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A Straightforward Assessment of Federal Pay and Benefits is Badly Needed

The Congressional Budget Office once again has presented a contentious assessment of federal pay and benefits. In the years when federal pay was “frozen,” CBO data confirms salaries continued to increase, thanks to step increases and promotions. What’s more, federal benefits are more generous than those typical in other sectors.

But it’s not clear what value the analysis has other than feeding the debate over whether federal employees are overpaid or underpaid (the answer is both—it all depends on what specific jobs you’re talking about). The CBO analysis cannot be used for planning either cash compensation or benefits.  

Payroll costs are important for all employers but competing for needed talent is the overriding reason employers offer benefits and align salaries with prevailing market rates. Companies routinely monitor compensation trends and with few exceptions adjust their salary programs annually to stay competitive.  As a matter of policy, some companies offer above-average compensation assuming it will help them attract above-average talent. It’s a reasoned policy decision.

A key point is that over the past two decades there has been a sea change in the management philosophy governing employee compensation in the country’s leading companies. One element...

Public Service: A Career with Purpose

I didn’t start adulthood envisioning a life of public service. I accepted an appointment to West Point as a way to pay for college and make sure I had a job when I graduated. This, I thought, was a very practical, but not particularly altruistic, logic. My plan to serve out my five-year commitment and then move on to a civilian career went awry somewhere along the line, and I found myself, after 20 years of exciting, rewarding and challenging assignments, retiring from the Army.

Like many veterans who find the transition from active duty difficult, I couldn’t find an offer of civilian employment that seemed nearly as interesting as the work I’d been doing, so I became a federal civil servant. There, I found work that satisfied my desire to make a difference and to serve a purpose greater than myself. Perhaps that’s one reason why, in 2016, nearly 22 percent of all employed veterans worked for the government at either the federal (10 percent), state (4.9 percent), or local (7 percent) level. The figures are even higher for Gulf War II-era veterans, with over 28 percent working in government.

Coincidentally, May’s calendar...

A Neuroscientist’s Baby-Step Guide From Multitasking to Single-Tasking

Multitasking is more stressful than doing one activity at a time. It’s also less productive and, technically, not even possible. What looks like several simultaneous actions is really a series of frantic cognitive switches in the brain, each slurping from the same reserves of oxygenated glucose that we need to complete the tasks at hand.

It’s a terrible idea.

Yet we persist. Multitasking has in its corner our natural aversion to boredom and anxiety, neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Franscisco, said recently at the Fortune Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego. It feels fun, even if it’s draining our cognitive reserves. But if you need to produce high quality work in a limited amount of time, single-tasking is the way to go.

Gazzaley offered a three-step plan to baby-step one’s way from distraction to focus.

Hide your phone. Don’t just put it on silent, don’t just flip it face down. Put it in a drawer, a bag—anywhere, so long as it’s not visible to you. The mere sight of the phone triggers distracting thoughts, Gazzaley said. A 2014 study found that the presence of a cell phone on...

How Sleep Resets the Brain

People spend about a third of their lives asleep. When we get too little shut-eye, it takes a toll on attention, learning and memory, not to mention our physical health. Virtually all animals with complex brains seem to have this same need for sleep. But exactly what is it about sleep that’s so essential?

Two NIH-funded studies in mice now offer a possible answer. The two research teams used entirely different approaches to reach the same conclusion: the brain’s neural connections grow stronger during waking hours, but scale back during snooze time. This sleep-related phenomenon apparently keeps neural circuits from overloading, ensuring that mice (and, quite likely humans) awaken with brains that are refreshed and ready to tackle new challenges.

The idea that sleep is required to keep the brain wiring sharp goes back more than a decade. While a fair amount of evidence has emerged to support the hypothesis, its originators Chiara Cirelli and Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, set out in their new study to provide some of the first direct visual proof that it’s indeed the case.

As published in the journal Science, the researchers used a painstaking, cutting-edge imaging technique to...

Trump’s Desire For Free Time In His Schedule Actually Makes Lots of Management Sense

There’s plenty of reasons to mock President Donald Trump’s management style. But his desire to have free, unstructured time in his schedule shouldn’t be one of them.

New York Times article (paywall) about Reince Preibus compared the White House chief of staff to a pre-school teacher who, as he plans Trump’s day, “modulates structured work time with the slack periods Mr. Trump craves.” Predictably, the line drew scorn on social media.

But free time is a valuable resource, and effective leaders know to build it into their schedule. Unstructured time gives managers the freedom to make spontaneous calls or visits, to address unexpected issues, and perhaps, most importantly, time to breathe. “Part of the key to time management is carving out time to think, as opposed to constantly reacting,” according to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner (paywall).

Even the most carefully scheduled leader can have their day upended by unexpected events. In a study of how CEOs in India use their...

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