Tag Archives: work

The pandemic is making a lot of people want to leave their jobs

At least 41% of the entire global workforce could soon hand in their resignation as they reassess their priorities following the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by Microsoft. The figure reaches 54% for those between 18 and 25 years old, also known as Generation Z, who seem to be fed up or resigned about their current jobs. 

Image credit: Flickr / Edward Bilodeau

Reevaluation time

In a report called “The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?,” Microsoft surveyed over 30,000 workers in 31 countries and pulled in data from its applications to analyze productivity and activity levels. The tech company highlighted a set of trends the world of work is now seeing due to the pandemic.  

“Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in the report. “Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly – inclusive of collaboration, learning and wellbeing to drive career advancement for every worker, including frontline and knowledge workers, as well as for new graduates and those who are in the workforce today.”

With so much change upending people over the past twelve months, Microsoft found that employees are reevaluating priorities, home bases, and their entire lives. Whether it’s because of fewer networking or career advancement opportunities, a new calling or pandemic-related struggles, more people are considering their next move in their professional lives. 

That’s why, Microsoft wrote in the report, the way companies approach the next phase of work — embracing the positives and learning from the challenges of this last year — will impact who stays, who goes, and who ultimately seeks to join a company. It’s a lot to take in if you are a business leader, but the way you act after the pandemic may come with consequences for your work force.

University of Michigan economist Betsey Stevenson told Axios: “People have had a little more space to ask themselves, ‘Is this really what I want to be doing?’ So some are deciding they want to work fewer hours or with more flexibility to create more time for family or hobbies.”

Microsoft warned that some people are experiencing digital exhaustion and that remote working could foster siloed thinking. With most working remotely, the spontaneous sharing of ideas that can take place within a workplace was lost. Instead, now there’s scheduled calls, regular catch-ups and virtual hangouts – with a much more limited interaction. 

Image credit: Microsoft

Another consequence of the shift to remote and the reliance on tech-based communications has been the phenomenon of digital burnout. This was a big challenge especially for those who recently joined the workforce. Starting a new job usually meant meeting new people and adjusting to a new environment. The pandemic turned that into a routine of working from home. 

“Our findings have shown that for Gen Z and people just starting in their careers, this has been a very disruptive time,” said LinkedIn Senior Editor-at-Large, George Anders, quoted in the report. “It’s very hard to find their footing since they’re not experiencing the in-person onboarding, networking and training that they would have expected in a normal year.”

Looking for solutions to all these changes, Microsoft said employers should adopt a hybrid approach. Employees should be given the flexibility to work when and where they want, as well as the tools they need to equally contribute from wherever they happen to be. This could help to revive our networks at work, the tech giant argued. 

The report suggested organizations to invest in space and technology to bridge the physical and digital roles. Addressing digital exhaustion also has to be a priority for leaders everywhere, doing less and synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. Companies should also reframe team building, implementing a proactive effort.

Do you use blue light blocking glasses? You might want to consider it

Scientists have long known there’s a link between sleep and work performance, with a lack of quality shut-eye shown to cause fatigue, low energy, and poor focus. Now, a new study has shown that enjoying a better night’s sleep and boosting your performance at work could be as simple as wearing a pair of blue light filtering glasses.

Credit SnappyGoat

Most of the technology we use at home and in the office such as smartphones and all sorts of screens emit blue light that can disrupt sleep, according to previous studies. The pandemic has made us more dependent on all these devices as we moved from going to the office or to school to doing everything from home.

The media has recently described the benefits of blue-light glasses for those spending a lot of time in front of a computer screen. This topic is the focus of the new research, extending our understanding of the circadian rhythm, a natural and internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours.

“We found that wearing blue-light-filtering glasses is an effective intervention to improve sleep, work engagement, task performance and organizational citizenship behavior, and reduced counterproductive work behavior,” said Cristiano L. Guarana, co-author, in a statement. “Wearing blue-light-filtering glasses creates a form of physiologic darkness.”

The researchers collected data from 63 company managers and 67 call center representatives at the Brazil offices of a U.S. multinational financial firm and measured task performance from client feedback. Participants were randomly chosen to test glasses that filtered blue light or normal glasses.

In the week they wore the blue glasses, customer service representatives slept 6% longer, improved the quality of their sleep by 11%, and improved their task performance by 9%. They also increased their work engagement by 8.25%, their helping behavior by 18%, and decreased their negative work behavior by 12%.

Similar results were found in call center representatives. They slept 5% longer, improved the quality of their sleep by 14%, improved their task performance by 7%. Their work engagement increased by 8.5%, their helping behavior by 17% while decreasing their negative work behavior by 12%.

“We have clear evidence that all of those outcomes were improved merely by wearing these glasses,” said Cristopher Barnes, co-author, in a statement. “Most organizations, if they had just made a large financial investment on an expensive performance improvement program and they got a 9% improvement (on task performance) as an outcome, they would be ecstatic.”

The study was published in the journal Applied Psychology.

Working remotely in the age of the coronavirus

The coronavirus outbreak is pushing for some (long overdue) shifts in social habits. One of the more central ones is remote work — or working from home.

Image via Wikimedia.

We have the technology to ensure that workers in several fields don’t need to endure a commute any longer, but most companies have been reticent to do so.

Whether that’s a savvy business choice emphasizing human contact, or simply the rigidity of habit, I don’t know — but the COVID-19 outbreak, while definitely tragic and very damaging so far, is promoting workplace change. Remarkably, many tech companies are rising up to help employers and employees keep up the good work without ever having to get together.

We here at ZME Science also decided to do our part in fighting the spread of the virus. We’ve instituted a work-from-home model for the time being (to be reviewed weekly, fingers crossed).

While our profession is definitely very conducive to remote working, we still needed to find the right tools to allow everyone to coordinate and stay in touch — and today we’re going to show you some of the apps and platforms we’ve considered and picked for the task.

Whether you’re an employer or an employee, we hope this list will help you find the right tools for you and your team to stay safe. Avoiding the commute is just the cherry on top.

Communication (written): Slack

If you find Facebook too distracting (I do), emails too tedious (they are), and Whatsapp groups too brutish for company work (yep), have no fear — Slack is here.

Slack is an awesome way to keep in touch, especially for larger teams. It has all the functionality you’d expect from any chat system. Channels are easy to set up both for groups and between individuals, and you get quite a bit of storage for free (10,000 messages per channel, I’m told).

You can also benefit from several tools that make it handy for work, such as seamlessly setting tasks, assigning them to individual people, or indicating that they are done — although these are downloadable extensions. I also quite like the simple but elegant design of the interface. It’s a good tool and the free version works excellently for smaller teams (or even bigger ones, as long as you don’t need fancy tools).

And, with a name like Slack, there’s bound to be some slacking, so you can feel like you’re sticking it to the man — in a responsible manner for a few minutes every day. Andrei, the de-facto admin of our Slack server, set up a few fun custom responses (a task which he says is simple and doesn’t require any coding) and also added some Pokemon emojis to use — which, of course, is fitting for our team. It’s not perfect, but it gets the job done well.

“Slack is very easy to customize, though limited”, Andrei told me, unaware that he would be quoted. “You need extensions [for more advanced features] and extensions are free for limited members, with few features […] the free version also only saves 10,000 messages in a channel.”

As you can see, I definitely have the best nicknames.

Communication (voice): Discord

A mainstay of gamers everywhere, Discord is basically Skype-but-not-awful. If your job involves a lot of actually talking to your team, I do recommend you look to Discord over alternatives such as Facebook Messenger or Skype since it’s pretty straight-forward to use, runs on a lot of platforms and operating systems, has plenty of functionality to improve the flow of communication, and provides very good call quality for relatively low hardware usage. The free version is more than enough for the job.

Do bear in mind that Discord is optimized for gaming, not company work. You’ll see traditional gaming-related features such as chat overlays or real-time displaying of what games you’re playing (probably best if you don’t play on the job, then). However, one upside to this is that Discord has a very robust built-in streaming functionality that lets you share your screen to the channel without tanking your computer or mobile.

To me, the voice technology that Discord uses seems superior than any other service I’ve tried so far. At the end of the day, it’s a gaming-oriented voice-over-IP platform that’s robust and versatile enough to use on the job; that’s pretty impressive.

Time Tracking

We tend to run things a bit fast and loose here on the understanding that if one of us doesn’t do their jobs properly, we’re all out of a job, and that doesn’t pay rent. It works, partially because we all put our backs into it, partly because we’re a small team.

We’re the lucky ones, however, and most jobs do not provide that level of leeway. Since both parties need to benefit from shifting to remote work (or, at least, to not suffer because of it), we looked at Employee Time Tracking as a way for companies to make sure their workers aren’t slacking on the job.

The platform has several tools built-in to check whether the work is being done, by whom it’s being done, and when. In the end, we decided not to use such a system because it doesn’t really gel with how we do things, but this is one of the more convenient and feature-full ones we found. Toggl, our social media expert tells us, is also very good, but I’ve never really used it myself.

Speed-testing apps

Working remotely means working online, and without a solid internet connection, that’s going to be a very miserable experience for you.

Services like Ookla’s Speedtest.net or Netflix’s Fast.com let you get an accurate measurement of how good your connection is at any point in time, helping you decide which cafe to work in (don’t work in cafes during the outbreak please) or letting you show your employer why you’re not getting much work done if that’s the case. Not much else to say here.

Docs and files

If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

Dropbox is still one of the most convenient file-sharing services out there. I bet you’re all familiar with it already so no need to spill more ink over it. The free version allows 2 TB of individual sharing.

Google Drive, Google Docs, and Google Sheets are pretty much at the heart of our work. We use Sheets to keep everything organized and avoid having multiple people working on the same story accidentally. All our editing is done through Docs, and it also serves as our ersatz archive for articles, edits, and comments from our editors.


If you lack it, there’s an app for it.

I do lack it, but sadly enough, I also lack a mac, and it’s not yet available for any other operating system. However, I did have fancy friends with fancy Apple computers in college and they did recommend SelfControl and spoke quite highly of it.

Boiled down, it’s an app that you can use to block your own access to websites you deem too tempting or distracting. It works on a schedule, so it will dutifully keep you bored and focused on your job for an interval of time of your choice. Deleting the app or restarting your mac won’t re-allow access, either.

Hopefully, it will soon be expanded to other platforms for procrastinators everywhere to enjoy/dread.

More out there

These are just the ones we’re currently using, and may or may not be helpful to you, it all depends on what you do and how.

Thankfully, no matter what your job is, there’s an app somewhere that’s just perfect for the task. Techagainstcoronavirus.com has the most comprehensive list of them I’ve been able to find so far, although it does have some dubious listings such as Twitch — nothing wrong with it, but way too tempting for me.

Remote working has come a long way. There’s a discussion to be made about whether remote working can effectively substitute on-site working, but for now, at least, we should all be doing our part and practice social distancing in our work.

If you’re an employer, you might consider using some of these platforms and apps to keep your employees at home and do your little part in protecting them and society at large from the coronavirus. Both will earn you a lot of brownie points.


Farmers actually work more than hunter-gatherers, have less leisure time

New research says that agriculture may not have been the smartest move we ever pulled. The authors of the study report that hunter-gatherers in the Philippines who are transitioning towards agriculture work for significantly longer each day. Women seem to be the hardest hit by this transition.


Image via Pixabay.

A team of researchers led by University of Cambridge anthropologist Dr. Mark Dyble lived with the Agta people, a group of small-scale hunter-gatherers from the northern Philippines who are increasingly engaging in agriculture. The team says that engagement in farming and other non-foraging work resulted in the Agta working harder and for more time every day — in essence, it ate into their leisure time. On average, the Agta that primarily engaged in agriculture worked 10 more hours per week compared to foraging-focused ones. The women living in agricultural communities were especially hard-hit: on average, they only had half as much leisure time as their hunter-gatherer counterparts.

Toils of the earth

“For a long time, the transition from foraging to farming was assumed to represent progress, allowing people to escape an arduous and precarious way of life,” says Dr Dyble, first author of the study.

“But as soon as anthropologists started working with hunter-gatherers they began questioning this narrative, finding that foragers actually enjoy quite a lot of leisure time. Our data provides some of the clearest support for this idea yet.”

The researchers recorded what the Agta were up to at regular intervals between 6 am and 6 pm for every day they were there, across ten Agta communities. Using this data, the team then calculated how 359 Agta managed their time: in particular, they were curious to see how much time they assigned to leisure, childcare, domestic chores, and out-of-camp work per day. Some of the Agta people in the study engaged in hunting and gathering exclusively, while others mixed foraging with rice farming.

Increased engagement in farming and other non-foraging activities was linked to larger workloads and less leisure time, the team reports. On average, the Agta that engaged primarily in farming worked roughly 30 hours per week, while forager-onlys worked around 20 hours, the team estimates. The difference was largely due to women, they add, who had to forgo domestic activities and work in the fields. Women living in the communities most involved in farming had half as much leisure time as those in communities which only foraged.

Both men and women had the lowest amount of leisure time at around 30 years of age, although it kept increasing steadily later on. Overall, women spent less time working outside of the camp, and more on domestic chores and childcare (in-camp activities) than men. All in all, however, both sexes enjoyed a roughly equal amount of leisure time. Adoption of farming had a disproportionate impact on women’s lives, however, as we’ve mentioned above.

“This might be because agricultural work is more easily shared between the sexes than hunting or fishing,” Dr Dyble says. “Or there may be other reasons why men aren’t prepared or able to spend more time working out-of-camp. This needs further examination.”

“The amount of leisure time that Agta enjoy is testament to the effectiveness of the hunter-gatherer way of life. This leisure time also helps to explain how these communities manage to share so many skills and so much knowledge within lifetimes and across generations,” says Dr Abigail Page, an anthropologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the paper’s co-authors.

However, “we have to be really cautious when extrapolating from contemporary hunter-gatherers to different societies in pre-history,” she adds. “But, if the first farmers really did work harder than foragers then this begs an important question — why did humans adopt agriculture?”

The paper “Engagement in agricultural work is associated with reduced leisure time among Agta hunter-gatherers” has been published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

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.

Do something relaxing after work — it’s good for your health

Science confirms what we all knew, deep down: after a long, hard day at work, doing something fun and relaxing can help you sleep better at night.

Image via Pixabay.

Sometimes, something just feels right. Like when you have a bad day at work and then you have a beer with your friends, snuggle up with a cup of tea and a book, or watch that movie you’ve been planning to for days. Now, a new study found that it doesn’t just feel good — it is good for you (not the beer part though, just the disconnect-from-work part).

Essentially, detaching yourself from work can help you sleep better, which in turn helps you work better the next day, researchers write.

“Sleep quality is crucial because sleep plays a major role in how employees perform and behave at work,” said lead author Caitlin Demsky, PhD, of Oakland University.

“In our fast-paced, competitive professional world, it is more important than ever that workers are in the best condition to succeed, and getting a good night’s sleep is key to that.”

Demsky and her colleagues surveyed 699 employees of the U.S. Forest Service, asking them to rate their negative thoughts about work, how much rude behavior they experience in the workplace, and how much they are able to detach from work and relax. Participants were also asked about insomnia symptoms and other difficulties in sleeping.

Researchers learned that experiencing rude or simply negative behavior was linked to more symptoms of insomnia. People who were being verbally abused tended to wake up several times during the night.

“Incivility in the workplace takes a toll on sleep quality,” said Demsky. “It does so in part by making people repeatedly think about their negative work experiences.”

“Those who can take mental breaks from this fare better and do not lose as much sleep as those who are less capable of letting go.”

However, doing fun and relaxing activities after work does a lot to offset that risk. Relaxing after work is obviously recommended for everyone, but it’s especially important for those who have it rough at work. Relaxing also helped clear out stress and repeated negative thoughts, which can promote several health complications, including cardiovascular diseases, increased blood pressure, and fatigue.

The authors make two suggestions: first, they say, managers should serve as role models. Too often, managers are combative, too authoritative, and even abusive. Demsky and colleagues also recommend that managers don’t send work-related messages outside of business hours, allowing the employees to disconnect.

Secondly, they suggest that workplaces employ programs to reduce workplace incivility, which seems to be a growing problem. This could make for healthier, happier, and more productive employees, researchers conclude.

The article “Workplace Incivility and Employee Sleep: The Role of Rumination and Recovery Experiences,” by Caitlin Demsky et al. has been published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology

Have more sex and leave stress at the office to improve your work life

A new paper from the Oregon State University found that an active and healthy sex life can boost employees’ job satisfaction and productivity, evidencing the need for a good work-life balance, the authors report.

Image credits Michal Jarmoluk.

Getting busy between the sheets could be just the thing to make you enjoy your job more, says Keith Leavitt, associate professor in OSU’s College of Business. He and his team looked at the relationship between the work and sex habits of married employees and found that those who got some love at home unknowingly received a boost in workplace the next day — when they were more likely to immerse themselves in the tasks at hand and drew more enjoyment in their work.

“We make jokes about people having a ‘spring in their step,’ but it turns out this is actually a real thing and we should pay attention to it,” said Leavitt, an expert in organizational behavior and management and first author of the paper.

“Maintaining a healthy relationship that includes a healthy sex life will help employees stay happy and engaged in their work, which benefits the employees and the organizations they work for.”

Starting off on the right foot

Intercourse triggers the release of neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with the brain’s reward pathway, as well as neuropeptide ocytocine, which promotes social bonding and feelings of attachment. It’s a winner combo, which makes sex a natural and pretty fail-proof way of improving your mood. And best of all, the effects of these chemicals can extend well into the next day, the team explains.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers monitored with 159 married employees over a period of two weeks, asking them to complete two short surveys every day. They found that people who had sex reported more positive moods overall the next day — and an improved emotional state in the morning correlated strongly to more self-reported work engagement and job satisfaction throughout the workday.

The effect typically lasted for at least 24 hours, was equally powerful in both men and women, and was significant even after the team corrected for general satisfaction with the relationship and sleep quality — both very powerful ingredients of overall mood.

Image credits Sasin Tipchai.

Leavitt and his team also showed that bringing your work stress to home from work has a negative effect on your romantic endeavors. Employees that failed to disconnect work from their personal life were more likely to sacrifice sex, causing their engagement in work to decline over time. In a society where virtually everyone has a smartphone and after-hours responses to work emails are often expected, these findings underscore the importance of leaving work at the office, Leavitt said.

With this in mind, it may be time to rethink how our work and personal lives fit together, Leavitt says.

“This is a reminder that sex has social, emotional and physiological benefits, and it’s important to make it a priority,” he added. “Making a more intentional effort to maintain a healthy sex life should be considered an issue of human sustainability, and as a result, a potential career advantage.”

“Technology offers a temptation to stay plugged in, but it’s probably better to unplug if you can. And employers should encourage their employees to completely disengage from work after hours.”

Still, I’d give it some time before putting it down on my CV. Let the findings penetrate the job market a bit more, as it were.

“Just make time for it,” he concludes.

Well, it wouldn’t be right to argue with science, would it? Guess we just have to. For productivity’s sake.

The full paper “From the Bedroom to the Office: Workplace Spillover Effects of Sexual Activity at Home” has been published in the Journal of Management.



Dominant wasps hand out breaks when workers are scarce, become horrible bosses when they’re plentiful

A new study has found that wasps create complex social structures around the supply and demand of labor. Dominant and worker wasps will often compete with one another to get the best deal for their investment — be it work or admission to the nest.

Ahh, the smell of waspitalism in the morning.
Image credits Skeeze / Pixabay.

If humans and wasps have something in common, is that we both like to work little but get paid big. The finding comes from a University of Sussex School of Life Sciences team, which analyzed how paper wasps apply the mechanisms of supply and demand. Their society is centered around a dominant class of breeder wasps and ‘helpers’ which raise their offspring in return for acceptance into the nest and the group. But the breeders don’t just lord over the helpers — the two classes have to engage in a willing trade to get the shelter, or the labor, they need.

And where there’s trade, there’s competition.

The wasp is right

The study was carried out in southern Spain over a three-month period, during which the team marked and genotyped 1500 paper wasps. They also recorded the social behavior in 43 separate nests along a cactus hedge.

Then they started to toy with the number of nesting spots and potential nesting partners around the hedge. When this number increased, the team observed that helper wasps performed less labor for their breeder. Dominant wasps also compete between themselves in a way, trying to give the helpers the best deal — by allowing them to slack off — so they don’t leave the nest.

“Market forces can clearly affect trade agreements in nature, as they can in human markets: with a larger number of trading partners available, you can negotiate better trade deals,” said lead author Dr Lena Grinsted,

But when the number went down, worker wasps didn’t have as many options to chose from, and the dominant wasps allowed for fewer benefits.

This would be the first time that supply and demand theory is shown to shape helping behavior in social insects. Previously, it was believed that only internal factors such as the number of available helpers or relatedness drives these behaviors. By showing that external factors (such as the availability of work from outside sources) also plays a part, the team’s observations allow us to better understand and predict insect behavior in the future.

“It is remarkable to discover that simply changing the wasps’ surrounding social environment has a clear effect on cooperative behaviour within groups,” Grinsted added.

“Our findings reveal intriguing parallels between wasp populations and our own business world: a bad deal is better than no deal, so when competition increases so does the risk that you have to accept a lower price for what you offer.”

So what about you? Do you stay loyal to the hive through good and bad, or will you buzz away to the best deal as soon as possible?

The full paper “Market forces influence helping behaviour in cooperatively breeding paper wasps” has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Types of engines and how they work

Engines are machines that convert a source of energy into physical work. If you need something to move around, an engine is just the thing to slap onto it. But not all engines are made the same, and different types of engines definitely don’t work the same.

Jet engine

Image credits Little Visuals / Pixabay.

Probably the most intuitive way to differentiate between them is the type of energy each engine uses for power.

  • Thermal engines
    • Internal combustion engines (IC engines)
    • External combustion engines (EC engines)
    • Reaction engines
  • Electrical engines
  • Physical engines

Thermal engines

In the broadest definition possible, these engines require a source of heat to convert into motion. Depending on how they generate said heat, these can be combustive (that burn stuff) or non-combustive engines. They function either through direct combustion of a propellant or through the transformation of a fluid to generate work. As such, most thermal engines also see some overlap with chemical drive systems. They can be airbreathing engines (that take oxidizer such as oxygen from the atmosphere) or non-airbreathing engines (that have oxidizers chemically tied in the fuel).

Internal combustion engines

Internal combustion engines (IC engines) are pretty ubiquitous today. They power cars, lawnmowers, helicopters, and so on. The biggest IC engine can generate 109,000 HP to power a ship that moves 20,000 containers. IC engines derive energy from fuel burned inside a specialized area of the system called a combustion chamber. The process of combustion generates reaction products (exhaust) with a much greater total volume than that of the reactants combined (fuel and oxidizer). This expansion is the actual bread and butter of IC engines — this is what actually provides the motion. Heat is only a byproduct of combustion and represents a wasted part of the fuel’s energy store, because it doesn’t actually provide any physical work.

An inline, 4-cylinder IC engine.

An inline, 4-cylinder IC engine.
Image credits NASA / Glenn Research Center.

IC engines are differentiated by the number of ‘strokes’ or cycles each piston makes for a full rotation of the crankshaft. Most common today are four-stroke engines, which break down the combustion reaction in four steps:

  1. Induction or injection of a fuel-air mix (the carburate) into the combustion chamber.
  2. Compression of the mix.
  3. Ignition by a spark plug or compression — fuel goes boom.
  4. Emission of the exhaust.

This radial engine looks like the funkiest little man I’ve ever seen.
Image credits Duk / Wikimedia.

For every step, a 4-stroke piston is alternatively pushed down or back up. Ignition is the only step where work is generated in the engine, so for all other steps, each piston relies on energy from external sources (the other pistons, an electric starter, manual cranking, or the crankshaft’s inertia) to move. That’s why you have to pull the chord on your lawnmower, and why your car needs a working battery to start running.

Other criteria for differentiating IC engines are the type of fuel used, the number of cylinders, total displacement (internal volume of cylinders), distribution of cylinders (inline, radial, V-engines, etc.), as well as power and power-to-weight output.

External combustion engines

External combustion engines (EC engines) keep the fuel and exhaust products separately — they burn fuel in one chamber and heat the working fluid inside the engine through a heat exchanger or the engine’s wall. That grand daddy-o of the Industrial Revolution, the steam engine, falls into this category.

In some respects, EC engines function similarly to their IC counterparts — they both require heat which is obtained by burning stuff. There are, however, several differences as well.

EC engines use fluids that undergo thermal dilation-contraction or a shift in phase, but whose chemical composition remains unaltered. The fluid used can either be gaseous (as in the Stirling engine), liquid (the Organic Rankine cycle engine), or undergo a change of phase (as in the steam engine) — for IC engines, the fluid is almost universally a liquid fuel and air mixture that combusts (changes its chemical composition). Finally, the engines can either exhaust the fluid after use like IC engines do (open-cycle engines) or continually use the same fluid (closed-cycle engines).

A Stephenson’s Steam Engine working

Surprisingly, the first steam engines to see industrial use generated work by creating a vacuum rather than pressure. Called ‘atmospheric engines’, these were ponderous machines and highly fuel inefficient. In time, steam engines took on the form and characteristics we expect to see from engines today and became more efficient — with reciprocating steam engines introducing the piston system (still in use by IC engines today) or compound engine systems that re-used the fluid in cylinders at decreasing pressures to generate extra ‘oomph’.

Today, steam engines have fallen out of widespread use: they’re heavy, bulky things, have a much lower fuel efficiency and power-to-weight ratio than IC engines, and can’t change output as quickly. But if you’re not bothered by their weight, size, and need a steady supply of work, they’re awesome. As such, EC is currently employed with great success as steam turbine engines for naval operations and power plants.

Nuclear power applications have the distinction of being called non-combustive or external thermal engines since they operate on the same principles of EC engines but don’t derive their power from combustion.

Reaction engines

Reaction engines, colloquially known as jet engines, generate thrust by expelling reactionary mass. The basic principle behind a reactionary engine is Newton’s Third Law — basically, if you blow something with enough force through the back end of the engine, it will push the front end forward. And jet engines are really good at doing that.

Mad good at that.
Image credits thund3rbolt / Imgur.

The things we usually refer to as a ‘jet’ engine, the ones strapped to a Boeing passenger plane, are strictly speaking airbreathing jet engines and fall under the turbine-powered class of engines. Ramjet engines, which are usually considered simpler and more reliable as they contain fewer (up to none) moving parts, are also airbreathing jet engines but fall into the ram-powered class. The difference between the two is that ramjets rely on sheer speed to feed air into the engine, whereas turbojets use turbines to draw in and compress air into the combustion chamber. Beyond that, they function largely the same.

In turbojets, air is drawn into the engine chamber and compressed by a rotating turbine. Ramjets draw and compress it by going really fast. Inside the engine, it’s mixed with high-power fuel and ignited. When you concentrate air (and thus oxygen), mix it up with a lot of fuel and detonate it (thus generating exhaust and thermally expanding all the gas), you get a reactionary product that has a huge volume compared to the air drawn in. The only place all this mass of gasses can go through is to the back end of the engine, which it does with extreme force. On the way there, it powers the turbine, drawing in more air and sustaining the reaction. And just to add insult to injury, at the back end of the engine there’s a propelling nozzle.

Hello, I am the propelling nozzle. I will be your guide.

This piece of hardware forces all the gas to pass through an even smaller space than it initially came in by — thus further accelerating it into ‘a jet’ of matter. The exhaust exits the engine at incredible speeds, up to three times the speed of sound, pushing the plane forward.

Non-airbreathing jet engines, or rocket engines, function just like jet engines without the front bit — because they don’t need external material to sustain combustion. We can use them in space because they have all the oxidizer they need, packed up in the fuel. They’re one of the few engine types to consistently use solid fuels.

Heat engines can be ridiculously big, or adorably small. But what if all you have is a socket, and you need to power your stuff? Well, in that case, you need:

Electrical engines

Ah yes, the clean gang. There are three types of classical electrical engines: magnetic, piezoelectric, and electrostatic.

And of course, the Duracell drive.

The magnetic one, like the battery there, is the most commonly used of the three. It relies on the interaction between a magnetic field and electrical flow to generate work. It functions on the same principle a dynamo uses to generate electricity, but in reverse. In fact, you can generate a bit of electrical power if you hand crank an electrical-magnetic motor.

To create a magnetic motor you need some magnets and a wound conductor. When an electrical current is applied to the winding, it induces a magnetic field that interacts with the magnet to create rotation. It’s important to keep these two elements separated, so electrical motors have two major components: the stator, which is the engine’s outer part and remains immobile, a rotor that spins inside it. The two are separated by an air gap. Usually, magnets are embedded into the stator and the conductor is wound around the rotor, but the two are interchangeable. Magnetic motors are also equipped with a commutator to shift electrical flow and modulate the induced magnetic field as the rotor is spinning to maintain rotation.

Piezoelectric drives are types of engines that harness some materials’ property of generating ultrasonic vibrations when subjected to a flow of electricity in order to create work. Electrostatic engines use like-charges to repulse each other and generate rotation in the rotor. Since the first uses expensive materials and the second requires comparatively high voltages to run, they’re not as common as magnetic drives.

Classical electrical engines have some of the highest energy efficiency of all the engines out there, converting up to 90% of energy into work.

Ion drives

Ion drives are kind of a mix between a jet engine and an electrostatic one. This class of drives accelerates ions (plasma) using an electrical charge to generate propulsion. They don’t function if there are ions already around the craft, so they’re useless outside of the vacuum of space.

The Hall Thruster.
Image credits NASA / JPL-Caltech.

They also have a very limited power output. However, since they only use electricity and individual particles of gas as fuel, they’ve been studied extensively for use in spaceships. Deep Space 1 and Dawn have successfully used ion drives. Still, the technology seems best suited for small craft and satellites since the electron trail left by these drives negatively impacts their overall performance.

EM/Cannae drives 

EM/Cannae drives use electromagnetic radiation contained in a microwave cavity to generate trust. It’s probably the most peculiar among all types of engines. It’s even been referred to as the ‘impossible’ drive since it’s a nonreactionary drive — meaning it doesn’t produce any discharge to generate thrust, seemingly bypassing the Third Law.

“Instead of fuel, it uses microwaves bouncing off a carefully tuned set of reflectors to achieve small amounts of force and therefore achieve propellant-free thrust,” Andrei reported on the drive.

There was a lot of debate on whether this type of engine actually works or not, but NASA tests have confirmed it’s functionally sound. It’s even getting an upgrade in the future. Since it uses only electrical power to generate thrust, albeit in tiny amounts, it seems to be the best-suited drive for space exploration.

But that’s in the future. Let’s take a look at how it all started. Let’s take a look at:

Physical engines

These engines rely on stored mechanical energy to function. Clockwork engines, pneumatic, and hydraulic engines are all physical drives.

A model of Le Plongeour, showing the huge air tanks.
Image credits Musée national de la Marine.

They’re not terribly efficient. They usually can’t call upon large energy reserves either. Clockwork engines for example store elastic energy in springs, and need to be wound each day. Pneumatic and hydraulic types of engines have to carry hefty tubes of compressed fluids around, which generally don’t last very long. For example, the Plongeur, the world’s first mechanically powered submarine built in France between 1860 and 1863, carried a reciprocating air engine supplied by 23 tanks at 12.5 bars. They took up a huge amount of space (153 cubic m / 5,403 cubic ft) and were only enough to power the craft for 5 nautical miles (9 km / 5.6 mi) at 4 knots.

Still, physical drives were probably the first ever used. Catapults, trebuchets, or battering rams all rely on this type of engines. So too are man or beast powered cranes — all of which have been in use long before any other kind of engines.


This is by no means a complete list of all the engines man has made. Not to mention that biology has produced drives too  — and they’re among the most efficient we’ve ever seen. But if you read all of this, I’m pretty sure yours are running out of fuel by this point. So rest, relax, and the next time you come across an engine, get your hands and your nose all greased up exploring through it — we’ve told you the basics.

Science-backed tips on making the most out of your breaks at work

Most people agree that taking some time off to unwind and recharge is a healthy and necessary ingredient in a efficient workday. So we tend to take one or more breaks, often putting a hold on work at mid-day for a snack and chat. But are there any guides to make the most out downtime?

Two researchers at Baylor University looked into how breaks during the workday improve employee health and efficiency, and found that yes – there are a few constants that seem to make a break great. Their findings offer some surprising suggestions on when, where and how to plan the best moments of relaxation, while also debunking some common break-time myths.

Image via fastcompany

Emily Hunter, Ph.D., and Cindy Wu, Ph.D., associate professors of management in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, surveyed 95 employees aged 22 to 67, over a five-day workweek, asking them to note on each brake they took during the study. These were defined as  “any period of time, formal or informal, during the workday in which work-relevant tasks are not required or expected, including but not limited to a break for lunch, coffee, personal email or socializing with coworkers, not including bathroom breaks.”

By the end of the week, Hunter and Wu analyzed a total of 959 break surveys, for an average of 2 per person per day. Their findings were quite unexpected.

“We took some of our layperson hypotheses about what we believed were helpful in a break and tested those empirically in the best way possible,” Hunter said. “This is a strong study design with strong analyses to test those hypotheses. What we found was that a better workday break was not composed of many of the things we believed. “

The results, they say, will benefit both managers and employees, as better breaks directly translate into higher levels of productivity and quality of life for those doing the work — everyone wins!

Key findings of the study include:

1. The best time for time off is in the mid-morning

The research shows that rather than the more typical timetable of powering through hard tasks in the morning and unwinding with a lunch-hour or mid-afternoon break, taking some time to recharge earlier leads to higher levels of energy, concentration and motivation throughout the day.

“We found that when more hours had elapsed since the beginning of the work shift, fewer resources and more symptoms of poor health were reported after a break,” the study says. “Therefore, breaks later in the day seem to be less effective.”

2. Engage in activities that make you feel good, even if they are work-related.

“Doing things that are non-work-related makes for the best breaks” is a commonly held belief among workers today, Hunter explained. But the study found no evidence to prove that such activities were more beneficial than just doing what you like.  Simply put, preferred break activities are things you choose to do and things you like to do, including work-related tasks.

“Finding something on your break that you prefer to do – something that’s not given to you or assigned to you – are the kinds of activities that are going to make your breaks much more restful, provide better recovery and help you come back to work stronger,” Hunter said.

3. Better breaks mean better health and increased job satisfaction.

The employee surveys showed that recovery of resources – energy, concentration and motivation – following a “better break” (earlier in the day, doing things they preferred) led workers to experience less somatic symptoms, including headache, eyestrain and lower back pain after the break.

These employees also reported increased job satisfaction and organizational citizenship behavior as well as a decrease in emotional exhaustion (burnout), the study shows.

4. Longer breaks are good, but frequent short breaks are the best.

While the study was unable to determine a exact length of time for the best workday break, the research found that more short breaks were associated with higher resources, suggesting that employees should be encouraged to take more frequent short breaks to facilitate recovery.

“Unlike your cellphone, which popular wisdom tells us should be depleted to zero percent before you charge it fully to 100 percent, people instead need to charge more frequently throughout the day,” Hunter said.



76% of American employees get the “Sunday blues”


The weekends should be devoted to disconnecting from your job and focusing more on leisure, family and personal development. A global study made by Munster paints a different picture (who’s surprised?). Seems like no less than 76% of American workers get the “Sunday blues”. In other words, they stress and fret during the depressing night that separates them from a new workweek. Of course, it may be natural to feel a bit stressed knowing you’re about to start a new busy work week, but It’s also worth noting that these 76% have “really bad” Sunday blues. That doesn’t sound normal. In fact, over the pond just  47% Europeans felt that way at the time.

“The level of anxiety Americans feel heading into the workweek remains significantly high and is counterproductive,” said Monster Career Expert, Vicki Salemi. “While this could be due to residual stress of the economic downturn or the pressure of doing more with less in the workplace, there’s always an opportunity for people to identify and proactively address the things about their jobs that make them unhappy.”

The Sunday Night Blues are created by a combination of realizing weekend fun is coming to an end and anticipating the beginning of five days of pressure, meaning it can strike even those who like their jobs. In the US, things seem to be worse which is not so surprising when you consider so many people in the States intrinsically wrap their identities around their work.

“Work is now spread out into home life with increasing demands because of email and the ability to work remotely,” says Steven Meyers, professor of psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Ill. “Work has become more of a drain for many people than it was a decade or two ago. There’s more to dread nowadays.”

You’re likely feeling the Sunday blues, so what can you do to feel better? How about relaxing for a change. Reserving your Sunday night for a long family dinner could do wonders.

“Feelings of anxiety and depression are most common when the person is not particularly busy,” Meyers says. “So enjoyable activities that redirect your attention are especially important. Spending time with others, doing things that you find fun, exercising [and] devoting time to hobbies are all good ways to keep busy so that dread doesn’t creep into your mind.”

Ideally, you should schedule your weekend in advance so you don’t get stuck in the house with a WiFi connection. You’ll inevitably check your work email and it goes downhill from there. Of course, there are jobs that actually involve a lot of work during Monday with little time for catching up. Use your Fridays, when you’re already used to the racket and busy workweek to fix those loose ends and prepare for Monday. Keep your Saturdays and Sundays clean. Ultimately, look for a new job if all else fails.

If you’re a manager, you already have your job cut out for you. We all know your job is probably more stressful than the employees’, but if you want to be a good manager you might want to keep the Sunday blues in check. Research in 2007 by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health showed most senior managers vastly underestimate the scale of mental health issues and think they will never affect their staff. The same survey suggested that people who remain in work without the support they need could be costing businesses up to £15bn a year, while 70m working days are lost every year to mental illness.


Alcohol and long working hours

Long working hours increase the risk of alcohol abuse

The most comprehensive study of its kind found that people working more than  48 hours a week are at a significant risk of drinking more alcohol than it is safe. The study’s findings which included correspondents from 14 countries were not affected by socioeconomic status or region, suggesting they universally apply.  The findings bear important implications for work regulation policies and public health.

Alcohol and long working hours

It’s intuitive to link alcohol with long working hours. The more you need to stay at work, the more stressed you become – in general. But while previous studies came to the same conclusion, the present research was the first to go beyond small, tentative samples and provides a systematic analysis on the association between long working hours and alcohol use.

Marianna Virtanen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Finland, and colleagues made a cross sectional analysis of 333,693 people in 14 countries.  They found that longer working hours increased the likelihood of higher alcohol use by 11 percent. A prospective analysis found a similar increase in risk of 12 percent for onset of risky alcohol use in 100,602 people from 9 countries. Individual participant data from 18 prospective studies showed that those who worked 49-54 hours and 55 hours per week or more were found to have an increased risk of 13 percent and 12 percent respectively of risky alcohol consumption compared with those who worked 35-40 hours per week.

Risky alcohol consumption is considered as more than 14 drinks per week for women and more than 21 drinks per week for men. Those who drink more at a higher risk of developing adverse health problems, including liver diseases, cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease and mental disorders.

The findings also provide support for the recommended 48 hours per week as enforced by the EUWT. Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the U.S. 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence, along with several million more who engage in risky drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems. While in developing countries people work extremely long hours, often 12 hours a day, six days a week, because they don’t have a choice, those in developed countries often work more than 50 hours a week to stay atop and make themselves eligible for promotions. In reality, working more doesn’t necessarily get you farther. For instance, a Stanford study found that working 60 hours a week makes you less productive than a typical 40 hours week.

“The workplace is an important setting for the prevention of alcohol misuse, because more than half of the adult population are employed,” write the team of researchers. “Further research is needed to assess whether preventive interventions against risky alcohol use could benefit from information on working hours.”

The findings were reported in The British Medical Journal