generations

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Email ‘vacations’ decrease stress, increase concentration

UCI findings could boost on-the-job productivity

— Irvine, Calif., May 03, 2012 —

Being cut off from work email significantly reduces stress and allows employees to focus far better, according to a new study by UC Irvine and U.S. Army researchers.

Heart rate monitors were attached to computer users in a suburban office setting, while software sensors detected how often they switched windows. People who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “high alert” state, with more constant heart rates. Those removed from email for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates.

“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said UCI informatics professor Gloria Mark. She co-authored the study, “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons,” with UCI assistant project scientist Stephen Voida and Army senior research scientist Armand Cardello. The UCI team will present the work Monday, May 7, at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer-Human Interaction Conference in Austin, Texas.

The study was funded by the Army and the National Science Foundation. Participants were computer-dependent civilian employees at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center outside Boston. Those with no email reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions.  Measurements bore that out, Mark said. People with email switched windows an average of 37 times per hour. Those without changed screens half as often – about 18 times in an hour.

She said the findings could be useful for boosting productivity and suggested that controlling email login times, batching messages or other strategies might be helpful. “Email vacations on the job may be a good idea,” she noted. “We need to experiment with that.”

Mark said it was hard to recruit volunteers for the study, but “participants loved being without email, especially if their manager said it was OK. In general, they were much happier to interact in person.”

Getting up and walking to someone’s desk offered physical relief too, she said. Other research has shown that people with steady “high alert” heart rates have more cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. Stress on the job, in turn, has been linked to a variety of health problems.

Study subjects worked in a variety of positions and were evenly split between women and men. The only downside to the experience was that the individuals without email reported feeling somewhat isolated. But they were able to garner critical information from colleagues who did have email.

The Army is examining use of smartphones and such applications as email for soldiers on battlefields, said David Accetta, spokesman for the Natick facility’s research and development section. “This data may very well prove helpful,” he said.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s second-largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $4 billion. For more UCI news, visitwww.today.uci.edu.

Email Overload

What’s going on here?

Our research, completed in 2010, revealed that the average person spends 30 minutes PER DAY deleting, or thinking about deleting, email!!

When did email become our work product and why do we have so much?!  It’s getting out of hand.

No one expects you to be a drone and tap away at your computer endlessly, tied to your machine for every minute of every day, but 3o minutes deleting email?  Over the course of a standard work-week, that’s 2 1/2 hours.  In a month, 10 hours; in a year 120 (15 eight-hour workdays).  That’s a lot of time you’ll never get back.  And that’s just you.  Multiply that over your project team, department, or company, and you just might feel a little ill.

Why?  Why do we get so much email that we don’t read?  I’m not talking about email lists that you sign up for giving you the latest sales from your favorite store.  Those aren’t counted in this research.  This research focused specifically on work-related email messages that were sent by real people to real people.

Does this mean that, even after all this time, many people still don’t understand how to use email effectively?  Yes, indeed it does.

What can you do?  They answers are not as simple as they appear on the surface (as is true for our most persistent problems).  For the sake of this article, we’re going to take a look at how a simple shift in your attitude toward email can help reduce the number of unwanted messages that you send and receive.

First, understand the purpose of the “TO” and “CC” fields. “TO” requires action.  “CC” requires none, it is a “for your information only” indicator.

Second, use “CC” sparingly.  Sending your manager or team leader multiple messages every week in which no action is required from them is just an annoying way to say, “look, Boss, I’m doing my job!”; “look at me!  look at me!”; “still here, working away!”  like some yappy little dog.  If you don’t feel trusted to get your work done, then that’s a different conversation you need to have face to face with your team lead.

Finally, resist the temptation to “CC” your team lead / manager whenever you feel a dispute is in the works and you want an “official” record of your position. This culture of “CYA” – “cover your … ahem, derriere” leads to unnecessary email messages and wasted time.  Take your dispute off-line and work it out in person.  It will be infintely better, trust me.

We get too much email.  We send too much email.  We delete too much email.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Start taking control through the judicious use of the “CC” field.

This article is the first in a series designed to help reduce your email overload.  Please share with us any comments / stories you have about your own email situation.

Review: The Power of Reputation

The Power of Reputation by Chris Komisarjevksy, Amazon, 224 pages, $16.50

Here is a book review by Brianna Snyder of Women@Work.

Reputation Matters

How to manage your most important brand – you!

By Brianna Snyder/Women@Work

We’ve all been in the business of reputation management since middle and high school. Back when we were concerned with popularity and how we were received at the dance, at gym, at the cafeteria, we were all — some more clumsily than others — learning how to navigate the choppy and awkward waters of social interaction and public persona. We know now how crucial those lessons were to how we became grownups.

What Chris Komisarjevsky explores in his book The Power of Reputation is the importance of reputation to your business and your career. Reputation, he says, is trickily personal andprofessional — “One thing is for sure: there really isn’t any distinction between our personal and our professional reputations,” he says — which brings the challenge of figuring out what’s sharable in the workplace and what’s best kept at home.

The key, says Komisarjevsky, is to be genuine. In other words, be your engaged, interested, competent and sincere self. The writer shares anecdotes throughout the book (both personal and from colleagues and friends) to reinforce the idea that a reputation is the soul of a career. The writer breaks down what a reputation is and means, how it’s built on caring and respect, values and good communication. He incorporates the still-new challenges of social media and managing your online reputation and emphasizes the need to be mindful of the consequences of Facebook and blogs. He calls this “the double-edged sword of the digital world” — you can use these digital places to enhance an already-good reputation or watch in disbelief as these same places dismantle it.

We all know what makes our mechanic the best mechanic, our dentist or lawyer the best dentists and lawyers — these are the people we trust not just to be honest with us (though that’s infinitely valuable) but to do a good job. We trust that they know how to do their work, that they’re well-practiced and careful, and that they care about their jobs and us, whether they’re mending a tooth or a flat tire. They value our time and they do their jobs well. That alone is enough of a foundation for a great reputation.

Notable Quote:

“We are in an era in which the demand for candor, understanding and clarity of purpose is greater than ever before. Transparency creates confidence and underscores authenticity.”

Instant Recall:

  • Research what you’re selling — whether it’s you or your product — “to the point at which you believe there is nothing better out there.”
  • Talk to people. Let them know you care about them and their needs. Listen to them.
  • Respect your clients and your colleagues. The more you give, the more you get.
  • Be personal and personable at work; share your interests, passions and ideas.

Read this book if…

You’re just starting a new job or business, or even if you’re beginning to think about who you are in your career, what your personal “brand” might be.

Toxic Texting

Recently, a client confided that his staff’s texting habits are beyond frustrating for him; that staff members “whip” out their cell phones and begin texting at any time, and at all times!

Sound familiar? Is this disrespectful or efficient?

This client assumed these texts were of a personal nature and he wondered why he was paying people to have personal conversations on his dime. Would these same people answer a personal phone call in the middle of a work conversation or meeting?

When is it okay to text at work?

Each of us is likely to have a different answer to that question, based on our generation, industry, function, economic status, and perhaps even where we live.

We know that some, perhaps many, of your texts are legitimate, work-related messages. Texting can be a quick and efficient way to have a work question answered, to find out where the meeting was re-located to, or to find out where a co-worker is if you need to find them.

Ask yourself:

What is your body language when you text? How do others interpret that? If you are smiling and chuckling, does that tell people around you that you’re having a personal conversation? If you look serious or are frowning, will other’s think your text is work-related?

What about if you are working independently in your cube or even in a group setting, what assumptions might people make when they walk by and see you texting?

Next time your phone alerts you to a new text, stop and consider what is going on around you.  Are you in a setting with other people who are expecting you to pay attention, to be engaged with them? If so, how are they likely to interpret your actions if you are distracted with texting? What do you suppose they are thinking about you and your commitment to the task at hand? No matter how discreet you believe you are being, everyone around you is aware that you are texting.

Why does it matter, anyway? We live in a society where texting is fast becoming the go-to mode of communication. Even my 72-year-old mother has a smartphone and sends me text messages. Who cares if I read it and respond during a part of a meeting in which I have nothing to contribute at that moment?

Therein lies the rub.

People do care, and they care a lot.

There are unintended consequences of allowing personal conversations to distract you from the work that you are being paid to do. Short of a bona-fide emergency, these distractions often make a person appear unprofessional to their peers and leaders. Just last week, two co-workers were clearly texting back and forth during a meeting and the presenter was distracted by their behavior. We wondered if they (the co-workers) thought that no one could figure out what they were doing or if they just didn’t care that they were acting like junior-high school students passing notes?

Are you a Toxic Texter?

TRY THIS — for the next two days, track how much time you spend engaging in personal text messages while at work. Include time spent reading, pondering, composing, sending, editing, and checking for a response.   Additionally, keep track of your work-related text messages.

Evaluate your results. It might be time to turn off texting while at work. If you’re not sure if your workplace is “text friendly”, ask! Having an explicit conversation about acceptable and unacceptable electronic behaviors can be relationship-building and help bridge distance.

Happy Holidays and thank you for reading!

Technology vs. the Human Contact Across Generations

This is an exciting time to be in the workforce. Diversity, although not at the level I would like it to be, has allowed for different genders, races and age groups to converge in the single space of a common employer. When I worked for a multi-national in Mozambique, I had a colleague near retirement that had a memory of gold. He was a human archive who knew just about everything where the department was concerned, but there was an interesting anomaly. Emailing? Not really his style. He opted for face-to-face contact, and phone calls by default. This made me consider how different generations use technology in the workplace, and whether any differences as a result of these choices create barriers between these groups?

Generations are generally split as follows, although different sources use differing cut-offs: Traditional or Veterans (born pre-1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980), Generation Y or Millenials (1981-1995), and the Linkster or Generation Z (post-1995). As a Gen Y adult, I have grown up with the internet and evolving technologies. According to Work Empowerment Foundation, technology has rewired the brains of Gen Y’s so that we are capable of handling high volumes of information and can multi-task without losing concentration. I am certainly guilty of working simultaneously across 10+ tabs on my browser (thank you Google Chrome’s Stay Focusd) and loving email and IM, but is this not pure coincidence? Are my ex-colleague’s and my views about the use of technology a product of our formative years?

Kelly Services surveyed close to 100,000 workers in 33 countries (6,000 of which work in the IT sector) to determine the intergenerational issues alive in the workplace. The number one communication method of choice by 72% of respondents was face-to-face communication, followed by written correspondence, including e-mail (18%) and instant message/chat (6%). Phone and voicemail (3%) trickled in last position. Other results were as follows:

Adapt communication style to colleagues from a different generation 73%
Feel they understand the generational differences in the workplace 76%
Feel that – generational difference makes the workplace productive 41%
– generational difference interferes with productivity 23%
– generational difference makes no difference 25%

One thing is for sure, our rapidly changing, “switched on” world requires that all of us are adept to changing the way we use technology in the workplace, and most likely in our personal lives too. With technology becoming increasingly user-friendly, adaptation should be smoother. After all, it is there to facilitate collaboration and productivity. Effective communication through use of this technology can then enable us to create value.

I think each generation has something rich to offer in the workplace, and newbies should not disregard the important role that mentors can have in one’s career – even if they may not like IM’ing. I think the Gen X’s helped paved the way towards subsequent generations balancing their careers and personal life. Us Gen Y’s can now demand and negotiate for work/life balance with more confidence and use the technology of our time to achieve it!