In the last week a major figure of authority, the Avon and Somerset Police Chief, has been suspended while “serious allegations” of inappropriate behaviour towards female colleagues are investigated. At this stage the exact details are unclear and there will be further enquiry before we know whether or not any inappropriate behaviour has occurred.
This, together with other recent high profile claims of harassment at work, causes me to question what else needs to be done to achieve any real reduction in inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. Research from several sources suggests that around 10-30% of workers are affected by workplace bullying (e.g. Acas, Unison, National Bullying Helpline). The fact that this latest allegation has occurred in the public sector gives it greater publicity in the media and reflects the finding that 80% of calls received by the National Bullying Helpline are from workers in the public sector.
More needs to be done to raise awareness of what inappropriate behaviour means and the fact that it still goes on in many organisations today. In this case, the claim is of “serious allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards female officers and staff” (BBC News), which leads us to believe that this is a case of alleged sexual harassment. More generally, inappropriate behaviour can fall along a spectrum with serious harassment and bullying at one end, to more subtle forms of inappropriate behaviour at the other end. It is these more subtle behaviours that are often overlooked but nevertheless have a big impact. For example, research suggests that inappropriate behaviour results in poor staff retention, reduced efficiency, increased sickness absence, lower employee engagement and can have a detrimental impact on the bottom line.
There is frequently confusion in organisations about how to eliminate inappropriate behaviour without being accused of being “the fun police”. Many organisations find that feedback in their staff survey suggests that bullying and harassment is a greater problem than they would have suspected because very few cases are reported to their HR departments.
So what can employers do about this problem? Here are some top tips to help organisations reduce the likelihood of inappropriate behaviour occurring in the workplace:· Clarify expectations – communicating a clear policy on bullying and harassment / dignity at work is a crucial first step. In addition, ensure managers are delivering consistent messages about what is or is not acceptable and focus on positive behaviours the organisation would like to see, e.g. being inclusive, valuing and respecting everyone’s contributions etc.
Another Easter weekend will soon be upon us and the shops are filled with chocolate goodies in a range of shapes and increasingly innovative flavours. It’s hard to resist but we are often told that all that sugar can’t possibly be good for us.
However, there is a very surprising positive side effect to consuming sugar (and by extension Easter Eggs): it could reduce our biases and help us to make better decisions.
Research suggests that blood sugar levels are linked to self-control and self-regulation – both of these things are useful in stopping us engaging in common biases such as stereotyping. Everyone has biases; it’s the way our brains have evolved to process information. However, it is possible to regulate these biases so that we have enough time to determine whether there is actually any evidence for them in a given situation and whether we are making the right decision. People who keep their blood sugar levels high, e.g. by eating chocolate or other sugary substances, have more energy to self-regulate which results in using fewer stereotypes and making fewer prejudicial statements.
This self-regulation is particularly relevant when making important decisions, for instance selection, promotion, appraisal and project allocation decisions.
Furthermore, keeping sugar levels high can be useful in uncertain situations, e.g. when employees are unclear about how to complete a task. Uncertainty uses up valuable physical energy which enables us to self-regulate. However, this ability to self-regulate in ambiguous situations can quickly be restored by eating or drinking something sugary.
So a top tip this Easter is – go ahead and eat those eggs!
Gordon Brown warns of a "climate catastrophe" if we don't do more to tackle climate change. One of the critical problems is changing the public's behaviour to be more 'green'. Warnings of droughts, floods and soaring temperatures are very dramatic so why aren't we doing more?
From a psychological perspective five key factors make it hard to turn us 'green'. The first reason is what psychologists call salience. This means people tend to overestimate the likelihood of things that are easy to imagine and underestimate the importance of something that might happen in the future. Heat waves and scorching temperatures are probably difficult for many UK citizens to imagine given our recent experiences of cold, wet summers. These factors lead us to underestimate the effects of climate change.
Secondly, as psychologists we know that when confronted by too many options people feel confused and so default to doing nothing. We therefore need clear guidance on the impact of the many 'environmentally friendly' options to help us choose what is most suitable for us.
Thirdly, we need leaders to act as better role models because we look to people in authority to see how to act. Whilst leaders tell us to cycle, take public transport and car share we see them being driven to work usually in gas guzzling cars. This is hardly conducive to changing our driving habits.
Fourthly, even small habits are hard to change so we need suitable alternatives. It is a struggle to get us to drive less when public transport is unreliable, inconvenient and too expensive.
Finally, people tend to be loss averse which means we need to position the benefits of change in terms of avoiding a loss rather than making a gain. For example, telling someone that if they do not use energy conservation methods they will lose £350 a year is more effective than telling them that if they do use energy conservation methods, they will save £350 a year.
If leaders want to make us more 'green' they need understand what makes us more likely to change and invest in ensuring that we do. We need examples that are easy to relate to, clarity about the impact of our options, role modelling of desired behaviours, suitable alternatives and to know what we stand to lose rather than what we will gain.
The media hype has been intense as thousands of Britons have tuned in to see Murray's outstanding performance at Wimbledon this year. Interest has focused on the excellent form Murray has shown in the competition so far - clearly the physical aspects are in place and Murray has proven his fitness in going five sets to beat Wawrinka.
But what do we know about the psychological aspects playing a role in his success? Murray has exceptional levels of drive and focus but spectators may feel confused by the apparent fluctuations in performance - one minute things are going so well, the next, a game has been lost. For most people it is hard to maintain concentration for longer than 30 minutes at a time and yet these matches can go on for hours. Murray's expressive behaviour can give us some insight into how he is dealing with this. He is often heard shouting, 'focus', which indicates two things. Firstly, he is reinstating his concentration. Secondly, he is fighting the psychological barrier which is arguably more important than the physical one. When a point is lost, negative thoughts quickly creep in and threaten to overwhelm high performance. 'Focus' appears to be Murray's trigger word to stop the negative thoughts and reframe them - taking a positive perspective which is critical to high performance.
His confidence and self-belief will certainly be high following his win against Ferrero. He will be boosted by his victories against Federer at their last four meetings. As psychologists we know that this self-belief will certainly improve his performance and chances of winning.
Further insight comes from our knowledge of the characteristics of outstanding performers. In striving for the higher levels, people tend to take more risks, however, once they're in a good position they often take far fewer risks and this can lead to their downfall. The implications for Murray are that he must play the harder and riskier shots to step ahead, but must not become complacent or lose the appetite for those risky but crowd-pleasing returns. The crowd themselves play their own part in increasing his psychological resilience and game performance. The crowd's support has what is known as the 'Pygmalion effect', which means their belief that Murray will win will improve his performance. Conversely, at the same time it is likely to have a negative impact on his opponent.
Perhaps most importantly will be Murray's ability to adapt his game. Outstanding performers know when to change approach and how to do it. We have seen Murray flex his approach to Wawrinka as he increased the shots to his opponent that would exasperate Wawrinka's injured quad. He must also vary his own habits to keep his opponent guessing and break down their weaknesses.