to research the word "incentivize," and working up the energy may require a monetary incentive of anywhere between $2 and $5. Those $5 pumpkin spiced lattes don't buy themselves, you know.

However, if you're a manager who is having a hard time motivating employees even when very clear rewards are offered, then creating a bit of swag uncertainty might be just what the high-priced management consultant didn't think to order.

See? I just saved you anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 in random consulting fees, and you didn't even have to use the cloud! All you had to do was access this silly workplace blog post for free and watch a Michael Scott scene from "The Office." I do accept bonuses on a sliding scale, however. I'm negotiable.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Workplace Stress Is Shortening Women's Life Spans

New research finds men are getting a lot healthier, while women are succumbing at younger ages due to workplace stress. Can we get a hot cup of tea and the soothing sounds of Enya over here, stat?!

Britain’s Office for National Statistics recently analyzed (with a "z" because I'm American) the mortality rates of men and women over age 50, and you know what it found? I'll let an article in The Telegraph (U.K.) explain:

But the new study, which compares death figures from 1963 and 2013, also singles out the effect of the transformation of women’s lives over the last half century.

It concludes that while men are becoming healthier than ever, women could now be being held back by patterns of workplace stress and associated traits such as smoking and drinking once more commonly associated with men.

Women are still outliving men, but the gap is narrowing. Women of the labor (without a "u") force: We can't have it all, or at least, we can't have it all at once. We'll need to pace ourselves, delegate here and there, and let some things slide. Oh, and stop smoking and binge drinking. Something's gotta give, somewhere.

So I totally support your decision to turn off your smartphone as you dine on leftovers for dinner before deciding you can't deal with folding six heaping baskets of laundry tonight because you're tired after a very long day. And that's okay. Now go find a way to relax, stat.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

On Boss's Day, Remember How It Could Always Be Worse

October 16 is Boss's Day, the one day of the year when we're supposed to look at management and say, "Thanks for all you do, I guess."

I'm kidding, of course! The good news is, we tend to like our boss most of the time these days. A brand-new OfficeTeam survey tells us that the majority of U.S. employees really do like their immediate boss!

Slightly more than three in four (76%) employees in the OfficeTeam survey rate their boss as having "strong leadership skills," while slightly more than two-thirds (67%) think their boss does a better job bossing everyone around than they could if they were the boss -- if that makes sense. So, let's give a round of applause to America's bosses!

Now the question is, how are we going to thank our most excellent boss for the fantastic job he or she does all year long keeping us busy with work to do (not always an easy feat in this economy!) and, in general, for just being an all-around good person? I suspect for most good to great managers, a simple "thanks for being such an awesome boss!" is all it takes to make their day on Boss's Day. Turning in our work on time, not showing up late for work, not leaving too early, taking care of personal hygiene issues, not gossiping about our co-workers and refraining from arguing with customers would be icing on the cake.

Even better, get the boss a cake on October 16. Who doesn't like cake? Unless he or she can't eat it for some reason, in which case, scratch that idea. Food can be tricky business. In a pinch, think about the boss's hobbies and interests, and branch out from there. It's the least we can do after the boss offered us an olive branch last month when really, he or she should have made a note in our file.

The key takeaway here: We spend so much time talking about the bad bosses that we don't recognize the awesome bosses in our midst. In fact, we can often fail to realize just how great our boss actually is -- er, was -- until he or she is no longer supervising us on a daily basis. We often take the best bosses for granted.

If we have a boss we would rate as being good to great, however, then we should thank our lucky stars. Every. Single. Day. We've won the boss lottery! It may not always feel like it, but overall our job, and our workplace, would be a lot worse if it weren't for this one boss. A lot worse. Take it away, Kevin Spacey! [Language NSFW.]

Millennials with good to great bosses, listen up: While you're sitting in the office openly whining about something the boss just did, or said, or might say later today, your Gen X co-workers are probably thinking, "Wow, that's worth complaining about? That's nothing! I once had a boss who..." (I'll let you share your own sob stories.) Someday, when you're working for a truly terrible boss, you will remember your current boss with fondness, and wistful longing. You simply didn't know how good you had it, did you? Sigh.

We've all been there. The best piece of advice I ever got from a great boss in my early 20s? Work hard, and stay interested in the work, up to the moment you leave the job. You've given your notice, but don't slack off, because that's the last impression your former boss and co-workers will have of you as an employee, no matter where you go, and you might work with some of them again in the future. The world can be a very small place. It stuck. Thanks, boss!

Now go ask for that holiday time off (that you know you'll get...) from your incredibly wise, understated, and understanding boss, who will also let you leave early on Friday to get a jump on the holiday weekend traffic. Your boss is a very impressive person, and not just on paper. I hope you already know that.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Workplace Trends: The Office Telemedicine Kiosk

Imagine that you're not feeling very well at work one day. Is it a cold, the flu or simply a garden variety headache? In the future, you might not have to wonder anymore as you listen to a co-worker with vocal fry blather on and on about her epic weekend!

That's because the Mayo Clinic has announced a pilot program to test "telemedicine kiosks" in the workplace. The Mayo Clinic's program is dubbed the "Mayo Clinic Health Connection." An article in the local Post Bulletin gives us the full work up:

The system will use a product called HealthSpot, "which combines robust cloud-based software and a private walk-in kiosk that offer solutions to care for patients in their place of work."

Doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants from both Mayo Clinic and Mayo Clinic Health System will meet with patients who can visit the kiosk with no appointment required.

Kiosk visitors can interact with medical professionals online and be treated for "minor, common health conditions" including sore throats, sinus infections and earaches. Why am I suddenly imagining a medically-savvy Max Headroom streaming over a telemedicine kiosk screen inside a dark closet to suggest an over-the-counter treatment? I don't think a Max Headroom scenario is even remotely what the Mayo Clinic has in mind, which is good, because that show was virtually unbearable to watch in the 1980s.

If the telemedicine kiosks test well, the Mayo Clinic could roll them out to other local employers, which means the office telemedicine kiosk may someday show up in non-medical work environments all over the place. Just think: Our future workplace headaches could eventually exist somewhere in the cloud! Now that's what I call workplace progress.

The telemedicine kiosk comes with a few pros and cons, however. On the one hand, employees could get immediate treatment for a whole host of garden variety ailments without having to schedule a doctor appointment, which would save time and money, could increase overall employee productivity, and could give employees some peace of mind that at least it's not strep throat this time. No, it's just a bad case of vocal fry. Bummer.

On the other hand, some employees might worry who, exactly, "in the cloud" would have access to their garden-variety sinus information. Shy employees might also feel a bit of trepidation in having their co-workers notice them visiting the kiosk about their itchy, red feet. (Psst, it sounds like a common case of athlete's foot to us!)

Still, the office telemedicine kiosk is a novel, futuristic idea that could hold many potential benefits for employers and employees alike in quickly treating the minor ailments that can make our work day nearly unbearable between boring status update meetings. Stay tuned.