Archives for workplace morale



The Inefficiency of Long Hours

Writing for The New Yorker, James Surowiecki explores the downside of working long hours:

The perplexing thing about the cult of overwork is that, as we’ve known for a while, long hours diminish both productivity and quality. Among industrial workers, overtime raises the rate of mistakes and safety mishaps; likewise, for knowledge workers fatigue and sleep-deprivation make it hard to perform at a high cognitive level. As [David] Solomon put it, past a certain point overworked people become “less efficient and less effective.” And the effects are cumulative. The bankers [Alexandra] Michel studied started to break down in their fourth year on the job. They suffered from depression, anxiety, and immune-system problems, and performance reviews showed that their creativity and judgment declined.

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Any Tips for Dealing With People You Can’t Stand?

A friend writes:

In my job, I have to deal with a few people I really can’t stand. Most of my co-workers are fine, and they are good at their jobs. The people I can’t stand aren’t good at their jobs but they are good at ingratiating themselves with the top bosses. When I say I “can’t stand” them, I should explain that this feeling started out professionally. I got frustrated at how lazy and sloppy and stupid they are in their work. But then my feelings snowballed and now I can’t stand them personally either. But it’s not that big of a company and I have to deal with all of them all the time, especially in meetings. I would love to hit them in the faces with frying pans but I don’t think that is a good idea. Any useful and hopefully peaceful suggestions?

This note caught my attention because we have just begun working on a podcast about spite. I am eager to hear your suggestions.



“Good Boss” Output Versus “Bad Boss” Output

Yes, it’s an n=1 story but I thought it was worth passing along:

Hi Dubner and Levitt,

I was interested by your recent podcast about the value of a good boss [based on this research] and wanted to share with you my own boss story.

I am a software engineer, and used to have a job writing software for scientists. I was hired by Good Boss, and thoroughly enjoyed my job. One year later, Good Boss accepted a position at another institution, and was replaced by Bad Boss. I worked for Bad Boss for another two-and-a-half years before resigning because I couldn’t stand it any longer.

Keep in mind the following occurred at the same institution, the same project, the same grant, the same team, the same office; the single difference was the boss.

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The Authors of The Org Answer Your Questions

Last week, we solicited your questions for Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan, authors of The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office. Below you will find their very interesting answers. Thanks to all for playing along, and especially to Fisman and Sullivan.

Q. I work in an office with stark contrasts in the cultures of different departments. Has there been research on the success/failures of forcing departments to assimilate/work together more? -Drew

A. A 2003 experiment by economists Colin Camerer and Roberto Weber was designed to speak to exactly the question you’re asking: What are the challenges of cross-cultural interaction, and what difficulties present themselves when two distinct cultures are forced together?

Each participant in their experiment viewed a matrix of sixteen office scenes on a computer screen. The participants were randomly paired up and put in the roles of “manager” and “employee.” Managers’ screens highlighted and numbered eight of the pictures. Their job was to communicate to the employee, through instant messaging, the eight highlighted scenes in order. The employee had to identify the picture the manager was describing. Simple enough. Read More »



Is There Such a Thing as “Office Logic”? Bring Your Questions for the Authors of The Org

We have been exploring, on this blog and especially in our Marketplace radio segments, the mores of the American office, from bosses to morale to the benefits of working from home.

If these topics interest you even a little bit, then you might want to check out The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office, a new book by Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan. Fisman, who has appeared on the blog before, teaches at Columbia, writes at Slate, and is the co-author of Economic Gangsters; Sullivan is the editorial director of Harvard Business Review Press. Read More »



How Much Does a Good Boss Really Matter? A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “How Much Does a Good Boss Really Matter?”  (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.) 

It’s based on a recent working paper called “The Value of Bosses” (abstractPDF) by Edward LazearKathryn Shaw, and Christopher Stanton. In the podcast, you’ll hear Lazear describe the basic problem:

LAZEAR: Suppose you look at a firm and you see that the firm is highly productive. Well, it may be highly productive because it has productive workers, because it has productive technology, or because it has good supervisors that are enhancing the productivity of the workers, and it’s not so easy to tease out one effect from another.

So how can you measure the impact of the bosses? Data, people, data. And Shaw came up with a huge data set from a company that included roughly 23,000 employees and 2,000 bosses. Read More »



Obedience on the Job

On America’s first subway, Boston’s Green line, the middle doors stopped opening. When I asked the driver to open the doors, he said that he couldn’t: now all boarding and deboarding at the above-ground stops is through the narrow front door by the fare box. Ah, the MBTA: making up for the 23 percent fare hikes on July 1 with improved service!

Me: “The new policy slows the ride for everyone. Now passengers cannot board and pay their fares until all the deboarding passengers have left.”

Driver, shrugging: “It’s the new policy. I just do what my boss tells me to do. I don’t question.”

Me: “We could use some questioning.”

Driver: “Questioning isn’t part of my job. I just wait for my pay day.” Read More »



What’s Hanging in Your Cubicle?

Last week, in honor of our “Dilbert Index” podcast about workplace morale, we asked readers to submit photos of their office spaces.  Here’s what’s inside some of your cubicles:   Read More »