Learned Helplessness

I had not heard of this term, learned helpessness, before but it has become a eureka moment for me. In the last two month’s I have realised that this is a real issue that can affect each and every one of us.  This YouTube video really summarises things up (not just the dog training example 🙂 ). I do wonder though is this the product of nurture and not nature?

“It always seems impossible until it is done.” – Nelson Mandela

Does technology allow us to achieve a better work/life balance?

Most people strive for a work/life balance; sharing their time fairly between their work tasks and their friends, family and hobbies they like to do outside of work. Striking the right balance is not as simple as it sounds though and is often somewhat of a ‘holy grail’ for workers. The right attitude towards work obviously plays a huge role in achieving a work/life balance, but the increased use of technology is also a major contributing factor.

Why is a work/life balance important?
Work/life balance has become something of a buzzword, but there are genuine reasons why both employers and employees should be focusing on achieving a healthy balance. The days of people demonstrating that they are the right person for a job by working as many hours as they possibly can is disappearing. Employers now prefer to know that employees have a life outside of work that is fulfilling and supportive. A work/life balance is a healthy lifestyle. Workers who have little to no interests except their work are expected to burn out or become unfocused. They are more of a risk than the workers who happily leave when their working day ends and do not return until the next day.

How technology allows people to achieve a work/life balance
Having the right attitude towards work is probably the most important thing when it comes to achieving a work/life balance. If a person wants to work during all of their spare time, then there is little that can change their attitude and they are unlikely to achieve a healthy work/life balance. However, for all of the people who wish to leave work at work and enjoy some free time with family or friends technology has arguably made achieving this work/life balance much easier.

Online collaboration
Online work tools such as Asana, Basecamp, Jira and Slack make collaborative working easier. Having a virtual workspace that everyone can log into and contribute to ongoing projects or complete their own tasks and upload them for the team, people can work effectively together without ever having to be in the same physical office space. This is great for people who want to work with a variety of people but also perfect for maintaining a healthy work/life balance. It gives people the option to work from home that saves time by not commuting before and after work, and also allows for lunch breaks to be spent doing things that the person wants to be doing such as spending time with family, or hobbies that they can do from home for an hour or so while they are having a break.

Video/conference calling
In a similar way to online collaboration tools, conferencing calling software such as Skype allows people to conduct face-to-face meetings without having to be together. For organisations spread across the country or even the world, this can have a great impact on work/life balance. All the trips that people would previously have had to take, staying hotels and being away from their non-work life are, in general, no longer necessary. Of course, there are many people and organisations that still prefer to conduct meetings by attending face-to-face but technology has now given an alternative that allows for a better work/life balance.

Work on the go
The majority of online collaboration tools have Apps to allow workers to access work on the go via tablets or smartphones. Along with these types of tools there are also word processors, spreadsheets, etc. that can be accessed online and saved to cloud storage allowing workers to work anywhere they choose. They also have the ability to pick up where they left off when they are home or back in the office.

Technology = more efficient
It is rare that any organisation will introduce technology into the workplace unless it will, in part at least, be more efficient for the staff and customers or clients. It is therefore possible to conclude that technology in the workplace will make workers’ jobs easier, quicker. The amount of time workers are required to work late in order to get tasks finished should be reduced, if not eliminated.

Take your work home
For the occasions where it is still necessary to work late in order to finish tasks technology often offers the choice to take work home rather than be stuck in the office until it’s finished. Online collaboration tools as well as cloud storage and networking make it possible for workers to access their work network from home and continue to work as if they were still in the office. This not only allows workers to work from the comfort of their home but also gives them the chance have a break from the task that needs completing and finish it later as they are not limited by being forced to stay in the office and finish.

Technology is making it easier for workers to achieve a healthy work/life balance.

* Tools to make working on mobile devices simple.
* Cloud storage to make working in different places easily.
* Software to allow communication with people around the world.
* Technology allows workers to make their work-life fit around their home life.

It is not always appropriate to put home life first but at least with technological developments it is possible to ensure home life no longer gets neglected. This is great for the employee but also for the employer who knows that their workers can achieve a work/life balance and stay focused on their work without burning out.

How working more hours actually makes you look bad

We seem to live in a society that places value on the amount of hours that a person works each week as a reflection of the quality of their work. Unfortunately we have it completely backwards and what we should be doing is praising the people who manage to complete their work within the amount of hours that are allocated to complete it, rather than listening to the moans of the people who don’t.

Many people are working too many hours above their contracted hours which leads to the question why? When the practice and attitude seems to be common across all industries it cannot be attributed to poor management or companies/organisations taking advantage of workers and expected too much from them. It is therefore necessary to look at the workers and the role they play in working too many hours.

Why don’t job descriptions contain accurate weekly hours?

The simple answer is – they do! Job descriptions are not simply made up to entice people to apply, they are (or should be) an accurate reflection of what is expected, including the number of hours the worker is required to work. If a full time job is considered to be 37.5 or 40 hours a week then it should be assumed that the job can be completed within this time.

There are people who work extra hours and quietly get on with it. The point is that these people are doing extra and they don’t begrudge doing so and don’t moan about. They could work their allotted hours and complete their jobs effectively but they choose to work extra.

Then there are people who work an excessive amount of hours a week above their ‘full time hours’ and everyone has to know about it. These people make a point of telling everyone who will listen how many hours they have worked like it is a badge of honour. These are also the people who moan about having to work so many hours as if they are being forced to. In reality they are rarely forced to.

Hard working or just inefficient?

If the expectations of a job role have increased so much that they genuinely cannot be completed within the working week then this must be addressed. Management needs to be informed and an analysis of the job role needs to be completed in order to discover how the tasks can be more effectively delegated.

This rarely happens because moaning to colleagues seems to be a popular pastime and so these workers don’t actually want anything to change, regardless of the number of times they say they do. Not only do they not want change because it will take away one of their reasons to moan, they also don’t want the number of hours they work looked into because it will show that rather than working hard they are simply working inefficiently. They work extra hours to make up for the fact that they are inefficient and incompetent at completing their tasks within their contracted hours.

Working smarter not harder

Working more hours does not make a person hard working. It also does not make them efficient. In fact it is likely to be quite the opposite. Working smartly means that a person has streamlined all processes and is not wasting any of their working day on tasks that could are not required or could be completed a lot quicker. A smart worker will be highly organised and have clear priorities, understand their working day and how to get the most out of it. There is a wealth of knowledge on how to work more smartly and so there really is little excuse to be working extra hours on a regular basis.

Working smarter also leads to a better work/life balance. People who work too many hours cannot achieve an effective work/life balance which automatically leads to them being less effective in their work. An effective worker knows how to leave work at work and enjoy their home life, ensuring that they split their time effectively.

Why do it to themselves?

It is clear that the people who work a ridiculous amount of hours are doing so for some reason other than they need to in order to be successful in their job. They could work smarter and have more of a life outside of work whilst still being successful in their job. Many people use work as a distraction and may be reluctant to reduce the amount of hours worked as they will then need to fill these hours with something else.

The only other logical conclusion is that others just enjoy having something to moan about. There seems to be negative culture in the world of work where everything has to be criticised and moaned about. If a new initiative is implemented it’s automatically doomed to fail, if management try to raise moral it’s because they want something, if practices are made more efficient it’s annoying to have to change the way things have always been done. There is a real sense of what it was like to be in school with anyone who is positive or encouraging being the ‘teachers’ pet’ or too new to have become disillusioned yet. By working extra hours this simply adds to the list of moans that a person can bring to the water cooler.

Conclusion 

The simple fact is that if a person is working ridiculous amounts above their contracted hours then they either doing it just so that can moan about it, or they are ineffective. They have failed to prioritise the work that they have, they are not working smartly and they are usually spending too much time moaning about working extra hours which leads to them working more hours because of the time spent moaning.

We need to create a culture where value is placed on outcomes and results rather than the number of hours that have been put in. Moving away from the idea that working more hours means someone is working hard will mean that there is less negativity within a team because people will naturally start to work more smartly, work less hours and base their opinions of results rather than how long a person is sat at their desk (probably doing very little).

* opinions are my own not that of any organisation I am associated with