Tag Archives: sex

Do you work in a hot office, or is your romantic culture cold?

Bill Gates met his wife at work and Rupert Murdoch met his current wife at work. Even Elton John met his first wife through work (she was a sound recording engineer). A few years ago, Griffith University academic, Dr Geoff Carter, found that about 80% of a sample of Australian workers admitted to having an office romance. An office romance is more or less formally defined by researchers as “ relationships involving physical attraction and desire between two employees of the same organization in which some element of sexuality or physical intimacy exists”. Some commentators have suggested that with the long working hours experienced by some professionals, the only opportunity they have to make a romantic connection is in the workplace.

When I first heard this figure it sounded way to high to me. Other studies conducted around the world reveal figures that vary between 30% and 80%. Whichever study you look at the rates are significant. So why are office romances so prevalent? A recent study may shed light on why Dr Carter found such a prevalence of office nooky. Apparently it is due to the climate.

Yiannis Gabriel and Rita Mano-Negrin from the University of Haifa*, collected stories of office romances from organisations that fell into 3 different types of climate. Now before you adjust your air conditioning, let me point out that these researchers are referring to organizational factors such as organizational policy, structure and culture and wider social and cultural ones, such as values on sexuality, loyalty and love. They identified three discernible climates. The first was called the “Cold Climate”. These were organisations characterised by impersonal interactions and formal highly structured roles such as rigid hierarchies. Furthermore they had objective and directly measurable performance indicators for employees. In such places, the focus was very much on getting the job done rather than employees’ emotions.

The second type of organisation was described as “Hot”. Think Ally McBeal’s workplace and you have a good idea of a hot work environment. Hot organisational climates are full of emotional labour, with employees being on display for their looks, style and demeanour. Gabriel and Mano-Negrin say hot environments derive from a trend towards “aesthetic labour” – a focus on looking good. So where would we find this ‘sexual simmer’? It is apparently the trademark of many industries including tourism, advertising, mass media, catering and retail.

The third climate is a “temperate” one – which lays between the two extremes.

There is another element we need to put into this mix. According to the authors the idea of customer satisfaction is a hedonistic or pleasure principle. They argue that companies that promote the pleasure principle will find that the hedonism spills over into their employees’ behaviour.

So where do most office romances occur? Predictably, the answer is in hot climates. They results indicated clearly that romance was “much more common” in hot environments. However love in a cold climate does exist, but often it was found to be a more furtive affair – a love that dare not speak it’s name.

One aspect of this study that is a wake up call for employers is the blame that cheated partners lay at the feet of the organisation for encouraging or permitting romance to bloom. Furthermore, when romance turns cold, some employees have successfully sued their employers for sexual harassment. Some organisations have introduced “consensual relationship agreements” in a bid to protect themselves from such risks. What Gabriel and Mano-Negrin’s study illustrates clearly, is that management practices are related to employee behaviour in this area, and that policies introduced for one purpose such as customer service can have unintended results for their employees.

[poll id=”3″]

*Workplace Romances In Cold And Hot Organizational Climates: The Experience Of Israel And Taiwan. Y. Gabriel, R. Mano-Negrin.. Human Relations. Vol 59(1) Jan 2006, 7-35. Sage Publications.

The Seven Myths of Stress

Here are a range of different everyday experiences. How might you feel in each of these circumstances?

  • You are having your family to stay for Christmas
  • Your partner of the last twenty years announces they are leaving you for your best friend (you might feel relief!)
  • You go to hospital for a major and risky procedure (trying to find a parking spot?)
  • You are about to give a public presentation with your Boss in the audience

It is easy to imagine a range of reactions to these life events or experiences and a review of the popular literature suggests they can be all summed up by the word ‘stress’.

The implications of stress needing a ‘cure’

This view that stress requires a cure is a very common one and has lead to a situation where many different approaches have been proposed or are currently marketed.

Scientific approaches

There are the Scientific approaches such as the use of drug therapies to control anxiety or depression.  Prozac is a particularly popular example in this category.  A drug that is seen by some in society as providing the crutch that helps them deal with the daily grind of life.  A second major scientific approach can be seen in the psychological therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy which addresses the reasoning and appraisal processes that may be related to dysfunctional behaviour.

Alternative approaches

There are countless alternative approaches to the problem that enjoy varying levels of scientific and popular support such as aromatherapy and laughter therapy.  The ABC, of course, recommends doing a Sigrid Thornton, and packing up your frazzled city life and moving to an alternative diet-stress bucolic country life.

Consumer therapies

If of course, your taste or budget does not run to giving it all up, salvation may be at hand in your own bathroom, bedroom or kitchen via the purchase of any manner of contrivances such as bubble baths, massage oils or low stress foods all guaranteed to address your stress!

What is a myth?

The Oxford Shorter Dictionary defines myth as “a widely held (esp. untrue or discredited popular) story or belief; a misconception, a misrepresentation of the truth”

When I use the term ‘myth’ I am not using it in its strongest form to mean an untruth, rather something that is commonly believed that may be a misrepresentation of the truth.  Many of the myths identified deserve more rigorous investigation.  Some of the myths are controversial in the sense that large bodies of evidence have been presented in their support. However, even in such cases, there are reasonable grounds to be cautious due to a variety of conceptual and methodological shortcomings.

Myth 1: Stress causes illness

It is a commonly held belief that stress leads to illness.  A survey of 114 adults in the UK in the late eighties and found that stress was commonly believed to be associated with heart attacks and nervous breakdowns.  There is little reason to think that these commonly held beliefs have changed much since then.  Here is just a tiny fraction of the evidence.

Stress and coronary heart disease (CHD)

Evidence of the link between stress and coronary heart disease is also confused and beset with methodological difficulties.  It is commonly believed that high work demands lead to stress and CHD, but this doesn’t appear to be the case.  In a recent review of 25 studies, 17 of the 25 studies showed an association between job control and CHD, but only 8 of the studies showed an association between job demands and CHD.

Stress and breast cancer

Another apparently commonly held belief is that stressful events are associated with the onset of breast cancer.  Baghurst et al (1992) found that 40% of South Australian women surveyed believed this.  Futhermore Steptoe & Wardle (1994) reported that almost half a sample of medical experts were either undecided or confident that stress caused breast cancer.

There are published studies supporting this link, however equally there are many studies that have failed to confirm this link.  Even the recent study finding a link concluded that ‘the results speak against the conventional wisdom that .. Stress factors influence the development of breast cancer”

While some links seem to be weak, contrary or non-existent such as the link between stress and work demands, or stress and breast cancer, there does seem to be some evidence linking stress to job control and CHD.

Myth number 2:  Executive stress causes Coronary Heart Disease

Myth number 2 seems to be a little easier to nail as a just plain wrong! Despite the widespread view, even seen  in Medical reference texts as recently as the 1980s, that executives are more prone to stress it is almost certainly wrong, and indeed probably precisely opposite to the truth.

A major UK study measured new cases of angina, severe pain across the chest, and diagnosed ischaemic heart disease in 10, 308  senior and junior ranking British Civil Servants and found precisely the opposite relationship – that those occupying the lower ranks in the organisation were far more likely to be experiencing stress than their more senior colleagues.

Indeed in a related earlier study by the same team, they found males in the junior ranks of the civil service to have 3 times the 10 year risk of coronary mortality compared to their senior counterparts.

Perhaps the ultimate Executives –are the various prime ministers and presidents around the world.  A quick comparison of the UK, USA and Australia shows that if they can avoid assignations in the US, foot in mouth disease in the UK or swimming outside the flags in Australia, they tend to live a lot longer than their male counterparts see figure 1.

Figure 1 Longevity of Prime Ministers and Presidents born and dying around C20th compared to average male life expectency during the century: UK, USA and Australia

This comparison, also holds for Prime Ministers and Presidents born in the 19th century.  Clearly this elite group differ on a range of factors including wealth, education, social support, access to health care and so on, but these types of differences are also found when comparing CEOs and their employees.

Myth No 3: People respond differently to stress as a result of differences in personality

There is some good evidence to suggest that people vary in their experience of stressors, both in terms of whether a stimuli is perceived as stressful and the perceived intensity of the stressor.  (So two people subject to the same nasty boss might perceive it as a nuisance or really stressful). However there is little good evidence that their reactions differ greatly (ie both may people might experience similar increases in blood pressure when the boss is around).

Myth No 4: That stress can be measured by a simple questionnaire scale

It is a seductive proposition for many people whether they are purchasing the services of a consultant to conduct a stress audit in their organisation or whether they are completing a check list in a magazine or training course to believe that these scales will somehow provide an accurate measure of your levels of stress.

There are many measures of stress.  These range from inventories of psychological or physical symptoms, life event check-lists  and scales assessing the number or intensity of stressors in the work environment.  These are assessing diverse and often different factors which come under the umbrella term of stress, but cannot be said to be measuring ‘stress’ itself. A measure which actually asks people directly to rate their level of stress is open to a wide range of different interpretations and is therefore not meaningful.  Thus, even the measure known called ‘The Perceived Stress Scale’ mentions the word stress only once!  In fact, it is doubtful that it is possible to develop a valid or reliable questionnaire of anything like reasonable length that will really encompass everything that different people mean when they to  ‘stress’. However there are varyingly accurate and reliable measures of more defined concepts such as anxiety or depression.

Myth No 5: Stress can be cured or managed through relaxation, meditation and exercise

There is some reason to believe that some interventions may have some beneficial effect – both exercise and stress management courses can lead to improvements in mood and physiological indicators.   We do not know the mechanisms for these effects, that may work because you are taking time out of your schedule to relax or are thinking of other things. If so, it may be that expensive courses are not required: a regular walk with the family dog of an evening, or a hot bath away from the children may have the same effect.  Alternatively it could be that just having a person taking an interest in your problems helps. Nor do we know how long such mood effects last.  Furthermore, while some interventions can be shown to have benefits, it is not entirely clear that this has anything to do with improved ability to manage in the face of stressors.

Myth No 6: Stress can be cured by changing the way we work

The idea of preventing stress by removing the stressors (e.g. by reducing job demands and increasing job control) is certainly logical and has moral and ethical advantages over the alternative of training people to tolerate stressful environments.  However, the evidence we have  suggests that these interventions seldom work.

In a recent study, 2 matched pairs of departments were compared.  In the work redesign group the employers participated in problem solving committees that identified workload and communication as key stressors.  They developed plans to address these issues. The other (control) group did nothing. One year later the departments that had attempted change showed no improvement over the control group and in some cases negative results.

There were several mitigating factors such as a change in personal and other organisation wide changes that impacted upon the workers in the study which only serves to underline the difficulties in implementing these types of solutions.

Myth No 7: Stress is increasing

It is fitting to conclude the list of myths with this one, as this is perhaps the most popular starting point for many stress management programs and newspaper articles on stress. We have all read about the ‘increasing pace of life’, the ‘increased job insecurity’, the ‘lack of the old certainties’ etc etc.  However, those few commentators that actually try to justify such remarks generally turn to figures for compensation claims and the like.  However, whether such figures genuinely represent a rising tide of stress problems or merely increasing awareness of both the concept of stress and the availability of compensation is difficult to determine

Typically this myth is established by listing a variety of stressors from modern life, but how can we compare the impact of the telephone ringing all day with the risk of infectious disease or infant mortality (both of which are lower today). It is a bit like trying to determine whether Bath Ruth is better than Sammy Sosa, whether Bradman’s 1948 Invincibles Cricket Team was better or worse than Steve Waugh’s team, or whether Dixon of Dock Green was better than The Bill! It is not to suggest that we experience less stress today than earlier generations, rather, it seems that comparisons between then and now are highly likely to be unreliable, and may lead to over simplistic theorising about the causes of stress based upon spurious comparisons with the past.

Adapted from my book Stress: myth, theory and research (also available in UK )co-authored with Dr Fiona Jones.

Note: This article is designed to encourage a critical consideration of what we think we believe. I acknowledge that research in this area has advanced since the book was written for instance in linking stress and CHD. However much remains remarkably similar.

Career development better than sex or an alternative?

Career development has a yearly low point about June, but the good news is we are on an upward curve, until about September.  After that, if you are a Career Development professional or careers author looking at launching a book, forget about it and take a long vacation till January.  I am basing my advice on the number of people who are searching on Google using the terms Career Development.  I have been playing with Google trends, one of their analytic services that provides information on the volumes of searches on certain keywords over time.  The trend pattern for the search term “Career Development” is in the first graphic below.

The pattern is interesting because it repeats more or less in the same fashion every year since 2004 (the earliest that Google Trends presents).  Within each calendar year, searches peak in the Jan- March quarter and tail off to a low around mid-year.  They then build again in the third quarter before collapsing catastrophically in December.

Looking at the graph, it is interesting that major events such as the global financial crisis do not show up in terms increased search activity.  It suggests that “career development” is a search that people make irrespective of global financial conditions, but not irrespective of personal concerns – for instance swopping career planning for Christmas shopping in December.

The figures are largely dominated as you’d expect by US searches.  The data for other countries is generally so small and incomplete that it shows no sensible pattern.  So the other possible “story” in this data could be that career development searches peak after major holiday times.  I.e. straight after Christmas, after Easter, and at the end of the long summer vacation and do I detect a small peak around Thanksgiving (towards the end of November) as well?  Well it is hardly news that newspapers are full of “New Years” resolutions and life planning type articles, but the other periods of peaks are less obvious.  Do we need this time away from work to reflect on where we are going?  Is it breathing space that creates the demand for career development ideas?

The second point about these trends that is clear is that the term “career development” is being searched less and less each year.  The downward trend is unmissable, but what is causing it?

Maybe the term “Career Development” is less resonant than it was half a decade ago.  If that is the case, it is ironic given that some professional groups such as the Career Development Association of Australia recently changed their name to include this term.   Equally another group I belong to, the National Career Development Association in the US, may want to take note.  When we compare the search pattern on the simpler term “Careers” we see a very different and more positive story.

Firstly the term is being searched more often than it was.  Are we ready to rebadge as Careers Professionals or CIs – “Careers International” members, which captures the increasingly popular term and takes it global.  Furthermore this search term does seem to be sensitive to world events showing the strong upward trend coinciding with the worldwide economic deterioration.

The term is also more consistently searched throughout the year and does not appear to be as subject to the seasonal variations of the “Career development term”, other than it shows the characteristic terminal drop coinciding with Christmas.  Honestly it’s almost enough to make you an atheist!!

One possibility is that the term “careers” is more closely associated with “jobs” and “employment” whereas “career development” might be seen as a more disconnected, reflective activity. Some support for this hypothesis can be seen in the trend graph for “jobs” which resembles the “careers” search trend graph more than the “career development” search graph.

The term “coaching” also displays seasonal variation and something of a slight decline over the last five years. If anything, the interesting aspect of the coaching search pattern is the apparent peak just before Christmas evident in most years, as well as the mid year slump and end of year shut down.  Not sure what to make of that.  Perhaps people seek coaching to improve their performance in a role they are struggling to stay motivated in.  Then if and when that fails to address their malaise, they look not to stay in the role, but to change careers, and hence they then seek career development.  Just a wild stab in the dark.

And talking of wild stabs in the dark, the last graph throws up a somewhat unexpected relationship between Career Development and Sex.

“Sex” searches have definitely drooped since the Global Financial Crisis making them more labile than “career development” but they do show a cyclic pattern.  If you look at the trends for searches on “sex” it seems to show almost the opposite of what is happening with searches for “career development”.  Thus “sex” searches peak when “career development” searches wilt.  In other words, when a person is not thinking about career development, their thoughts turn in a very different direction!  I am really not sure what the implications of this are for those of us who proclaim a passion and enduring interest in career development. You might think it, but I could not possibly say….

Job Hunting and dating a socially or sexually transmitted metaphor?

When I published a book in 2000 saying that job hunting was like dating (Resumes the get shortlisted, by Jim Bright and Jo Earl, Allen & Unwin), I never expected the reverse situation to occur, but apparently my esteemed Herald colleague and expert in all matters sexual, Samantha Brett, thinks so. In a column in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2008 (Turn-offs on the first date, SMH, Friday 30th May), she begins “with first dates feeling more like gruelling job interviews…I’ve decided to help out singletons who are finding it a bit of a struggle”. (Since then a job hunting book based upon the metaphor of dating has been published too, and a google search of blogs finds the idea cropping up all over the place- this metaphor is the new careers socially transmitted disease!!). Now while glossing over why a happily married man like me should be reading Sam’s columns (I only read it for the pictures..), I realised that Sam may have a second career in the sexy world of careers advice, because her tips on dating turn offs all apply equally to job hunting. So lets get to grips with Sam’s tips.

1. Don’t be late. Almost guaranteed to kill your prospects at an interview. Saying you got caught out by traffic/public transport doesn’t cut it these days, savvy people expect it to be an ordeal getting anywhere in Sydney and leave the week before to arrive on time.
He’s rude to the waiters. Sam thinks such people have no respect or common decency, and recruiters are likely to think the same. In careers-speak this means don’t be rude to anyone associated with the organisation you are applying to, and more generally think twice about it in terms of reputational harm at any stage of your career.
He talks about his ex. First date conversations should always be devoid of ex-speak. Exactly the same goes for interviews. Getting into long and involved stories about how you were misunderstood, overlooked and generally done wrong to by your previous or current employer is not a sexy look in an interview. Better to say that all was great, but now is the time to find new challenges, and that you left on good terms.
Don’t go Dutch! Apparently men who don’t for dinner first up are emotionally stingy. In interview terms, don’t make a great fuss about claiming expenses associated with getting to the interview – sure if you are being flown interstate that is generally (but not always) at the employers expense, but demanding the reimbursement of a bus ticket is not a good look, unless you got on the bus in Perth…
Too needy. I have been on interview panels where the applicant has literally begged for the job. It is an unedifying and frankly unsettling experience, and is almost certain to raise questions in the minds of the recruiters.
Anti-feminine. This related to men apparently not liking women being inconsistent in their roles – i.e. wanting to be taken out to dinner (man pays) but not wanting to cook for him. The career equivalent is demonstrating an inconsistency in the role expectations you have of an employer. For instance demanding that you be given flexible hours but complaining that members of your team are “never there”.
Too ditzy. It is interview poison to present as immature, disorganised, eccentric or otherwise whacky. Interviewers haven’t got the time to look behind the ditziness or make allowances. It is not their role. Ditch the ditzy act.
The interviewer. While it is good, even essential to have some questions to ask of the interviewer, it can be a high risk strategy to try to turn the tables and fire a lot of pre-prepared questions at the recruiter. It is fine if you really want to come across as assertive – arrogant even – but appreciate that such behaviour is unusual and could be interpreted by insecure interviews as impertinent, up yourself or indifference.
Unhealthy. I can still to this day recall the applicant who insisted on sharing a blow by blow account of his piles with a panel desperately trying to get the conversation onto higher ground. Never offer comments about your health unless specifically asked.
Presentation. Sadly there is a lot of research suggesting that appearances at interview carry a lot of weight (not unlike me in fact!). Attending to your appearance is important, and getting clothes that fit properly and minimise bulges etc are a good investment in your career. Simple tips here include not wearing blue shirts if you perspire a lot – stick to white. Take a good quality deodorant with you and apply it in the lavatory before you interview. Wear a good quality subtle cologne.

Applying for a job is like dating, ultimately you want the employer at the end of the process to say, “where have you been all of my life”.

Does a limp one (handshake) harm your job prospects?

Today I turn my attention to the vexed issue of limpness on the job – that is a limp handshake.  Now before you all think I have turned into some orrid little oik peddling pills of dubious provenance, I am, dear reader, of course talking about the role of the handshake in employment interviews.  Most of us have a notion that the handshake is a potent form of communication, and you do not need to be a member of the Masons to understand that a handshake can convey a lot about a person.

Personally I have extreme difficulties with handshakes because I am blessed to born into that elite club that are left-handers (recall Leonardo Da Vinci was left handed, Adolf Hitler was right handed – I rest my case!!!). Seriously I am often confronted by the handshake, because it is my habit to carry briefcases/papers etc in my right hand, and so on meeting someone – say just as I arrive at a speaker’s podium with notes or props, it is my left hand that is free.  Instinctively offering the left hand to a right-handed shaker ends up like some bizarre game of  scissor paper rock.  It is awkward.

limp handshake dead fish

But despite all my speculations that my shaking form provokes deep suspicions in my colleagues about my essential character, is there really anything in it?

Well, Greg Stewart, Susan Dustin, Murray Blount and Todd Darnold recently published an empirical investigation of the effects of handshakes in the Journal of Applied Psychology.  They rated men and women’s handshakes, and linked these to their measured personalities and also independent raters evaluations of their employment interview performance.

For men it turns out that a limp one is a very big deal that could have serious impacts on their future prospects. However that same does not apply to women. Firmness it turns out is very much a male issue.  A firm handshake for men was associated with a greater likelihood of being recommended for hire, and it seemed to work by influencing extroversion.  The effect was not observed for women.

So here is yet more evidence of the importance of non-verbal behavior in employment interviews, and yet more evidence that interviews are influenced by non job relevant factors, and also that male and female candidates are often treated in different ways in these social interactions.  So men, get a firm grip on your recruiter, and recruiters, here is yet another potentially biasing factor to consider when using interviews.

The romantic possibilities of global warming?

Bill Gates met his wife at work and Rupert Murdoch met his current wife at work. Even Elton John met his first wife through work (she was a sound recording engineer). A few years ago, Griffith University academic, Dr Geoff Carter, found that about 80% of a sample of Australian workers admitted to having an office romance. An office romance is more or less formally defined by researchers as “ relationships involving physical attraction and desire between two employees of the same organization in which some element of sexuality or physical intimacy exists”. Some commentators have suggested that with the long working hours experienced by some professionals, the only opportunity they have to make a romantic connection is in the workplace.

When I first heard this figure it sounded way to high to me. Other studies conducted around the world reveal figures that vary between 30% and 80%. Whichever study you look at the rates are significant. So why are office romances so prevalent? A recent study may shed light on why Dr Carter found such a prevalence of office nooky. Apparently it is due to the climate.

Yiannis Gabriel and Rita Mano-Negrin from the University of Haifa*, collected stories of office romances from organisations that fell into 3 different types of climate. Now before you adjust your air conditioning, let me point out that these researchers are referring to organizational factors such as organizational policy, structure and culture and wider social and cultural ones, such as values on sexuality, loyalty and love. They identified three discernible climates. The first was called the “Cold Climate”. These were organisations characterised by impersonal interactions and formal highly structured roles such as rigid hierarchies. Furthermore they had objective and directly measurable performance indicators for employees. In such places, the focus was very much on getting the job done rather than employees’ emotions.

The second type of organisation was described as “Hot”. Think Ally McBeal’s workplace and you have a good idea of a hot work environment. Hot organisational climates are full of emotional labour, with employees being on display for their looks, style and demeanour. Gabriel and Mano-Negrin say hot environments derive from a trend towards “aesthetic labour” – a focus on looking good. So where would we find this ‘sexual simmer’? It is apparently the trademark of many industries including tourism, advertising, mass media, catering and retail.

The third climate is a “temperate” one – which lays between the two extremes.

There is another element we need to put into this mix. According to the authors the idea of customer satisfaction is a hedonistic or pleasure principle. They argue that companies that promote the pleasure principle will find that the hedonism spills over into their employees’ behaviour.

So where do most office romances occur? Predictably, the answer is in hot climates. They results indicated clearly that romance was “much more common” in hot environments. However love in a cold climate does exist, but often it was found to be a more furtive affair – a love that dare not speak it’s name.

One aspect of this study that is a wake up call for employers is the blame that cheated partners lay at the feet of the organisation for encouraging or permitting romance to bloom. Furthermore, when romance turns cold, some employees have successfully sued their employers for sexual harassment. Some organisations in Australia have introduced “consensual relationship agreements” in a bid to protect themselves from such risks. What Gabriel and Mano-Negrin’s study illustrates clearly, is that management practices are related to employee behaviour in this area, and that policies introduced for one purpose such as customer service can have unintended results for their employees.

Jim Bright is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU National and a Partner at Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy.

*Workplace Romances In Cold And Hot Organizational Climates: The Experience Of Israel And Taiwan. Y. Gabriel, R. Mano-Negrin.. Human Relations. Vol 59(1) Jan 2006, 7-35. Sage Publications.