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The Spread of Shadow Work

This week’s Google Duplex demo raised important and provocative ethical questions about human-machine interactions. It also offered a glimmer of hope that the long-ago promise that technology would free us from mental and physical grunt work to enjoy lives of leisure might yet live.

The work that Duplex would do, book appointments, schedule reservations, is work that, to date, most of us have done for ourselves.

It’s called shadow work, and it’s become so ubiquitous that we barely notice it anymore. Our collective anxieties about automation and AI make it easy to overlook the less dramatic ways that work is being shifted away from workers.

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The Essential Intentions of Our Work Lives

I am not good at sleeping. I used to be, but as I’ve gotten older I seem to have forgotten how. That is one reason that I was captivated when I heard Jocelyn Glei’s interview with Rubin Naiman, a sleep psychologist and professor, on her podcast Hurry Slowly. A combination of the subject matter, Naiman’s earnestness, and his soothing tone makes the episode a sort of ‘meta’ experience. I get calm and sleepy every time I hear it, and so I’ve listened to it a lot.

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This Wicked Problem

If you read this blog with any regularity, you’ll know that I’ve been hip deep in a research project of my own making since last year, with the goal to deepen my understanding of workplace sexual harassment as a systemic problem, how HR is implicated in that system, and what we can do to influence it differently.

That project has continued to pick up steam, and I am so grateful to the many, many people who have generously shared their time and thoughts. These include HR professionals at all levels, survivors and targets of sexual harassment, leaders, lawyers, advocates, and even a couple of scientists. When I waded into this I had no idea that this would lead to the array of incredible, humbling conversations it has, and honestly, I’m just getting started…more on that in the weeks to come.

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Simple Rules for Life and Work

I’ve been breaking a lot of my rules lately, and I paid for it this week.

No coffee after 1pm

Log off Twitter an hour before bed

Only skip the gym if you’re sick or in (non-DOMS) pain

Bring your own lunch

These are small things. They sound pretty easy. Inconsequential even. Breaking one does not result in immediate calamity. But I know through trial and error that ignoring one or more of these for even a week or two leads to quick fraying of the cord that tethers me to my capacity as a functioning human being.

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Context is Key

“He’s a rockstar” “She’s brilliant” “He’s a good guy”

Whether we’re dividing people into INTJs and ENFPs, High Ds or Cs, or placing them on a 9-box grid, we love our categories. I’ve been reflecting on this over the last week, sparked by a presentation delivered by Mathieu Baril of DDI at HR Leaders Summit West. Baril’s presentation challenged traditional thinking on High Potential programs, suggesting that we need to broaden our definition of potential and recognize the individual bias at work when we go about identifying so-called Hi-Pos:

“We tend to underestimate the role of context in performance. Performance is less portable then we think.”

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Ice Storm Reading

Is it fiercely ice-storming here (yes, in mid-April), and it currently sounds like a very determined swarm of bees is hurling themselves at our windows. Our lights keep flickering. There’s nothing left to say about this except that I am so, so tired of wearing my winter coat that I may burn it whenever (or if) Spring finally gets here.

In the meantime, I’m preparing for a busy week: I’m speaking at InnovateWorkTO on Monday night about the need for different thinking about workplace sexual harassment in the wake of #MeToo, then I head straight to HR Leader’s Summit West in Vancouver on Tuesday to join an excellent panel about remote work, and finally head to Whistler for a site visit as we finish planning Actionable’s upcoming Consulting Partner Summit.

Hence, this week’s post is a round-up rather than a new blog, but it’s packed with great stuff:

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What I Learned at WorkHuman 2018

I attended my second WorkHuman conference this week, and my brain and heart are full. This year’s event addressed relevant and substantial topics in a bold manner atypical for an HR industry conference, and reflected its theme of a more human workplace in the interactions between attendees, organizers, and speakers. It was also set in Austin, a lovely city dedicated to huge servings of excellent food, and home to the sexiest public library I’ve ever seen, which is where this post was written.

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Prepping for WorkHuman 2018

Hi! I’m taking a break from my weekly publishing schedule to enjoy Easter with my family and get ready for the week ahead, which I’ll be spending at WorkHuman in Austin, Texas. I’m really looking forward to seeing friends from near and far, meeting lots of new people, learning a lot, and being reacquainted with those things called warmth and sunshine.

If you’ll be at WorkHuman, let’s make sure to connect in real life. Otherwise, follow the #workhuman hashtag for take-aways, commentary, and BBQ FOMO.

In lieu of a new post this week, here’s last year’s post about what I learned at WorkHuman 2017. Have a great week!

Jane

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Systems Failure & Speak Up Culture

A good reminder that I married the right person is that he agrees to go to a talk about catastrophic failure in complex systems for date night. This week, Anthony and I heard Andras Tilcsik and Chris Clearfield give an overview of their new book: ‘Meltdown: When Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It’.

It’s a fascinating look at how many of the systems we encounter in our day to day lives are becoming increasingly complex and tightly coupled, making them more vulnerable to surprising meltdowns.

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Evidence-Based HR: What It Is, and Why We Should Care

I’ve been wanting to write about evidence-based HR for a while, in part because back in 2013 I wrote a blog post critiquing the idea (brattily titled: “Evidence-Based HR: Are We Kidding Ourselves?”) and have since completely changed my opinion. This time, I’ve left it to the experts and invited the wonderful Natasha Ouslis to set me straight on what evidence-based practice in HR is and isn’t, and why we should care.

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