The more you’re learning is about discovering how to function in a dysfunctional situation, the more wedded your skillset is to those types of situations.
The more you focus on learning that is transferable and valuable, the better off you will be.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the next big innovations in knowledge work will be less about technology and tools, and more about better understanding the psychology that goes into wringing value out of thought matter.
The growing importance of digital literacy doesn’t mean workers have to master all the software out there to get a job. Instead, they have to be digitally confident: keen to try new technologies; embrace how the right tools can streamline routine tasks and improve workplace collaboration; while also having the flexibility and adaptability to learn new processes.
Today, employees need to assume they’ll keep upgrading digital skills. After all, the expectation when a worker begins a new role is either they have the digital skills to do the job or they’ll learn them – fast. “Hybrid and remote working were only relevant to 5% of the workforce before the pandemic,” says Zhou. “It’s nearly half of all workers now. Regardless of what work you did previously, an employer now expects you to learn whatever digital skills are required in a role.”
In part I was reminded of a tweet from Gillian Light:
Am at a digital learning webinar and it's striking me how nothing really has changed since I first stepped into this space nearly 20 years ago. We're still talking, oddly, about teachers 'not being comfortable' with technology and not having knowledge/skills to incorporate it.
— Gillian (@macgirl19) August 10, 2022
Of course ‘digital literacies’ are a non-negotiable, my question is when are we going to stop talking about them as if they are static and instead talk about them as a process and practice, not a product or professional development session attended?
The Protestant work ethic that persisted into the post-industrial era helped create the vast wealth of the very countries that are today most concerned about burnout. But it also valorised a destructive ideal of working to the point of martyrdom. To overcome burnout, we have to get rid of that ideal and create a new conception of how work fits into a life well lived.
So many workers are at risk for burnout because the degraded reality of our jobs since the 1970s coincides with a too-lofty ideal of work. The gap between our ideals and our experience at work is too great for us to bear. That means, if we want to halt the burnout epidemic, we need to close the gap, both by improving working conditions and lowering our ideals. Because our burnout culture results as much from our ideas as from the concrete facts of our jobs, we will need different ethical and spiritual expectations for work as much as we will need better pay, schedules, and support. In fact, we will need a new set of ideals to guide us as we construct those conditions.
Referring to the work of Henry David Thoreau, Malesic talks about the importance of genius.
We have all read the standard advice on business and wellness websites for how to prevent or heal your burnout. Get more sleep. Learn to say no. Organise your tasks by urgency and importance. Meditate. These are all basically superstitions: individual, symbolic actions that are disconnected from burnout’s real causes. Our workplaces and cultural ideals contribute more to our burnout than our personal organisation methods do. Still, individuals are not powerless in the face of burnout. We do have a role to play in aligning our ideals with our reality at work. And Thoreau, the individualist who preached self-reliance, can help us identify it.
Too much work and too little autonomy contribute to burnout; Thoreau’s program limits work in order to foster self-determination. Thoreau’s individualistic streak means he undervalues community. But he wants to create conditions in which people who recognise their own dignity can follow their genius and thus perform a higher labour: to harmonise themselves with their supreme sense of value.
Malesic talks about the notion of work, what constitutes burnout and the challenge of our self-impossed penance with Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens on The Minefield podcast.
If someone asked what they should do to succeed in their job, you’d probably have a quick response. You might say something like, just do what you’re asked, get your work done on time, or don’t step on anyone’s toes.
But what if the question wasn’t about how to succeed, but how to stand out as the best of the best?
These are the high performers Liz Wiseman calls “impact players.” They’re the ones who leave an indelible mark on their work and the people around them. Liz spoke with nearly 200 top professionals, and she uncovered 5 behaviors that set them apart. Her findings inform her latest book, Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact.
- Useful – what’s important now
- Step up and step back – leading without it being a land grab
- Finish strong
- Ask and adjust
- Make work light – removing the phantom work
Allen and Wiseman discuss the questions to consider when trying to hire an impact player:
- How do they handle messy problems?
- Leadership problems?
- Moving targets?
Wiseman explains that the book does not serve as a recipe, but rather the start of a conversation. WHat matters most is creating the right conditions.
The best leaders … create both safety and stretch.
Wiseman also discusses the current challenges of remote work. She touches on the breakdown of chains of impact, explaining that when we are apart we often fall into a habit of going from task to task.
We burnout not from too much work, but too little impact.
This all reminds me of something that David Truss recently wrote about improvising:
The world is your stage. The play is your playground. Improvise your roles as best as you can. And remember that others are improvising theirs roles too. Work with your fellow actors to create the best performance you can. But remember it’s all an act, and if you aren’t playing a role that works, change the role or change the way you act in it. All the world is an improv stage, and so you get to write the script as you go. Enjoy the performance, you only get one.
For some people, of course, the loss of these interactions may be less significant. Introverts may not miss their ‘ghost colleagues’ as much, while those with caring responsibilities may find the benefits and convenience of remote work outweigh any negatives linked to fewer interactions with people in the office.
The onus is also on companies to find better ways to translate in-person culture into the online space so that colleagues can continue to connect in meaningful ways. Good remote company communications may mean things like creating a newsletter, podcast or virtual town halls to share information workers may have otherwise absorbed in the office. “It takes a deliberate practice, and usually it takes a person or a group of people who are leading the charge and really paying attention,” says Lisette Sutherland, author of Work Together Anywhere.
We often worry that AI and automation will take our jobs — that software will do work so efficiently and cheaply that corporations will chuck their humans aside. That certainly can happen; bank…
Another approach I stumbled upon recently viato celebrate the fact that you do actually get a lot done each and every day.
What if you worked on the basis that you began each day at zero balance, so that everything you accomplished – every task you got done, every tiny thing you did to address the world’s troubles, or the needs of your household – put you ever further into the black? What if – and personally I find this thought almost unthinkable in is radicalism, but still, here goes – what if there’s nothing you ever have to do to earn your spot on the planet? What if everything you actually get around to doing, on any given day, is in some important sense surplus to minimum requirements?
This is what makes to-do software unique. The majority of tools we use in our jobs are about communicating with someone else. All that messaging, all those Google docs, all that email—it’s about talking to other people, documenting things for them, trying to persuade them. But a to-do list is, ultimately, nothing more or less than an attempt to persuade yourself.
The return to the office is well under way, just as summer in the northern hemisphere begins. Pretty soon, people will be able to resume the habit of staring wistfully out of the window, hoping it will still be sunny at the weekend. As many workers embrace a hybrid pattern, perhaps commuting 2-3 days a week, the experiment in full-time home-working is ending. At the same time, assessments of its effectiveness are proliferating.
Despite working longer hours, the employees had less focus time than before the pandemic. Instead, all their extra time was taken up by meetings.
This continues the reflections on the changes to work based on coronavirus. In a separate piece, Derek Thompson discusses the winners and losers, such as the growth of suburban-town-centers and downturn in regards to city businesses.
The discussion touched upon devices and calling out usage. This reminded me of something that danah boyd once shared:
- Verbalize what you’re doing with your phone’
- Create a household contract
In regards to ‘work’, I was intrigued by Doug’s discussion of work and non-work (if that is what we want to call meetings etc). It made me wonder if there are some people out there who maybe never ‘work’?
In relation to clocking hours, I personally do not have to worry about that, and must admit, I prefer not stressing about every minute. However, I do quite a bit of development in the creation of various Crystal Reports with a third-party. One of the biggest lessons that I have learnt is that everything counts. This has definitely made me more mindful of the emails I send and the testing I do, especially when you think of every update and request as a fifteen minute block.
As a side note, I wonder how we might rethink email requests and interruptions within organisations if they were billed in fifteen minute blocks?
Lastly, Bryan’s involvement reminded me of the pre-TIDE conversation?
The Art of Getting Your Shit Done
Will the experience of working-from-home make employees reluctant to resume the daily struggle with traffic or public transportation, or to put up with irritating co-workers and unproductive work environments? Or will we discover that we’ve missed something precious in being deprived of interactions with others?
Although many have raised fears associated with absenteeism, there is also a danger of presenteeism, where because you are present you are productive. One of the things to come out of the pandemic is the danger of the cult of reproducibility. Technology is not a direct substitution for face-to-face interactions. That is, not everything done in the office can be done at home, and vice versa. Both spaces are unique, with their own features and affordances, forever changing over time. For example, working from home can be more conducive for the deeper appreciation of ideas, whereas being in the presence of others often forces you to into answers. In addition to the space, the conditions of work changes things. For example, when people are mandated to work from home, this takes away from the opportunities to break up the day.
In addition to the space itself, there is the transition between different performances that occurs. Office life is a performance, but maybe just a different performance. Working from home offers certain lifestyle possibilities. With the lose of the commute, the transition between life and work becomes blurred. Associated with this, the technology we have come to depend upon has created something of a templated self, where we are conditioned to work in a particular way. This has all created the conditions for a perpetual work environment which has colonised the home. Work is subsequently no longer a vocation and deep ownership.
For me, this adds to Jennifer Moss’ discussion of burnout, Cal Newport’s exploration of productivity hacks, and Sean Blanda’s fear about the way in which remote work often becomes about tasks, rather than people.
For decades, robots were cordoned off in cages. Now they are moving among us, changing the scope of where robots can go and who can use them.
All these advances in robotics — better grippers, cheaper arms and powerful, affordable vision systems — have allowed smaller businesses to introduce robots at much lower prices. Whereas a big industrial robot might once have cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy, program and install according to a 2007 estimate from the industrial supplier ABB, these newer innovations have helped produce robots with total costs as low as $50,000, making dexterous automation affordable to many more buyers.
Thompson explores the growing potential and possibility of robots that co-exist with humans. This includes moving beyond industrial uses into professional services, such as milking cows, facilitating medical procedures or sorting and ferrying e-commerce products.
Sobalvarro imagines a workplace where, eventually, a human can work alongside big, swinging, heavy arms without risk of injury. It would be, fancifully, a bit like Moses walking into the Red Sea: “The robots are aware of the people and they’re there to serve the people, and they do what is necessary to allow people to move through there safely.”
This piece reminds me of Martin Ford’s book Rise of the Robots. My only concern with the piece is the lack of any critical engagement with the subject. In some respects it reads a little like a ‘press release designed to predict the future‘. Either way it will be interesting to see what will become of robots in the future. Maybe rather than replace humans, robots will make some things ‘more doable‘? It will also be intriguing to see the place of robots in the Global South, where labour costs are often a lot cheaper?
Browning talks about what leaders are able to manage. Similarly, Philip Riley highlights the stresses that principals are put under. What seems overlooked in both accounts are the structures often in place that allow leaders to prosper and the sacrifices made by those within the support networks involved, such as family and friends.
In our always-on world, burnout has long been a threat. But in 2020 burnout became rampant, seemingly overnight. Within weeks millions of people lost their jobs and faced financial and food insecurity. People working on the front lines worried for their physical safety, and those in health care put their lives at risk every day. A third of U.S. employees started “living at work” — with the kitchen table as their new pseudo-office. Over the year acute stress would become chronic stress. And it shows few signs of abating.
Today’s level of burnout is the result of an existing problem made exponentially worse. Yet despite how massive the problem is, it’s never too late to fix it. Combating burnout may feel like an overwhelming and herculean task, especially after months of emotional fatigue, but if you’re armed with the right tools, it can be easier than you might think. And ready or not, we can’t ignore the urgency — we are in the midst of a burnout epidemic.
Teaming up together, Leiter, Maslach, and David Whiteside, the director of insights and research at YMCA WorkWell, and I created a survey that analyzes the state of burnout and well-being during Covid-19. We combined several evidence-based scales, including the Maslach Burnout Inventory General Survey (MBI-GS), a psychological assessment of occupational burnout, and the Areas of Worklife Survey (AWS), which assesses employees’ perceptions of work-setting qualities that affect whether they experience engagement or burnout.
Moss discusses how organisational issues are often put on individuals to resolve. In response, she provides a number of ‘upstream interventions’ for moving forward. These include more flexible working conditions associated with working from home, reviewing the need to meetings, being empathetic and checking in on people’s well-being.
- Ask, Is this meeting necessary?
- If yes, then ask:
- Does it have to be a video call?
- Does it have to be longer than 30 minutes?
- Which attendees are absolutely essential?
- Can we turn off our cameras and use our photos or avatars instead?
- Can we do an audio-only conference call for a much-needed screen break?
- Start meetings with a check-in: How are people feeling? Does anyone have a back-to-back call? If you’re leading the meeting, set a timer so you can let anyone who does have one jump off five to 10 minutes early.
I wonder if the pandemic, rather than changing everything, has merely amplified what is already in place? As the organisation I work for considers bringing everyone back, it feels like some of the elephants in the office have simply gotten bigger.