STARTING a new job is often a hopeful experience. In the weeks leading up to your first day, you’re likely to think about the impact you’ll make, the relationships you’ll form and the ways in which you’ll succeed. However, the first few weeks in the new position may be disappointing and many people may wonder at that point if they made the right decision.
This unpleasant transition from hopes and dreams to reality makes sense from a psychological perspective. Research on construal level theory has suggested that we treat things further away from us, in time or physical distance, more abstractly than things that are close up. Before you start a new job, you’re often more focused on the abstract potential than on the actual tasks you’ll be doing. Once you’re in the new position, you may be mired in the day-to-day specifics, which may make it harder to see the contribution you hoped to make.
You’re also often focused on the desirable characteristics of a new job before you start. That can create a motivational state called a promotion focus, which makes you more sensitive to positive things in your environment. But once you start work and there are responsibilities you have to deal with, you’re more likely to adapt a prevention focus, which naturally focuses on the negative things. The perfect job doesn’t feel as perfect anymore.
This disappointment can make you feel like the new position is a mistake. Sometimes a position isn’t a right fit. So how do you tell the difference between normal disappointment and signs that the job truly isn’t working out? Before you decide that you should look for something new, there are three things to consider.
- Imposter syndrome and the learning curve
One reason why the new job may feel wrong is that there are elements you feel unprepared for. Of course, you don’t know the policies and procedures of the new workplace, and it will take time to get accustomed to them. But there will also be tasks that you don’t know how to do. Many people in new positions suffer from a variation of imposter syndrome, in which they feel like they’ve risen into a position they’re not qualified to take. That can make you feel as though the tasks you don’t know how to do are a sign that you shouldn’t be in the job at all.
It is important to ask for help with new tasks early on and to assume that everyone believes learning is a fundamental part of succeeding in the new position. When you feel bad that you aren’t performing well, treat that as an opportunity for growth rather than a sign that you are failing. Even if you adopt this kind of growth mindset, your progress will likely be slower than you want it to be. A well-studied phenomenon in psychology is the learning curve, in which you make fast initial progress when learning something new, but when it comes time to get polished at the details of what you are learning, your progress slows down.
When the learning curve flattens out, it is often hard to detect progress and you may begin to feel like you are not cut out for the job. Instead, find some metrics that allow you to measure what you are accomplishing and learning. Keep a log of your performance so that you can determine whether you are actually making progress, even when you feel like you’re not.
- Values alignment
Even when you feel like you’re succeeding at the individual tasks of the job, you may find the overall work unsatisfying. One of the hardest things to figure out about a company during the application and interview process is the set of underlying values the firm promotes. While research has shown that there are universal values across cultures, each person and organisation emphasize different ones. Cultures promote particular values, but individuals adopt values based on their underlying personality characteristics and their experiences.
For example, some people value benevolence, in which they want to do good things for other people, while others value achievement, in which they want to be recognised for their success. Some people value tradition and want to uphold the way things have always been done, while others value hedonism and want to experience pleasure.
If you work for a company that promotes different values than the ones you hold, then you’re likely to feel unsettled and dissatisfied at work. It can take time to determine whether there is a match between the company’s values and your own, so don’t jump to conclusions. If you do detect a significant mismatch, it could be a sign that you may want to consider working elsewhere.
- Resistance to change
You certainly don’t want to make a hasty decision about whether a new job is a good fit. It can take several months to determine whether you are progressing in what you need to learn to be good at your job. Also, it takes time to really understand the values of the firm you work for.
If you’ve been working for six months to a year and feel the job is a poor fit for you, then you also have to be willing to act. Because of a status quo bias, we have a tendency to stick with bad decisions for too long, whether they are poor investments, bad relationships or a job that isn’t a good fit. We don’t like making changes because doing so requires admitting an error and facing uncertainty (while the status quo is a known option).
Build some energy to make a change. Find an adviser, mentor or coach to help you with this process. Often, the fear that comes with choosing an uncertain option will look worse to you than it does to someone else. A mentor can help you to see the advantages of making a change and can give you advice for navigating the uncertainty that comes from choosing a new path.
Even when you’re hopeful about a new job, it is normal to experience some disappointment at first. Think carefully about what you’re experiencing so you can distinguish what’s your brain adjusting to the new situation and what are true signs that it is time to cut your losses and move on.
This article first appeared in the Harvard Business Review.
One reason for the widespread interest in artificial intelligence (AI) is that it has the potential to reduce the degree of bias underpinning human decisions. For example, meta-analytic studies have long highlighted the pervasive nature of bias in hiring and recruitment.
Even in the rich and liberal world, there are many biases at play in the workplace (for example, sexism, racism and ageism) which account for the unmeritocratic or unfair advantage that some groups have over others, irrespective of their actual talent or potential.
One of the most prominent biases that is hardly discussed or acknowledged is the beauty bias, also known as “lookism”. The existence of a beauty premium in the labour market is well-documented.
As an academic review summarised: “Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals”.
Common manifestations of appearance-based discrimination may include bias against obese, oddly-dressed, tattooed candidates or any people who don’t fit a society’s dominant aesthetic criteria.
Broadly speaking, the beauty bias concerns the favourable treatment that individuals receive when they are deemed more attractive, regardless of whether this happens consciously or unconsciously. Of course, few individuals, let alone employers, admit to preferring to work with others on the basis of their higher levels of attractiveness.
Naturally, there are some exceptions. For instance, to join the Chinese Navy, “good looks” are an official requirement, apparently so they can represent the nation with the best image.
Here’s the good news: identifying this bias is surprisingly simple. This means that any employer interested in eliminating handicaps against less attractive people should be able to detect this bias.
Now the bad news: you are unlikely to achieve this unless you replace human intuition with data. This is where AI can potentially help, if approached responsibly. So how can we tackle the attractiveness bias?
First, you can measure attractiveness, which is typically a function of consensual ratings of physical appearance. Imagine you ask 10 people to rate 100 people on physical appearance or attractiveness. Although attractiveness is not objective, which is why there are always disagreements between people rating the same person, it is also not entirely subjective. So, most people will tend to agree on whether someone is more or less attractive, for instance, by using a 1-10 point scale, not just when they belong to the same culture.
Next, you can correlate this score with a range of success indicators, from interview ratings, to job performance ratings and promotion or salary data. Given that attractiveness is rarely a formal criterion for picking one person over another, except of course, in the dating world, there are obvious reasons for evaluating whether and why people’s attractiveness scores may correlate with any objective indicator of career success.
Here’s where AI can help: as a diagnostic tool to predict someone’s likelihood of being deemed more effective in the business based on their perceived attractiveness. A significant body of research suggests that a person’s attractiveness level is far more predictive of a range of success outcomes than one would hope if we want to live in a fair and unbiased world.
So, what does the science actually tell us?
Studies showed that less attractive individuals are more likely to get fired, although they are also less likely to be hired in the first place. For example, in an experimental study, researchers sent 11 000 CVs to various job openings, including identical CVs accompanied by candidate photographs of different levels of attractiveness.
Attractive women and men were much more likely to get a call back for an interview than unattractive (or no-photograph) candidates were.
At times it is hard to determine whether appearance should be treated as a bias factor or job-relevant trait, especially when employees’ performance depends on the perceptions customers or clients have of them.
As a Glassdoor report noted: “There are many industries and businesses that would suffer immeasurably if we were to legislate our beauty bias.” In support of this idea, evolutionary scientists report positive correlations between attractiveness ratings on one hand, and scores on socially desirable personality traits such as emotional stability, extraversion and ambition, on the other.
For example, physical attractiveness – just like psychological attractiveness (likeability) – contributes to better sales and fund-raising potential, so is it sensible to stop employers from hiring more attractive salespeople or fundraisers?
Perhaps, because the alternative is to discriminate against less attractive individuals, which will include people from minority groups who don’t fit the dominant “beauty norms”. But when employers simply pretend to ignore attractiveness, focusing on candidates’ past performance or interview performance and interpreting these data as objective or bias-free, there is no guarantee that less attractive candidates won’t be handicapped. It is no different from pretending to ignore race or social class while selecting on academic credentials, which are actually conflated with race and social class.
Clearly, there’s an unfair advantage to being deemed more attractive versus an unfair handicap to being deemed less attractive. Although employers can mitigate this bias by eliminating appearance data from their hiring practices by not only using AI but also focusing on science-based assessments, past performance and CV data, such measures will not be sufficient to eliminate bias.
This is because they are also influenced by historical or past bias: if attractive people are evaluated more favourably in the past, they will show up as high performers in their CVs, etc. Still, that is no reason to avoid the issue or perpetuate the beauty bias at work.
Importantly, AI can be a powerful tool to detect and expose the degree of bias underlying human ratings of potential and performance. If programmed correctly, AI could become an objective way to measure what we don’t always see ourselves. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, a scale can help keep you honest. If you’re trying to exercise more, a fitness tracker can help monitor your progress. Given the right inputs, AI can help us overcome our conscious and unconscious biases in hiring.
* This article first appeared in Harvard Business Review.
It is 9am on a Monday and you have arrived at work. Your to-do list for the week is long: answering emails, making client calls, attending meetings, researching a client’s needs, writing a proposal, updating a project plan, reading about new developments in your field… the list doesn’t seem to end.
Which tasks should you focus on first?
The approach that many of us too often default to is checking off tasks that are easiest to complete or are due first, regardless of importance – a phenomenon that scholars describe as the “mere urgency” effect.
In 2018, researchers documented this effect across five experiments in which they asked participants to make trade-off decisions between tasks that varied in urgency and importance. Urgent tasks expired faster, whereas important tasks paid more. They found that people favoured urgent tasks over important ones, even when those tasks paid less. It seems that we pay more attention to time when we feel like we have less of it. So, when we feel busy, we are more likely to favour urgent, unimportant tasks.
This tendency becomes stronger the busier we are. When we have a lot of tasks to do and not enough time to do them –what researchers call “time poverty”– we don’t have the bandwidth to determine the relative importance of each of our tasks. So, we revert to cues in our environment, such as task length or task deadline, to decide how to prioritise. We focus on what we can quickly cross off our list to feel more in control over our busy schedules.
But constantly prioritising urgent tasks means that important tasks that have no urgent deadline, such as updating your CV or doing creative work, get pushed aside for later. Some just never get done. When we fail to do what is important, often what matters most to us, we feel stressed, overwhelmed and demotivated – and companies are less productive.
What can managers do to help employees combat the natural tendency to put off for tomorrow what isn’t due today? The latest research suggests a simple solution: have employees set aside time for work that is important, but not urgent. We call this proactive time or pro-time.
To test this idea, researchers conducted a study with a group of 46 full-time employees from a marketing services and customer experience research company. Half of the employees were randomly assigned to a pro-time condition, where they were instructed to set up a recurring 30-minute weekly planning session on their calendars.
During this session, employees were asked to make a list of their most important and urgent work tasks, to block out two hours in their calendars each day for the next two to three weeks, and to fill out these “pro-time” calendar blocks with important, but non-urgent tasks. This way, when employees’ pro-time period began, they were already ready to focus on activities that involved more of a heavy lift.
The other employees were assigned to the control group. They were not asked to engage in the pro-time procedure and continued doing what they normally do at work.
Before the pro-time period began, both groups of employees were asked to respond to a 25-item survey capturing how they felt about their stress, productivity, time management, workload and responsiveness to clients. Six weeks later, when the pro-time period ended, they were asked to complete the same 25 items.
Below is an example of how the employees’ pro-time weeks looked on a calendar.
After six weeks of the pro-time procedure, employees in the pro-time condition reported being 14% more effective with their time. They also reported being 9% less overwhelmed by workload and 12% more likely to accomplish more, meet important deadlines and get important tasks done faster.
By contrast, employees in the control condition reported being 6% less effective with their time, 10% more overwhelmed by workload, and 4% less productive. It was also found that the employees who benefitted the most from “pro-time” were those who seemed to be the most pressed for time.
These findings suggested that helping employees be intentional and disciplined with their time can increase well-being, happiness and even productivity.
How to use pro-time effectively
One participant reported that: “The main take away for me after these six weeks is to stop multitasking and focus on start-finish-next instead. The whole concept took about a week to get used to, but it was easy to follow the process after that.”
For pro-time to be effective, it must be distraction-free: no email, no instant messaging platform, no text messages. While it might be tempting to check email and answer a one-minute urgent request from a client, research suggests that this sense of being always on affects our productivity. We need time to stop thinking of one task before we can fully shift our attention to the next. For that reason, employers must ensure that employees are able to turn off all distractions where possible, block the pro-time in their calendar and be allowed to focus on the tasks they scheduled for each pro-time period.
Employers also need to be mindful that some employees like to schedule their time based on the clock (clock-time types), while others like to schedule their time based on events (event-time types). The pro-time procedure might work best for clock-time employees who are most productive and energised when their days are scheduled by the hour.
In contrast, event-time employees might benefit from having a more flexible period to complete a task fully, such as blocking out an entire morning every Monday or an afternoon every Friday.
Managers will want to consider additional questions, like: should we block pro-time on employees’ calendars to make the process even easier? Are pro-time periods necessary each workday to see positive results? Is two hours too much or too little?
Managers can start simple by surveying their team to gauge interest or experimenting with the pro-time procedure to see the impact it can have on their employees. The research authors recommend experi menting for at least six weeks so that employees get used to the procedure and learn what tasks to schedule and on which days.
This article first appeared in Harvard Business Review.