Can Smart Devices Dumb Down Your Team?

You’re so nervous-excited, you’re bouncing on the balls of your feet. Everything’s set up just right. You’ve prepared your notes. You know your project back to front. You’ve practiced your presentation with a few colleagues who say it’s great. You launch into your final project presentation and everything’s going great, until…

Smartphone distraction…you notice heads pointed toward laps (not yours), slight arm movements, and maybe the faint bluish glow of a screen.

Ouch. Talk about having the wind taken out of your sails.

Unfortunately, this happens more often than some of us want to admit. It’s called the smart device fugue: where people are “there” but not “all there.” Instead, they’re plucking away at a text message or game, or catching up on sports scores, all from the comfort of their device du jour.

I admit it. I’ve had it happen to me, especially with my iPhone in college. It was easy to “check out” of class, send texts, and read the blog post I’d looked up before entering the room.

Now, however, we don’t just use phones to “check out.” We have tablets, too!

I’ve never purchased an iPad. I didn’t really see the need for one. But when my mom “upgraded” to one of the iPad minis, she let me have her first-gen iPad.

Hey, whatever. Free iPad. I figured it’d make reading PDFs more palatable, especially considering the alternative: reading PDFs on my nearly seven year-old laptop. It’s performed admirably at that task as well as others (like playing games and surfing Reddit).

Of course, it has its drawbacks. One of the things I notice when I jump on the iPad is that time just evaporates. Fifteen minutes turns into an hour and a half. That’s a nightmare for my productivity.

Continue reading

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Employee Health’s “Scarlet Letter”

Here’s an excellent piece by Jack Bruce on how a company needs to maintain vigilance of its wellness programs, and to make sure that everyone is being constructively included.

How to Avoid the Scarlet Letter in Your Employee Wellness Program.

Jack really hit the ball outta the park with this one. I can’t really add much to it. Here’s the part that really resonated with me, though:

In a recent conversation with Brad (Cooper, of U.S. Corporate Wellness — ed.) regarding this subject, he tole me, “You don’t want your employees to feel like they are being sent to the principal’s office.” Wellness initiatives that shout “You sinner!” to the overweight or smoker can negate our best efforts–not to mention hurt the very people we want to help. Therefore, the first step in guarding against the scarlet letter is to be aware that employee wellness programs CAN impart shame. This understanding, alone, is all that is needed for some HR and wellness leaders to alter how they communicate, promote and execute their wellness initiatives.

It’s strange that a program with such good intentions can have those intentions perceived as “workplace bullying.”

Of course, the phenomenon isn’t new. Stories abound on the Internet about overweight, out of shape people who go into a new year with a steely resolve to improve their health. They get that gym membership, they change their diet, and by the fifth day in the gym, they’re seeing results.

Then day six comes around… and boom, some jerk at the gym decides to be funny. Insults galore. The embarrassment is too much, and our intrepid health journeyman (or woman) is crushed and his resolve reduced to ashes.

Falling into old habits again, s/he doesn’t go to the gym for a few days and falls off the healthy eating wagon.

By the time the embarrassment wears off, the enthusiasm and healthy food are gone, and the “new” habits become a mirror of the “old” habits.

Now think about that happening two or three times a year, especially when weight (or body fat, or body “inches”) challenges during a wellness program kick off.

Ouch. You may as well brand a scarlet letter into some people, not much make them wear one.

What does your company do, whether for work recognition or wellness or productivity, that avoids this “scarlet letter” specter?

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Gazelles, Lions, and Employee Health, Oh My

Health and Long HoursI’ve had enough of the story of the gazelle and the lion. I’ve had enough with the notion that “survival of the fittest” should be the main mantra of the corporate world. The ultra-Darwinian model of the workplace is utter bullshit.

Know why?

All it does is run employees ragged.

Think about it. We live in a nonstop world. News stories are “old” after eight hours. The cloud, the Internet, mobile devices, Twitter, Facebook, and email make communication instant and incessant.

As a result, a fairly large number of businesses keep the pedal to the metal: all go, no quit, because you have to stay ahead of everybody else or you’ll end up as lion chow.  Continue reading

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Paper Wad Basketball For Employee Wellbeing? You Betcha

Office Basketball Wellness FunQuick: name the most classic, well-recognized methods of killing time at the office. (Think of what people did before the Internet explosion.)

What’d they do? What’d you do?

Naturally, there was chatting with coworkers, but that often was done as long as the boss couldn’t hear you talk.

There was also throwing pens/pencils into the ceiling tiles. I’ve only succeeded at that twice in my life.

And, of course, there was the paper wad basketball.

This bastion of boredom-busting has been a stalwart performer for many years. It’s even been wryly accepted in the work environment, typically by way of those little hoops that attach to the wastebasket.

Paper basketball has even found its way into the mobile games universe. (Anyone up for a game of iPhone Paper Toss?)

Yet it is still looked upon as something to do furtively so that nobody sees you, letting you avoid the sharp-tongued reprimand of a scowling superior. Even the iPhone game does it. The first version featured completely empty office spaces. The second version has some characters in it, one of whom will glower and shake his head at you if you miss and hit his chair. (Of course, you have to be terrifically bad to accomplish that feat.)  Continue reading

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Stop Measuring Everything!

Before you jump down my throat, pointing out my words elsewhere that praise thorough data collection and analysis, let me ‘splain.

No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

When I taught physics labs, the first class of the year was an introduction to data collection and analysis. The lab manual provided a rather intricate experiment that required a variety of data analyses to be performed — with several of those analyses appearing perhaps once more over the course of the semester.

Not only was arriving at the data set a contrived process, the various data descriptors tended to overlap. Some were outright useless in standard settings.

What did I do? I completely reworked the experiment. I threw out the analysis techniques that appeared only in that experiment. I taught the calculations and methods that needed to be taught (since they were going to be used most weeks), and gave an experiment that made use of them without confusing my first-week students.

It worked very well, if I say so myself, and it was much more engaging for the students than the lab manual’s experiment.

The point of the story?

Continue reading

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The Easiest Well-Being Initiative Ever

I was at the grocery store Tuesday evening, minding my own business and looking at the displays of Styrofoam-backed cod fillets.

A conversation at the seafood counter caused my ears to perk up. A regular customer and the guy manning the counter were talking about the Fourth of July holiday and what plans they had.

I can’t remember what the customer said, but what stood out to me was the employee’s response.

Today, he will be working from 2-10 PM. And, in his words, unless he gets a chance at a Fourth of July “brunch”, it’s unlikely he’ll be sharing the day with family or friends.


Yeah, I know that some places will be open for business today. Most of them will be service-sector companies, like groceries and restaurants: ones that aren’t required to observe federal holidays. As much as I don’t like it, and wish that the country could actually take a full day off, I understand.  Continue reading

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Employer Mandate Delayed Until 2015

health-insurance-mandateYesterday, the Treasury Department announced that employers will not be penalized for not offering health insurance… until 2015, that is.

Apparently, there were so many difficulties popping up for employers compliance-wise that it would’ve been silly to go forward with full enforcement.

If you skulked around the site on Sunday, you saw the link to Riskpertise, which discusses several of the compliance conundrums that employers are racing to deal with in advance of the ACA rollout.

It’s fortunate that the administration gave employers a bit more time here. They’ve effectively tripled the amount of time that employers have to get a quality system set up for their employees. Employers no longer have to set up something half-assed and hope that it complies with the incredibly intricate regulatory framework.

Of course, what this also means for employers is that as they develop their health insurance plans alongside the chosen provider, the two sides can come together and create a robust employee health program.

It’s win-win-win, the way I see it. Employers win by getting more time to sort through the details and really think about what’s best for them and their employees. Insurance providers win by having the time to figure out comprehensive plans. Employees win by not being clobbered with extra costs right away — there’s a bit more time for the ones who aren’t covered and aren’t in good health to at least get the health part squared away.

Better health, of course, means better premiums and payment plans.

If you’re an employer that doesn’t already offer health insurance or an employee health program, you just hit the jackpot.

Not only do you not have to provide insurance for another year, you also have a brilliant opportunity to improve your employees’ health statuses over the next 18 months.

lot can be done in 18 months. You can have an employee wellness program ready to go by January, get as many people involved as you can, and work on improving health throughout 2014. By the time you get to 2015 and have to provide insurance, your at-risk employees might have improved their health to such a degree that neither of you have to deal with the higher cost that comes with being on multiple medications or from being diabetic, obese, or [insert disease of civilization here].

This is an especially fortuitous development for small businesses. With less room to invest comes the need to invest smartly, saving money whenever possible.

If this means getting insurance handled before the 2015 deadline, that’s great. What it should mean is that employers are urging employees to get their health in line so that neither of them have to fork over more money when insurance costs finally enter the equation.

Small businesses that don’t yet have employee health insurance have just been offered a brilliant opportunity to cut their future costs. One of the best ways to do that? Employee health.

Hop to it.

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