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Bad Weather: Better for Work, Terrible for Everything Else

Talking about the weather used to be drudgery saved for only the most boring acquaintances. But in the age of temperature selfies and record snow, winter'spopularity on the Internet seems to thrive in spite of the season's toll on our minds (and bodies).

Winter and the snowstorms that come with it have traditionally been associated with a drop in economic output, with some estimates in the billions annually for the U.S. alone. But productivity studies hum a different tune for office workers: When the weather's bad outside, workers are more productive at their jobs inside.

Researchers Jooa Julia Lee, Francesca Gino, and Bradley Staats looked at how weather affects worker productivity at a Japanese bank, online, and in the lab. They hypothesized that good weather is distracting because "attractive outdoor options is a form of task-unrelated thinking that serves as a cognitive distraction that shifts workers’ attention away from the task at hand." In other words, when a worker is thinking about all the things they could be doing on a nice summer day instead of being stuck at the office, they're not focused on work.

In the experiment at the Japanese bank, the ...

Stressed? It’s Not How Much You Do, It’s How You Do It

Yes, there are just too many things that have to be done today. But ask yourself, do they all have to be done right now?

The answer is probably “no.” So just take a deep breath, or turn your stress into excitement—those will help restore a better sense of time, according to a new study to be published in the Journal of Marketing Research.

The team of researchers from Duke, Stanford, and Erasmus University Rotterdam examined “goal conflict,” which is the idea that in many cases a person’s goals step on each other—missing dinner with the family to stay in the office, for example, can make a person feel as if they’re failing at being a good parent in favor of finishing work. The researchers figured that this has a circular effect—the more conflicted a person feels, the more stressed she becomes, and the less time she thinks she has.

“Perceiving more goal conflict—both related and unrelated to demands on time—leads to heightened stress and anxiety, which subsequently makes people feel more time constrained,” the authors wrote.

So the researchers tested two stress management techniques—”slow breathing” and “anxiety reappraisal”—to restore a ...

Even the Best Cover Letter Isn’t As Good As a Two Minute Conversation

It’s a familiar online job search story. You find a dream position, agonize endlessly over a perfect cover letter, attach it to your resume, then hear nothing back. Sheer volume and a preference for referrals are part of the story. But people also overestimate their writing, and underestimate how effective actually speaking to someone is when looking for a job.

People think of job seekers as much more intelligent when they hear them pitch themselves as a candidate compared to when they read their writing, and they’re more likely to want to hire them, according to a new paper from researchers at the University of Chicago (pdf).

Voices vary and change in cadence, tone, and pitch, and seem to do a better job of conveying intelligence than writing in this particular setting.

The researchers had a group of MBA students make a two minute elevator pitch about why their dream employer should hire them, and create a written version of the same. Then they had others evaluate them in both mediums on their perceived intelligence, likeability, and whether they’d be likely to hire them. They tried the same with regular people too.

No one expected their spoken ...

The Five Paradoxes of Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement has proved harder than expected for many organizations. One big reason is that there are a few challenges most organizations sooner or later encounter and your intuitive responses actually prevent you from succeeding. 

Paradox #1: Simplicity
A common reaction to failed improvement initiatives is to go for a more advanced solution. Go the other way! Simplicity will stand the test of time.

For your organization to succeed with continuous improvement you have to make it a natural part of the everyday work of every employee. For that to become reality your approach can’t be complicated. If it is, new employees will need special training to understand your improvement method, you will need additional support resources to keep progressing and backing it up will demand a great deal of your managers’ time.

Time is probably your most limited resource, and in the long run you can’t afford not to use everyone’s creativity. Kill two birds with one stone; keep it simple to both save time and to give everyone a chance to contribute.

Paradox #2: Focus
A common reaction to recurring problems is bombarding them with solutions. Go the other way! Focus and dig deeper to ...

Why the Gap Between Worker Pay and Productivity Is So Problematic

One of the most frustrating parts of the sluggish recovery has been paltry wage gains for most workers. The stock market may be booming, corporate profits increasing, and home values rising, but middle and lower-class workers often don't truly feel the benefit of such improvements unless wages rise.

But wage stagnation isn't just a problem borne of the financial crisis. When you look at the relationship between worker wages and worker productivity, there's a significant and, many believe, problematic, gap that has arisen in the past several decades. Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

Productivity vs. Compensation

Economic Policy Institute

I spoke with Jan W. Rivkin, an economist and senior-associate dean for research at Harvard Business School who studies labor markets and U.S. competitivenessin order to learn more about the history of the gap, and what it means for workers and the broader economy. The interview that follows has been lightly edited and condensed ...