Bruce Daisley: Blue Monday is rubbish, but the workplace is killing us – evening standard

21-01-2019 11:01

Blue Monday – some forgotten marketer's attempt to label the calendar's most ebb of workplace contentment – but it does not reflect the state of modern work in the UK. Happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy.

According to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation last year, three quarters of us have felt overwhelmed by stress at some point in the past year, with work being the biggest trigger. Over the past decade stress and anxiety have become the cause of work.

It has been criticized that the workload has increased. So, though Blue Monday might have been invented as a marketer's ruse, there's due reason to sabotage the event to remark that the pain inflicted by work is worse than ever before.

One of the paradoxes of modern work is that of having to sit in open-plan offices, uncontained by walls, plugged in as never before to computer networks and yet our experience is to feel disconnected. Open-plan offices are looking for inundation of interruptions and distractions that for many of us.

60% of British workers report feeling lonely at work – and the majority of them say they do not have a single friend there.

Surely this is not what work what is supposed to be like? It is worth taking a moment to consider what the freshest research is revealing. Alex Pentland is a pioneering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Struggling to evade the study of modern offices. They effectively engineered the equivalent of football's opta analysis for the workplace, building heat maps of conversation and activity. Through Pentland's work we were finally able to make up for what we were doing. Pentland's remarkable discovery was the emails and meetings accounted for a tiny amount of workplace output. Their minuscule contribution (about 2% each) what so low that it invited us to ask what we're really getting done at work. Pentland's star contributor? Face-to-face discussion – chat – accounts for two-fifths of what we get done. He found out that he had finished his job in a meeting with his colleagues.

If Pentland is right that open discourse is the dynamic force in organizations it makes the email-induced stress and loneliness of modern work even less defensible. Work is creating anxiety that is not even transferred to a better bottom-line.

Last year, Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pepper published a comprehensive analysis of the great work in progress.

In Pfeffer's words, "most modern working environments have had health effects comparable to exposure to second-hand smoke."

Caution is advised. The same who often oversees toxic cultures are willing to misdirect us to the solutions – especially if they end up looking like the white knight.

In the course of researching my book on improving work, I found one workplace that had established a "mindful minute" – 60 seconds of reflective quiet before one of their regular weekly meetings. There's no proof for such a blink-and-you'll miss it flash of homemade quackery, but things can create the impression that bosses and employers are somehow absolved of blame.

So, rather than dismiss Blue Monday, it should be considered as negated International Men's Day.

Blue Monday should be read as a rallying call – a day when it comes to the evidence, and to the extent that it makes sense to do so working culture this year.

Bruce Daisley is the European vice-president of Twitter, his book The Joy of Work is now out of Penguin Random House

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