Rethinking How We Work with Libby Sander
Dr Libby Sander is a leading expert on understanding the future of work, and how we can reimagine work to live more meaningful and creative lives. She is an Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Bond University, a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management, the founder and director of the Future of Work Project and Rethink, and an Agenda Contributor at the World Economic Forum.
Libby is regularly featured on radio and in national and international media including The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, BBC, The Guardian, and is a feature writer for The Conversation, where she comments on issues related to work, the workplace, society and future trends in organisations.
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02:26 Libby’s background
- Libby has always been fascinated in how people work, and how and where they work influences their performance, happiness and wellbeing
- Originally, she didn’t know what to do after studying human resources university
- Libby fell into organizational consulting and then did a PhD
03:33 Why organizational behavior is an important discipline
- Too often we build work environments first, then think about the humans
- Productivity has been declining for decades
- The pandemic gave people the chance to experiment
05:45 What are some of the interventions or behavioral principles that Libby uses?
- Libby focuses particularly on the physical work environment and how that influences different aspects of the way that we behave in the workplace
- What are the psychological reactions when we come into a workplace? What are the kind of things that we need? Can we concentrate? How do we connect to other people in the workplace?
- Libby is interested in how the workplace influences organizational citizenship behavior or the empowerment amongst employees
07:52 The ideas or findings from organizational behavior research that can be used to better understand a business’s culture
- In terms of hiring, in recent decades it has been about hiring individuals to strongly fit the organizational culture
- This is most prevalent in tech companies who have a very particular style of culture
- The downside is that if we hire really strongly to fit the culture, we might have quite a diverse group of individuals demographically, but we can end up with a group of people who all think exactly the same way or largely the same way
- This can create a groupthink effect, which is very dangerous for an organization because then we don’t challenge our thinking and we all can kind of go along in the same way
- Diversity of thinking in an organization is just as important as diversity in other ways
10:20 A potential correlation between a diverse country and diverse teams in organizations
- Research shows that diverse teams in organizations perform better than teams that don’t strongly score in terms of diversity
- Diversity of people, of different backgrounds, different ways of thinking, is so important because organizations are now operating in a competitive global environment where things are moving at such rapid speed.
- We have to continually reinvent, we have to have people who are diverse in the way they think and the way they operate
11:30 The idea of a gap analysis during the hiring process
- It is a method of assessing the performance of a business unit to determine whether business requirements or objectives are being met and, if not, what steps should be taken to meet them
- There are some things we can’t train, for example work that requires formal technical qualifications are required, for professions like engineering, psychology, etc.
- Career success needs to be an ongoing conversation at work
13:38 How does organizational behavior help in understanding that complex area of personality?
- Libby has always been cautious around testing being used to put people into boxes because the results aren’t always reliable
- If we categorize people from test results, people perceive each other in terms of labels that we’ve given
- Research in neuroplasticity shows that our ability to change is quite significant, depending on the situations that we’re in
16:15 Despite the amount of research on the area, is our understanding of leadership still a bit hazy?
- There is no doubt that there is an enormous body of research
- There is no one-size-fits-all because leadership is so contextual: “you could be extremely introverted or extremely extroverted”
18:09 Libby’s own ‘aha moment’ when it comes to how we work
- She noticed from her previous jobs that there was so much focus on the process of work rather than the outcome, and so much focus on the system rather than the individual
- “To me, people were sitting on this very unhappy continuum of being either bored to death or stressed to death. And obviously neither of those are great outcomes. And I became very, very curious… does it actually have to be this way?”
19:12 The ReThink project and its mission
- Libby founded the project by taking her research and applying it to how we can reimagine and rethink the way that we are working so that people can have more meaningful and creative lives
- To be in a situation where you’re just enduring the week to get to the weekend or your annual holiday, it’s an enormous waste of human potential
- It also brings big costs of that to individuals, to families, to communities, to the economy, to society in general, in terms of physical and mental health
21:16 Are we at the edge of an exciting transformation?
- Covid made us review how we were working, commuting, and how much time we spent with family and friends
- On the other side, even though we know people were productive working flexibly, many managers still want things to be the way that they were
23:34 How effective are ‘perks’ at work?
- Perks are only effective if the underpinning structures, systems and culture are in place
- There’s widespread “systemic overwork”, where there is an expectation that people should be doing more than their own job
- A huge number of people in the workforce are at that edge of burnout – ”having a pizza party and giving out donuts is not going to address those systemic issues”
- We need to ask questions such as, what does a decent life look like when we put work, mental and physical wellbeing and sustainability?
26:58 The trend of ‘quiet quitting’
- The boundaries between work and home have become blurred, for example checking emails and taking calls in the evening
- There is only so far that employees can stretch beyond their working hours
- “We take goodwill too far, and then it becomes the expectation where you’re working it all the time”
29:58 Setting healthy boundaries with your work
- Most people struggle with saying no
- Libby advises people to discuss with their manager about expectations for the year, and really focus on the outcomes we want to achieve rather than the process
- Review how to craft your week to achieve the goals
- Establish habits and routines tha help you to work at your best, which includes good sleep, exercise, do things that make you happy, etc.
33:05 The role of emotional intelligence in the workplace
- We need to treat people as humans: “if you’re gonna talk about an employee, do it as if they were sitting in the room next to you”
- Leaders need to have good self-awareness and understand that everyone works in different ways
- Work with a mentor or coach who you can reflect with
37:01 Why the physical space we work in is important
- One of the first open plan workplace space was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which was the SC Johnson building in the US in 1939, which had half an acre of open space with desks, with hundreds of people
- The space we’re in influences our cognition, creativity and ability to focus
- Libby did a study in a lab that showed standard open plan office noise has a causal effect between increasing your physiological stress and your negative mood by significant percentages: 34% in terms of your physiological stress and 25% of making you in a negative mood
40:10 How can organizations discover the ideal physical workplace that aligns with their employees, which also reflects their values and culture?
- Design has become very much democratized now, you can go to shops like IKEA, removing the need for an architect to change your office
- Consult with your employees: what’s the type of work that needs to get done here? What are the types of people that we have here? What is the type of workspace that we need for this?
- There’s been a big body of research that has now shown conclusively that sticking everybody in one room together absolutely will not enhance collaboration or creativity
44:32 Top advice for good office design
- We have a fundamental human need for beauty, so having natural materials, shapes and greenery in the workplace has tremendous effects on our stress levels and creativity
- “It has to be better than home” – make it place where people actually want to be
- Good acoustics are very important, but they’re expensive and often get written off at the end of the budget in a project
- Sound is fundamental to create a space where people can think and concentrate, as well as having other zones to discuss or play games
46:46 The future for the freelance and digital nomad movement
- Organizations are giving people the freedom to be a digital nomad, otherwise they will lose that talent
- There are now 49 countries who are offering some form of digital nomad visa, e.g. Bermuda introduced a visa a couple of years ago that has already contributed $28 million into their economy
- iIt’s not just a fight between companies for talent – it is now entire countries, as talent helps their economy
49:52 Tips on an individual day-to-day level to improve productivity in the workplace
- Go outside and get fresh air and natural
- Keep your desk clean and organised, as well as the room that you’re working from
- Ensure that you are moving regularly
- If you’re working from home, at the end of the day tidy things away and make a to-do list for the next day to help you detach from work
52:47 On the anti-work movement
- “I don’t think people are not wanting to work at all, but do we need to have all the success?”
- Overworking is a big cost to our health and economy
59:57 Wellness initiatives that many corporations introduced
- We need to ensure that we’re not just ‘ticking the box’ like the greenwashing of the wellness space
- Research shows that a lot of those initiatives are not used by employees
- It’s important to have a strong, thriving culture first
01:02:17 Advice on how to be more motivated at work
- Some people might like their job, but in the way it’s currently arranged
- A fun exercise is to write down what your current work day looks like and across the week, then what would that be as an ideal?