Tag Archives: job

Can coronavirus layoffs lead to an increase in crime?

As countries seek to contain it, the coronavirus outbreak is already showing its first effects on the economy, with businesses cutting jobs amid lower demand for several goods and services.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

Norway plans to lay off up to 50% of its employees in all areas because of a decline in flights, while the Port of Los Angeles already fired 145 drivers and South by Southwest would lay off a third of its full-time employees — just to name a few.

An increase in the number of people being laid off is not only stressful for many families but can also lead to a growth in criminal activity, according to a recent study, the first one to link the two phenomena.

“Layoffs lead to an increase of criminal charges against displaced workers, while also decreasing their future earnings and full-time opportunities,” Mark Votruba, co-author of the study said.

Trying to understand the link between job losses and criminal activity, Vortuba said a key element was the drastic effect that layoffs have on daily schedules. The rate of crime, both violent and drug and alcohol-related, were much higher during the week than on the weekend, the study showed.

A laid-off worker has incentives to shift the use of time toward illicit earnings opportunities since displacements reduce legal earnings opportunities. At the same time, dismissals lessen the opportunity cost of a worker’s time during the period of unemployment.

“The old adage that idle hands are the devil’s workshop appears to have some truth to it,” said Votruba. “This unfortunate link (to weekday crimes) highlights the importance of psychological factors–such as mental distress, self-control, financial concerns and frustration–in determining counterproductive behavior.”

The findings were obtained by looking at data from over one million laid-off Norwegian workers, 84.000 of which experienced an involuntary job loss. The study found a 60% increase in property crime charges in the year after a downsizing and an overall 20% increase in criminal-charge rates in the year after a layoff.

The researchers said there are no records linking criminal and employment activity in the US. But they claimed there are reasons to believe that the effects of layoffs would be stronger than in Norway due to differences in society.

“Norway has a strong social safety net that makes job loss less painful there than in the US. Both the income and psychological effects of job loss are likely more severe in the US,” said Votruba, a research associate at Statistics Norway during the study.

The study could help policymakers better understand the link between job loss and crime, and consequently work on policies to reduce the costs that layoffs represent of the society. For Votruba, this could mean programs to discourage alcohol and drug abuse among displaced workers.

The study was published in Labour Economics.

Japanese hotel fires robots to replace them with humans

“They took our jobs!” — robots said, angry at the humans.

When the Henn-na Hotel opened in Japan, it strived to be a state-of-the-art venue, maximizing efficiency with the aid of robot helpers which could speak fluent Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and English. The robots were able to check in guests, carry bags, make coffee, clean rooms, and deliver laundry.

“In the future, we’d like to have more than 90 percent of hotel services operated by robots,” said president Hideo Sawada of the Huis Ten Bosch theme park where hotel was opened.

However, things did not go according to Mister Sawada’s plans, and the management has now been forced to retire most of its helper robots. The reason? They just weren’t efficient.

Churi, the doll-shaped assistant present in every hotel room, couldn’t answer questions as well as Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant — which are readily available. Churi was also reportedly confused by a guest’s snoring, waking him up trying by repeating “Sorry, I couldn’t catch that. Could you repeat your request?” Churi would also jump into conversations, annoying guests.

The main concierge robot was also unable to answer questions satisfactorily and needed help from a human very often.

Two velociraptor robots which checked guests in were fired because they couldn’t photocopy guests’ IDs, which was an essential requirement. The robots were also supposed to help people carry their baggage, but they were only able to move on flat surfaces which meant they could only access some of the rooms.

All in all, the Japanese robots were fired because they sucked at their job. So what does this mean for the robot revolution?

There are still plenty of jobs which have been taken by robots and are never coming back — and potentially even more will be taken in the future. But there’s also a lot of unwarranted hype when it comes to robot jobs, and it doesn’t always work out for the best, as was the case here.

There are still plenty of jobs around where human input is necessary or even irreplaceable. For now, at least.

Lego employees.

Part-time workers with flexible schedules work more unpaid overtime — especially mothers

Mothers working part-time take up more unpaid work when given control over their own schedule, a new study reports. The authors say that the findings should draw our attention to how part-time and flexible work schedules are wrongly perceived today.

Lego employees.

One of these workers is not like the others. And the others don’t like it.
Image via Pixabay.

New research from the University of Kent and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam found that both men and women who can set their own hours end up doing more unpaid overtime. Mothers working part-time put in the most unpaid overtime in this scenario, they add.

“Increasing numbers of companies and governments are introducing flexible working, that is giving workers control over when and where they work, as a less costly option to help working families manage work and family demands compared to, for example, paid leave,” the paper explains.

The team drew on the Understanding Society surveys carried out between 2010-2015 to analyze how three patterns of flexible working impact an employee’s workload. The working schedules the team looked at are flexitime, teleworking, and schedule control. On average, they say, UK men work 2.2 unpaid overtime hours, while UK women put in roughly 1.9 unpaid hours per week, respectively.

Under flexitime-type programs, workers have a set number of weekly hours, but they have the option of picking a schedule that suits them best (from 8 am to 4 pm, or from 10 am to 6 pm, for example). Teleworking allows employees to work from home on a regular basis. Schedule control is arguably the most flexible of the flexible work programs — employees are allowed to work whenever they want, for as long or little as they need, to complete their tasks.

For the first two types of flexible work programs, the team couldn’t find an increase in unpaid overtime hours (above that 2.2 / 1.9 baseline level). However, they couldn’t detect a decrease in unpaid overtime hours either.

“Other studies have shown that certain types of flexible working, such as teleworking, are likely to increase work-family conflict rather than reduce it,” the authors explain.

Those in the schedule control group, however, did see a (significant) increase in overtime. On average, men put in around one more hour, and women without children roughly 40 more minutes, over the baseline value, per week. The team notes that full-time working mothers didn’t work any more unpaid time, but part-time working mothers put in around 20 minutes extra (so one hour in total) more each week. The team says that flexible workers’ tendency to work harder and longer — a phenomenon coined ‘the autonomy (control) paradox’ — has already been documented.

As to why, the researchers believe this comes down — in part — to how such working schedules are perceived. Part-time working mothers, they write, may feel the need to work longer hours to compensate for real or perceived stigma from co-workers — especially when working atypical hours. They support this hypothesis with previous research on the stigma felt by part-time workers; around 40% of which believe working part-time had a negative impact on their career progression.

They also write that part-time working mothers may simply have more opportunities to work overtime compared to full-time working mothers. In the context of the gift exchange theory, they could be working harder and for longer to recciprocate/reward employers for the favorable work program.

“More control over your work is supposed to make life easier for workers, particularly those with children. However, it is clear that for many, blurring the boundaries between work and home life expands work to be longer, even when it is unpaid,” says lead author Dr. Heejung Chung from Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research.

“Employers need to be aware of this and ensure staff are not over-stretching themselves and undoing the benefits of flexible working.’

Dr. Chung also made a point of specifying that their study didn’t show flexible working arrangements lead to reduced work from employees, which flies in the face of popular perceptions. Employers need to be made more aware of this, she says, and tackle the stigma against those working flexible schedules.

The paper “Flexible Working and Unpaid Overtime in the UK: The Role of Gender, Parental and Occupational Status” has been published in the journal Social Indicators Research.

Here’s what jobs robots will be taking over in the near future

The automation of a system or process by use of robotic devices is not a new thing. We see it already in factories and processing plants throughout the world. But in recent years, more and more jobs are being taken over by robots. Now, a new report created by Dr Carl Benedikt Frey and Associate Professor Michael Osborne from the University of Oxford assesses the probability of jobs being taken over by robots in the next 20 years.

Image via Salon.

The report highlights the key challenges, explores some of the new technology brought on by the digital age and sets out an agenda for change, arguing that this will be a key to avoid stagnation and continue to develop as a society.

“In this paper, we address the question: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation?” they write. To assess this, we begin by implementing a novel methodology to estimate the probability of computerisation for 702 detailed occupations, using a Gaussian process classifier. Based on these estimates, we examine expected impacts of future computerisation on US labour market outcomes, with the primary objective of analysing the number of jobs at risk and the relationship between an occupation’s probability of computerisation, wages and educational attainment. According to our estimates, about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk. We further provide evidence that wages and educational attainment exhibit a strong negative relationship with an occupation’s probability of computerisation.”

Some professions, of course, are more at risk than others. For example, occupational and recreational therapists have almost a 0 percent chance of being replaced, as do teachers, engineers and archaeologists. But clerks and tellers are among the likeliest to lose their jobs. Up to 87% of jobs in Accommodation & Food Services are at risk of automation, and even in some relatively skilled industries, such as Finance and Insurance, up to 54% of jobs could be displaced over the next decade or two. According to the authors, there is a key trend here. Carl Frey, Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment, explains:

“So far the digital age has not created very many new jobs. According to our estimates only 0.5% of the US workforce is employed in industries that did not exist at the turn of the century. Digital companies need very little capital to get started and not much labour to grow their financial value. For example, WhatsApp had just 55 employees when it was acquired for $19bn. While new technologies create new occupations, they are higher skilled jobs and are not created at scale.”

Hollie, a robot developed by the FZI Research Center for Information Technology at the Karlsruhe.

It may seem hard to believe that this might happen in merely 20 years, but change is already happening, and the pace is accelerating. Michael Osborne highlights this speed:

“The successes of autonomous driving, speech recognition and machine translation have, in the space of little more than a decade, disproved long-held ideas about the distinction between human and machine. Many of these advances, that enable better data and networking, are improving our ability to innovate. This is likely to lead to further acceleration in the rate of technological change.”

[Also Read: Beer delivering robots and Robot bartender]

Here are some of the jobs, and their probability of being taken over by robots, according to the report. I will focus on the extremes:

  • Less than 2%: Physicians, surgeons, teachers, therapists, curators, anthropologists, archaeologists, pharmacists, engineers, material scientists, soil and plant scientists, biologists, chief executives.
  • Between 2% and 5%: Orthodontists, photographers, health and safety engineers, lawyers, craft artists, veterinarians, writers and authors, astronomers, architects, mathematicians, editors, political scientists.
  • Between 5% and 20%: Travel guides, financial managers, graphic designers, police patrols, travel agents, physicists, chefs, urban planners, firefighters.
  • Over 98%: telemarketers (actually the biggest chance at 99%), hand sewers, abstract searchers, watch repairers, new account clerks, tax preparers, order clerks, loan officers, legal secretaries, radio operators, tellers, procurement clerks, referees, bookkeeping and auditing clerks.
  • Between 95% and 98%: Hotel and restaurant hostesses, cashiers, real estate brokers, polishing workers, dental technicians, pesticide sprayers, telephone operators, cooks (not chefs), rock splitters, gaming dealers, mapping technicians, bill and account collectors.
  • Between 80% and 95%: Cement masons, budget analysts, tax examiners and collectors, butchers and meat cutters, retail salespersons, geological and petroleum technicians, traffic technicians, roofers, gaming and sports book runners, riggers, furnace operators, parking lot attendants, floor sanders, correspondence clerks, power plant operators, marine oilers, brickmasons, medical secretaries.

You can read the entire list in the report starting at page 57.

Are you seeing the trends? Jobs where humans have an advantage over robots, where human input is required, where creativity is a factor are the safest. Jobs where you actually do something, where the way you do your job matters most. Repetitive jobs which just involve checking numbers and figures or doing repeated motions are the most threatened. Social interactions are also still highly-desired, and robots won’t fill that niche anytime soon.

This doesn’t mean that in the next 20 years, robots will definitely take over all these jobs. It’s just an indication of what jobs will eventually be threatened to be automated. The value of this study is that it highlights the jobs which actually don’t add any value – and that’s definitely something to think about.

Percentage of US workers who are male vs female

OK, so this is going to be a long image, and after it you’ll find some analysis on it. This is a 2012 census on US data only, so you can expect some differences if you live in other parts of the globe. Here goes:

The first thing which pops to the eye is that the stereotypes pretty much check out. At the end of the spectrum with most women you have kindergarten and school teachers, nurses, social workers, librarians and mostly other social-focused jobs, while at the other end, you get many physical jobs (construction workers, miners, masons, mechanical engineers and so on). What surprised me the most is the fact that mathematician was basically at the center, with 51-49. This is where the stereotype has it most wrong.

There is also another interesting point to be made. In general, women jobs are OK – nothing exceptionally good or bad, while male dominated jobs tend to be extremes, either really good, or really bad. This seems to confirm a 2006 study which concluded that while men and women are on average the same intelligence, men are on wider extremes of the spectrum. In other words, you’d expect to find more mentally deficient, but also more over-performing men.

What do you think about this – is it relevant, or is it a meaningless statistic? Does it show we have to change the status quo, or are things the way they should be? What’s your insight?

Job interviews reward narcissists, punish applicants from modest cultures

How do you act when you’re at a job interview? Do you just go and be yourself, showing your true qualities and defects, or is it all a role in which you say what the interviewer wants to hear? According to a new research, sadly, the latter may be the way to go more often than not. A University of British Columbia study finds that narcissistic applicants are more successful in job interviews than others which are similarly qualified, but act more modestly.

Image via: The Art of Charm.

The study was conducted solely on job interviews from North America, and it shows that applicants from different cultures, especially some Asian cultures, might find it more difficult to land a job in the US or Canada.

“A job interview is one of the few social situations where narcissistic behaviours such as boasting actually create a positive impression,” says UBC Psychology Prof. Del Paulhus, the lead author of the study. “Normally, people are put off by such behaviour, especially over repeated exposure.”

They placed participants in interview situations, and measured their narcissism levels before going into the interview. People with higher narcissism levels tended to talk more, make more eye contact, ask the interviewer more questions, and overall, were more successful in the interviews.

Meanwhile, participants of Japanese, Chinese and Korean heritage exhibited lower levels of narcissism, and were less likely to receive “definitely hire” ratings as a result.

Aside from showing this rather unwelcome disparity between applicants coming from different cultures, this study gives important tips to candidates, as well as interviewers.

“Candidates should engage with the interviewer while continuing to self-promote,” he says. “Interviewers should look beyond cultural style and assess individual qualifications. Instead of superficial charm, interviewers must analyze candidates’ potential long-term fit in the organization.”

What do you think? Is this normal, should interviewers favor those who tend to be more directly engaged, or is this an unhealthy practice, and has to stop?

Paulhus, D. L., Westlake, B. G., Calvez, S. S. and Harms, P. D. (2013), “Self-presentation style in job interviews: the role of personality and culture.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43: 2042–2059. DOI: 10.1111/jasp.12157

choosing a job

Why people get stuck with boring jobs: they choose money, before satisfaction

choosing a jobA common lament we often encounter in today’s society is just how boring some people’s jobs are. We all have friends, or you might be one of these folks yourself, who always seem to complain how unsatisfying their workplace is, even though they might have other options at their disposal. A recent study found that typically, confronted with the choice, people would rather pick  a boring job over a stimulating one if they perceive they aren’t being paid enough for extra effort.

The findings were made by Duke University Fuqua School of Business marketing professor Peter Ubel and David Comerford, an assistant professor at Stirling University. The two call this phenomenon “effort aversion” – people’s choice of putting  forth less effort even if it means less personal satisfaction.

“We found even when an effortful job would be more interesting and enjoyable than one requiring less effort, people might price themselves out of the job market because they feel their effort needs to be rewarded,” Ubel said.

The hypothesis was tested in two experiments. In the first, 144 participants were asked to fill in a questionnaire  offering the choice of two short-term jobs at a cultural festival. Participants could either choose to be an usher (which would require publicizing the event, cleaning up after and escorting performers) or a monitor (which would only require alerting a security guard if needed.) Results showed that while most people (82 percent) preferred the job of usher, 36 percent would only take the job if it paid more than the monitor.

“Ask someone which of two jobs they like better, and they will often pick the more interesting job, even if it requires more mental or physical effort,” Comerford said. “But ask them how much the two jobs should pay, and now that their mind is focused on wages, they often conclude that all that extra effort ought to be rewarded, otherwise they will take the boring job.”

In the second study, 74 graduate students agreed to take part in a short film. They could choose the role of worker (which would require doing a word puzzle for almost five minutes) or on-looker (sit and watch others.) Again, results showed most people found the role of worker more enjoyable (66 percent), but of that group  only 18 percent agreed to solve the word puzzles without regard to whether they would receive more money than the onlookers.

If people think they’re paid less than they should for an exciting job, they’ll pick a boring job that pays better instead

In the second experiment, 74 graduate students were told they could part in a short film. When asked to choose between the role of a worker, implying they had to do a word puzzle for almost five minutes for the scene, and an on-looker, who just had to sit and watch others, again most people chose the less interesting role, despite preferring taking on the worker role (66 percent). Only 18 percent agreed to solve the word puzzles without regard to whether they would receive more money than the onlookers.

“What these two studies showed us is if you put the issue of wages in front of people, all of a sudden that becomes a  primary concern. They are focusing on what they perceive as fair compensation, rather than nonmonetary aspects of the job, such as social value or even whether the job is interesting,” Ubel said.

So, why do people get stuck with boring jobs? Well if you find great satisfaction in being a painter, but earn more as a desk clerk at the bank, you might loose sight of what’s truly important and choose material comfort. Essentially, according to the findings, people seem to concentrate more on material gain, and less on job satisfaction when confronted with the choice. Were people to concentrate more on their own enjoyment while performing a job, instead of financial gain, people all over the world might be happier.

[READ] 12 jobs you’re not gonna believe were true

The researchers actually sought to see whether “effort aversion” could be overcome. Eighty people surveyed at airports were asked about a hypothetical film-shooting scenario similar to the previous study. Some were asked to rate the roles of workers versus on-looker based on enjoyment before considering wages.  A second group was asked to set wages for the jobs before thinking about the enjoyment.The people who considered enjoyment first were more likely to pick the job they said they would enjoy most. Though almost irrelevant from a statistical standpoint, this third experiment hints that simply thinking about enjoyment before wages might help people overcome their effort aversion.

“I can see lots of good reasons why your gut would tell you not to work unless you get paid more than you’d get for doing nothing,” Comerford said, “but the lesson I take from these studies is that that reaction risks leaving you bored and unhappy.”

In the end, the answer to why people get stuck with boring jobs might be a lot simpler: most people are scared and lazy. It can be very comfortable to have less responsibility, avoid complex work and complain all the time to your friends. Fear and laziness is what actually separates most people from truly great men who have left their mark in history, keeping them from reaching their full potential. I may be oversimplifying, granted, and I’m definitely guilty of being judgmental but this is just my personal opinion.

Findings appeared in the journal Science.