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What Did BRINK Readers Learn about the Workplace in 2018?

Executive Editor of BRINK News

During this last week of the year, we are looking back at some of the most interesting themes and ideas that appeared on BRINK during 2018. Yesterday, we examined the changing nature of cities. Today, in our final roundup, we look at how we covered the workplace on BRINK.

In 2018, we decided to use Fridays to focus on issues in the workplace and new workplace practices—and they proved to be some of our most widely read pieces. We covered everything from how to handle burnout in the C-suite, to employee activism, to the ethics of using AI in the workplace.

Are You Making the Right Decision?

When superstition is involved in decision-making, it often changes the outcome, according to research by the Kellogg School of Management. People are apparently more willing to take risks for gain when they are being superstitious. “When engaging in superstitious acts, people stop making rational deliberations about probability,” says the report. “Instead, they believe outcomes are predetermined.”

In an interview with BRINK, Professor Howard Kunreuther discussed how decision-making is influenced by unconscious biases. Common biases include the tendency to forget the past and the tendency to focus on a single dimension of a problem. “If a firm focuses only on the very low probability of an event occurring next year, then it may not pay attention to the potential consequences,” he said.

An obvious and much-debated bias in the corporate sector is on race. Margaret Redd, the executive director of The National African American Insurance Association, urged companies to make more of an effort to de-bias their processes. “Every crossroad for talent, including recruiting, onboarding, performance evaluations, development, promotions and exits, should be examined,” she wrote.

Getting Along with Robots

In October, we ran a piece titled How To Build Trust in the World of Automation, which discussed the possibility of robots and humans working collaboratively and developing a “machine-human ecosystem.” Robots, the piece emphasized, can be used to enhance a worker’s performance rather than replace them: Wearable technology, for example, can be used to make workers stronger and more consistent.

Another hopeful way of deploying AI in the workplace is to improve the quality of conversations. Ironically, robots trained in behavioral psychology will soon be better than humans at helping humans to understand one another. They will be able to train departments like customer service to “anticipate and respond empathetically to customer concerns.”

#MeToo in the Workplace

2018 was the year that the #MeToo movement made itself known across the corporate sector, as employees voiced their objections to sexual harassment in the workplace, especially in the technology sector. One problem that all workplaces struggle with is knowing where to draw the line. “Sexual harassment has lived in the dark for so long,” explained Pam Jeffords of Mercer. “As a result, it’s no surprise that questions arise about how to define, categorize, and eradicate these acts.”

We looked at the issue of helping women to thrive in business from several angles. An article in March that examined the question of how to encourage more female entrepreneurs recommended incentivizing female students to sign up for business competitions at college.

How To Avoid Burnout

A piece that we ran in February revealed high levels of stress among CFOs. According to a report from Duke University and Grenoble École de Management in France, finance chiefs work nearly 70 hours per week, while most CFOs say the ideal work-life balance would involve working closer to 50 hours per week.

Another article, How to Avoid Burnout at Work—3 Simple Steps, cited a Harvard Medical School study that found burnout among CEOs was almost universal. Ninety-six percent of senior leaders feel somewhat burned out, and a third describe the syndrome as extreme. The piece offered several simple tips, such as “use your first 15 minutes wisely.” This piece struck a chord with our readers: It was BRINK’s most popular article of 2018.

One August piece, entitled Working Fewer Hours Makes You More Efficient. Here’s the Proof, offered the possibility of reducing burnout—and increasing productivity. It cited the example of a New Zealand company that gave their 200 employees an extra day off every week—and found that the workers were both 20 percent more productive and much happier. Chief executive Andrew Barnes called the experiment an “unmitigated success.”

In an age of shrinking pensions, an increasing source of stress for employees is financial security. According to research from Mercer, 4.5 percent of payroll dollars are wasted on employees spending time on the job worried about money. Most employees look to their employer for guidance, with nearly 80 percent reporting they trust their employer for sound financial advice.

Finally, a group of researchers at the Kellogg School of Management discovered that most people’s greatest successes at work tend to be bunched together. Apparently, the length of your so-called career hot streak varies by profession: with artists’ most frequently lasting around 5.7 years, directors’ lasting 5.2, and scientists’ lasting 3.7.

Overall, the five most popular workplace pieces on BRINK in 2018 were:

  1. How to Avoid Burnout at Work—3 Simple Steps
  2. Working Fewer Hours Makes You More Efficient. Here’s the Proof
  3. What Your Employees Want Is Usually Not What You Think
  4. Workplace Harassment—How Do We Define it?
  5. Which Biases Are Impacting Your Decision-Making?

Happy New Year from the BRINK News staff!

Thomas Carver

Executive Editor of BRINK News

Thomas Carver is the executive editor of BRINK News. Carver was vice president for communications and strategy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a journalist for the BBC from 1984 to 2004.

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