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Dec

6

2017

7 Phrases That Indicate You Might Be in a Toxic Work Environment

It’s a situation familiar to many of us: That moment when something just feels off.

You have a less-than-great feeling about your work environment, and then, someone utters a phrase that gives you a sinking feeling.

It’s a feeling that makes that “off” sensation feel even worse — a feeling that makes you think, “Hmm. Maybe it’s not me.”

That’s the feeling that indicates you might be in a toxic work environment.

But how can you be sure, exactly? What do these signaling phrases sound like?Download our complete productivity guide here for more tips on improving your  productivity at work.

We collected the seven that we’ve heard the most — outside of HubSpot, of course — and compiled this list to help you figure out if your instincts are correct.

7 Phrases That Indicate You Might Be in a Toxic Work Environment

  1. “You won’t believe how late it was when I left the office last night.”
  2. “I would love to help you, but … “
  3. ”Thanks, that was my idea.”
  4. “Oh, I can’t even remember the last time I took a real vacation.”
  5. ”That’s not my fault.”
  6. ”I’m sick (again).”
  7. ”Where are you going?”

1. “You won’t believe how late it was when I left the office last night.”

When you work hard, it’s no surprise that you might occasionally have to stay at the office past your typical “quitting time” — like when you’re on the verge of launching a new product, campaign, or event. 

But when you hear about colleagues doing this regularly — especially when they speak boastfully about it — that’s a sign that there might be something not-quite-right with the workplace culture, and its approach to work-life balance.

Take a survey conducted by Staples, for example. It showed that 55% of employees feel like they can’t leave their desks for a break. Sure, 86% also said that these breaks would actually help their productivity — and yet, more than half are hesitant to take them.

So what’s stopping us?

When we hear our peers, colleagues, and managers habitually speaking of late nights at work and industrious weekends — the opposite of taking time to breathe and recharge — it sends the message that it’s expected of everyone, perhaps even implying that breaks and time offline are discouraged. And that, in a word, is unhealthy.

In situations like these, it helps to ask for clarifying information. If there’s a colleague you trust, or if you have a good relationship with your manager, try asking if these hours are expected, or if it might be possible to disconnect on a given evening and weekend for a special event. It might turn out that this lack of work-life balance is not encouraged, and that what you’ve been hearing is the exception — not the rule.

2. “I would love to help you, but … “

I’ll never forget something my boss told me on my first day at HubSpot. “To help you be more successful, I’ll help you with whatever you ask me for help with. The most successful people ask for help when they need it!”

I wish everyone’s managers and teams led with that sentiment. After all, as human beings, we’re already disinclined to ask for help — so when we do and that request is met with a “but,” it’s not exactly going to encourage us to ask for support in the future.

In these instances, I’ve found that it helps to lead by doing — even if this vocabulary or behavior is coming from someone who works above you. Many times, these phrases reflect someone feeling overwhelmed, in which case, it can be beneficial for you to proactively offer help. By actively displaying behavior that discourages a mentality of, “That’s not my job,” you may inspire others to take a similar approach.

3. “Thanks, that was my idea.”

This one, for me, might be the worst phrase on the list. Is there anything worse than someone else being given credit for something you did — and then, that person accepting it without mentioning your role in the accomplishment?

That’s one of the top signaling behaviors of a toxic work environment. It somewhat aligns with the tendency to have the negative parts of your performance pointed out, with little-to-no mention of the positives. When someone — whether it’s a colleague or a manager — takes credit for things that he didn’t accomplish alone (or at all), it can further reinforce a detraction from the things you’re doing well at work.

While it may not result in a sustainable resolution — and can be very difficult to do — it can help to be honest about the situation with the person from whom this behavior is coming. Try saying something like, “I was surprised by your response to the praise received for Project X. While I felt that I contributed a lot to that work, it sounds like your perception may have been different. Do you have any suggestions for how I can improve my contributions?”

That way, you’re not pointing it out in a way that comes from a defensive or finger-pointing manner. Plus, the response you receive to this conversation may indicate just how toxic the situation is. If, for example, the person didn’t even realize his error but retroactively recognizes it, you can work together to change that behavior.

4. “Oh, I can’t even remember the last time I took a real vacation.”

Have you ever heard the term “vacation shaming”?

It’s exactly what it sounds like.

According to research from Alamo Rent A Car, 47% of workers feel shame or guilt at work for taking time off — and 28% are reluctant to do it at all, fearing that they’ll appear less dedicated to their work.

This phrase is similar to the first one we listed about working late, or not taking breaks. When the people around us at work brag about burning the candle at both ends, it reinforces the idea that that behavior is rewarded and that, therefore, we should be doing the same.

But ultimately, that approach is detrimental. In fact, the top 10% most productive employees using business time-tracking software DeskTime have been found to take 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work they put in.

In other words — time off improves the quality of our work. A work environment that dictates otherwise gives us pause.

5. “That’s not my fault.”

Okay, so maybe it’s not phrased exactly this way, but here’s the point: the blame game is never a good sign.

When someone appears to be unable to admit their role or accountability in things going wrong, it can instill fear in those around them — fear that they might be expected to accept blame in a situation for which they didn’t actually do anything wrong. 

And while studies show that many employers believe up to 50% of their respective workforces are comprised of unaccountable individuals, we’ve got news: Managers are responsible for being accountable, too, and for leading by example with it.

In order to create a culture of accountability and eradicate the blame game, it’s important to begin by exhibiting that behavior yourself. You could write an entire book on accountability at work, for example, and if you don’t practice it yourself, no one will take that directive seriously.

If this is new territory for you, start by asking what role you may have had in a less-than-desirable situation — and if the answer if something other than what you want to hear, take a moment to consider the feedback you’ve received, before reacting defensively.

6. “I’m sick (again).”

If all of the above phrases pointed to a single underlying result it would be: stress.

When you’re facing a wave of discouragement to take time off, work reasonable hours, or have confidence in your performance, your lifestyle can start to suffer. You might not allow sufficient time to eat healthy foods, work out, or sleep. And when you combine those factors, the typical result is getting sick.

Before my life at HubSpot, I once worked for a very small company where, every week, at least one employee was sick. And while I didn’t recognize it at the time, I know now that it was a sign of a toxic work environment. It might be normal for there to be an outbreak of a cold during a seasonal change or, say, flu season. But if people in your work environment are regularly and frequently falling ill, it’s a sign that their immunity has suffered — that can stem from an unhealthy lifestyle, which is easy to fall into when the aforementioned items abound.

7. “Where are you going?”

I’ll cut right to the chase. According to a study performed by researchers at Indiana University‘s Kelley School of Business, employees working under a micromanaging boss have a higher mortality rate.

I wish I were making that up. But, seeing as we’ve already discussed the impact of stress and a lack of workplace flexibility on the ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle — it doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, then, that those working in these conditions die younger than their peers who are allowed more independence and balance in their jobs

Micromanaging is typically a sign of distrust. Constantly tracking your team’s behavior and disallowing autonomy communicates that you have little faith in its ability to succeed, which can result in a lack of confidence and motivation brought to tasks and responsibilities.

If you find yourself in this type of situation — on either side of it — look to the results for next steps. Is your team’s performance lacking? If so, and your manager exhibits this type of behavior, it could be helpful to have a conversation about how this approach is negatively impacting your performance.

For the other way around, look inward. Ask your team how you can help, and if stepping away might boost productivity.

Productivity Guide

 
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Nov

3

2017

Your Coworkers Really Hate When You Use These 3 Buzzwords, According to New Data

Office workers can pretty universally agree that buzzwords suck, but we’re all still guilty of peppering them into an email or a presentation here and there. 

There are certainly worse ways to bother your coworkers than corporate jargon, but intentionally cutting them out of your daily conversations can only benefit your company’s overall culture and your own work relationships. There’s almost always a better, more descriptive way to say something hiding behind the buzzword. 

To find out which corporate buzzwords bother American office workers the most, the folks at Summit Hosting conducted a survey of 1,000 people across a number of different industries. Read on to find out which words you should steer clear of to avoid irritating your coworkers — or even worse: losing their respect. 

summit-hosting-infographic1-2.jpg

Aug

29

2017

Here Are the Top Employer Branding Challenges [New Report]

Around here, we’re not exactly shy about our nerdiness.

We love data. We love running experiments. And upon the release of a new report that combines the two, we gleefully geek out and immediately devour the results — always keeping in mind what they mean for marketers.

One of the more recent instances of this phenomenon is Hinge Research Institute’s 2017 Employer Brand Study. It’s full of data about the latest challenges faced by B2B firms, especially those within the realm of professional services — with particular emphasis on recruiting and retaining the best talent.Click here to download our ultimate toolkit for social and PR branding.

As it turns out, a lot of that comes down to branding — specifically, branding your firm as an employer, as well as a service provider.

In this post, we’ll dive into the report’s findings, and what marketers need to know when it comes to building a brand as an employer.

What Is Employer Branding?

According to BusinessDictionary, a brand is the “unique design, sign, symbol, words, or a combination of these … creating an image that identifies a product and differentiates it from its competitors.”

In the past, we’ve written about the importance of and ways to brand your business based on an audience of current and potential customers, as well as buyer personas. But when it comes to recruiting the best talent to help your organization grow, branding remains key — but how you position your company as an employer might look different than the way you do as a service provider.

In no way does that mean you should falsify your brand for a different type of audience. It just means that you might use different (factual) information to build a value proposition as someone who’s hiring, as opposed to that for your products and services.

In a nutshell, your employee brand should encompass three key pieces:

  1. Your employer value proposition (EVP). According to Hinge, that’s “an engaging appeal to prospective employees … made up of a set of characteristics, features, and values that describe what it’s like to work in your organization and how it improves employees’ lives.” But in order to authentically communicate that, you should also include …
  2. The voice of your current employees. From their perspective, what’s it like to work for your company? How would they describe the culture? What do they love most about it?
  3. Specialized marketing content. That can include any current content you have that establishes your firm as an authority or thought leader — in some cases, this content might need to be repurposed for employer branding and recruiting purposes, but anything that builds your appeal as an exciting place to work is worth considering.

The Top Employer Branding Challenges for Marketers

The Methodology

In publishing the Employer Brand Study, Hinge sought to answer several questions — for the exhaustive list, check out the full-length study here. But we wanted to dig into the two that intrigued us the most:

  1. What challenges are professional services firms faced with today?
  2. What is marketing’s role in employer branding?

In answering these questions, Hinge surveyed a sample of 801 professionals, who fell into one of two categories:

  1. Talent-Evaluators: employees who are directly involved in the company’s recruiting and hiring efforts, who were asked to answer questions about these internal processes.
  2. Employee-Candidates: employees who are generally removed from recruiting and hiring efforts, who answered questions about how they approach their own respective job searches.

Here’s a breakdown of how each category was represented:

Research-EmployerBrandStudy-1.jpgSource: Hinge Research Institute

And, a look at the industries represented:

Research-EmployerBrandStudy-2.jpgSource: Hinge Research Institute

The Data

What challenges are professional services firms faced with today?

When Hinge asked respondents to identify their top professional challenges, they weren’t restricted to one particular business category. And yet, have a look at how many of the top challenges fall within the realm of recruiting, developing, and retaining talent:

Research-EmployerBrandStudy-3.jpgSource: Hinge Research Institute

In fact, over half of the respondents identified “attracting top talent/recruiting” as their biggest challenge, making it the second-highest-cited difficulty facing both talent-evaluators and employee-candidates. In fourth place, meanwhile, there was the reduction of turnover.

In other words: People operations — as we call them here at HubSpot — impact all areas of a business. Not only does something like turnover lead to extensive costs to employers, but it also leaves individual teams and employees in a lurch when they lose talent. In addition to their own workloads, they now have to take on the tasks of those who have left, all while trying to find fitting replacements.

Notice that “maintaining a positive public image” is also on the list. That’s reflected in recruiting efforts — according to Harvard Business Review, a company’s bad reputation can cost it 10% more than a firm with a good reputation to acquire a new hire.

So how can firms manage their reputations in a way that heightens their appeal to talent? It goes beyond doing the right thing — which, yes, is imperative — and often involves managing their brands, too.

That’s where marketers come in. After all, the subject of the study was employer branding — and branding is a category of marketing. That could be why Hinge also posed the questions to respondents: “What is marketing’s role in employer branding?” Next, we’ll explore those findings.

What is marketing’s role in employer branding?

Research-EmployerBrandStudy-4.jpgSource: Hinge Research Institute

When looking at the previous two charts side-by-side, it’s interesting to note the similarities between the top challenges identified by professionals, as well as those named as the biggest responsibilities of marketers within employer branding. Both questions generated answers identifying lead generation (whether in the form of a customer or talent pipeline), a positive public image (or making the firm seem attractive), and best leveraging technology (we include maintaining a website and focusing on social media here) as priorities.

But we want to dig into some of those marketing responsibilities a bit more, especially “creating content for digital marketing.” We’ve covered a lot on the topic of content strategy, including that within the digital realm. And while creating quality, valuable content can attract an audience of business leads — one of the main principles of inbound marketing — it could potentially do the same for talent leads.

When I was preparing for my interviews with HubSpot, one of the first things I did was voraciously read the Marketing Blog. Of course, that’s the team I was interviewing to join — but reading that content, as well as looking further into the downloadable offers created by the team — provided me with some insight into the company’s culture, and got me thinking about the creative process. What do brainstorms look like there? How are all of these ideas for blog topics and downloadable content generated? It was very intriguing and contributed to my excitement to be part of it.

But before I read the blog, I did a general search for information on the company. I read Glassdoor reviews, perused the Culture Code, and even came across the HubSpot culture and careers blog, Move On Up. And while that first piece — the Glassdoor reviews — weren’t technically owned by HubSpot, the company was still managing its presence there, by providing a detailed response to every reviewer. And when combined, all of that content composed a cohesive presence: the employer’s brand.

See what we’re getting at?

What to Do With This Information

Now, just for fun, let’s have a look at the report’s findings with regard to “Top Criteria Candidates Consider When Evaluating Opportunities”:

Research-EmployerBrandStudy-5.jpgSource: Hinge Research Institute

Aha! The top response from employee-candidates was, “firm culture.” And while your firm might have a remarkable culture, it won’t do anything to benefit your recruiting efforts if you keep it a secret. It should be part of your employer brand and communicated across the content you produce.

And if you don’t already have an established culture — or Culture Code, like we have here — here’s a great opportunity to establish one. Not only will this work toward your recruitment efforts, but it can also force you to acknowledge exactly what type of business and team you want to have, and how (or if) your actual culture presently aligns with what you’d like it to be.

These principles can guide the type of hiring decisions you make in the future, and can even influence the way you manage your current teams, ideally supporting talent retention.

That speaks to the importance of internal employer branding, too. I’m a big fan of the phrase, “Practice what you preach.” While it’s much easier said than done, the employer messaging you broadcast externally should truthfully reflect what actually happens inside your company. The last thing you want to do is focus all of your employer branding efforts on recruiting outside talent, only to have those new hires enter the company to witness something completely different, or high turnover — that can position them as flight risks.

So, remember: As you build your employer brand, think about where you want your workplace culture to be — and just how much you’re currently missing the mark on those criteria. An important element of branding is honesty, with both target audiences, and with yourself.

Oh, and by the way: We’re hiring.

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Aug

29

2017

Here Are the Top Employer Branding Challenges [New Report]

Around here, we’re not exactly shy about our nerdiness.

We love data. We love running experiments. And upon the release of a new report that combines the two, we gleefully geek out and immediately devour the results — always keeping in mind what they mean for marketers.

One of the more recent instances of this phenomenon is Hinge Research Institute’s 2017 Employer Brand Study. It’s full of data about the latest challenges faced by B2B firms, especially those within the realm of professional services — with particular emphasis on recruiting and retaining the best talent.Click here to download our ultimate toolkit for social and PR branding.

As it turns out, a lot of that comes down to branding — specifically, branding your firm as an employer, as well as a service provider.

In this post, we’ll dive into the report’s findings, and what marketers need to know when it comes to building a brand as an employer.

What Is Employer Branding?

According to BusinessDictionary, a brand is the “unique design, sign, symbol, words, or a combination of these … creating an image that identifies a product and differentiates it from its competitors.”

In the past, we’ve written about the importance of and ways to brand your business based on an audience of current and potential customers, as well as buyer personas. But when it comes to recruiting the best talent to help your organization grow, branding remains key — but how you position your company as an employer might look different than the way you do as a service provider.

In no way does that mean you should falsify your brand for a different type of audience. It just means that you might use different (factual) information to build a value proposition as someone who’s hiring, as opposed to that for your products and services.

In a nutshell, your employee brand should encompass three key pieces:

  1. Your employer value proposition (EVP). According to Hinge, that’s “an engaging appeal to prospective employees … made up of a set of characteristics, features, and values that describe what it’s like to work in your organization and how it improves employees’ lives.” But in order to authentically communicate that, you should also include …
  2. The voice of your current employees. From their perspective, what’s it like to work for your company? How would they describe the culture? What do they love most about it?
  3. Specialized marketing content. That can include any current content you have that establishes your firm as an authority or thought leader — in some cases, this content might need to be repurposed for employer branding and recruiting purposes, but anything that builds your appeal as an exciting place to work is worth considering.

The Top Employer Branding Challenges for Marketers

The Methodology

In publishing the Employer Brand Study, Hinge sought to answer several questions — for the exhaustive list, check out the full-length study here. But we wanted to dig into the two that intrigued us the most:

  1. What challenges are professional services firms faced with today?
  2. What is marketing’s role in employer branding?

In answering these questions, Hinge surveyed a sample of 801 professionals, who fell into one of two categories:

  1. Talent-Evaluators: employees who are directly involved in the company’s recruiting and hiring efforts, who were asked to answer questions about these internal processes.
  2. Employee-Candidates: employees who are generally removed from recruiting and hiring efforts, who answered questions about how they approach their own respective job searches.

Here’s a breakdown of how each category was represented:

Research-EmployerBrandStudy-1.jpg
Source: Hinge Research Institute

And, a look at the industries represented:

Research-EmployerBrandStudy-2.jpg
Source: Hinge Research Institute

The Data

What challenges are professional services firms faced with today?

When Hinge asked respondents to identify their top professional challenges, they weren’t restricted to one particular business category. And yet, have a look at how many of the top challenges fall within the realm of recruiting, developing, and retaining talent:

Research-EmployerBrandStudy-3.jpg
Source: Hinge Research Institute

In fact, over half of the respondents identified “attracting top talent/recruiting” as their biggest challenge, making it the second-highest-cited difficulty facing both talent-evaluators and employee-candidates. In fourth place, meanwhile, there was the reduction of turnover.

In other words: People operations — as we call them here at HubSpot — impact all areas of a business. Not only does something like turnover lead to extensive costs to employers, but it also leaves individual teams and employees in a lurch when they lose talent. In addition to their own workloads, they now have to take on the tasks of those who have left, all while trying to find fitting replacements.

Notice that “maintaining a positive public image” is also on the list. That’s reflected in recruiting efforts — according to Harvard Business Review, a company’s bad reputation can cost it 10% more than a firm with a good reputation to acquire a new hire.

So how can firms manage their reputations in a way that heightens their appeal to talent? It goes beyond doing the right thing — which, yes, is imperative — and often involves managing their brands, too.

That’s where marketers come in. After all, the subject of the study was employer branding — and branding is a category of marketing. That could be why Hinge also posed the questions to respondents: “What is marketing’s role in employer branding?” Next, we’ll explore those findings.

What is marketing’s role in employer branding?

Research-EmployerBrandStudy-4.jpg
Source: Hinge Research Institute

When looking at the previous two charts side-by-side, it’s interesting to note the similarities between the top challenges identified by professionals, as well as those named as the biggest responsibilities of marketers within employer branding. Both questions generated answers identifying lead generation (whether in the form of a customer or talent pipeline), a positive public image (or making the firm seem attractive), and best leveraging technology (we include maintaining a website and focusing on social media here) as priorities.

But we want to dig into some of those marketing responsibilities a bit more, especially “creating content for digital marketing.” We’ve covered a lot on the topic of content strategy, including that within the digital realm. And while creating quality, valuable content can attract an audience of business leads — one of the main principles of inbound marketing — it could potentially do the same for talent leads.

When I was preparing for my interviews with HubSpot, one of the first things I did was voraciously read the Marketing Blog. Of course, that’s the team I was interviewing to join — but reading that content, as well as looking further into the downloadable offers created by the team — provided me with some insight into the company’s culture, and got me thinking about the creative process. What do brainstorms look like there? How are all of these ideas for blog topics and downloadable content generated? It was very intriguing and contributed to my excitement to be part of it.

But before I read the blog, I did a general search for information on the company. I read Glassdoor reviews, perused the Culture Code, and even came across the HubSpot culture and careers blog, Move On Up. And while that first piece — the Glassdoor reviews — weren’t technically owned by HubSpot, the company was still managing its presence there, by providing a detailed response to every reviewer. And when combined, all of that content composed a cohesive presence: the employer’s brand.

See what we’re getting at?

What to Do With This Information

Now, just for fun, let’s have a look at the report’s findings with regard to “Top Criteria Candidates Consider When Evaluating Opportunities”:

Research-EmployerBrandStudy-5.jpg
Source: Hinge Research Institute

Aha! The top response from employee-candidates was, “firm culture.” And while your firm might have a remarkable culture, it won’t do anything to benefit your recruiting efforts if you keep it a secret. It should be part of your employer brand and communicated across the content you produce.

And if you don’t already have an established culture — or Culture Code, like we have here — here’s a great opportunity to establish one. Not only will this work toward your recruitment efforts, but it can also force you to acknowledge exactly what type of business and team you want to have, and how (or if) your actual culture presently aligns with what you’d like it to be.

These principles can guide the type of hiring decisions you make in the future, and can even influence the way you manage your current teams, ideally supporting talent retention.

That speaks to the importance of internal employer branding, too. I’m a big fan of the phrase, “Practice what you preach.” While it’s much easier said than done, the employer messaging you broadcast externally should truthfully reflect what actually happens inside your company. The last thing you want to do is focus all of your employer branding efforts on recruiting outside talent, only to have those new hires enter the company to witness something completely different, or high turnover — that can position them as flight risks.

So, remember: As you build your employer brand, think about where you want your workplace culture to be — and just how much you’re currently missing the mark on those criteria. An important element of branding is honesty, with both target audiences, and with yourself.

Oh, and by the way: We’re hiring.

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Aug

4

2017

How Workplaces Get Diversity Training Wrong

Workplace diversity isn’t just good for your employees’ wellbeing — it’s also good for business.

Back in 2015, a McKinsey report found that companies with management teams in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were also 15% more likely to have returns above their industry means.



Image credit: McKinsey

But diversity isn't a just business play. It's a human play.

But diversity isn’t a just business play. It’s a human play. And as more companies start to incorporate diversity programs into their training and hiring practices, many are failing to develop truly meaningful, empathetic initiatives that go beyond surface-level quotas and checkboxes.

Notice something different? Click here to learn more about the HubSpot blog  redesign process.

A recent investigation by Harvard Business Review found that some common tactics like mandatory skill assessment tests to reduce hiring bias, annual performance ratings to evaluate pay gaps, grievance systems to rehabilitate biased managers, and compulsory diversity training programs to educate employees just aren’t doing enough to bring organizations into the 21st century. In fact, some of these initiatives might even have an adverse impact on organizational health, reinforcing bias instead of alleviating its damage.

Laboratory studies show that this kind of force-feeding can activate bias rather than stamp it out.

According to sociology professors Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev, “Those [diversity initiatives] are designed to preempt lawsuits by policing managers’ thoughts and actions. Yet laboratory studies show that this kind of force-feeding can activate bias rather than stamp it out. As social scientists have found, people often rebel against rules to assert their autonomy. Try to coerce me to do X, Y, or Z, and I’ll do the opposite just to prove that I’m my own person.”

By no means does this study indicate you should abandon your company’s diversity program for fear of failure. It means it’s time for a more empathetic, self-aware approach to diversity — in the workplace and beyond. 

Adam Foss, a former Assistant District Attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Boston and the founder of Prosecutor Impact, sat down with The INBOUND Studio — an interview series that highlights relevant themes at the intersection of pop-culture, business and advocacy — to discuss diversity, empathy, and the complexity of privilege.

At Prosecutor Impact, Foss builds training programs for prosectors, teaching them to take a more empathetic, conscious approach to their work and the betterment of the communities they practice within. He’s found that cultivating empathy, rather than diversity alone, is necessary for creating real cultural changes.

“Empathy is the ability to share and understand the feelings and experiences of another. That is not what diversity means. Diversity just literally means ‘difference.'” – Adam Foss

“Empathy is the key driver of success in the criminal justice system, because its so devoid of empathy, or anything that requires empathy,” Foss explains in the interview. “I think that’s why we’re in the mess that we’re in now with the incarceration population, the size that it is and who it’s affecting. It has marginalized people — period. To really start turning that corner and succeeding and seeing that change, there’s been a drive to create empathy as part of the education of folks.

The training at Prosecutor Impact focuses on building empathy through both academic and experiential learning, educating prosecutors on subjects that deepen their understanding of the communities they serve, and confronting them directly with the realities of incarceration to strengthen their capacity for empathy. 

“People are on board with that part of it: getting this new visceral experience, learning these new things,” Foss says. “Where it gets difficult is when you have to start tackling harder issues like what is the role of race, what is the role of gender, and religion, and sexual orientation.”

“When you start having those questions, people get defensive, or negate their privilege by talking about how they had [difficulties] and how they made up for them. And both of those things are really dangerous and counterproductive when you’re trying to change culture.

Refocusing Diversity Initiatives in the Workplace

Foss admits that discussing privilege is “a difficult conversation to get started,” but it’s a conversation worth having. Becoming aware of the privilege you possess is the first step to leveraging it in a meaningful way, and many conventional diversity programs fail to address this.

Focusing on empathy and self-awareness over quotas and trainings aimed at instantly stripping away biases is a more holistic, realistic approach to embracing a more diverse workplace and world.

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Nov

24

2014

The Science of Productivity: How to Get More Done in a Day

waste-timeTime is our scarcest resource, yet we spend so much of it doing things that are unproductive — usually without meaning to.

The average person wastes 31 hours in unproductive meetings according to Atlassian. And a McKinsey study shows we spend an average of 13 hours per week reading, writing, or responding to email. That’s leaves roughly half of your time at work actually spent doing work.

While it’s true we’re being pulled into more directions than ever before these days, it’s not just the internet and our bosses and our coworkers holding us back from making the most of our time. In many cases, we are the ones responsible for our own lack of productivity.

Part of this stems from our addiction to information. Scientists have discovered that the dopamine neurons in our brains treat information as a reward. While this makes sense evolutionarily — having access to relevant information like the location of food sources means we make better decisions and are more likely to survive — it also means we’re naturally attracted to distractions outside our primary objectives.

Since most of us more successful and happy when we’re productive, we’ve all become a little obsessed with hacks and shortcuts. How can we produce more by doing less? We look over at the person who seems to get it all done while still managing to have a life, and we ask ourselves: What does she know that I don’t? Is there a secret to high productivity?

Well, there’s no secret, per se. But with some work, many of the barriers to productivity are solvable. In this post, you’ll find four of the best scientific productivity “hacks” out there. (And if you have others to add, we’d love to hear them in the comment section.)

Just get started.

There’s something to be said about Nike’s “Just Do It.” It turns out the biggest hurtle to being productive is simply getting started.

According to a study by Award-Winning Psychology Researcher Dr. John Bargh, before we embark on big projects, our brains attempt to simulate real, productive work by focusing on small, mindless tasks to pass the time — and, consequently, prevent us from getting anything done. Now it makes sense why my college dorm room was never neater than during exam week.

Once you get over that hump of just starting already, there’s good news: We feel naturally compelled to finish a task once we’ve already started, thanks to the Zeigarnik Effect. According to Social Psychology and Human Nature, the Zeignarnik effect is “the tendency to experience intrusive thoughts about an objective that was once pursued and left incomplete.”

So the next time you’re faced with a daunting task, the key is to start. For some, this might mean diving right in even if you’re not sure where to begin. HubSpot UX Editor Beth Dunn told me that when she gets writer’s block, she just opens up a blank document and starts typing away, even if the words don’t mean anything. For others, it might mean splitting big projects into smaller ones. HubSpot Co-Founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah said he likes to “‘deconstruct’ the large problem at hand into smaller, bite-sized chunks. Each of the individual, smaller things seem surmountable on their own, and it calms [him] to know that if [he] conquered all of those small things, [he’s] essentially conquered the big thing.” Whatever your style, to get stuff done, you’ve got to get over the hump of getting started.

Work in sprints.

Have you ever heard of the “basic rest-activity cycle” humans experience when we sleep? Physiologist Nathaniel Kleitman, the pioneering sleep researcher who co-discovered REM sleep, is also well known for observing that humans alternate progressively between light and deep sleep in 90-minute periods. According to a Harvard Business Review article by Tony Schwartz, Kleitman found that we operate by that same 90-minute rhythm during the day by moving progressively through periods of higher and lower alertness.

After working at high intensity for more than 90 minutes, writes Schwartz, we begin relying on stress hormones for energy. The result: Our prefrontal cortex starts to shut down and we start losing our ability to think clearly and reflectively. “We move from parasympathetic to a sympathetic arousal — a physiological state more commonly known as ‘fight or flight.'” 

So instead of artificially overriding periods of low alertness with caffeine, sugary foods, and stress hormones, you can better manage your time at work by respecting the human need for rhythmic pulses of rest and renewal.

Just look at the world’s top musicians. A man named Anders Ericsson conducted a study of elite musicians and found they don’t necessarily practice more — they just practice more deliberately. “They focus their energy in packets,” says Gregory Ciotti in an explanation of Ericsson’s study. This means “periods of intense work followed by breaks, instead of diluting work time over the whole day. They don’t rely on willpower — they rely on habit and disciplined scheduling.” Ericsson’s study of elite violinists found they tend to follow 90-minute periods of hard work with 15-20 minute breaks.

Rest periods get a bad rap in today’s working world, but it turns out they are integral to high productivity over long periods.

Don’t eliminate old habits; change them.

For some of us, it’s bad habits like checking email every few minutes or forgetting to set agendas for our meetings that cost us (and others) precious productivity time. Sometimes these habits become so automatic, we don’t even realize we’re doing them.

It’s not so much that it’s difficult for us to change; it’s that we’ve developed habits and patterns that make it easier for us to do things the same way we always do. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Charles Duhigg spent a number of years researching the power habits have over us. He found that rather than trying to eliminate an old habit, people find more success in changing that habit by replacing it with a new, less destructive one.

Why? Because every time you have an urge and you do something about it, the reward you get from it (whether it’s a tobacco high from smoking or the satisfaction of knowing you’re at inbox zero) creates a neurological pathway in your brain. When you repeat that action and experience the same reward again, that neurological pathway gets a little bit thicker; and the next time, even thicker. The thicker that pathway gets, the easier it is for impulses to travel down it. So when you try to extinguish a habit completely, you’re actually trying to use willpower to destroy a neural pathway. It’s possible, but it’s pretty darn difficult for most people.

So if you’re having trouble eliminating a habit that’s keeping you from being productive, here’s what Duhigg suggests you do: 1) Diagnose the “cue” or the urge that sets off the habit; 2) diagnose the reward you get from doing that habit; 3) replace your habit with an activity that’s both triggered by the old cue and delivers the old reward, or a version of it. (See the full flow chart here.)

For example, let’s say you have a bad habit of checking your Twitter feed at least once every hour and it’s cutting into your productivity time. You’re having trouble simply stopping checking your Twitter feed — it’s something you barely notice yourself doing until fifteen minutes have ticked by. First, diagnose the cue. Ask yourself questions like: What time is it when you feel the urge to check Twitter? Where are you? Who else is around? What were you doing right before? Ah, that’s it! You realize it’s become a habit for you to check Twitter right after you check your email because they’re next to each other in your bookmark bar.

Now, it’s time to diagnose the reward. What craving does reading your Twitter satisfy? Maybe it’s the satisfaction of knowing you’ve taken care of all your notifications once you’ve taken care of all your emails — the Twitter equivalent of “inbox zero.” Perhaps it’s the urge to always know what’s going on: in the news, with your friends, and so on. Figure out what satisfies you about that habit, and then replace it with something that will make you more productive. In this case, I might replace Twitter in my bookmark bar with an RSS feed listing articles relevant to your industry. While quitting cold turkey would seem best, the RSS replacement is a more realistic step closer to higher productivity, as it’ll satisfy my urge for information.

Develop productivity rituals.

Speaking of building good habits, Schwartz says the best way to get things done “is to make them more automatic so they require less energy.” As President and CEO of The Energy Project, he advises his clients to develop rituals; highly specific behaviors done at precise times that, over time, become so automatic that they require no conscious will or discipline.

For example, Schwartz makes a habit of immediately writing down new tasks he needs to accomplish and new ideas that occur to him, whether it’s on Evernote or on a scrap of paper nearby. That way, he never has to walk around preoccupied by the burden of remembering something.

Another version of Schwartz’s philosophy is what Harvard Business Review‘s Gretchen Gavett calls OHIO: Only Handle It Once. When you go through your email, decide immediately what to do with each one — immediately respond to the ones that ever need answering, and delete the unimportant ones on the spot. Don’t put them into a storage system.

David Allen, productivity consultant and author of the best-selling book Getting Things Done, would agree: “People don’t capture stuff that has their attention. And it keeps rolling around in the organizational psyche as well as the personal psyche, draining energy and creating incredible psychic residue. People say, ‘I’ll do that,’ but they don’t write it down, and it goes into a black hole. That would be fine if it were just one thing, but it’s hundreds of things … Your head is for having ideas, not holding them. Just dumping everything out of your head and externalizing it is a huge step, and it can have a significant effect.”

Studies have concluded time and time again that willpower is a finite resource. Acts of self-control, like trying to remember to respond to Bill’s email or ignoring distractions, leave us with decreasing willpower throughout the day. But when we develop productivity rituals that eventually become automatic, we’re able to expend less energy on them and more energy on the things that really matter. According to Lia Steakley of Stanford Medicine’s Scopeblog, “As with physical exercise, using your self-control muscle may be tiring, but over time the workout increases your strength and stamina. So what starts out difficult becomes easier over time. New behaviors become habits, temptations become less overwhelming, and willpower challenges can even become fun.”

As Schwartz says, it’s not that you’re lacking discipline — it’s that you don’t have a ritual. If you make habits like responding to emails right away and of writing things down as soon as you can, you’ll eliminate the fear of forgetting, and therefore, the burden of remembering. The result: more energy, more willpower, and better productivity.

What other productivity hacks do you have? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!

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Nov

7

2014

12 World Records You Can Break During Lunch [Infographic]

12-world-records-titleWhen midday rolls around, you could spend your lunch hour grabbing a sandwich at the corner deli and then pretending to work at your desk.

Or, you could break a few world records.

I’m not talking the kind of world records that require years of intense training — unless that training was a childhood of stuffing your face with pizza and duct taping your little siblings to walls. (Hey, a name in the world record book is a name in the world record book.)

To help coax out your competitive side and bring a little fun to the office, Chair Office created the infographic below with 12 world records you can break during your lunch hour. How many can you break?

short-world-records-infographic

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