Hoosiers Need More Zzzzzzzzs (Employers Can Help)

Sleepy worker

Ten years ago, sleep was not one of my top priorities.

I slept whenever I wanted (outside of my work hours). It was glorious.

Now that I’m a parent of two small children and come home to chores and tasks and homework and all the things you have to squeeze in to a 24-hour period (along with any sort of relaxation at the end of the day … Netflix on the couch, anyone?), sleep is the thing that gets squeezed out of my schedule.

I know skimping on sleep is not a healthy habit and that I need to make it more of a priority. But, like other busy people, I have a lot of priorities. What’s the motivation for more sleep?

It turns out I’m not the only Hoosier with this particular challenge. A recent article in the Indianapolis Star reports that more than 38% of Hoosiers say they don’t get the recommended amount of sleep per night (at least seven hours).

The article’s headline claims Indiana is the 8th most tired state. While we beat out Hawaiians (who came in last), the residents of South Dakota are seemingly very well rested.

Why should employers care if their employees aren’t prioritizing their rest?

Obviously, sleepy employees make for less productive employees. That’s not surprising.

What is surprising is how much the unrested employees might cost employers. The National Safety Council this week revealed a cost calculator to show the impact of sleepy employees.

Other concerns for employers include health care-related costs – from paying more over time for employees with sleep disorders who require medicine or machinery to get their required rest to the correlation to Indiana’s obesity rate, which can impact sleep quality. All of this can cost employers in terms of health care expenses and absenteeism issues.

So what is an employer to do? For one, the Wellness Council of Indiana offers employers a road map to implementing wellness programs in the workplace. Whether or not your wellness game plan directly targets the sleep of your employees, you can take steps to encourage your employers to eat, move and sleep better. Here are a number of resources you might find useful, including this article on sleep habits; one on workplace fatigue risk management; and this newsletter focusing on the dangers of insomnia and suggestions for how to deal with the condition.

You can also simply ask your employees if they feel well-rested and if there is any other way you can motivate them to get better rest. Perhaps an internal policy change regarding work hours or flexible scheduling could make a bigger impact than you realize. Even encouraging employees to make sure they take advantage of their vacation time could help ensure rested, rejuvenated employees who are ready to work.

What other ideas do you have for encouraging employees to get more rest (at home)?

Behold the Power of Productivity

10061396Penny pinchers make every cent count. So do productivity pros – but their currency is time.

If you want to work smarter and faster, don’t waste another second! An Entrepreneur.com story reveals 11 things ultra-productive people do differently.

Among the techniques (if you kick off your mornings by “eating a frog,” you’re on the right track):

• They Get Ready for Tomorrow Before They Leave the Office
Productive people end each day by preparing for the next. This practice accomplishes two things: It helps you solidify what you’ve accomplished today, and it ensures you’ll have a productive tomorrow. It only takes a few minutes and it’s a great way to end your workday.
“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” – Benjamin Franklin
They Eat Frog
“Eating a frog” is the best antidote for procrastination, and ultra-productive people start each morning with this tasty treat. In other words, they do the least appetizing, most dreaded item on their to-do list before they do anything else. After that, they’re freed up to tackle the stuff that excites and inspires them.
They Go Off The Grid
Don’t be afraid to go off grid when you need to. Give one trusted person a number to call in case of emergency, and let that person be your filter. Everything has to go through them, and anything they don’t clear has to wait. This strategy is a bulletproof way to complete high-priority projects.

“One man gets only a week’s value out of a year while another man gets a full year’s value out of a week.” – Charles Richards

Good tips. Good intentions. Good luck!

March Madness: Is It Really Fouling Up Productivity?

9819223Thankfully, our beloved Hoosier state is rejoicing as we’ve placed five colleges into the Big Dance!

But with much attention this week now devoted toward brackets and sneaking in an online stream of a game, are Indiana employers paying the price?

Fortune cites stats from Challenger, Gray & Christmas indicating that a staggering 60 million Americans will be solely focused on tourney games later this week. And it could be costing employers up to $1.9 billion in wages.

That does sound like a big ol’ negative. But the executives quoted in the article report they’re not too concerned about it. So is it possible we should all just relax on the “it hurts productivity” argument and simply enjoy the experience?

Sports broadcaster and Talk Sporty to Me founder Jen Mueller says claims of lost productivity are overblown because the brackets increase camaraderie and conversation within the office. She contends that actually boosts your bottom line in the long run. (Frankly, this Indiana University alum likes the way she thinks.) See her reasoning below:

Wellness Council Program a Real STAR

Five-Star-150x150Do you need any additional evidence that workplace wellness and its importance are here to stay? Digest this fact: In 2014, the number of companies completing a level of the Wellness Council of Indiana’s AchieveWELL program exceeded the total of the previous five years combined.

AchieveWELL was recognized as a winner (for innovative membership program) recently in the Indiana Society of Association Executives’ STAR awards program. The Wellness Council has been a part of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce since 2011.

The program provides a blueprint and a strategy for implementing a successful wellness initiative in the workplace. It was developed to assist employers in creating a corporate culture that encourages and supports employee health through worksite wellness.

AcheiveWELL’s process is proven to reduce the costly and time-consuming mistakes many internal wellness committees make when attempting to deliver wellness at work. It promotes productivity, presenteeism and engagement at work.

There are three different levels in the AchieveWELL program (three star, four star level and five star l). Each level has goals and programs for organizations to promote wellness. Companies are provided with tools, templates and personal coaching to help them comply with the established criteria for delivering a comprehensive and consistent workplace wellness initiative. Once one level is completed, a company may advance to the next level.

Check it out online and connect with the Wellness Council of Indiana to learn how your organization can benefit.

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas… and a Headache?

Uh-oh. It’s holiday season in the Skrzycki household! Bring on classic movies ("Rudolph," I love you), presents (I embrace my reputation as a Scotch tape fanatic) and goodies (where do I begin?).

Employees who earn a spot on Santa’s “naughty list,” however, can spoil all the fun – especially for human resources professionals. Check out this article, 12 Days of Christmas: HR Headaches, and you’ll see why.

Here are a few excerpts:

Twelve Online Shoppers
Cyber Monday is the biggest day of the year for online shopping. Although some employees shop on their lunch break or at home, many take time out of the work day to cross items off their Christmas list. Solution: Remind employees that some down time is inevitable, but work time is still for work.

Eleven Fantasy Footballers
Wasting time at work is not an art enjoyed exclusively by shoppers. The holiday season is also football season, and that means fantasy players will be out in full force. Solution: See above.

Ten Office Party Drunks
Some folks continue to believe that getting intoxicated in front of your boss is a good idea (hint – it is not). Solution: Limit the number of drinks at office parties and arrange for safe transportation if needed.

Sound familiar? Sound off on your experiences and don’t forget to respond to our blog poll about holiday online shopping.

Skills Gap Dramatically Slows Business Growth

All right, we know there is a great disconnect with high unemployment while thousands of skilled jobs go unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. But just how bad is it?

A new report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute answers that with a "pretty bad." Here’s a short analysis from the State Science & Technology Institute and a link to the 16-page report.

American manufacturing companies cannot fill as many as 600,000 skilled positions — even as unemployment numbers hover at historic levels — according to Boiling Point? The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing, a new report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute. This annual skills report provides a stark snapshot of the manufacturing sector’s inability to find qualified workers. Approximately 67% of survey respondents attribute the unfilled positions to a shortage of available, qualified workers. Unfilled jobs are mainly in the skilled production category positions (e.g., machinists, operators, craft workers, distributors and technicians).

The report also indicates that this shortage has an impact on the overall competitiveness of the U.S. manufacturing sector. Approximately 64% of respondents report that workforce shortages or skills deficiencies in production roles are having a significant impact on their ability to expand operations or improve productivity.

To resolve these issues long-term, the U.S. must focus on the next generation by developing a skilled workforce that goes beyond the required skills (i.e., a solid math and science base). Respondents indicated that high schools should focus on strengthening students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Anytime we talk about this topic, I have to mention Ready Indiana, the Indiana Chamber’s workforce initiative, and its role in helping connect companies and employees with needed training resources.

Does NFL Put Your Staffers on ‘Fantasy Island?’

I’m what you’d call a fantasy football enthusiast. I never allow myself to join more than two leagues, however (normally one with money, and one just for pride), lest I lose focus. And I’m not one to be bragadocious, but I’ve won my paid league three out of the last four years — but whatever. Surprisingly, women never seem to be as impressed by that on first dates as one might think. But they soon change their tunes when that $100 first place check rolls in at the end of the season and I treat them to a romantic evening at Applebee’s. "Go ahead, get some dessert; you’re rolling with a champion tonight."

Challenger, Gray & Christmas sent a release that I’ll post in its entirety below conveying that while 21 million American workers indulge in the seductive temptress that is fantasy football, employers may not need to view it as a danger to productivity.

With less than two weeks to go before the opening kick-off in the National Football League season, fantasy football participants across the country are undoubtedly spending more time than usual fine-tuning their draft selections and rosters due to a lock-out shortened pre-season.  Unfortunately for the nation’s employers, some of the extra time spent on player research may come during business hours.

However, even with an estimated 21.3 million full-time workers participating in fantasy sports each year, with some spending as much as nine hours per week managing their teams, the impact on overall workplace productivity is negligible, according to the workplace experts at global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

“In an information-based economy, productivity is very difficult to measure.  And the same widespread access to the internet from our desks, phones and laptops that allows people to manage their fantasy teams from any place at any time, also allows work to be completed outside of traditional 9-to-5 work hours,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

According to statistics from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, the number of people participating in fantasy sports in the United States and Canada has grown 60 percent over the past four years to 32 million.  The Association’s research indicates that 19 percent of full-time workers in the U.S. have played fantasy sports in the past year. That comes to about 21,253,000 workers.

Football is, of course, the most popular fantasy sport, played by roughly 80 percent of all fantasy sports participants.  According to market research, players spend up to nine hours a week planning and plotting their strategies for weekly matchups in 70 million free and paid leagues (the average player belongs to 2.5 leagues).

“It is impossible to determine how much of that weekly prep time is spent during work hours.  It is even more difficult to determine how time spent managing teams during work hours actually impacts productivity or the company’s bottom line,” said Challenger.

“If you look at a company’s third and fourth quarter earnings statements, it is unlikely that you will find a fantasy football effect.  The impact is more likely to be seen by department managers and team leaders, who have a better sense of their workers’ day-to-day work flow.  Even at level, though, it might not be worth cracking down on fantasy football, unless the quantity or quality of an individual’s work drops off significantly,” he added.

A survey conducted during the 2010 football season by Challenger found that fantasy football had little to no impact on productivity.  Ranking the level of distraction on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no noticeable impact, nearly 70 percent said four or lower.  Less than eight percent of respondents said the level of distraction rated a 7 or 8 and none of the respondents felt the phenomenon deserved a 9 or 10.

“An across-the-board ban on all fantasy football or sports websites could backfire in the form of reduced morale and loyalty.  The result could be far worse than the loss of productivity caused by 10 to 20 minutes of team management each day.

“Companies that not only allow workers to indulge in fantasy football, but actually encourage it by organizing company leagues are likely to see significant benefits in morale as well as productivity,” Challenger said. “In the long run, this may lead to increased employee retention.”

In a 2006 Ipsos survey, 40 percent of respondents said fantasy sports participation was a positive influence in the workplace.  Another 40 percent said it increases camaraderie among employees.  One in five said their involvement in fantasy sports enabled them to make a valuable business contact.

Furthermore, a more recent study by researchers at the National University of Singapore found that occasional non-work-related web browsing at the office can refresh tired workers and enhance overall productivity.

Despite evidence of fantasy football’s positive impact on the workplace, less than eight percent those surveyed by Challenger last season said their companies “embrace” fantasy football participation as a morale-boosting activity and none of the employers reported officially organized leagues.

And yes, for the first time, the Chamber is having an internal league for staff. Of course, it’s just for pride (and assuming pride is a zero sum game, I plan to acquire all of it by the end of the season).

Four-Day Workweek Still Worth Discussing for Some

Would you rather work four 10-hour days than five eight-hour days? It’s been a topic of debate for a few years now, and MSNBC has the latest story about a private company that’s about to give it a shot:

Bert Martinez, CEO of a business-training firm in Houston, has decided to blow away the five-day workweek for himself and his staff of 28.

Starting next month the entire company is going to work for four ten-hour days instead of five eight-hour days, and the company’s workweek will stay that way if productivity and profits stay the same or increase. It’s all part of Martinez’s strategy to take back his personal life, and his general inclination to shake things up at the firm.

“I want to spend more time with my family, and I’m really curious to see if results are going to stay the same,” Martinez said. “Will we lose money or make money? We’ll see what happens.

Martinez may be onto something. While his experiment may sound unusual, it’s actually part of a growing movement to rethink the standard five-day, 40-hour workweek that has been around in this country since the New Deal.

One larger example of the phenomenon is seen in Utah. In 2008, then-Gov. Jon Huntsman launched the “Working 4 Utah” plan to shift state workers who were putting in five-day weeks to a Monday-through-Thursday, 7 a.m.-to-6 p.m. work schedule. The verdict: Employee satisfaction, energy savings and a boon for the environment.

“I don’t think we have any plans to go back to five days,” said Jeff Herring, executive director of the Utah Department of Human Resource Management. Still, he added that the state is continuing to monitor the new work system to make sure it’s saving money and working both for employees and the public that uses state services.

It’s a radical idea and not without its critics. Utah State Rep. Michael Noel called the initiative “stupid” in a New York Times article last week that said other states are considering following Utah’s lead. Some experts question whether we would ever be able to abandon the five-day grind so entrenched in corporations and society at large.

Workers Wasting Time Web Surfing? Study Suggests It May Not be the Worst Thing

Studies show American workers waste over an hour per day surfing online. Not ideal, right? But Harvard Business School researcher Marco Piovesan conducted a study concluding that those who are forbidden from Internet use may be even less productive. Read why (and check out the entire article):

To test the hypothesis, the researchers used a variation of the "Marshmallow Task," a classic psychological experiment in which children were shown one marshmallow, and told they would be rewarded with two marshmallows if they could resist the temptation to eat the first treat until the instructor returned to the room. Only 30 percent of the kids could hold out.

But instead of measuring wait time, the team measured the ability of children to complete actual work tasks—folding paper per instructions—at an Italian summer camp in 2008. Children facing temptation got less work done, even given the promise of eventual reward of candy and soda: They not only completed fewer tasks, but also made more mistakes, which downgraded their performance.

"We’d expect to find that being more flexible in monitoring Internet use could increase productivity."(The effect was particularly pronounced for children below age 9, who were found to be on average 21 percent less productive than the children in the control group—while for children over age 9, there was shown to be no significant difference, a finding consistent with previous research showing that children begin developing willpower between the ages of 8 and 10. For more, see their article "Temptation and Productivity: A Field Experiment with Children," forthcoming in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.)

Despite the fact that the study was done with children, Piovesan saw clear implications for adults—hypothesizing that the effects would change not only with age, but also with the degree of temptation. "If we used the same temptation of candies in an office, probably we wouldn’t find anything, but using a different temptation that is stronger for older subjects, the effect would be stronger."

In a recent set of experiments detailed in "Temptation at Work," Piovesan and his colleagues tested exactly that using 20- to 25-year-old college students in an office environment. Instead of paper-folding, the test subjects were given a simple task of counting the number of times people passed a ball back and forth in a video. Between tasks, however, half of the subjects were allowed to watch a video of the British comedy TV show Mr. Bean. The other half were confronted with a flashing red button at the bottom of their screens warning them not to play the video. Upping the temptation, the latter group was able to overhear the video playing nearby and laughter of the students.

As with the summer camp kids, the researchers found that the students facing temptation were more apt to make mistakes and were less productive overall than the control students, underscoring that no matter how much willpower we adults think we have, we are still susceptible to tempting distractions.

This Fantasy Not a Problem at Work

We’ve all heard about work-life balance. And while it’s important to maintain the "life" part of the equation in today’s 24-hour communications world, it’s also crucial while at the office to spend the vast majority of the time on the "work" function.

Thank goodness (reports Challenger, Gray & Christmas) fantasy football doesn’t appear to be upsetting that balance. Not exactly the top-of-mind business subject of the day, but remember that happy, contented employees are more productive employees. And fantasy players might have that more positive outlook — unless their star running back fumbled three times and never sniffed the end zone on Sunday afternoon.

According to Challenger:

In a survey of human resources professionals, the majority of respondents said fantasy football had little to no impact on productivity. Ranking the level of distraction on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no noticeable impact, nearly 70 percent said four or lower. Less than eight percent of respondents said the level of distraction rated a 7 or 8 and none of the respondents felt the phenomenon deserved a 9 or 10.

The Challenger survey found that about one in five employers block access to sports and fantasy football websites. However, many simply look the other way with nearly half (46.2 percent) saying they do not care if employees spend part of their workday on fantasy football, as long as the quality and quantity of output does not decline. About 22 percent said they merely ask workers to limit fantasy football and other personal activities to lunch and other break times.

“It is difficult for companies to take a hard-line stance against fantasy football. The internet technology that helped fuel the rapid growth of fantasy football participation and makes it possible to manage teams from one’s desk also makes it possible for employees to attend to work duties during their personal time,” said John Challenger.