Category: Occupational

Behavioural “Nudges” Are Ineffective At Encouraging Commuters To Carpool Or Take The Bus

By Emma Young

You’ll probably be familiar with the idea of behavioural “nudges” — interventions that encourage people to make better choices, without changing the actual options available. As a concept, nudging has become hugely popular, with at least 200 “nudge units” in governments and institutions around the world. We’ve certainly reported on a few studies finding that simple nudges encourage people to give more to charity, and help people to make healthier soft drink choices from fast food menus, for example. You might be forgiven for thinking, then, that there are no limits to what nudging can do….

Well, a recent set of studies designed to “nudge” commuters’ behaviour, published in Nature Human Behaviour and involving a total of almost 69,000 people, has found that there definitely are limits. “The failure of these well-powered experiments … highlights both the difficulty of changing commuter behaviour and the importance of publishing null results to build cumulative knowledge about how to encourage sustainable travel,” write Ariella S. Kristal and Ashley V. Whillans, of Harvard Business School.

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Looking At Your Phone At Work Might Make You Even More Bored

By Emily Reynolds

There are plenty of things you can do in a five minute break at work — talk to a colleague, make a cup of tea or coffee, or even go outside for some fresh air. But with the advent of digital technology, many of us now spend the short lulls in our day doing something else: looking at our phones.

Previous research has already suggested (fairly unsurprisingly) that smartphone use increases as we get more bored or fatigued. It makes sense: if you’re doing a particularly tedious task at work, you’re much more likely to want to spend a few minutes scrolling on your phone than if you’re doing something deeply engaging.

But does looking at your phone actually relieve boredom? A new study from Jonas Dora and colleagues at Radboud University, available as a preprint at PsyArXiv, seems to suggest not.

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Companies Are Judged More Harshly For Their Ethical Failures If The CEO Is A Woman

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By Emily Reynolds

Gender inequality in the business world has been much discussed over the last few years, with a host of mentoring schemes, grants, business books and political activity all aimed at getting women into leadership positions.

But what happens when this goal is achieved? According to new research, unequal gender dynamics still prevail even at the very top. Nicole Votolato Montgomery and Amanda P. Cowen from the University of Virginia found that women CEOs are judged far more harshly than their male counterparts when a business fails ethically. However, when a failure is down to incompetence, they find, women receive less negative backlash.

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People Prefer Their Jobs To Be Taken By Robots, Not Other Workers

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By Emily Reynolds

The rise of automation has already had a significant impact on the work lives of millions of people — and it shows no signs of stopping. In a study released earlier this year, the Office for National Statistics found 1.5 million workers in Britain at “high risk of losing their jobs to automation”, with women and low-paid workers bearing the brunt of the risk. And another paper published in Social Science and Medicine found that exposure to automation risk exacerbated poor health: higher risk of automation meant higher job uncertainty and subsequently a greater chance of physical and mental health problems.

All of which makes the findings of a new Nature Human Behaviour study on almost 2,000 North American and European participants even more surprising. While most people prefer it when workers are replaced by humans, not robots, the majority of those surveyed said that if their job was at risk, they would find it less upsetting for it to be handed to robots rather than other employees.

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Spending More Time On Your Hobbies Can Boost Confidence At Work — If They Are Sufficiently Different From Your Job

By Matthew Warren

None of us enjoys having our job cut into our leisure time. So the next time your boss asks you to work late and miss your band rehearsal or board game night, point them to a new study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior. Researchers have found that spending more time on a hobby can boost people’s confidence in their ability to perform their job well. But watch out — if your hobby is too similar to your work, then increased time on leisure activities may actually have a detrimental effect.

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Reading Between The Lines: Why Girls’ Superior Reading Skills May Be Lowering Their Future Salaries

Smiling and cheerful schoolgirls reading a book together at school

By guest blogger Louisa Lyon

In many countries, the proportion of girls opting to pursue careers in lucrative fields such as engineering and computer science has stagnated. Despite the best efforts of schools, universities and governments, women remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called “STEM” subjects. The shortage of women is particularly acute in professions with a heavy focus on maths. But why?

A recent study in PNAS suggests that the answer may lie in differences in ability between boys and girls. But surprisingly, the ability in question is not maths, but reading. In a nutshell, girls who are good at maths tend to be even better at reading, and as a result, many turn away from maths and opt instead to pursue careers that utilise their even stronger language skills. By contrast, boys who are good at maths tend not to show this same advantage in reading, making their decision to stick with STEM subjects much more straightforward.

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The Human Impact Of Having Too Few Nurses

GettyImages-620954482.jpgBy guest blogger Lucy Maddox

The UK population continues to grow, while nursing numbers have remained static for several decades. Compounding matters, The King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust have reported a 25 per cent increase in nurses and midwives leaving the NHS from 2012 to 2018, from 27,300 to 34,100. In short, in the UK, we now have far fewer nurses relative to the general population than we used to.

What does this mean for patients’ care experience? The situation sounds bad, but how bad? Common sense would suggest that patients will experience poorer care when nurses are overstretched, and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that interpretation. But there are also positive stories, and claims about greater efficiency compensating for fewer staff. 

Now a study in BMJ Quality & Safety provides direct observational evidence suggesting that lower nurse-patient ratios really do result in poorer health-care interactions. 

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People Have A Hard-To-Explain Bias Against Experimental Testing of Policies And Interventions, Preferring Just To See Them Implemented

A/B testing vector.

By Jesse Singal

Randomised experiments (also known as A/B testing) are an absolutely critical tool for evaluating everything from online marketing campaigns to new pharmaceutical drugs to school curricula. Rather than making decisions based on ideology, intuition or educated guess-work,  you randomise people to one of two groups and expose one group to intervention A (one version of a social media headline, a new drug, or whatever, depending on the context ), one group to intervention B (a different version of the headline, a different drug etc), and compare outcomes for the two groups.

To anyone who believes in evidence-based decision making, medicine and policy, randomised tests make sense. But as a team led by Michelle N. Meyer at the Center for Translational Bioethics and Health Care Policy at the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, write in PNAS, for some reason A/B testing sometimes elicits moral outrage. As an example, they point to the anger that ensued when Pearson Education “randomized math and computer science students at different schools to receive one of three versions of its instructional software: two versions displayed different encouraging messages as students attempted to solve problems, while a third displayed no messages.” The goal had been to test objectively whether the encouraging messages would, well, encourage students to do more problems, yet for this, the company received much criticism, including accusations that they’d treated students like guinea pigs, and failed to obtain their consent.

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Kids Are More Motivated To “Do Science” Than “Be A Scientist” – A Finding That Could Help Address The Profession’s Diversity Problem

GettyImages-639407632.jpgBy Matthew Warren

It’s well known that science has a diversity problem, with women and members of minority groups being underrepresented. A new study suggests a solution aimed at children – reframing science as something that people do, rather than something that defines their identity, can reduce the potentially off-putting impact of the “white male” scientist stereotype.

According to the paper, published recently in Developmental Science, thoughtful use of language encourages greater interest in science among young children – and makes them less likely to lose confidence in their scientific abilities as they grow up.

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Finally Some Robust Research Into Whether “Diversity Training” Actually Works – Unfortunately It’s Not Very Promising

By Jesse Singal

Diversity trainings are big business. In the United States, companies spend about £6.1 billion per year, by one estimate, on programmes geared at making companies more inclusive and welcoming to members of often-underrepresented groups (British numbers aren’t easy to come by, but according to one recent survey, over a third of recruiters are planning to increase their investment in diversity initiatives).

Unfortunately, there’s little evidence-backed consensus about which sorts of diversity programmes work, and why, and there have been long-standing concerns in some quarters that these programmes don’t do much at all, or that they could actually be harmful. In part because of this dearth of evidence, the market for pro-diversity interventions is a bit of a Wild West with regard to quality.

For a new paper in PNAS, a prominent team of researchers, including Katherine Milkman, Angela Duckworth, and Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, partnered with a large global organisation to measure the real-world impact of the researchers’ own anti-bias intervention, designed principally to “promote inclusive attitudes and behaviors toward women, whereas a secondary focus was to promote the inclusion of other underrepresented groups (e.g., racial minorities).” The results were mixed at best – and unfortunately there are good reasons to be sceptical that even the more positive results are as positive as they seem.

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