Work Futures Daily | Nostalgia

| Stability Engages | More Qualified Than Your Boss? | Too Engaged | What Headphones Say | Sveltlana Boym | Player Piano | America The Mediocre | Ben Thompson on WeWork |

source: Atlas of Transformation

Beacon NY | 2019–08–22 | Today’s issue takes its name from the quote of the day by Svetlana Boym, particularly this:

The 20th century began with a futuristic utopia and ended with nostalgia.

I was first introduced to Boym in a review of Zygmunt Bauman’s Retrotopiaby Alastair Bonnett. He added an additional quote from Boym’s The Future of Nostalgia:

Survivors of the twentieth century, we are all nostalgic for a time when we were not nostalgic. But there seems no way back.

As Bonnett styles it, we are longing for a past that never was.

Bauman argues that nostalgia is the defining emotion of modernity, the era we are emerging from. My sense if that nostalgia is still operative for many, but the postnormal era will become dominated by weltschmerz: the kind of feeling experienced by someone who understands that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind; the feeling of sadness when thinking about the evils of the world.


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If You Want Engaged Employees, Offer Them Stability | Marla Gottschalk unscrambles the mumbo-jumbo about employee engagement with an obvious conclusion:

Most organizations struggle to find the right balance between stability and change, which in turn affects individual contributors. But in the race for innovation and digital transformation, the idea of stability has been somewhat lost.


The psychological contract is an often unstated exchange agreement, or set of promises about what we bring to our work and what we expect to gain from our employers in return. Sadly, once stressed or broken, this contract is very difficult to repair. Reviewing the health of these contracts is a unique opportunity to increase stability, and in turn, to retain valuable employees, as the psychological contract has been shown to correlate with outcomes such as job satisfaction, commitment, performance, and trust. Managers can address psychological contracts more openly by having regular discussions about what is being exchanged in the employee/employer relationship. This can help clarify goals, drive performance, encourage developmental conversations, and help employees begin to explore career planning. Also, as things inevitably shift within the organization, there should be ongoing discussions about how the changes might affect the work and the individual. During times of major change, psychological contracts should be revisited often. For example, goals and performance metrics should be recalibrated from time to time, and certainly after any organizational changes take place.


Psychological safety. William Kahn, professor of Organizational Behavior at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, defined psychological safetyas “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career.” While the concept has been studied for decades, we are only just now truly acknowledging the importance of its role in our work lives.

A must read.


About 22% of U.S. workers think they’re more qualified than their boss | Seems low to me. 61% say they can handle their manager’s day-to-day responsibilities.


Beware of Employees Who Are Very Engaged in Their Work | Alina Dizik on when work engagement goes too far [emphasis mine]:

New research shows that employees who are too engaged are likely to have difficulties in their personal lives and may take part in actions that negatively affect the company. In addition, such workers can become more difficult to manage over time and produce worse results.

Deeply engaged employees who become more difficult to manage can be overly demanding of superiors and become suspicious of their intentions, says Stuart Bunderson, professor of organizational ethics and governance at Washington University in St. Louis. When Prof. Bunderson first started looking at how zookeepers derived meaning from their work, for example, he learned that many tend to look at their job as a calling. That, in turn, made them tougher to manage than less-engaged employees. They also expected more from those above them. The zookeepers objected to placing a carousel at the zoo, for instance, because they saw it as trivializing the zoo’s mission, until it was repositioned to promote conservation, Prof. Bunderson found.

The professor also studied managers five years after receiving their M.B.A. degrees and found that the most engaged employees displayed similar qualities. A “higher sense of moral duty” makes it tougher for them to respect deadlines or work in a team, he says.

There’s no such thing as acceptable compromises or good enough when things are framed in moral terms,” says Prof. Bunderson, who in January published a review of research into work as a calling. “So, for example, if I see my calling as helping my consulting clients find the best possible solution for their problem,” he says, “I will become especially frustrated when management tells me that I need to push certain solutions or limit the amount of time I can spend in problem diagnosis…especially when compared to my colleague for whom a job is just a job.”

Some researchers have found that work engagement has a negative impact on a personal level. In a 2018 study, after a three-month period, workers who said they felt emotional ties to their work reported experiencing more stress in reaction to workplace demands than workers who said they didn’t feel emotional ties to their work, says Thomas Britt, a psychology professor at Clemson University who studies work engagement.


This Is What People Think of You When You Wear Headphones at Work | Scott Mautz informs us that we are sending a signal by wearing headphones at work:

For the most part, you’re probably sending the exact message that you want to: “Leave me the hell alone.” But there are also unintended perceptions being created. When employees in the study were asked what impression co-workers give off when wearing headphones, here were the responses:

º Want to be left alone: 27 percent

º Focused: 22 percent

º Busy: 17 percent

º Love music/music quality: 16 percent

º Rude/pretentious: 9 percent

Interestingly, the perception of being pretentious tripled when co-workers were wearing in-ear headphones (like AirPods).


Quote of the Day

The 20th century began with a futuristic utopia and ended with nostalgia. The optimistic belief in the future has become outmoded while nostalgia, for better or for worse, never went out of fashion, remaining uncannily contemporary.

| Svetlana Boym, Nostalgia (in the fascinating Atlas of Transformation)


How Kurt Vonnegut Predicted the Automation Crisis | Arvind Dilawar connects the dots from Vonnegut’s Player Piano to the present day:

Player Piano may have been written 67 years ago, but its prescience is uncanny — though not inexplicable. It is a product not only of Vonnegut’s extraordinary imagination, but his years of experience working directly with engineers, whose mentality the novel reflects in reaching its logical conclusion. If today we find ourselves becoming increasingly trapped within that conclusion — between automation-driven mass unemployment on one side and the supposed panacea of universal basic income on the other — Player Piano also offers us hope for how we might yet break free.

Except that the Luddite-like revolt in the book is squashed, and nothing changes.


America the Mediocre | Paul Musgrave skewers Americans’ image of the US as the best country on Earth.

A 2017 Pew Research Center poll found that most Americans disagree only whether the United States is the best country in the world (29 percent) or one of the best (56 percent). Only 14 percent of Americans agree instead that there are other, better countries.


By many measures, the United States looks like a decidedly middle-of-the pack country or even one at the bottom of the set of rich countries. Consider the classic three American goals: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” On measures indicating the quality of life, the United States often ranks poorly. The U.N. Human Development Index, which counts not just economic performance but life expectancy and schooling, ranks the United States at 13th, lagging other industrialized democracies like Australia, Germany, and Canada. The United States ranks 45th in infant mortality, 46th in maternal mortality, and 36th in life expectancy.

What about liberty? Reporters Without Borders places the United States at 48th for protecting press freedom. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranks the United States as only the 22nd least corrupt country in the world, behind Canada, Germany, and France. Freedom House’s experts score the United States 33rd for political freedom, while the Varieties of Democracy project puts the quality of U.S. democracy higher — at 27th.

As for happiness: The World Happiness Report places America at 19th, just below Belgium. Belgium!

Less formal impressions reinforce the conclusion that Americans’ view of their own exceptional accomplishments aren’t shared quite as widely as they believe. On Twitter, I asked people who have spent time in both the United States and other countries to tell me about everyday ways in which they found the United States to be less advanced than other countries.

I received more than 2,000 replies in a day.

The overwhelming tone of the responses was bemusement and surprise at just how poorly so many parts of American life worked. To be sure, some responses reflected preferences, not policy. Europeans think American bread is too sweet, I learned, and others think Americans dress too informally. But most users narrowed in on real failings of U.S. public policy.

One Twitter user, former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, summed upcommon complaints well: bad roads; maternity and paternity leave; K-12 education; most Americans’ stubborn monolingualism; and, unsurprisingly from the former president of a country sometimes nicknamed “E-stonia,” “digitization of virtually all public services.” And many of the commenters brought up the everyday failings of American life, such as its dismal transportation infrastructure (“seems on the verge of falling apart”), lack of sidewalksanemic public transportation systems, and lack of public toilets.


The WeWork IPO | Ben Thompson warns people the WeWork IPO is a risky bet.


Originally published on Work Futures.