October 29, 2011
So I got a press release the other day about a new app that lets bosses and workers praise a colleague — without having to go through the un-fun process of face-to-face communication!
The app, developed by WorkSimple, rewards hard workers with "a series of colorful badges."
Sweet. Now instead of telling Henderson that he really knocked that PowerPoint presentation out of the ballpark, you can just click a button and send him a valuable badge that's redeemable for nothing.
According to the release, the app, called Praise, is "designed for high engagement by being a lightweight and colorful way to quickly add positive performance feedback."
That sentence is as indecipherable as the assembly instructions for an Ikea bookshelf, but who cares? The company claims 65 percent of Americans received no recognition in the workplace last year. What better way to solve that problem than to create an electronic tool for delivering praise that is impersonal and valueless.
On to your questions:
Q: How can office colleagues be gently told that their voices and guffaws are too loud when on the phone?
— from Ken, via email
A: This is a problem that … excuse me … THIS IS A PROBLEM THAT MANY OF US DEAL WITH, KEN.
Virtually every office comes with at least one person who believes words can be propelled through the phone line only by launching them with as much volume as possible. This is not only annoying but also wildly distracting to those of us sitting quietly at our desks playing "Angry Birds."
I consulted some audiologists to figure out why high-volume phone talkers seem so oblivious to their disruptive habit. The short answer is: They don't exactly know.
"Sometimes we'll raise the level of our voice to be compatible with the other person, basically in response to the other person we're talking to," said Paul Farrell, associate director of audiology professional practices at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. "Sometimes it's a cultural thing depending on a person's background and family. And it could involve some kind of hearing loss, though that's likely rare."
Farrell said people tend to speak louder on cellphones than land lines. That's because on a land line you can hear your voice through the receiver, while on cellphones you generally can't.
"In many cases with cellphones, we don't have that auditory feedback like we do on a land line, and it's hard for us to gauge how loudly we're talking," Farrell said.
Craig Kasper, chief audiology officer for Audio Help Hearing Centers in New York, said humans are driven to speak at a volume that ensures they will be heard.
"If you're in a loud work environment, there's a certain level of ambient noise," he said. "People tend to talk louder so they can better monitor themselves. When you're speaking, it's not just about what the other person's hearing."
That's fine, unless the setting is a reasonably quiet office and the booming phone voice is disrupting everyone else.
Farrell and Kasper first suggested noise-canceling headphones as a quick and easy solution for those bothered by loud talkers.
You also can politely ask a noisy co-worker to moderate her or his voice, and that might alleviate the problem briefly, but both audiologists said the volume is likely to creep back up.
"If it's a cultural thing, it's programmed and it's hard to reprogram, especially as an adult," Farrell said.
Kasper suggested coming up with a system to flag a co-worker who starts talking too loud.
"Maybe there's a sign or a signal you can use whenever they're slipping back into the habit," he said. "Something that acts as a friendly reminder."
Sadly, according to basic rules of etiquette and state laws, throwing a chair is not a friendly reminder.
Q: At least once a month I read an article on how fantasy football, interactive Google Doodles or the NCAA men's basketball tournament costs American companies unbelievable amounts of money in lost productivity. Is this true?
— Anonymous, via email
A: The good news is that all the time I've spent nurturing my fantasy football team to a 3-3 record this season has had absolutely no effect on my productivity and is in no way responsible for my trying to wrap this column up 3 minutes before deadline.
I know this because an outplacement consulting firm told me! (Wait a minute …)
Apparently without a hint of irony, the outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas conducted a survey last year asking human resources people across the country whether fantasy football distractions were costing their companies money. Using a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no noticeable effect, about 70 percent of the respondents put the distraction at 4 or lower.
The survey also found that nearly half of companies say they don't care if workers spend time messing around with fantasy football as long as it doesn't affect the quality or quantity of their work.
Logically, this applies to any of the myriad distractions at our fingertips, from sports to eBay to games.
John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger Gray & Christmas, said the membrane separating work lives and personal lives has become far more permeable than it once was. (Permeable membrane reference brought to you by my 11th-grade biology class.)
"There's no longer a 9-to-5 workday for many people," Challenger said. "We carry our iPhones and computers with us. We work in airports, and we work on weekends. All that work has crept into our personal time, so logically a lot more of our personal time has crept into work hours as well."
Challenger said he believes most companies understand this: "Today, productivity is measured simply in terms of getting your work done. When and how you do it is irrelevant. If you get your work done, and it's high quality, then that's really what's most important."
I applaud companies that take that approach. You have to trust your employees, and implementing draconian rules or banning certain websites or activities only breeds resentment.
Besides, if someone is abusing a company's trust, that will become apparent and can be dealt with appropriately.
Gotta run now. I have an imaginary football team that needs a pep talk.
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