Forward Thinking: Rethinking the 8-Hour Workday; Hiring Former Military Leaders

October 26, 2017


Why Employers Should Rethink the 8-Hour Workday

The eight-hour workday is one of the more time-honored corporate traditions. However, a recent USA Today piece by Maurie Backman suggests that such a rigid schedule may not be optimal for creative professions. She cites research from author and sustainability expert Alex Peng, saying that a four-hour day is best for people whose jobs require “imagination, ingenuity and above-average mental focus.”

Because this shorter day is probably unfeasible for businesses — considering wage rates and the need for an on-hand skeleton staff — Backman advocates for capping the part of the day that requires “imagination” and “ingenuity” at the recommended four hours. The remaining hours can be filled with answering emails and attending meetings, otherwise humdrum tasks that can act as a relaxing contrast to creative time.

“Many of us spend a significant chunk of our time in meetings, which often have a negative connotation in the context of the workday,” writes Backman. “But if you schedule your meetings strategically, they might serve as the mental break you need to be more efficient at the challenging tasks your job requires.”  — Dean Essner

Yelp Helps Ease Silicon Valley’s Diversity Issues

As the tech industry continues to experience workplace inclusion mishaps — such as Google’s anti-diversity memo and the sexual harassment allegations against former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick — Yelp remains committed to diversity.

According to a piece in the Harvard Business Review featuring contributions from multiple Yelp associates, the company reported the number of women in U.S. technical positions has grown from 10 to 18 percent, and the number of Hispanic and Black employees has also increased from 7 to 10 percent and from 4 to 6 percent, respectively.

The company attributes part of this uptick to recruiting practices, which include varying the gender composition of its hiring committees and emphasizing on-campus outreach efforts at historically black colleges, women’s colleges and schools with large Hispanic populations.

While not every experiment has yielded results, Yelp hopes that its commitment to a more inclusive workplace will inspire all of Silicon Valley to tackle a problem that transcends individual businesses. — D.E.

CEO Myths, Debunked

Fast Company asked several CEOs to address common employee misconceptions about C-suite jobs. One is that CEOs lead glamorous lives.

In reality, you “stuff a steaming Hot Pocket in your mouth five minutes before a meeting, show up to a lousy hotel at 1 a.m. and work before your family wakes up on Saturday mornings,” says Alex Shootman of Workfront, a project-management software company.

Another myth: CEOs are lonely at the top. In truth, “successful CEOs surround themselves with people who share in their vision and can help execute on it,” says Shannon Miles of virtual-workforce provider BELAY.

In addition, the chief executive doesn’t always have all the answers, says Amanda Lannert of employee-communication software company Jellyvision. But we “find the answers through our teams, networks and research.”  — Greg Beaubien

School for the CEO

According to data from Chief Executive’s CEO1000 Tracker, nearly all of the leading CEOs have an undergraduate degree, and close to two-thirds have post-graduate degrees. Of the latter group, the MBA is the most common. But nearly four out of 10 have other types of upper-level degrees, including M.D. and J.D. degrees. Two percent do not have college degrees at all, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

In terms of which undergraduate schools CEOs attended, the University of Pennsylvania leads, followed by Harvard and MIT. But CEOs come from a wide range of schools. Only about 15 percent of the CEOs attended one of the Top 10 undergraduate schools.  — John Elsasser

Do First-Person Pronouns Have the Power to Persuade?

Sound arguments might sway opinions, but new research suggests that people also respond to subtler cues when deciding whom to trust and whether to buy what they’re selling. Researchers at Tulane University reviewed data from 50,000 earnings calls and found the market reacted more positively when CEOs used these words: “I,” “me,” “my,” “us” and “we.”

Pronouns don’t indicate a company’s performance, but even the most logical investors might respond favorably to these words because they create the unconscious impression that the CEO is in control, researchers suggest. Other experts say such language makes CEOs seem kinder. By using the first-person, “the manager’s coming across as more human,” said James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas.

So-called “self-inclusive” language may be useful for leaders whether they conduct earnings calls or not. If saying “I,” “me” and “us” can move stock prices, then they might also affect how the speaker is perceived. Skipping impersonal business-speak and using words that imply your commitment to your company or team may help you convey an impression of warmth and competence.  — G.B.

Being a Workaholic Is Not Always Bad for Your Health

If you love your work, then being a workaholic might not hurt you. A study published in the Academy of Management Discoveries journal found health differences between people who work long hours and those who compulsively work to excess, and between workaholics who enjoy their work and those who do not.

Employees at a financial-consulting firm answered questionnaires about their hours, relationships at home and the office, sense of well-being and stress-related complaints like sleep problems or headaches.

They also scored statements such as “It is hard for me to relax when I am not working on something,” and “At my job, I feel strong and vigorous.” Then they were screened for serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. Only workaholics who described themselves as unengaged or feeling trapped in their work appeared at risk for serious health disorders, according to the study.
The findings suggest that employers should help employees feel enthusiastic about their jobs rather than pressuring them to stay connected to their work around the clock.  — G.B.

More Companies Hiring Former Military Leaders

Across America, former military generals are bringing their specialized skills to the business world. As The Wall Street Journal reported, software maker Red Hat and computer-security firm Symantec are among the employers hiring generals with geopolitical know-how for help with issues from corporate governance to cyberwarfare.

Renowned for instilling discipline, generals are also trained to anticipate risks, build high-functioning teams and make quick, strategic decisions in high-pressure situations.

Such traits are also “necessary in the fog of business,” says Henry Stoever, a captain in the Marine Corps who is now CMO of the National Association of Corporate Directors. The group has prepared some 500 retired generals and admirals for corporate board duty. Half of the former military leaders now sit on private and public boards, including those of Wells Fargo and Wesco Aircraft Holdings. — G.B.

Faced With Falling Revenues, Companies Are Rethinking Telecommuting

Though telecommuting is prominent in today’s business world — the Society of Human Resource Management reports that more than 60 percent of businesses offer remote-work opportunities — major companies are beginning to rethink their approach to the arrangement.

IBM, once a telecommuting pioneer, told thousands of remote workers to relocate to a company office or find a new job, an ultimatum issued on the heels of 20 consecutive quarters of falling revenue, according to Bloomberg. Yahoo and Best Buy recently made similar decisions as a result of financial struggles — and in the hopes of having more productive workers.

“Critics of telecommuting think team members work more efficiently in the same place than scattered across different locations,” writes Bloomberg reporter Rebecca Greenfield.

In the end, whether someone can thrive as a telecommuter may depend on their work ethic. For instance, the Association for Psychological Science says that telecommuting would “be a poor choice for those who have trouble setting their own schedule or motivating themselves to work.” — D.E.


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