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There’s a Word For Our Compulsion to Go to Work When We're Sick

Hillary Clinton did it. George H.W. Bush did it. Most of us have done it at one point or another. We’ve gone to work sick when we should have stayed home.

The practice is so common there’s a word for it: Presenteeism.

Presenteeism, as in the opposite of absenteeism, is prevalent enough that it’s been analyzed, studied, and used as an argument for making paid sick leave mandatory. The term dates to at least 1892, when Mark Twain used it in his novel The American Claimant. It entered the management lexicon in 2004, when Harvard Business Review discussed its impact on business.

The cost of presenteeism is not easy to calculate—estimating how much value is lost to unproductive work is tricky—but one estimate says the loss to the US economy could exceed $250 billion a year, making it an even more expensive problem than absenteeism.

The most common causes of lost productivity on the job are sleep disorders, depression, and fatigue, according to the Integrated Benefits Institute, which researches health and productivity. Allergies and migraines also take their toll.

So why do we work our way through the discomfort? The causes of presenteeism vary...

The Art of Changing Someone's Mind

The 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal is perhaps best known for Pascal’s Wager which, in the first formal use of decision theory, argued that believing in God is the most pragmatic decision. But it seems the French thinker also had a knack for psychology. As Brain Pickings points out, Pascal set out the most effective way to get someone to change their mind, centuries before there was any formal study of persuasion:

When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.

Pascal added:

People are generally...

How the Next Administration Can Improve Customer Experience

Signature initiatives to improve government operations have been a hallmark of recent administrations.  The Clinton administration’s National Partnership for Reinventing Government program sought, with some success, to streamline the federal bureaucracy and align programs more closely with citizen needs.  During the Bush administration, passage of the E-Government Act of 2002 provided a framework for how federal agencies could capitalize on the Internet to improve citizen access to government services and information. 

Most recently, the Obama administration made substantial strides in shifting government to be more citizen-centric and to increase digital services. To that end, it launched the U.S. Digital Service, 18F and the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, bringing top software engineers, designers, usability experts and product developers into government.

These experts are working with agencies to model and expand leading practices. Open data is now the default, and shared solutions such as the Digital Analytics Program led by the General Services Administration, provide agencies with data that helps them understand better how and where their customers are interacting online.

These initiatives have created strong momentum. Agencies are increasingly recognizing that services should be built from the outside in, around customer needs—rather than from the inside out, based...

A Small Investment in This Relationship Skill Will Pay Large Returns

As leaders, managers, and contributors, we make the choice every day to transact or transform in our encounters with colleagues and customers. Many opt for the former, exhibiting the bare minimum amount of energy to reasonably fulfill their obligation to the other party. These people transact. In most cases their organizations perpetuate a transactional culture that flows from headquarters out into the customer environment.

You see the transaction effect in the big, impersonal retail stores where cashiers seem to be trained to not make eye contact and almost never smile. You experience it at the airline counter and your doctor’s office and in so many other encounters in your daily life. These organizations and those in them who run the business simply don’t care.

That’s too bad, because the cost of striving to transform is negligible and the returns remarkable. It’s the best risk-reward ratio you will ever encounter. And if there is added cost to identifying and training people to give more than the bare minimum or, in spending more time in their encounters, it’s the best investment return available.

Consider the small but transformational effect on someone’s mood and loyalty based on...

Another Species Threatened by Climate Change: Your Morning Cup of Coffee

You’ll probably still be sipping coffee 30 years from now, but if the world keeps warming at the current pace, expect it to be a lot more expensive and not nearly as good.

If left unchecked, climate change could cut in half the amount of land suitable for growing coffee beans by 2050, according to a report (pdf) released Aug. 29 by the Climate Institute, an Australia-based think tank. For example, Mexico could lose most of its plantations by 2020, and Nicaragua would follow by 2050. The wild Arabica coffee plant, the ancestor of much of the beans the world brews today, could become fully extinct by the end of the century.

Good coffee beans are fickle. The Arabica variety is particular sensitive—it likes to grow in a narrow temperature range of 18 to 21 degrees Celsius (64-70 degrees Fahrenheit) in high altitudes. Too much rain or too little rain can damage the plants, and so can the pests that thrive in warmer weather. All of these conditions are becoming more common. (Arabica, which is overwhelmingly produced in Latin America, accounts for 70% of the world’s coffee supplies.)

Meanwhile, our thirst for steaming mugs of java keeps...

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