Is poorly designed work reducing your workers’ productivity?

Posted on Jul 10, 2019

It’s the height of the summer and staff members are taking holidays. It may be September, or even October, before your entire

team or workforce is back under the one roof.
Summer is often the time when staff members’ level of distraction is at its most obvious – but it is also the perfect time for management to tackle distraction and boredom in the workplace head-on. You can implement strategies that will stand to you for years to come.

Engagement levels

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR) levels of engagement at work are continually low and actually declining in
some parts of the world. Elite consulting roles have been labelled as “tedious” and “uninspiring”, where people are told “exactly how to do things”.
The HBR doesn’t blame staff for falling levels of engagement and rising levels of distraction. It puts it down to “poorly designed work”.
This year, the Guardian newspaper carried out an investigation into manual operations at Amazon’s warehouse. It reported that workers were being treated “worse than robots”.

Designing work

Good job design includes interesting tasks, autonomy, a decent degree of social contact with others and a tolerable level of demand on your employees’ capabilities.
Without these components, especially autonomy (which is the strongest driver of employee creativity), disengagement creeps in
and distraction, in the form of personal digital devices, is plentiful.
According to a survey by Udemy last year, 36% of millennials/Gen Z spend at least two hours of their working day on their phones, carrying out personal activities.

Steps to consider

In terms of meaningful action, there are several steps a manager can consider. The first one being: “don’t make the job more boring than it needs to be”.
In one study, management students in a university tended to create roles with highly repetitive and boring work, believing that such work is more efficient. This belief and action creeps into the workplace.

Make it meaningful

The goal is to add meaningful and interesting tasks to your employees’ day – from greeting visitors or helping with a quality
improvement project – to increase levels of engagement.
A second pitfall is the trend of managers wanting to fix the employee rather than change the job design. Research into this
phenomenon gave a scenario to participants in which a warehouse worker was failing to meet her targets. The worker ran from line to line and generally moved quickly. However, participants still chose to “blame” the employee rather than change the work design.
More than 66% of people said they would “send the worker on training”, almost 33% chose to “advise the worker to improve her
physical fitness” and nearly 25% opted to “threaten to reduce her pay if she doesn’t improve her times”.

Involve workers

One way to tackle managers’ penchant for fixing the worker and not the job design is to include the latter in performance review
discussions. Ask your staff about their role. What is working? What isn’t? What interests them? Where do they feel mistrusted or
For example, if you feel an employee isn’t being innovative enough,ask them if their role offers them enough autonomy to motivate them towards creativity.
If you really want to take this seriously, you can bring in the experts. Organisational psychology is one of the fastest-growing professions in the US.
For a general introduction to design thinking, take a look at the work of Bill Burnett and Dave Evans or log on to the website of

Improve well-being

It has been proven that well-designed work pays off, not just socially but economically too. With the ever-increasing role of technology in our daily lives (often being used for bad, where employees’ movements are excessively monitored), redesigning your workplace will lead to a reduction in digital distraction and an increase in engagement.
Lastly, there is a big body of evidence that well-designed work helps prevent the emergence of mental health issues.
A happy, healthy and engaged workforce is a win-win situation for both managers and their employees – and it’s never too late to start making those changes that will benefit everyone.
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Helping employees through change

Posted on Jun 18, 2019

The only constant we can be certain of is change. As we prepare to
move into a new decade, the companies that will win in the 2020s
are the ones that are proactively designed to adapt to the world’s
constantly shifting realities.
These realities will include the wider roll out of artificial intelligence,
a more diverse workforce, an ever-greater emphasis on data
protection and strictly enforced regulations designed to protect the

How ready are you and how can you get ready?

Many, if not the vast majority of businesses and organisations, have
deeply entrenched workflow systems that are underpinned by
decades-old hierarchies. Deconstructing or even just mildly
disrupting these systems can actually lead to further entrenchment,
if not full-blown resistance.
With the need to change in mind, how do you actually go about it?
It’s all about your people – all of your people. A newly published
“cultural audit” of An Garda Síochána found that “change has not
landed at the front line”. This is a hugely common barrier to change.
The people at c-level are briefed on the new processes, with a full
understanding of the whys and the hows, but staff further down the
line are left out. How can change happen in an environment that
lacks inclusion and genuine buy-in?
The cultural audit of gardaí revealed “scepticism” towards the
force’s newly designed Modernisation of Renewal Programme. After
all the hard work of examining the change you need, followed by
initial attempts to implement it, this kind of scepticism from the bulk
of your staff is the last thing you want to come up against.

The science of organisational change


New research from the Boston Consulting Group examines the
science of organisational change. It found that traditional
approaches to cultural transformation are not that effective.
The research found that only about one in four transformations
succeeds in the – and the success rate has been trending
downward. So, how can you make sure you are the one in that four?

Successful implementation of change


The global consultancy group identified five components to ensure
the successful implementation of change. They are:
  • Ground change programmes in evidence
  • De-average change strategies according to the nature of the challenge at hand
  • Embrace uncertainty and complexity in change management
  • Use technology to identify the right talent to execute change
  • Tap into emerging science to enhance change programmes

Helping your employees to change


After you’ve decided on your transformation programme, how do
you roll out change on the ground? In an article for the
Harvard Business Review, Bryan Walker, managing director of global design
company IDEO, wrote about how a 33-year-old Indian
pharmaceutical company transformed itself.
Dr Reddy’s produces affordable generic medication and has more
than 20,000 employees in 27 different countries. Decision-making at
the company had grown more complicated and parts of the
company had become misaligned.
Its CEO, GV Prasad, needed to make Dr Reddy’s culture nimbler and
more innovative. He hired IDEO to learn about the needs of
everyone at the company to create a common purpose. Everyone –
from shop-floor workers and scientists to external partners and
investors – was consulted.
Eventually, the purpose was pared down to four words: “Good health
can’t wait.”

Leading by example


And this is where things got interesting. Instead of plastering this
new slogan on motivational posters and repeating it in all-hands
meetings, the leadership team began by quietly using it to start
guiding their own decisions. The goal was to demonstrate this idea
in action, not talk about it.
Prasad saw a change in the company culture right away. “After we
introduced the idea of ‘good health can’t wait’, one of the scientists
told me he developed a product in 15 days and broke every rule
there was in the company. He was proudly stating that.
“Normally, just getting the raw materials would take him months,
not to mention the rest of the process for making the medication.
But he was acting on that urgency. And now he’s taking this lesson
of being lean and applying it to all our procedures.”
If you want to help your employees through inevitable change:
  • Base your plan in evidence
  • Embrace technology
  • Avoid mandates
Read More

Leading the way to more family-friendly workplaces

Posted on Jun 4, 2019

Childcare is the real glass ceiling. There are two key things that
make this so.
Firstly, men earn more than women in Ireland. The gender pay gap
currently stands at 14% and, in some professions, that goes up to
Secondly, the cost of childcare is often described as a “second
mortgage”. In some parts of the country, it costs as much as €308 a
week for one child. So, when it comes to returning to work after
having your child – faced with crèche fees versus your take-home
pay each month – is it any wonder the job that brings in the lower
salary, inevitably the woman’s, will be the one sacrificed when it
comes to paying for childcare over doing it yourself?

How does all of this play out for women in society?

When it comes to the jobs around the house – the cooking, the
cleaning, the school homework, the drop-offs, the pick-ups,
remembering birthdays and planning the dinners, otherwise known
as the “primary care work” – 70% of this is carried out by women,
according to the 2016 TASC (Think-tank for Action on Social Change)
Women are working – they’re just not getting paid for it.

Women missing from positions of power

How does this ceiling of childcare play out for women, in a larger
societal context, in terms of holding positions of influence?
In business, women only make up 18.1% of directors of Irish-
registered ISEQ20 companies. At CEO level, women lead about 10%
of our companies.
In Dáil Éireann, only 22.2% of our TDs are women. There are 16
constituencies, some of which are entire counties, that do not have
a woman as a TD. At local council level, 23% of the country’s
councillors are women, up 2% on the 2014 elections.
In the media, all the editorships of our national newspapers are
male. And in education, women make up 45% of all academic staff
at our higher-level institutions, but men hold around 75% of the
professorships and about two-thirds of the associate professorships.
As for the role of Taoiseach; we’ve had 14 of those and, no, not a
single one of them was a woman.

Equal parental leave

Childcare is the real glass ceiling and that is why Guinness’s news is
so game changing. From July 1, the 26 weeks of paid parental leave
will be offered to all Diageo employees in Ireland who become
parents, regardless of gender or sexuality. It will also apply
regardless of how people become parents – via birth, adoption or

Why is this such positive news?

As we reach full employment and companies start to struggle with
recruitment and retention, this is a pivotal moment for workers’
rights that will encourage equal distribution of childcare between
Now the woman, the person on the statistically lower salary, will no
longer have to be the one to step out of the workforce, unless they
so choose.
Also, the fact that a company as big as Diageo is making this move
means other businesses will feel the peer pressure to follow suit.

Attractive parental package

Canadian company, Shopify, which has employees in Ireland,
already has an attractive package in place for their staff who
become parents. The e-commerce platform supports employees who
are new mothers with maternity and parental leave top-up
payments to 85% of salary for up to 34 weeks. It also offers parental
top-up for fathers and adoptive parents to 85% of salary for up to 18
All of this is happening against a political backdrop where fathers
receive two weeks’ State pay on the birth of a child – a benefit that
will increase to four weeks from November. The Government plans
to continue extending this over the coming years.
Equality isn’t just good PR, it’s actually good for business and for the
creation of a stable, sustainable economy. Who doesn’t want that?
Read More

Feargal Quinn’s big regret revealed in one of his final interviews

Posted on Apr 26, 2019

He revolutionised Irish retail, held five honorary doctorates, was father to five children and grandfather to 19 and, when he ‘retired’, he became a Senator and a broadcaster, but Feargal Quinn had one regret.

It was a regret he hoped would provide inspiration for other entrepreneurs. “I didn’t open my first shop until I was 23, I should have opened it at 21,” he told Margaret E. Ward on the Broadly Speaking podcast during the summer of 2017. “Start earlier than you’d planned,” he added.

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Dressing for success is hard work

Posted on Apr 23, 2019

Dressing for success is hard work

In a business casual world, is the old adage of dressing for success obsolete? Not quite.

When getting dressed for the office, we’re beginning to take style tips from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, rather than Mad Men’s Don Draper. While sharp suits, fancy dresses and high heels may still be seen in some workplaces, employees are increasingly opting for a more casual style, with a greater focus on comfort. Suits are out and techie casual is in.

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How to deal with underperformance

Posted on Apr 12, 2019

How to deal with underperformance - Broadly Speaking

Regardless of the approach, performance management is a key part of your role as a leader.

How to deal with under performance

The very thought of an annual performance review is enough to strike fear in some managers and employees. This is a time-consuming process filled with awkward conversations, often pointless metrics and contrived goals, but is it also the ultimate ‘tick-the-box’ exercise?

A number of major companies have dispensed with annual performance reviews and instead use a less formal and more continuous approach to staff assessment.

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