Do you Love to Learn?

Love, honesty, hope and humour are four important predictors of how happy you are. They all fall into the collection of personality traits called PERMA: Positive emotions, Engagement, positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.

There are two even more reliable PERMA predictors of how happy you are. The first is gratitude, which is pretty obvious when you think about it. When you’re thankful for the good things in your life – your family, your friends, the food you eat, the view outside your window – you’re healthier, happier and better prepared to face the world and whatever it throws at you.

The second may surprise you. It’s love of learning. People who enjoy picking up new skills or knowledge feel fulfilled wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. Whether it’s strolling through a park, sitting in a classroom or getting on with whatever job is at hand, everything presents an opportunity to learn.

Learning keeps you sharp and confident. It keeps your memory working. It helps you lead a more rounded life. Learning gives your brain something it craves – novelty. Learning is necessary because without it, humans would have been extinct long ago.

And that old myth ‘You can’t teach an old dog mew tricks’? That’s just what it is – a myth. However old you are, you can do yourself a real favour by engaging with the world around you and seeing what it has to teach you.

Even bees burn out

Anthropomorphising means giving a nonhuman being, particularly an animal, a supposedly human attribute. Anthropomorphising isn’t supposed to be sensible or logical, but ironically, science keeps coming up with examples that substantiate it.

Take, for instance, the humble honey bee. On a recent trip to Kangaroo Island (beautiful, by they way), I learned that the only colony of pure Ligurian honey bees in the world is in KI. They were originally from Liguria in the Alps, but a parasite killed them there and everywhere else they’d been moved to.

It seems that worldwide, other types of bees are dying out too, endangering food production because bees pollinate so many of our food crops. The phenomenon is known as colony collapse disorder (CDD) and KI is a bee sanctuary (no other types of bees are allowed on the island) and pivotal in fighting extinction of bee colonies and the preservation of our food supplies.

CDD can be caused by disease, parasites or — wait for it — overwork. What’s happening is bee keepers are forcing bees to work for longer hours and over the whole year than nature intended them to work. For instance, bee keepers move the bees from the Californian almond farms to the apple and pear orchards of the North in summer and then to the citrus plantations of the South in winter. All this unnatural moving around means the bees are being worked to death and the bee colony eventually collapses.

There’s a lesson there about sustainable agriculture and maybe a lesson for people who work long hours, too. Some organisations have a long-hours culture and people are afraid of losing their jobs if they don’t put in lots of ‘voluntary’, unpaid overtime every week. Technology gives us the ability and flexibility to take work home with us and work all the hours we want to or feel obliged to work, especially in the global marketplace that never stops working. And when we’re not working, many of us have family and household responsibilities and all sorts of other pressures on our time.

And you have to wonder–how productive and efficient can over-worked people be? The answer is: not very.

People who regularly work more than 60 hours a week have a marked increase in the risk of depression, illness and injury than people who work more reasonable hours. In Japan, death from over-work is so common it has a name: karoshi, estimated to be responsible for up to 10,000 deaths a year in Japan.

To anthropomorphise a bit, people and bees are perhaps not so different. Work is good for people and it’s good for bees, but too much work doesn’t just make Jack a dull boy; it could also make Jill a widow.

What is your ideal working style?

Last week, we considered the plight of the humble bee. Bee colonies are dying out worldwide due to overwork, putting our food supplies in jeopardy since we depend on bees to pollinate so many of our food crops. Future food supplies aside, working too hard doesn’t do people much good, either.

At a lecture at the University of South Australia, Professor Ellen Kossoki from Michigan State University’s School of Law and Industrial Relations shed some light, based on her research, on how we can prevent our bodies and our productivity from collapsing from overwork. There are three physical and psychological ways we can manage the boundaries between work and family, pay most attention to what we most value, and our relationships. She calls them integrator, separator and volleyer.

But first, three questions. On a scale of one to five:

  • Do you attend to personal and family issues at work often, rarely or somewhere in between?
  • How often do you think about work at home?
  • Do you take work home by, for example, making work-related phone calls or attending to emails during the evenings, weekends and holidays?

Integrators mix their work and personal lives. Separators isolate work and personal tasks and commitments. Volleyers switch back and forth between integrating and separating; for example, they’re separators when travelling and integrators when at home. Academics, tax accountants and others whose work is cyclical are often volleyers.

To work optimally and achieve satisfaction, you need to work in the way that makes you most comfortable. Separators, for instance, need to guard against allowing technology to force them to integrate work and personal time.

Professor Kossoki also suggests keeping a time log tallying the time you spend on yourself, resting, working, exercising and so on. Turn it into a pie chart. Then make another pie chart showing how ideally you would divide your time between these activities. Then compare your two pie charts to see how well you align your values with how you spend your 168 hours a week and make any changes you need to so that you, not technology, careerism or anything else, prevents you from being the architect of your life.

Remember that your team members may not work the same way you do or as each other, either.

Back to the good old days

Once upon a time, people joined an organisation and remained in it for their entire career. In what was known as the ‘psychological contract’, organisations looked after employees’ training and development and their career progression and in return, they were rewarded with loyal service.

That model pretty much died a long time ago. An exception is US multinational GE Energy, which has offices in Australia and New Zealand. They’re serious about retaining staff, particularly engineers and technicians, and not just in the short term, either. They want their staff to stay with them for their entire careers because, as Sharon Daley, head of human resources (who has been with the company for 30 years herself), says:

‘When someone walks out the door, you’re losing intellectual property and human capital, as well as institutional experience and corporate knowledge. And that’s hard to replace …’

GE Energy is also keen to retain older workers, too, who they believe can be important mentors and teachers.

Part of GE Energy’s retention success lies in the fact that they recognise that people go through different periods in their lives; sometimes they need to work part time, have flexible hours and/or job-share, for instance. Accommodating individual needs, combined with a great employee value proposition and ongoing learning and career development fosters employee loyalty. Employees are so loyal, in fact, that GE Energy’s retention rate is a remarkable 95%.

You can find out more about GE Energy here. Source: ‘People power’ by Sue O’Reilly, the deal, The Australian Newspaper, July 2012.

Discussion questions

How do you foster employee loyalty in your work team? Do you think it’s worth every organisation’s time and energy to try to retain employees? When good employees are hard to find, how important is the psychological contract and long-term employment? What do you do to accommodate employees in different phases of their lives? How easy do you make it for team members to come to you to discuss ways tp make their working lives easier and balance their work and home lives?

Well-balanced managers

I’m reading a book called Life’s a Pitch by Philip Delves Broughton. It’s about how central sales is to organisations. We seldom think of sales as a pivotal function but let’s face it — without people out there selling, those ‘back at the ranch’ would all be out of work.

One good point that I want to share with you (and the book is filled with good points and worth reading for many reasons, not just to find out what it takes to be a good salesperson) is that when it comes to working with customers, good relationships are vital — EXCEPT when you’re selling products and services as one-off transactions. Then, the hard-sell, no-relationship method is the one to go for. For all  other types of sales, working with your customers as partners and building solid, trust-based relationships is the go.

But the main reason for this blog is to give you Earl Nightingale’s checklist of seven items necessary for living a full life, reproduced in Chapter 4. (Nightingale was a mid-20th Century legendary speaker and sales maestro.) Living a full life is important for managers because just as managers with empty lives tend to be poor managers, managers with rich and full lives tend to be good managers. (A sweeping generalisation I know, but a truism nevertheless, I think.)

So to be a good manager, follow these seven rules (paraphrased first by Broughton and now by me):

  1. Have a worthwhile goal; without a goal, you end up living hour to hour, always reacting, never setting your own course.
  2. Work to keep you attitude positive for lots of reasons, not least of which because your own attitude determines other peoples’ attitude towards you.
  3. Think for yourself. Otherwise, you’re buffeted by circumstance and biddable by others.
  4. Remember the Boomerang Principle — you get back what you give.
  5. Always be truthful.
  6. Invest in your own development so you can keep growing.
  7. Remember that you become what you think about most of the time — your thoughts determine your fate.

Put this list somewhere where you’ll see it every morning. Read it over and over until it becomes part of who you are.

Discussion questions

Does your organisation deal in one-off or multiple transactions with its customers? What can you do to more fully adopt Nightingale’s seven items for living a full life?

Gender reporting

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012  if your organisation employs 100 or more people, it needs to report, publicly and in writing, on over 50 topics in six areas, called gender equality indicators:

  1. the gender composition of its workforce
  2. the gender composition of its governing bodies (e.g. board of directors, councils, management committees, trustees)
  3. relative remuneration between men and women
  4. its employment terms, conditions and practices regarding flexible working arrangements and other arrangements that support employees with family or caring responsibilities
  5. how it consults with employees about gender equality
  6. other matters specified by the Minister, which allows the Minister add other reporting topics through a legislative instrument, such as how employees are selected, promoted, transferred, trained and developed, and terminated; conditions of service; arrangements for dealing with pregnant or potentially pregnant employees and mothers breastfeeding their babies; and how sexual harassment complaints are dealt with.

The report must be made available to employees, shareholders and other interested parties. Organisations failing to report cannot tender for federal government work and some state government work, will not be eligible for some Commonwealth government grants, and will be ‘named and shamed’ — not good for workflow, employee engagement or employer brand!

Time tips

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Annette Marner on ABC local radio Drive Time, and on ABC Brokenhill radio on the topic of ‘Time Tips for the New Year’. Here is the gist of our discussion.

The most important thing about saving time and making time to build the life you want (and to build in plenty of study time!) is to know what’s important to you. When you know that, you know what to concentrate your energy and efforts on.

At work, the most important parts of your job to concentrate on are your key result areas (aka KPIs — key performance indicators). To find out what’s most important to you in your personal life, think about what you value most–time with your partner, helping your children learn and grow into valuable members of the community, your own personal health and well-being …

Now you know what to spend your time and efforts on. You can fit in all those other things clamouring for your attention in between working on what’s really important so that you don’t fritter away your time and energy on trivial tasks and meaningless, value-less chores.

Now you can think about two things:

  1. Are you actually spending enough time in these important areas? That isn’t necessarily measured in actual minutes and hours; you often need to measure the quality of the time you’re spending. You can sit and stare at a text book or your computer screen for hours on end and achieve nothing, or put in a concentrated sixty minutes studying or drafting an essay.
  2. Are you getting the results you want in each of the important areas of your job and your life? Remember: it isn’t ‘busy-ness‘, but results, that count.

When any of your answers to those two questions is ‘No’, figure out what’s stopping you. Do you need more job knowledge or to improve your computer or keyboarding skills? Do you need to schedule in time for exercise or to get up an hour earlier to go for a walk or to study? Do you need to practice saying ‘No’ nicely because you’re spending so much time working on other peoples’ priorities that you don’t have enough time to work on what’s important to you? Do you need to stop procrastinating?

Once you know what the problem is, what’s stopping you from spending time on what’s important to you or what’s stopping you from getting the results you’re after, the solution is often staring you right in the face. That’s when you grit your teeth and do what you need to do to take charge of the way you’re spending your time.

Then you can look in the mirror at the end of the day and say ‘Yup, I added value today; I achieved something I wanted to; I’m in charge of my time and my life, not merely responding to other peoples’ demands.’ And that makes you feel good about yourself!

Discussion questions

Are you consciously shaping your life to be more like the life you want? What else might you need to do to make the most of your time? What’s preventing you from getting the results you want at work or in your personal life?