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41 Percent of American Workers Let Paid Vacation Days Go to Waste

A friend recently told me about an automatic email reply she had received from a colleague. It began innocuously enough—“I will be out of the office next Monday and Tuesday"—but it grew more alarming as it went on. “Because I have accumulated too many days of paid vacation," it said, "I have scheduled a trip to Chicago for the weekend in order to use some of them.” (I’ve changed some details here to protect identities.)

As an anecdote, this autoreply stands as a tidy illustration of one man’s work ethic. When stretched, it might color a picture of what the work culture at my friend’s company is like. 

That’s why I was surprised to read a report this week that suggested that an indifference to—or perhaps even fear of—taking vacation isn't just limited to that one employee at that one company. According to the report, put out by the U.S. Travel Association, four in 10 American workers allow some of their paid vacation days to go unused and expire—even though 96 percent of workers claim to see the virtue in taking time off. Another report, from 2013, found that ...

Study: Nobody Is Paying Attention on Your Conference Call

It's 3:15 p.m. on a Wednesday, and I am deep, deep inside the guts of BaseballReference.com, the statistical mecca for MLB fanatics, conducting an exhaustive investigation on an issue of national importance: What was the greatest pitching season of all time? Was it Bob Gibson in '68? Pedro Martinez in 2000? Clayton Kershaw in 2014? Browser tabs and Excel charts extend across my two computer screens like the dashboard of a junior analyst. The answer is coming into focus when, suddenly, a voice from the phone shocks me back into reality...

... "Derek, what do you think? Derek. Derek!"

Oh, that's right. I'm on a conference call.

"Sorry, I was on mute," I say.

I wasn't on mute. What were they talking about? From my shallow working memory, I can make out a few words spoken while I was looking up Martinez's strikeout numbers—headlines? narrative structure? something about never again using personal anecdotes as ledes?—and I take a deep breath.

"Well, I guess I'd like to begin by piggy-backing on that last point about anecdotal ledes..."

***

The best studies are the ones that tell us we are not alone. A ...

3 Ways to Make Your Message Hit the Right Notes

When my daughter started ukulele lessons, her instructor explained that music is composed of three things: melody, which is made up of notes along the scale; harmony, which is the chords; and rhythm, the beat of the music. In listening to this explanation, it was easy to draw parallels to how leaders communicate messages to their teams.

Think about the next important message you must communicate. As a leader, are you making full use of all three musical elements? Here’s how to ensure your communication hits the right notes.

  1. Make it memorable. The melodies to our favorite songs are easy to remember and something that we enjoy hearing repeatedly. A catchy tune on a TV or radio commercial lingers long after we first hear it. In much the same way, your message’s main point must be memorable and easy to repeat. A vice president of claims for an insurance company, for example, implemented a “one-and-done” customer service philosophy to emphasize the need for claims representatives to close claims after the first customer contact.
  2. Add the supporting elements. Musical harmony refers to the supportive aspect of the notes, defined by Merriam-Webster as the “pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts ...

Where the Five-Day Workweek Came From

“Seven days,” wrote Witold Rybczynski in the August 1991 issue of The Atlantic, “is not natural because no natural phenomenon occurs every seven days.” The year marks one revolution of the Earth around the sun.  Months, supposedly, mark the time between full moons.  The seven-day week, however, is completely man-made.

If it’s man-made, can’t man unmake it? For all the talk of how freeing it’d be to shave a day or two off the five-day workweek, little attention has been paid to where the weekly calendar came from. Understanding the sometimes arbitrary origins of the modern workweek might inform the movement to shorten it. 

The roots of the seven-day week can be traced back about 4,000 years, to Babylon. The Babylonians believed there were seven planets in the solar system, and the number seven held such power to them that they planned their days around it. Their seven-day, planetary week spread to Egypt, Greece, and eventually to Rome, where it turns out the Jewish people had their own version of a seven-day week.  (The reason for this is unclear, but some have speculated that the Jews adopted this after their exile in Babylon in the sixth ...

There's More to Life Than Facial Symmetry

Beauty trends come and go, but one iron law of psychology remains: People with symmetrical faces are considered, by study subjects, to be more attractive. For years, the prevailing theory has been that this is because we use symmetry as a proxy for health, and thus, good genes.

Whether or not you spent every January of your childhood wheezing under the covers likely reflects on your countenance in subtle ways. Supposedly, these minuscule changes later warn potential suitors—likely subconsciously—to stay away.

Much to the delight of ashthmatics everywhere, a new study pokes holes in the idea that facial symmetry and good health are synonymous. Using health data from 4,732 teenagers, psychologist Nicholas Pound at Brunel University London correlated each participant's history of rashes, aches, and infections with their facial symmetry, as determined by a 3-D scan.

The result? The more symmetrical teens weren't necessarily the healthiest ones. "This study does not support the idea that facial symmetry acts as a reliable cue to physiological health," the authors wrote.

Take that, Gisele Bundchen! Or should I say, Typhoid Mary. The wildly askew schnoz of Adrien Brody might be a better picture of well-being.

Schadenfreude aside, we ...