At the moment, we are faced with one of the largest displacements caused by war since World War II. In the Netherlands only, more than 25.000 refugees arrived this year, and the numbers are rapidly increasing. The refugees – have been living for months in camps under difficult conditions. One of the biggest challenges for them is to acclimatize in a new country, while at the same time adapting to and integrating in a new culture. We want to help by ensuring that refugees are successfully hired at positions where they will be both happy and productive.
The integration challenge
Fleeing from war and violence, refugees take on the enormous challenge of crossing the continent in a hope of a safer life. Yet, even after reaching their destination point, the challenge is far from complete. Resettlement is often difficult and stressful, and integration even more so.
To assist, various centers provide programs that empower newly-arrived refugees with necessary resources for rebuilding their lives. They are helped with setting up a home and learning the language. And at an increasing rate, we see the development of initiatives that help them find their first jobs. Try to imagine yourself fleeing from a war-torn country, going into a new life. The first thing you’d likely want to do is be safe and rest. And the next thing you would want is to provide a solid future for your family.
Refugee work placement
Refugees arrive with a wide variety of skills, from factory worker to professional. Many of them are highly educated. Just from Syria, 543 people volunteered last year at UAF, an organization that provides study and work to highly educated refugees. With over 130.000 vacancies in the second quarter of 2015, the leading Dutch Employer’s organization, VNO-NCW, started considering whether refugees can fill some of those vacancies. The existing vacancies mostly fall within the sectors of trade, healthcare, specialist services, manufacturing, and hospitality. And we know from research on organizations that increased diversity drives innovation and market growth. But that needs to be done under right conditions.
The question then becomes: How can we ensure that these people are matched to positions which will aid their integration, and at which they will excel, while actively contributing to the society they have come to?
Ensuring person-job & person-organization fit
Psychology research reveals that employees, regardless if they are refugees or natives, reap most personal and work-related benefits from jobs and organizations that fit them. When fit is ensured, employees experience less stress, keep their jobs for longer, are happier, more committed and more motivated, and thus also perform better (for literature reviews on these and similar benefits, see here, here, and here). And place yourself in the shoes of that refugee again – would life not be easier if you are in the social environment that suits you most?
It is easy to see why tools that ensure person-job and person-organization fit would be useful in hiring refugees. Through their use, organizations that find jobs to refugees will save time and money, and even more importantly, increase the success of allocation. Refugees, on the other hand, will be hired at positions where they will feel happy and satisfied. Ensured fit will also increase their job retention rate, thus allowing them to integrate in society at a quicker pace. Finally, employers will benefit as well, as the successful fit also ensures enhanced performance, and this translates to higher productivity and profitability. And we are quite sure that refugees will then become more integrated in society.
How can we help?
At HIJSA, we create solutions that rely on in-depth psychological research. We are a business, but we have an ideological background: We want to help society. And we have a solution that will help ensure the fit between refugees and their future jobs and organizations.
We will match refugees’ personalities to personality-related requirements for the vacancies that our society has. We do so in multiple steps: First, our existing tests will be translated into Arabic. Second, we will need to automatize our testing process. When this is finished, the supervisors at said vacancies will indicate which personality traits are important for successful performance at these positions, and which values characterize their organization. The refugees’ personalities will then be assessed, making it easy to see which applicant fits the job the most. We will also assess what values the refugee finds important, so as to fit them with these different jobs in different organizations.
We offer our solution for free
The integration of refugees is a current pressing concern and we want to help, by offering our solution for free. We have tests available, but we need help to implement them. And let’s collaborate. In order to achieve our goals, we will need help from other parties. We need 1) a professional translator (Dutch-Arabic; Arabic-Dutch) and 2) a programmer who will help automatize the assessment and the creation of the reports.
What is in for us? Well, we mainly hope to gain some extra experience that will help improve our solution. And while doing so, we hope to help refugees integrate and find jobs at which they will excel.
Do you want to support our initiative by helping us find a translator and a programmer? Or do you want to collaborate to jointly match refugees to jobs? All you need to do is contact us and specify how you can contribute.
One of the most pressing concerns in the world is climate change, and this is partly caused by the amount of energy we use. We urgently need to conserve energy and we can learn from other animal species how to do so. Before revealing what they can teach us, we will first outline how energy use reduction is typically approached.
Three ways to reduce energy use
Energy consumption can be tackled at three broad levels. At the technological level, scientists and engineers come up with energy-saving solutions like electric cars and energy-efficient light bulbs. This method focuses on reducing energy by improving the efficiency of electrical appliances. Another answer entails tackling the issue by changing our behavior towards being more environmentally conscious. We have thermostats that monitor our energy use and allow us to adjust our consumption, we are informed on how much our neighbors consume, and we are constantly reminded that our planet needs care. All these facets aid in reducing energy consumption.
But there is a third, often overlooked way to help conserve energy. This approach entails focusing on very specific target groups that use unnecessary energy. Its implementation requires careful targeting and tailor-made interventions, but as a first step, it requires answering the question– who uses unnecessary energy, and why? Unfortunately, little is known regarding individual differences that could provide a definite answer. Our approach is a first to point to an interesting suggestion from psychological research: We need to target people who lack social connectedness. And why, you ask? Let us explain.
Lessons we learn from penguins
To understand why social connectedness should influence energy consumption, let’s first turn to our penguin friends. Penguins are one of the most social bird species and the reason for this is that they need to deal with extremely cold environments. When the harsh Antarctic temperatures drop to a whopping −40 °C, penguins come together to form a huddle and protect themselves and their young from the cold. By engaging in what we call social thermoregulation, these creatures reduce the physiological costs associated with warming up their bodies.
As it turns out, many mammals use huddling to decrease energy use, including apes, monkeys, pigs, and rodents. This is accomplished by reducing their metabolic rates, which helps resist colder temperatures. Huddling is also linked to psychological consequences, and thus, monkeys that huddle while young have less depression and are more social later on. In addition, monkeys that are better connected to others have higher core body temperatures. This implies that it is not only huddling, but also social connectedness, that keeps monkeys warm.
Social thermoregulation in humans
Human bodies rely on the same biological principles as our monkey cousins. We also resort to touching and huddling to keep ourselves warm. And just like penguins, our ancestors slept in a group of people just to keep each other warm. But now we have a central heating that does that for us. This, however, doesn’t mean that, to save energy, we need to reduce heating by sleeping with a group of people in one bed. There is another piece of the puzzle that helps us understand the link between social connectedness and energy use, helping us arrive at a smart energy-saving solution.
Linking loneliness and energy use
As it turns out, people who are at risk of using more energy are not merely those who live alone, without a fellow penguin to cuddle with at night, but those who truly feel alone. Studies have consistently shown that even the feeling of being alone can make people feel colder. 
Lonely people shower longer, more frequently, and use warmer water . They estimate temperatures as lower and prefer warmer food and drinks. When people feel socially rejected, they engage in mood-improving activities, but these activities are reduced if they hold a warm therapeutic pack. And when they are socially rejected, they feel better after holding something warm. All of this implies that increased physical warmth acts as a meaningful coping strategy for buffering feelings of loneliness.
Yet – and here comes the kicker - research shows that social events can rid us of winter’s colds. When it gets colder, people want to be with others more. They experience more socially warm emotions like nostalgia, they rent more romantic movies, and they read more “warm” romantic novels. And even more telling, when people dine with others, they estimate room temperatures as higher. People thus use a variety of social strategies – beside their heater – to warm up.
 Don't fall into the trap of reverse inference -
it is not to say that if you feel cold, you are necessarily lonely!
 This finding has been contested,
and this contestation has again been contested.
Reducing energy use through reducing loneliness
What does all of this imply? It implies a clever solution: We can reduce energy consumption through reducing loneliness in society, and, as the Dutch say, “hit two flies with one swat”.
The effects of both problems’ cannot be underestimated: Energy consumption increases our carbon dioxide emissions and pollutes our environment. Not being socially connected is even more threatening to our lives than obesity, not exercising, or drinking 6 (!) glasses of alcohol or more per day. We need to act quickly as both are very urgent problems, and tackling both at the same time is the smart thing to do.
What we know at this point is insufficient to solidly make this claim. We need to conduct more research establishing direct links between loneliness and energy use. As behavioral scientists, collaborating with an expert on social thermoregulation, we seek to tackle this problem. And we can never be short on experts and support, so we seek your help. Do you want to support our research by funding our initiative? Or do you want to collaborate to jointly tackle these problems? You just need to contact us and tell us how you can contribute.
In a previous post, Sanja Djordjevic discussed how people report experiencing burnout because of a high workload. But is this necessarily the cause? Indeed, sometimes even working long hours can keep employees engaged, provided that they want to do their jobs, can choose how to do it, and they love why they do it.
I know a lot of people who are dedicated to their jobs and get the job done whatever the cost. They are passionate about what they do, and in doing so, they even change the lives of others. Take Elon Musk for example, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, who says that his reason for success comes from loving what he does and working hard - 80-to-100-hours-a-week hard. Yet for some people, hard work sometimes takes its toll. Instead of leaving them energized, engaged and optimistic, their job makes them fatigued, cynical and depressed. It is as if their battery has run out and requires a recharging. I am of course referring to burnout.
Whilst not everybody who works long hours suffers from burnout, there are some people who do. So why does a high achiever like Elon Musk work so many hours without experiencing any signs of burnout, whereas another person who works less hours does? Here’s some science to help understand.
‘Have to’ vs. ‘want to’ motivations
The popular notion of why burnout occurs tells us that it is a consequence of working long hours combined with a demanding job. At first glance, this doesn’t seem to make sense when you consider the example above. According to research, a common differentiator between feeling fatigue or enthusiasm has to do with people’s motivations. In other words: do people believe they have to do their job or can they say they want to do their job?
As it turns out, being able to make this distinction predicts whether or not people will suffer from burnout. Research reveals that people who are motivated, have personally invested in a job, and enjoy doing their tasks are more likely to be engaged with their work and experience less fatigue. As Musk said: “It is loving what you do combined with hard work that leads to success.” It seems like he isn’t far off with his recipe for great achievements.
The secrets of job crafting
At this point, you might be thinking that Musk’s recipe of “loving what you do” doesn’t work for the majority of people. Because, let’s face it, most of the time nobody is able to choose their own tasks simply because they cannot afford to be picky—bills have to be paid eventually.
The good news here is that although people are not always able to choose what they do, they are however able to choose how they do it.
This is the main idea behind job crafting - a process through which employees change the meaning of their work by purposefully altering the aspects of their job. For example, seeking out more resources that aid in job success (asking for feedback or support from colleagues). Taking on extra roles that are enjoyable and challenging (helping out new colleagues feel at home in their work-environment). Even changing the nature or number of interactions at work, and altering the type, order, and number of tasks can all change the way people perceive their work. Employees usually need to be trained to learn how to do this, but once they do, they become happier, more engaged, and they avoid the risk of getting burned out.
The importance of purpose and a common goal
In addition to being guided in how to do a job, people should also be able to love why they do it. According to research, being able to love a job has to do with goals. More specifically, the type of goal affects the way a job is perceived. Employees are less driven by so-called hedonic goals (i.e., “What will be the most enjoyable thing to do?") and gain goals (i.e., “What should I do to get ahead?”), but are most driven when they are guided by pro-social goals (i.e., “What should I do to make us succeed?”). A pro-social goal is one that is most likely to be in focus when companies have a clearly defined vision and purpose.
Consider the case of Jesper Ek, a mid-level manager working for Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical company. Ek was put in charge of the diabetes team that was, at that time, dealing with dropping sales figures. The team showed an engagement score of 22% and a massive disengagement of 66%. After three months of working on understanding the team, Ek finally intervened by switching the teams’ focus from the hedonic and gain goals to pro-social ones. The team decided collectively on a common purpose: “To enable for people with diabetes to live their lives as unrestricted as possible.” This seemingly small change had a major effect. One year had passed and not only did the team achieve more sales and profit, the engagement levels were also raised to 75% and disengagement was down to 0%. This clearly speaks of the importance of common goals in increasing motivation amongst the employees, thereby preventing the chances of burnout.
Managers' role in increasing engagement
Jesper Ek shows the importance of having the right goal when engagement is low. Elon Musk is a prime example that a high workload does not necessarily lead to burnout. In fact, having control over how the job is done, working towards a pro-social goal and wanting to do the job are all factors that help people in being more happy and productive. Importantly, managers can influence all of these factors by relying on researched strategies. Apart from allowing employees to engage in job crafting and decide how they will do their work, they can frame the company’s goals to emphasize prosocial rather than hedonic or gain goals, and optimize aspects of the job that will help employees to want to versus have to do their jobs. Indeed, managers play a crucial role in aiding their employees to become more engaged with their work, and thus prevent the occurrence of burnout.
One of the best predictors of a company's success is budget. But what if you can beat the odds? Using science and statistics can make you more productive and your employees happier.
In sports, one of the best predictors of success is budget. If one cursorily examines the budget of the 2014/2015 Eredivisie, it closely mirrors the current rankings. Within each year, there is of course some room for error, but averaged over the years, a club’s budget should be one of the stronger predictors. There’s one exception, and this exception will likely not surprise you – it is when people use their heads.
As psychologists, we know that people rely on all kinds of hidden biases, and such biases may cloud our judgments. When we become aware of these biases, we can vastly improve our decision making. This is not to say that intuition is worthless; on the contrary, intuition can be very worthwhile in making decisions, because it is often a much quicker way in providing solutions to problems in our daily work. But in this blog I will argue that intuition needs to be complemented by statistical insights to make businesses more effective – and employees happier and more engaged as a result.
Statistical insights in sports
Improving decision models can be accomplished through the use of statistical models. The most famous example of introducing statistical analyses into sports is the much discussed book and movie Moneyball. Moneyball reports on a baseball team from Oakland (the A’s) who had a limited budget (a “meager” $41 million) and were able to compete with teams that had much greater budgets. What the team did is draw upon vital statistics to predict which players would perform well. And, they ended outperforming the classical prediction that budget is the most important for the final ranking. This thus consisted of two steps. First, it consisted of collecting data, and, second, it consisted of identifying crucial predictors that would lead to better performance.
When they were able to identify these predictors, they were then able to hire better players that supported their goal: Winning games. The movie nicely illustrates how the coach, Billy Beane, was able to identify the predictors for the team’s success and statistics helped to identify weak spots in his organization. So can it be for your company. But statistical models are not the entire answer, as you will immediately recognize. Expertise – which typically revolves around the intuition and habits of daily life - is required to help formulating the correct models, and so can it help increase your company’s efficiency, and making your employees happier while you are at it.
Muddleheads vs. Simpleminds
Let’s draw another analogy, but now to explain why expertise is so important. It is quite intuitive to reject such formal, statistical models, because it is hard to see how a generalized model applies to a specific company. I buy this. But there is a way to get from expertise and your daily habits in your company, to crafting a better decision model. When you think about crafting a better decision model, you should not have too high expectations of what statistics can do for you. Because statistics are simply a tool that helps you understand the world.
Case in point is an old article by psychology’s hero Paul Meehl. In the 1950s, Meehl wrote about clinically oriented therapists (muddleheads) and statistically oriented therapists (simpleminded). The muddleheads observed dynamics, they interpreted their clients’ behaviors, and they became experts at inferring the personality of their clients from these observations. They likely had good intuitions and habits in terms of making relatively quick decisions (specifically, they inferred personality from interactions with clients).
At first, they were very successful at observing their clients. Their simpleminded colleagues instead advocated a more statistically oriented approach. Specifically, they advocated analyzing data, and formulated a formal protocol on the basis of which they could make decisions. As you can guess, deriving such a formal protocol required relying on expertise first, and analyzing data second. So, without expertise, the simpleminded failed miserably. But when the simpleminded colleagues relied on expertise, and analyzed the data to create what Meehl called a “good cookbook” did they consistently outperform their muddleheaded colleagues. The improvement of performance on the basis of the cookbook was about 19%. For clinicians and sports coaches alike, performance increased when relying on stats and expertise.
Creating a good cookbook for organizations
One of the biggest concerns in organizations right now is burnout and engagement, because being more engaged can lead people to be less burnt out, to be happier, and to be more productive – all facets that can lead people to lead a more meaningful life. But making your employees more engaged is easier said than done. As said, we often rely on biases or suboptimal decision models to do the things we do in daily life.
In order to attain our goals, it is first important to observe how we work in our respective work environments. But not only that, it is also important to get under the skin of the experts within the company, to know what the mission of the company is – or what their goals are. After having learnt this, one needs to collect the data, and conduct statistical analyses. What are the weak spots in the organization, and what are the most efficient ways to make employees happier and more engaged? In order to do so as accurately as possible, one does very careful archiving and one tries to reduce one’s own biases in order to craft that cookbook. But that is not sufficient. Once you know how the process works, it is important to remind people to maintain these improved habits.
Your cookbook can – and should be – created by carefully assessing your existing strategies, analyzing your own behavior, and building on the expertise of foreknown experts.
At least 900.000 Dutch employees struggle with burnout, with some sectors being more affected than others. A first step in overcoming this threat is to find out where the problem is most likely to occur, and then deal with it head on.
In 2013, the Netherlands ranked as the fourth happiest country in the world, and one of the reasons for this is its flexible work structure. Yet, CBS reports show that a boggling 13% of Dutch employees experience burnout. This manifests itself in feeling exhausted, cynical, and hopeless to the extent that the cherished happiness amongst the Dutch becomes seriously jeopardized. To overcome this challenge, the first step is to recognize where the problem exist. Below you will see few graphs, based on data by CBS and TNO. These graphs show which sectors are affected most, and which burnout-related problems employees most commonly report.
Burnout is a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life. Once it settles, it becomes a threat to people’s happiness, health, and efficiency, and it interferes with the company’s overall productivity.
Recent data by CBS identifies six sectors that are at the highest risk of burnout. Here, approximately 12% to 18% of employees report feeling caught by it, with the educational sector taking the lead.
High workload is perceived as an important prerequisite for burnout, and the percentages of employees who work more than expected may tell us where this problem is common.
Remarkably, almost half of the employees in the top-risk sectors report working more than expected. If they don’t enjoy their work and get satisfaction from it, they may easily become exhausted and demotivated, both of which are indicative of burnout.
Emotional exhaustion is a main symptom of burnout. Once it kicks in, employees feel drained by work and the interaction with their colleagues.
The education sector seems to be at highest risk, although other sectors follow closely. The percentage of 13-14% may not appear too high, but when converted to frequencies, it indicates that a stunning 1 out of every 8 employees feels emotionally drained.
Burnout also leaves people feeling empty, as if there is a void in their life. Once they feel this way, employees lose all enthusiasm and become highly unproductive.
The percentage of employees who report feeling empty is moderately high in all listed sectors. This means that some employees often feel unhappy and unfulfilled, and this void relates to a higher risk for burnout.
If people feel tired after waking up and thinking about work, this means that their job is either highly demanding or that they feel completely demotivated by it.
In all these high-risk sectors, at least one sixth of the employees report feeling tired when they wake up. These employees are likely to feel worn-out while working, and they perform worse than their motivated colleagues.
Lack of preventive measures
Many companies in the Netherlands focus on preventing work stress, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment provides tools that aid the process. Still, many employees feel that more measures should be taken.
In the sectors listed on the graph, almost a full half of employees report that insufficient measures for workload and stress exists. In other words: Employees want change.
Thus, burnout is common
It is clear that burnout is a common problem in many sectors, and these problems feature most prominently in the educational, ICT, public administration, financial, industry, and business sectors. This is not something that managers should fear of or feel defensive about. Instead, it is a chance that will allow them to make immense improvements – and which manager would not want their employees to become happier, experience more meaning, be energized, and be productive?
In this post, I identified particular challenges employees report, and in the next posts, I will look at science-based explanations and how these help build interventions for increasing engagement.
The MBTI test is used by countless organizations and industries, but the fact is that its usefulness is not as nearly backed up by evidence as its popularity would suggest.
I was recently trying to find out what kind of personality assessments organizations use to select employees and build teams. The answer that organizations most commonly gave me was the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It is taken by a mind-boggling number of people that exceeds 2.5 million each year, and is used by a full 89 of the Fortune 100 companies. Not only is it considered the world’s most popular psychometric test, but is used for a variety of organizational purposes – from selection, training, and team formation to personal and career coaching.
What is the MBTI?
The MBTI is a battery of 93 questions that sorts respondents into one of 16 personality types. The classification is based on four dichotomies: extraversion – introversion (E-I), sensing – intuition (S-N), thinking – feeling (T-F), and judging- perceiving (J-P). The resulting types are referred to by an abbreviation of four letters. For example, ENTJ describes a person who is outgoing, visionary, analytical, and determined, while ISFP person is quiet, observant, attentive, and flexible. All types have ready made titles, which could easily be printed on a coffee mug or used in tongue-in-cheek name-calling. The ENTJ is the Commander, INFJ is the Counselor, ISFJ is the Protector, and so on. The whole typology can be seen here.
However, the intriguing, and somewhat alarming, fact about the MBTI is that, despite its overreaching use in organizational settings, its use in psychology has been long abandoned. The test has been a subject of a continuous criticism among professional psychologists throughout the last three decades and is currently met with open revulsion. There
are sound reasons for this.
MBTI was not developed by scientists
The test was developed in 1940s by the housewife Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. Briggs was interested in reading biographies and making personality typologies on the basis of patterns she found. After reading Carl Jung’s Psychological Types, she noticed that his theory was similar to her observations. On the basis of Jung’s theory, Briggs and Myers went on to produce a test that would allow women to obtain jobs that suit their personalities. However, neither of them was a trained scientist, and although they were basing the test on Jung’s theories, his psychological types were not developed through controlled scientific studies, but rather via clinical observations and introspection. This is enough to make some people wary.
MBTI is a poor measure of personalityThere are two reasons for this. First, and as you can read on the official MBTI site, the test measures personality preferences rather than the actual personality traits. Thus, someone reporting a high score for introversion over extraversion cannot be correctly classified as more introverted; they simply have a clear preference. These are two completely different things.
Second, the MBTI assumes that personality falls into mutually exclusive categories. This is incorrect because nobody is 100% extrovert or 100% introvert, just as people are not purely tall or short. Personality, as well as height, should be seen as a continuum, rather than as falling on the either side of an imaginary line. The consequence of this arbitrary classification is that people who are similar, because they are neither particularly extrovert nor introvert, can be categorized as belonging to two completely different personality types.
MBTI is unreliable and rather useless
Additional problem with the test is that it lacks what researchers call “test-retest reliability”. This means that if you take the test again within just few weeks, and answer at least one question differently, there’s around 50% chance that you will fall into a different category. If you were initially categorized as the Performer, now you could easily be the Inspector or the Protector. This makes the test highly inappropriate for even making intuitive judgments of personality, let alone important life decisions, like which job you should be in. Indeed, research shows that personality types as measured by the MBTI do NOT relate to neither job performance or success within a particular career. Its usefulness in selection procedures, or in providing career advice, is not even doubtful, it’s downright problematic.
Abandon the MBTI and rely on science
In general, the MBTI gives a rather simplified perspective on human personality, which is a concept too complex to be pinned down into dichotomous categories. The scientific study of personality is a valid field, and there are many tools that measure personality with a much greater degree of accuracy. It just happens that the MBTI is not one of them.
Yet, the test is promoted enthusiastically in many workplace settings. Due to expenses involved in the MBTI training (it costs more than €2000 to become a certified administrator!), people tend to believe that the test must be reliable. Moreover, to many, the MBTI makes sense. But so does a horoscope. If you read any potential description of yourself, you are likely to recognize yourself in it. This does not mean that what you read is correct or scientifically valid. Clearly, organizations should turn to scientifically proven assessments, rather than use tools that researchers have long discredited.