Tag Archives: Learning

How Does Your Homework Affect Work-Life Balance?

Last week my kids went back to school. As much as they groaned, I felt myself grumbling even more knowing that our “relaxing” evenings were about to become a cyclone of homework and school projects. With two working parents, three kids in elementary school, and a prevailing over-achiever mentality, I often wonder how much we are benefiting from the homework that all five of us are doing.

There is much research arguing against homework. In his book The Homework Myth, Alfie Kohn states that it’s positive effects are overblown. Homework reduces necessary quality time with family and does not significantly improve learning or academic results. Kohn writes:

For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement. At the high school level, the correlation is weak and tends to disappear when more sophisticated statistical measures are applied.

Other studies agree:

  • In The Battle Over Homework, Duke University Professor Harris Cooper found little correlation between the amount of homework and achievement in elementary school and only a moderate correlation in middle school. Even in high school, “too much homework may diminish its effectiveness or even become counterproductive.”
  • Many countries with the highest scoring students on achievement tests (Japan, Denmark, etc) are assigned little homework, while the more homework-dependent countries (Greece, Thailand, etc) consistently have some of the worst average scores, according to a four-year study.
  • Even pro-homework advocate Tom Sherrington cited a popular mega-study concluding that homework has minimal benefits for kids under the age of ten.

These are pretty clear-cut findings on school homework, but do they only pertain to our kids? Is our work-related homework any more useful?

I don’t generally like the phrase work-life balance, but it is hard to deny the negative affects of an unbalanced life. Health problems, depression, and impaired sleep are commonly associated. These conditions hurt the employee and the organization, resulting in burnout, a long-term lack of productivity, turnover, and a generally actively disengaged workforce. Mind you, I’m writing this from home after a full day of work, so I may not be the best example of balance, but I am trying to get better.

Here are a few ways you and I can strike a better balance between home and work:

Carve out family time. A study by the University of Michigan found that family meals are the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems for children. It’s also a nice way to decompress after a busy day.

Forget about a 50/50 split. Reasonable expectations are key to a work-life balance. Some days are going to be work heavy, while other days won’t allow for the amount of work you’d like to complete. You may still get frustrated, but anticipating your reality can often make it less wearisome.

Stop blaming your phone. You can decide whether to read and respond to every text as they arrive.

Get organized. Work-life balance will not happen without a systematized schedule, a way to capture to-do items, or focus. Maintain priorities and stick to your daily plan (as much as you can).

Being home is not being lazy. I make it a priority to be home for dinner. I then help get everyone to bed and go back to work. Is it ideal? Maybe not, but I find it relaxing to get a few things off my to-do list before morning.

Get a hobby. As much I enjoy doing some work at night, I don’t do it every night. Find something non-work related that you enjoy. Exercise, reading, etc are great ways to get rid of stress. And TV does not count as a hobby (no matter how much I’d like it to).

Homework for both you and your kids is inevitable. We can complain about it or accept that work-life balance is not based on a set period of time where one turns on and the other off. A healthy mindset involves the ability to integrate family with work/school priorities. Find the balance that works for you so you can spend the rest of your free time checking your daughter’s algebra… as I’m about to do.

The Four Ways Chris Farley Can Make You More Creative

chris farley linkedinheaderFor those of us comedy nerds, the new biopic, I Am Chris Farley, was something special. There wasn’t necessarily anything I did not already know, but it was a nice reminder of how incredibly funny Chris could be. With his pratfalls and quick-witted comments, Chris was a comedy legend before he turned 25.

From Second City to Saturday Night Live to his movies, Chris had an energy that made him the living embodiment of funny. Just wearing a tiny coat could stir a laugh, let alone competing with Patrick Swayze in a Chippendales dance off. It’s easy to understand how humor led to Chris’ success, but you may be interested in knowing that a comedic streak can aid your success, as well. Here are four ways humor can help you and your team be more creative and effective.

Problem Solving

Remember that time you were frustrated with your team and yelled at them? It may have felt good (for you), but research shows that improving their mood is a more effective way to boost problem solving skills. In a study by neuroscientist Karuna Subramaniam, participants who watched a comedy were significantly better at the task using insight than those who watched a horror film or a lecture on quantum electronics.

Karuna found that creative insight is correlated with areas of the brain that are responsible for attention and problem solving. By improving someone’s mood, increased activity in these regions prepares the brain for novel solutions, whereas generating fear decreased activity and inhibited creativity. As a result, you and your team can think more broadly, associate ideas more freely, and problem solve more effectively with an injection of humor.

Idea Generation

chris farley patrick swayze chippendalesIf you want to increase your team’s brainstorming skills, improvisational comedy training may be in order. In a study by Barry Kudrowitz, professional product designers and improvisational comedians were given a cartoon and asked to write as many captions as they could think of. The comedians produced 20% more ideas AND generated ideas that were rated 25% more creative.

The games used in improvisational comedy training provide trainees with the same skills needed in your meetings – associative thinking, spontaneous idea production, and the ability to make nonobvious connections between seemingly unrelated things. And good news, the research found that these skills can be taught; those who participated increased idea output on average by 37% in a subsequent product brainstorming session.

Enhanced learning

Are you familiar with the effects of humor on formal education? A study by psychologist Randy Garner found that students were more likely to recall a statistics lecture when the instructor incorporated topic-related jokes. This study has been replicated in numerous settings and has consistently demonstrated the need for humor-integrated learning.

Well-planned, appropriate, contextual humor can help students ingrain information. – Randy Garner

Engagement

Humor does more than improve people’s understanding of the topic; it improves their desire to learn. In study published in Teaching of Psychology, instructors who inserted self-deprecating jokes and topic-related cartoons into their online course had a significantly higher log-on rate than those offering the same curricula minus the humor and received higher ratings on course evaluations.

Professors’ jobs are to educate, not to entertain, but if humor can make the learning process more enjoyable, then I think everybody benefits as a result. – Mark Shatz

You don’t need the skills of Chris Farley to interject humor into your organization’s culture. Harness your comedic abilities to lighten the mood, illustrate examples, and kick start those creative juices. It doesn’t diminish your authority; if anything, it will make you more influential…unless you try to replicate Chris’ Chippendales dance. If this happens, you are on your own.

Is Political Correctness Killing Your Culture? Jerry Seinfeld on the PC Police

jerry seinfeldDo you find yourself constricted by the increasing emphasis on political correctness? Whether intentional or not, we are on a constant state of alert that anything we say can be construed as offensive. Being a Human Resources guy (or is “person” more appropriate?), my role has often been seen as enforcing these political correct principles, yet at what point are the societal controls too controlling?

In two recent interviews, Jerry Seinfeld has voiced his frustration with the ever-intensifying pressures to be politically correct. He began on ESPN’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd.

I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC’… They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist;’ ‘That’s sexist;’ ‘That’s prejudice.’ They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

Jerry then elaborated on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

They keep moving the lines in for no reason. I do this joke about the way people need to justify their cell phone: ‘I need to have it with me because people are so important.’ I said, ‘Well, they don’t seem very important, the way you scroll through them like a gay French king,’ [Jerry makes an exaggerated hand motion]. I did this line recently in front of an audience and they thought, ‘What do you mean, gay?… And I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I can imagine a time – and this is a serious thing – I could imagine a time now where people would say that’s offensive to suggest that a gay person moves their hands in a flourishing motion, and you now need to apologize. There’s a creepy PC thing out there that really bothers me.

Jerry believes that “comedy is where you can kind of feel, like, an opinion.” This is equally true in the workplace. Not to say that sensitivity and mutual respect should be ignored, but at what point are we too politically correct?

There are benefits to political correctness in the workplace, besides the absence of racial, sexist, homophobic, etc. comments. According to a Cornell University study, people instructed to be politically correct generated a greater quantity of novel ideas than those instructed merely to be polite, or given no instructions at all. This runs counter to the idea that “true creativity requires a kind of anarchy in which people are permitted to speak their minds, whatever the consequence.”

The study goes on to say that political correctness provided a clear guidance for how members ought to relate to each other. This may be true. It may also be true that increased creativity can be less reliant on political correctness, simply leaning more on well-defined parameters of basic etiquette.

A study from the Harvard Business Review discussed the double-edge sword of political correctness, weighing workplace inclusivity and equity with the barriers to developing constructive, open relationships with co-workers. They found that when members cannot speak candidly, there’s a greater tendency to tiptoe around issues. One researcher stated, “These dynamics breed misunderstanding, conflict, and mistrust, corroding both managerial and team effectiveness.” Fortunately, this study also provides four suggestions leaders can employ to maintain a healthy PC balance.

Create safety. Your team needs to feel that expressing vulnerability will not be judged or punished. We do this by expressing the expectation that people act with good intentions and, in doing so, will not be disciplined – there is zero tolerance for deliberately offensive behavior. Additional expectations include encouraging others to be candid, not damaging anyone’s reputation when a mistake is made, and acknowledging our own foibles.

Persistently and publicly question yourself. While exposing vulnerability may feel uncomfortable, leaders who model the practice of self-probing demonstrate a humility that builds respect and loyalty from those on your team. It builds awareness to our personal biases, exhibits resilience, and makes us less likely to respond defensively to challenges.

Seek out others’ experience. Social identity has a strong influence on the way people experience workplace culture. So when we are able to develop a deeper understanding of those on our team, we are more prepared to 1) anticipate how the team will perceive and react to particular situations and 2) take immediate action.

Foster people’s investment in relationships. A workplace culture with an emphasis on learning about diversity-related issues promotes more productive and rewarding relationships. As a result, employees’ self-image is less at risk. They will feel a great sense of trust in their work group and are more likely to devote efforts into deeper, more authentic relationships.

The sentiments behind political correctness are admirable. We need to be sensitive and empathetic to other people. This is part of being a member of a group or the general populace. At the same time, acting with civility should not become a censure for divisiveness, self-doubt, polarization, or overly self-limiting behavior.

Be a leader who fosters openness while also breeding a courteous workplace culture. Don’t allow those on your team to be casual offenders of decency but don’t accept the condemnation of the hypersensitive PC police either. And when in doubt, remember the acronym WJSPH (Would Jerry Seinfeld Perform Here).