How to Increase Your Productivity: Setting Priorities
How many of us frequently find ourselves with a never-ending to-do list, wishing there were more hours in a day? We want to achieve our goals and increase productivity, but there’s just no way to get it all done. Well, the trick to boosting your productivity is not necessarily having more time to accomplish your tasks, but instead simply making the most of what time you do have by setting priorities.
To help you in your quest to become more productive and time-efficient, the current authors, Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen (2013), developed a self-assessment that you can take to identify the low value tasks you perform every day. Managing your time effectively means being able to recognize what your priorities are, and delegating non-essential work when possible. However, that can be a difficult task when you are facing a list as long as your arm, all of which seem to be high priorities. This tool will help you decide which of your daily activities you should either 1) eliminate, 2) delegate or outsource, or 3) redesign.
They suggest you sort your daily tasks into three categories:
- “Quick Kills” – Effort expended that may be appreciated, but is not absolutely necessarily; the kind of work that no one will notice if you stop doing.
- “Off-load Opportunities” – Tasks you can painlessly delegate to others.
- “Long-term Redesign” – Work that needs to be restructured, so it can be performed more efficiently.
This will allow you to get rid of pointless tasks and clear up your schedule so you can focus your time on work that really matters.
So what are you waiting for? Take the assessment today, and see how much more productive you can become!
When Leaders Do Not Treat Employees Equally
New research by Tse, Lam, Lawrence, and Huang (2013) has discovered what happens when leaders have better relationships with some employees and worse relationships with others. The results are discouraging. When leaders do not treat employees equally, many problems arise, and ultimately job performance may suffer
When a leader forms relationships of different quality among their subordinates, coworkers are more likely to develop contempt for one another. When we think about coworkers who have better relationships with the leader than we do, we may want to “put down” those people, in order to fight off feelings of inferiority. When we consider coworkers who have worse relationships with the leader, we may think those people have been excluded due to a failing on their part. Perhaps they are unworthy and have not met group standards.
The authors also found that not all people react to these workplace disparities in the same ways. Some people, they say, feel the need to frequently compare themselves to others in order to reduce their own insecurities. People of this kind are more likely to compare themselves with coworkers, and therefore more likely to develop contempt in cases where their coworkers have different relationships with the leader.
What happens when these feelings of contempt develop? We tend to perceive that these other employees are not helping us as much at work. This feeling is associated with decreases in job performance.
This study shows the importance of treating all employees equally. Managers and leaders should try to develop positive relationships with all of their employees, or risk seeing a decline in job performance across their organization. When leaders maintain stronger relationships with some employees than with others, both groups are negatively affected. In other words, when some employees are treated unequally, nobody wins.
Idiosyncratic Deals: How work arrangements affect job performance
Typically, when an employee and an employer enter into a work agreement, the employee has pre-defined responsibilities. For instance, an employee must complete tasks a, b, and c during a specified time period in a specific location. A marketing manager, for example, must develop the company’s marketing strategy over two months, while working at an office in San Francisco. However, there are exceptions to this typical work arrangement. An employee may be assigned additional roles or tasks that make a flexible schedule or alternate work location more appropriate. Despite the fact that the employee was originally expected to work eight hours a day from the San Francisco office, the employer agrees to allow this employee to work from any location. These exceptions to employer-employee work arrangements are known as idiosyncratic deals or “i-deals.”
In response to receiving an i-deal, an employee usually is more emotionally committed to the job, and will go above and beyond in trying to help the company. Though this relationship between idiosyncratic deals and work outcomes is relatively well understood, what is less known is exactly why i-deals lead to positive work outcomes. Previous research indicated that part of the reason is due to social exchange theory. According to this theory, when an employee is granted an i-deal, they feel grateful and want to pay back the favor, which they do by performing at an even higher level, as a way of compensating their employer for the benefits they receive from the modified work arrangement. However, in shedding more light on the relationship between i-deals and job performance, the authors of this study found that, in addition to social exchange theory, self-enhancement theory offers another reason why idiosyncratic deals lead to positive work outcomes. According to this theory, when an employer grants an i-deal, the employee feels valued and important; thus, confidence is built and job performance improves. The authors found that this was a better explanation for why i-deals lead to positive work outcomes than the gratitude-based social exchange theory.
Selection Tests and Job Performance
Ideally, when we test prospective employees, we gather valuable information that will help us determine if a candidate is suitable for a given job. But that’s not all. We also create an impression in the candidate’s mind about our company, its culture, and its values. Research has found that candidates’ reactions to selection testing do affect their attitudes. For example, candidates may react anxiously or perceive unjust treatment. These reactions can influence a candidate’s view of an organization, as well as determine whether they would recommend it to others. New research (McCarthy, Van Iddekinge, Lievens, Kung, Sinar, & Campion, 2013) explores the possibility that selections tests could also be influencing subsequent job performance.
The authors conducted four different experiments in a variety of settings. They found that reactions to selection tests did relate to job performance. However, they go on to explain that this connection is nothing to be concerned about. Many of the same personal characteristics that influence reactions to testing also influence job performance, so we’d naturally expect a relationship between the two. Similarly, reactions to testing may also have an effect on test scores, and test scores themselves are (hopefully) related to job performance. Additionally, the major finding of the study was that candidate reactions to testing did not diminish the usefulness of selection tests. That is to say, it makes little difference if some candidates feel discouraged by the testing, while others feel elated. Either way, the selection test will have the same ability to predict performance fairly.
The authors caution that these findings should not give an organization the go-ahead to completely disregard a candidate’s attitude. It is logical to expect that many benefits occur when candidates feel they are treated fairly. A company’s reputation is, in part, determined by word of mouth, and a sense of fair play may result in favorable attitudes toward the organization that are subsequently communicated to others (Hausknecht, Day, & Thomas, 2004).
This study is important, because it demonstrates that organizations need not make positive or negative feelings of candidates a primary objective when designing selection tests. Simply build a fair test that follows best practices. No matter how the candidates feel, we can be confident that a properly designed selection test is gathering the valuable information needed to hire the right employee for the job.
Self-efficacy and Job Performance
Is self-efficacy – the belief in one’s ability to succeed – the result of past performance or a cause of future performance? Research thus far has shown that both perspectives are true: that past performance is a driver of self-efficacy (Kozlowski, Gully, Brown, Salas, Smith, & Nason, 2001) and that self-efficacy is a driver of future performance (Sitzmann & Ely, 2011). Upending large parts of the literature on this topic and resolving this issue of whether self-efficacy is the result of past performance or a cause of future performance, Traci Sitzmann of the University of Colorado at Denver & Gillian Yeo of the University of Western Australia found that self-efficacy is more the result of past performance and less a cause of future performance. In other words, a win in the workplace yesterday will make you feel good about yourself and may lead to a boost in job satisfaction, but it doesn’t increase your chances of succeeding tomorrow. Future job performance and self-efficacy are not as closely linked as was previously though.
For their study, Sitzmann and Yeo reviewed the current literature, a process known as a meta-analysis, and synthesized the results of 38 studies of over 5,000 participants, most of which were college students. The indicators of performance differed among the studies, ranging from job performance tasks like stock prediction scores and air traffic control decision points to golf putting and exams in a statistics class. Overall, the analysis was surprising, because earlier work has tended to conclude that self-efficacy, in itself, led to improved job performance.
The Connection Between Self-Esteem and Job Satisfaction
Previous research (e.g., Chang, Ferris, Johnson, Rosen, & Tan, 2012) has shown that core self-evaluation – an umbrella term that includes self-esteem, self-efficacy, locus of control, and emotional stability – predicts job satisfaction. Simply put, if an employee thinks highly of herself, she tends to be satisfied with her job. Furthermore, these investigators found that if an employee feels good about herself and has success at work, she is even more satisfied with her job.
In contrast, if an employee feels bad about herself and has failures at work, she thinks even less of her job. This is important for employers to be aware of as failures at work could have much more negative impact on those employees with lower self-esteem or confidence. In addition, how the manager responds to the failure may further exacerbate the issue (“How could you do such a thing?!”), or start to turn things around (“Learning is an important part of development, so let’s see what we learned and what we need to do to get this right next time”). The right type of intervention may be a means of improving job satisfaction, and ultimately job performance.
Data were collected from two samples: 137 matched pairs of employees and their immediate supervisors as well as 227 participants recruited via StudyResponse, a nonprofit service that matches researchers to participants.
Fake Smile at Work? How you do it may determine your job satisfaction
Have you ever given a fake smile to someone at work even though you weren’t feeling happy or very excited to see him? If so, you’ve engaged in a process known as emotional labor in which you manage your emotions in order to act in an appropriate way in a work setting. Maybe you wouldn’t go to such efforts when around friends and family, instead feeling free to express the emotions you actually feel. In a work setting though, it may not be best to show your irritation about missing lunch to your brand new client.
Previous research has divided emotional labor into two categories: surface acting and deep acting. Surface acting refers to expressing the emotion that the situation requires even though it may not be the emotion that you are feeling. For example, you may need to smile and be cheerful when greeting a client even though you feel neither happy nor cheerful. Deep acting also refers to expressing the emotion that the situation requires, but instead of merely faking it, you try to generate the required emotions by thinking of historical events or associations. For example, you may need to smile and be cheerful when greeting a client, and even though you’re feeling tired and grumpy, you generate happiness and cheer by thinking of positive associations or of things that make you happy.
Through a literature review of over 116 samples, the results of this investigation indicate that the type of emotional strategy utilized – surface or deep – affects job performance. Specifically, those who use a surface-emotional-labor strategy are less satisfied with their job and more stressed and exhausted, while those who use a deep-emotional-labor strategy are more satisfied, less stressed, and perform their job better. In explaining this finding, the authors believe that surface emotional strategies have worse affects on job performance because they require more effort in order to overcome the cognitive dissonance between an emotion felt and an emotion expressed. Though this result is important for the job performance of anyone with a client-facing role, it is particularly important for those in the service industry in which customer satisfaction is key.
Effective Decision-Making: Why are Some Leaders Better at it than Others?
This study examined the effective decision-making of 103 military leaders. The authors hoped to discover what mental techniques made some leaders more successful decision makers than others.
In the military, soldiers are exposed to unpredictable and ever-changing situations. One day, they may be meeting with the village elders in Afghanistan to discuss ways in which the US and NATO can help the village. The next day, these same soldiers could be in combat and have to shoot people who look and act in ways very similar to the village elders they met the day before. Given the constantly changing demands of war, soldiers must have the capacity to accurately assess the demands of each situation and act accordingly.
A soldier in negotiations need to be compromising and thoughtful. When in battle, they must aggressively attack the enemy before being injured or killed themselves. If a soldier does not assess each situation anew, but instead acts the same way every time, the consequences could be disastrous. When in negotiations, a soldier who just verbally attacks their negotiating partner is unlikely to get the desired outcome. Similarly, the soldier who acts in a compromising manner on the battlefield and considers the needs of the enemy is unlikely to fare well.
Given the importance of this topic, the authors looked at leader self-complexity – which refers to the ability to act in a manner that is appropriate for the situation – and decision-making. Results indicated that soldiers who who were able to assess the demands of a situation on a case-by-case basis ultimately made better decisions. In complex circumstances and environments, the ability to see the uniqueness of each situation leads to the best decisions.
Does a Job Furlough Affect Performance?
A job furlough is when an employee is temporary laid off. For example, an employee who typically works five days a week is placed on furlough, and as a result, she is now only allowed to work four days per week. During the Great Recession of 2008, when companies sought ways to cut costs, furloughs became a popular technique. Since furloughs became so common, researchers Jonathon R. B. Halbesleben, Anthony R. Wheeler, and Samantha C. Paustian-Underdahl felt it important to understand the effects of furloughs on job performance. According to their results, the authors discovered that, in addition to the loss of salary, furloughs affected the emotions and job performance of the furloughed employees. When furloughed, employees became emotionally exhausted. Further, their performance declined. They were less able to complete assigned responsibilities and were more careless with company property.
In explaining this result, the authors discuss how job furloughs deplete an employee’s physical, mental, and emotional resources. Additionally they argue that furloughing triggers an accelerating loss of these intangible resources. Combined with the shift in how employees use what their resources they do have, this can result in some serious negatives. Keeping a close eye on the benefits and downsides of furloughing, as well as its overall effects on the well-being of a company’s employees, may be in order.
Envy At Work: The Tale of Two Envies
Envy. Since historic times, social comparisons has spurred many conflicts. Envy at work comes in many masks. Undermining someone socially. Not helping them. We can even allow our own job performance to suffer out of envy-driven resentment or spite. We all know how envy can have disastrous consequences. But is envy always bad?
Researchers think this is just one side of the story. The other side is ‘benign envy’ or envy with helpful consequences both for the individual (the envious), the envied, and the organization. While we would like to fight some employees and flee from the rest, we modify our behavior based on three factors:
- How we feel about ourselves,
- How we perceive the envied target, and
- What organizational support we receive.
People who feel in control of themselves experience less anxiety and typically engage in benign envy because sabotaging behavior goes against their positive self-image of high performance standards. They feel challenged rather than threatened. Because they are more engaged in their job, they take the opportunity to learn and grow. They respond to negative feedback and setbacks with increased effort. Secondly, achievements of competent, “warm” people who are envied are perceived as justified, despite being the target of envy. We are more likely to help them as a result. Lastly, if the envious trust the systems in an organization, they believe that the rewards are well-deserved and that they too would receive the same rewards if they worked just as hard.
So really, at the end of the day, envy is more about the perspective of the envious person, than it is about the one envied. A system that is perceived as just will help keep envy from becoming counterproductive.