A Critique of “Flow”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines “the optimal experience” in Flow (1990). Flow is described as a nearly euphoric, immersive state of ecstasy during focused productivity that occurs when a nearly one to one ratio of challenge-to-ability is achieved and some basic conditions, such as clear goals, immediate feedback, and flexible challenges are met. Csikszentmihalyi goes on to suggest that those most likely to experience a flow state have an “autotelic” personality, an accumulation of low self-centeredness, curiosity, and self-motivation to name a few traits (1990).

While flow states seem to have legitimacy and merit to them, as evidenced by countless researchers supporting the concept (Harmat, Andersen, Ullen, Wright, & Sadlo, 2016), a particularly concerning reoccurrence appears in Csikszentmihalyi’s 1990 book: achieving flow in unideal conditions. It is postulated that even those in forced labor or internment hold the ability to find the “optimal experience” via an achieved flow state, and thus even though “that person is objectively a slave, subjectively he is free (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).” Challenge, adversity, and particular character strengths may give rise to either an individual immersing themselves into productivity as a means of distraction, a coping mechanism for a brutal situation, akin to workaholics (Huljich, 2012). Further, Csikszentmihalyi seems to conflate Viktor Frankl’s (1963) notion of finding meaning to life in even the most horrid of conditions with an autotelic personality. While there may be overlap of the two concepts, it is hard to imagine someone having the “optimal human experience” in an internment camp. It could be assumed that if flow conditions may be induced through reeducation and provisions of task design, that people could be manipulated into self-dissociative production machines of flow, no matter how grizzly the circumstances.

Frankl was not free from criticisms for his ideas, and Csikszentmihalyi echoes Frankl’s most contentious point of personal accountability for experience when he states that it “depends more on a person’s approach to [work dissatisfaction] than on actual working conditions (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).” The question arises: Is it psychologically sustainable to be in a job we do not identify with, so long as we readjust our “approach”? Csikszentmihalyi (1990) appears to notice the juxtaposition of job dissatisfaction and people’s general feeling that their job is “something they have to do, a burden imposed” externally. Csikszentmihalyi may suggest that a simple reframing of the situation should remedy the dissatisfaction and lead to flow states; however, Self-determination Theory (SDT) would claim that a truly optimal experience cannot be realized when a person perceives they are working for external causes (Ryan & Deci, 2000). In fact, mental and physical well-being may be jeopardized should an individual continually invest energy into a job that does not fulfill genuine intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000), even though temporary positive experiences may exist.

With Gallup polls reporting only a third of the US workforce being engaged (Harter, 2018), Csikszentmihalyi’s argument that one can achieve an optimal experience through an attitude adjustment seems far-fetched. While flow states may exist in sub-optimal conditions, corporate culture, job-design, and appropriate job placement would likely illicit flow states more often and a truly optimal experience.

 

References

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow. New York: HarperCollins.

Frankl, V. (1963). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press.

Harmat, L., Andersen, F. O., Ullen, F., Wright, J., & Sadlo, G. (2016). Flow Experience Empirical Research and Applications. Basel, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing Switzerland.

Harter, J. (2018, August 26). Employee Engagement on the Rise in the U.S. Retrieved from Gallup: https://news.gallup.com/poll/241649/empl…

Huljich, P. (2012, September 27). Identifying Coping Mechanisms. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/…

Ryan, R., & Deci, E. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.

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The Controversiality of Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Coleman’s Emotional Intelligence (2005) explores a framework where self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and relationship skills define aptitude in a “personal” intelligence, which differs significantly with the commonly known intelligence quotient (IQ) variety. The theory was first conceived by Howard Gardner (1983) as “multiple intelligences” and was further refined into emotional intelligence (EI) by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in 1990.

Though the concept has risen in popularity in the past two decades, EI is surrounded by contention and controversy in the field of psychology. Edwin Locke (2005) of the University of Maryland went so far as to proclaim the theory is invalid, both because it does not constitute “intelligence” and, he feels, it is so broadly defined that there is no comprehensible significance. I largely side with Locke, as I read through Coleman’s book, I found concepts that loosely connect, or resemble, many other theories, such as strength finder, flow, the big 5 personality traits, and self-determination theory. The book itself seemed more of a commentary on brain development and functions mixed with loose allegories of emotional situations. Locke proposes that EI be replaced with the skill of introspection, a natural precursor to self-regulation, or that EI be renamed and defined as a new personality trait (Locke, 2005).

Locke is not alone in speculation of EI, there is speculation on whether it is a concept of cognition or personality (Conte & Landy, 2019). Additionally, critics have had trouble discerning the EI framework from existing theories of personality when psychometrically analyzed; though, they recognized that EI has potential and deserves further attention (Schaie, 2001).

Regardless of the controversy, the applications for EI seem defendable in two key fields: childhood development and industrial psychology. Coleman (2005) recognizes the tremendous impact events have on the forming brain, and thus provides examples of how more emotionally intelligent children are statistically more likely to outperform other children later in life, regardless of IQ. The individual abilities that comprise EI, whether a true form of intelligence or not, are equally applicable to organizational psychology (Hitt, Miller, & Colella, 2011)and developmental psychology (Coleman, 2005) for the same reasons: predicting life outcomes/job performance. In fact, a meta-analysis of studies supported that EI has considerable importance when paired with the big 5 personality assessment and IQ when predicting job performance, thus validating EI when applied to the labor market (O’Boyle, Humphrey, Pollack, Hawver, & Story, 2011). O’Boyle et al seem proper in including personality and IQ into the correlation, because as Locke (2005) states, leadership cannot exist void of true intelligence as well.

In conclusion, one could argue that the emotional intelligence theory may be controversial; however, the recognition of emotional skills in the workplace have merit, when used responsibly (Fineman, 2005). Coleman (2005) has an entire chapter relating EI to work performance, with much of the same repetition used in child rearing and marriage relationships. Emotional intelligence is a highly universal concept which may assist performance in any interpersonal situation.

References

Coleman, D. (2005). Emotional Intelligence. New York: Random House.

Conte, J. M., & Landy, F. J. (2019). Work In The 21st Century. Hoboken: Wiley.

Fineman, S. (2005). Appreciating emotion at work: paradigm tensions. International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion, 1(1), 4-19.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intellegences. New York: Basic Books.

Hitt, M. A., Miller, C. C., & Colella, A. (2011). Organizational Behavior. Hoboken: Wiley.

Locke, E. A. (2005). Why emotional intelligence is an invalid concept. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26, 425–431.

O’Boyle, E. H., Humphrey, R. H., Pollack, J. M., Hawver, T. H., & Story, P. A. (2011). The relation between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32, 788–818.

Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 185-211.

Schaie, K. W. (2001, September). Emotional intelligence: psychometric status and developmental characteristics–comment on Roberts, Zeidner, and Matthews (2001). Emotion, 1(3), 243-248.

 

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The Truth About Burnout: A Critique

Burnout is defined by Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter in The Truth About Burnout (1997) as a “gradual process of loss during which the mismatch between the needs of the person and the demands of the job grows ever greater” and is characterized by three dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism, and ineffectiveness. The six sources of burnout are work overload, lack of control, insufficient reward, unfairness, breakdown of community, and value conflict (Maslach & Leiter, 1997). Maslach and Leiter (1997) go on to say the blame for burnout has traditionally been placed on the individual, when it is more likely a symptom of the organization’s ability to mitigate the six sources. Lastly, The Truth About Burnout (Maslach & Leiter, 1997) places burnout as the opposite of engagement.

The book does well at creating a framework of sources and dimensions of burnout, from which a manager, worker, or consultant can use simply to combat against burnout; however, there are many nuances neglected. Firstly, the authors pose burnout in the person-in-environment model, yet individual personality and cognitive differences are hardly discussed in the book. The authors expanded on individual traits in a later paper, stating that burnout was more likely for those “who have a less hardy personality, who have a more external locus of control, and who score as [emotionally unstable] on the Five-Factor Model of personality” (Maslach & Leiter, 2007). Multiple studies since have supported that those with more emotional intelligence fair better against burnout, including health professionals (Galdona, Urdaneta, Aldaz, & Etxeberria, 2012) and educators (Feroz & Parveen, 2012). There are several Dutch studies documenting cognitive performance in burnout patients over 1.5 (Oosterholt, Maes, Van der Linden, Verbraak, & Kompier, 2016) to 2 years (van Dam, Keijsers, Eling, & Becker, 2012) showing that cognitive function post-burnout does not return to control levels, with out without clinical intervention. However, resilience to burnout as a function of general intelligence does not yet appear to be studied.

Maslach and Leiter (1997) seem to generalize the corporate and industrial situation in which people experience burnout. They do little differentiate between labor-intensive jobs and desk jobs. One could question the validity of such a simplification; however, multiple studies support the notion that there is little variance in how blue-collar and white-collar workers experience burnout (Toppinen-Tanner, Kalimo, & Mutanen, 2002), the only noticeable difference may be levels of cynicism and depersonalization (Salanova, et al., 2005).

Lastly, Maslach and Leiter (1997) portray engagement and burnout as opposing ends of a spectrum. Their perspective appears to have remained static over the years (Maslach & Leiter, 2007) and is peer supported (Gonzalez-Roma, Schaufeli, Bakker, & Lloret, 2006). Conversely, more recent studies have argued that “apathetic” and “engaged-exhausted” groups defy this logic and that “engagement might not be the purely desirable form of motivation as which it is sometimes portrayed (Moeller, Ivcevic, White, Menges, & Brackett, 2018).

In short, The Truth About Burnout (1997) illustrates a useful framework, that has held up well overtime; yet, further research into the individual’s roll in burnout is likely necessary to make the theory more comprehensive.

 

References

Feroz, I., & Parveen, A. (2012, July 24). Emotional intelligence and burnout among high school teachers. International Journal of Psychology, 47(Sup 1), pp. 293-340.

Galdona, N., Urdaneta, E., Aldaz, E., & Etxeberria, I. (2012, November). EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AND BURNOUT IN HEALTH PROFESSIONALS N. Galdona, E. Urdaneta,. Gerontologist, pp. 485-485.

Gonzalez-Roma, V., Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Lloret, S. (2006). Burnout and work engagement: independent factors or opposite poles? Journal of Vocational Behavior, 68(1), 165-174.

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. (2007). Burnout. In Encyclopedia of Stress (pp. 358-362). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (1997). The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Moeller, J., Ivcevic, Z., White, A. E., Menges, J. I., & Brackett, M. A. (2018). Highly engaged but burned out: intra-individual profiles in the US workforce. Career Development International, 23(1), 86-105.

Oosterholt, B. G., Maes, J. H., Van der Linden, D., Verbraak, M. J., & Kompier, M. A. (2016). Getting better, but not well: A 1.5 year follow-up of cognitiveperformance and cortisol levels in clinical and non-Clinical burnout. Biological Psychology, 117, 89-99.

Salanova, M., Llorens, S., Garcia-Renedo, M., Burriel, R., Breso, E., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2005, October). TOWARDS A FOUR-DIMENSIONAL MODEL OF BURNOUT: A MULTIGROUP FACTOR-ANALYTIC STUDY INCLUDING DEPERSONALIZATION AND CYNICISM. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 65(5), 807-819.

Toppinen-Tanner, S., Kalimo, R., & Mutanen, P. (2002). The process of burnout in white-collar and blue-collar jobs: eight-year prospective study of exhaustion. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23, 555-570.

van Dam, A., Keijsers, G. P., Eling, P. A., & Becker, E. S. (2012, October-December). Impaired cognitive performance and responsiveness to reward in burnout patients: Two years later. Work & Stress, 26(4), 333-346.

 

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Mindfulness: East vs West

Ellen Langer’s definition of mindfulness is a state of being where one can create new mental categories, take in new information, and be aware of multiple perspectives (2014), resulting in the ability to truly notice things. This state is the opposite of mindlessness, where one acts in an automatic manor, entrapped by rigid categories, and only has a single perspective in mind (Langer, 2014). Langer’s definition of mindfulness has considerable overlap, and some contrast, with theories in eastern medicine and religion that are similarly referred to as mindfulness.

The Buddhist notion of mindfulness, described as “not wobbling”, is based on the present moment and current perception of an object/event, ensuring that focus is purely on the object/event, void of any associations (Weick, 2015). To simplify this abstraction, Weick (2015) offers the following definition: “Eastern mindfulness means having the ability to hang on to current objects, to remember them, and not to lose sight of them through distraction, wandering attention, associative thinking, explaining away, or rejection” (p. 86). In essence, Buddhist mindfulness is associated with conceptualizing in clarity immediately, being present, while Langer’s mindfulness is a complimentary practice, focused on refining mental concepts already constructed (Weick, 2015).

A convergence of the Buddhist and Langer applications of mindfulness may be found in the use of vipassana meditation (a Buddhist practice) in western medicine. In general, the practice of mindful meditation has the objective of cognizance of the mind’s endless desire to wander (Graziani, 2013). Meta-analysis of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR), similar to vipassana meditation, has shown large-scale benefits to individuals for coping physical and psychological disorders (Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004). Granted, this is one form of meditation that seems to compliment eastern mindfulness; Langer was quick to point out that variants in eastern practices may make it difficult to make clean parallels, and she prefers to build her definition on eastern scientific practices (Langer, 2014).

Studies have been performed on the applications of both in the workplace, instituted individually or in tandem, and the results seem to lean toward the western framework being more beneficial to the workplace. A study using Langer’s mindfulness in the workplace found a positive correlation between mindfulness practices and job performance (Dane & Brummel, 2013). Another study used both methodologies and found significant improvements in worker psychological distress, fatigue, and perceived stress; however, they noted using facilitator’s demonstrations on using mindfulness in workplace situations strategically, seemingly in line with Langer’s concepts, were “the most important aspects of the class” (Huang, Li, Huang, & Tang, 2015).

While convergence of western and eastern philosophies exists in literature and recent studies, the notion of capitalistic culture and the workplace as we know it are the products of western thought. Thus, it makes logical sense that Langer’s application may be better suited towards work applications, void of religious dogma and mysticism. One may view Langer’s mindfulness as a scientific proof, and western application, of the centuries-old eastern practices.

 

References

Dane, E., & Brummel, B. J. (2013). Examining workplace mindfulness and its relations to job performance and turnover intention. Human Relations, 67(1), 105-128.

Graziani, G. (2013). Chapter 11 – Two Unexpected Guests. In A. Molino, R. Carnevali, & A. Giannandrea, Crossroads in Psychoanalysis, Buddhism, and Mindfulness : The Word and the Breath (pp. 131-176). Jason Aronson, INC.

Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, 35-43.

Huang, S., Li, R., Huang, F., & Tang, F. (2015). The Potential for Mindfulness-Based Intervention in Workplace Mental Health Promotion: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS ONE, 10(9), 1-15.

Langer, E. J. (2014). Mindfulness, 25th Anniversary Edition. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press.

Weick, K. E. (2015). Organizing for Mindfulness: Eastern Wisdom and Western Knowledge. In K. E. Weick, Making Sense of the Organization, Volume 2 : The Impermanent Organization (pp. 85-105). John Wiley & Sons.

 

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COVID Log #4 – Day 34 (Week5)

It has been said that, in moments of historical significance, one should frequently notate their thoughts and observations. Herein this blog series, I will state my thoughts on what is happening as I experience, potentially adding in some helpful information in relation to my studies/research at Harvard. If you or someone you know is teleworking, please feel free to contribute to my research project: http://irsurveys.stjohns.edu/S11/WorkingRemotely20/

There is little to report on the last week. It came and left in a blur.

Perhaps the most reflective, emotional change is a newly formed sense of frustration that I harbor. Not for the lack of control in an unforgiving universe, with infinite test, of which this is just one of. Rather, I am surprised that a greater unity in the fellowship of mankind has not yet formed.

In numbers, the story is plain and clear, these are tremendous times:

Sept 11, 2001: 2,605 U.S. citizen fatalities, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan Conflict): 2,353 U.S. fatalities, April 17th, 2020: 4,591 U.S. resident fatalities.

Still, countries point fingers, and our nation is divided on the seriousness of this disease and the weight between economic impact vs public safety. Following 9/11, it felt as if all Americans were unified toward a common enemy; today, a partisan debate ensues over a far more deadly foe.

As a privileged American, with various revenue streams which still provide for me, I look on with relatively little discomfort. A handful of local deaths hardly seem visceral, a perspective likely different from the grave diggers on Hart Island, NY, burying dozens of bodies a day. With little tangible, first-hand evidence of this serious disease, I suppose I can try to understand the mindset of Americans who are marching on state capitols, arguing that life return to normal.

However, I fear this petulant outburst from largely misinformed Americans will lead to an even greater situation. Perhaps when the conservative, southern municipalities act against the wisdom of genuine scientific authorities, they will face the reality of this pandemic head on. The cost of human lives that will result is incomprehensible.

Perhaps a positive crescendo, after this abnormality subsides, will be change in generational perspectives. Just as my grandparents, the Greatest Generation, grew up among global conflicts, soaring economic growth (and resulting inequalities), social discord, and rapid changes in technology, current generations may lay claim to similar experiences. It is also safe to say a neo-babyboom is in order, as a result of both months of cohabitation and the social reemergence soon after! Our society will grow, we will preserve, we will progress.

The months, and likely years ahead, are uncharted territory for reason human memory. But what an opportunity it is to live in such a pivotal time for our civilization.

“Twirling round with this familiar parable
Spinning, weaving round each new experience
Recognize this as a holy gift and celebrate this chance to be alive and breathing
The chance to be alive and breathing

This body holding me reminds me of my own mortality
Embrace this moment, remember
We are eternal, all this pain is an illusion”

-Tool, “Parabola”

 

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COVID Log #3 – Day 27 (Weeks 3 and 4)

It has been said that, in moments of historical significance, one should frequently notate their thoughts and observations. Herein this blog series, I will state my thoughts on what is happening as I experience, potentially adding in some helpful information in relation to my studies/research at Harvard. If you or someone you know is teleworking, please feel free to contribute to my research project: http://irsurveys.stjohns.edu/S11/WorkingRemotely20/

The “peak” of cases/deaths locally is only a few days off. Very little has changed as weeks and days blur into one stream of time passing. It has become difficult to remember many details, as days unfold in parody of the previous one. The city is nearly a ghost town; as the wind blows you can hear metal shop signs creaking and it is rather easy to cross through otherwise busy intersections as they are now devoid of traffic. My light stroll to the Potomac last night to catch some air could have been the set of an M. Night Shyamalan film.

A week ago, Hannah and I drove into DC and down the parkway to Mount Vernon just to safely see sunshine and get beyond our 10-block environment. While DC was baron beyond belief (I have never been able to see all the way down Constitution Ave and count the number of moving cars on one hand), it was warm and sunny and thus the trails were hoarded with hundred of people. Unfortunately, it did not appear “safe” distancing practices were in place. Park entrances and gates were closed with caution tape or chains, yet people parked their cars in front of the gates and persisted anyway. The US Park Police seemed to respond by bringing the cavalry in, literally, as we saw them transporting a horse to patrol along the Potomac.

At this point it is hard to report much that is new. Effective face masks are hard to come by, and largely only protect others. That said, we have used our most fashionable winter scarves to get by when walking around town. Today is Easter, and usually a dinner with my parents would be the norm, yet in this situation it is not even possible to give your parents a hug. The whole pandemic still seems surreal; like a strange dream or hallucination that I am going to snap out of soon. I am privileged enough to still have a job/home/etc, for which I am thankful. I have been doing may best to be a patron and donor to local small businesses to pay their furloughed workers.

The devil is in the details, so for this week I will use a modified version of a viral post of bullet points below:

  • Gas price is $1.68 (regular, premium for my Audi is around $2.30)
  • All physical schools are closed in the US (Liberty University tried to open, supposedly through divine guidance, only to close do to a COVID outbreak on-campus)
  • Mandatory work from home implemented for non-essential workers (mostly, the orders are loosely worded and some firms are being less flexible with employees, something I believe will cause huge turnover rates once the market returns)
  • Self-distancing measures on the rise (more people will stay out of your 6′ bubble, people will cross the street if they see someone on the sidewalk before them)
  • Tape is on the floors at grocery stores and others to help distance shoppers (6ft) from each other.
  • Limited number of people inside stores, therefore, lineups outside the store doors. (Standing inline for 40-mins at Trader Joe’s was made better by the staff dancing and playing uplifting pop music.)
  • Non-essential stores and businesses mandated closed. (In a historic/tourist town of mostly independently owned boutiques this is VERY apparent.)
  • Parks, trails, entire cities locked up. (Though observance of this has been iffy, as described above)
  • Entire sports seasons are cancelled. (And the new XFL team/league locally may not recover)
  • Concerts, tours, festivals, entertainment events are all cancelled. (Artists are doing free and paid live shows from their couches!)
  • Weddings, family celebrations, holiday gatherings all cancelled.
  • No masses allowed, churches are closed. (This has been a point of contention in the south. I met a gas station attendant who thinks this is all because the governor hates the church…)
  • No gatherings of 50 or more, then 20 or more, now 10 or more. (Now it is basically just the people in your household you may be close with.)
  • Don’t socialize (physically) with anyone outside of your home.
  • Children’s outdoor play parks are closed. (We have seen parents taking kids to empty parking lots and playing games with them to get the energy out.)
  • There is a shortage of masks, gowns, gloves for our front-line workers. (Some folks, my mother included, are sowing and donating masks, though these homemade masks are largely ineffective at disease prevention.)
  • There is a shortage of ventilators for the critically ill in some areas. (Auto manufacturers have begun producing some, people have designed 3D printable parts to turn other machines into viable ventilators.)
  • Panic buying set in a while ago and shelves are bare of toilet paper, disinfecting supplies, paper towel, laundry soap, and hand sanitizer. (Some local restaurants are selling $1 rolls with a meal purchase, which is helpful.)
  • Manufacturers, distilleries and other businesses have switched their operations to help make visors, masks, hand sanitizer and PPE.
  • The government has closed the border to all non-essential travel.
  • Fines are established for breaking the rules. (In Maryland, you can get jail time and fines. In Virginia, State Police have already given warning to people traveling unnecessarily.)
  • Stadiums and recreation facilities are modified to field hospitals for the overflow of Covid-19 patients. (The Redskin’s stadium has been set-up as such)
  • Press conferences are delivered daily from the President. Daily updates on new cases, recoveries, and deaths. (Many folks do not watch anymore and wait to read the statements of health experts. Trump’s base seems at odds with some health experts and feel the harm of the economy outweighs that of the disease.)
  • Barely anyone on the roads. (I walked 5 blocks in the middle of the street yesterday afternoon, not a single person or moving car in sight.)
  • People wearing masks and gloves outside. (I can now say I have seen people running while wearing surgical masks. Observance of wearing masks is about 50% in our town it seems.)
  • Essential service workers are terrified to go to work. Medical field workers are afraid to go home to their families.
  • Those that are ill may not have visitors, some have to say last goodbyes over the phone. (This is the image people should have in their mind to understand the gravity of the situation.)
  • The actual number of those unemployed is unknown, though likely MUCH higher than the 2008 recession. (Some investors and large banks are not terribly concerned because they believe the economy will “turn back on” as soon as there is a vaccine.)
  • Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the Democratic primary, which is interesting considering the resent implementation of social democratic policies in the wake of this disaster.
  • Wisconsin had a presidential primary vote, despite the COVID pandemic, but there was also race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The whole situation has gotten all levels of the court involved, including the US Supreme Court. This debacle may be a foreshadow to the Presidential Elections should this situation continue.
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COVID Log #2 – Day 11 (Week 2)

It has been said that, in moments of historical significance, one should frequently notate their thoughts and observations. Herein this blog series, I will state my thoughts on what is happening as I experience, potentially adding in some helpful information in relation to my studies/research at Harvard.

The second week of my personal “social distancing” is now coming to a close, and so I am sharing my experience of semi-isolation.

March 22nd: A seemingly normal Sunday morning arrived, we awoke and ordered a take-out brunch special: hush-puppies, two deluxe breakfast sandwiches, a quart of orange juice, and a bottle of champagne for $30! We arrived to the restaurant turned take out stand and our order was not ready yet. The company had already laid-off half of it’s employees and we felt happy to support the remainder while we could. Forced to wait at least 6-feet away from anyway and to ensure no more than 9 people were in the establishment, we went for a walk, with a $1 beer poured into a translucent to-go cup and served with a straw. The had risen beautifully over the Potomac, though the number of people outside was akin to a heavy snow-day. Cherry blossoms were in full-bloom, however the best we could do is look across the water and see some of the specimens on our side of the river. We returned home, brunch in tow, popped our cork and had full bellies and joyous spirits.

This elevated mood came to a halt as we approached the grocery store for a few light supplies. As we walked up, a somber line stretched around the parking garage. People standing with ample distance between parties, awaiting an opportunity to enter the store. A quiet, morose sense overcame us. The bottle of sparkling wine seemed rather indulgent at this moment. A sign read of rations at the entrance while a cleaning detail made sure to sanitize all of the returning carts. Melancholy gave way to anger as we watched MANY people attempt to walk directly into the store, seemingly unaware of the queue of faces painted against the wall and team of staff posted at the door. Several of the non-observant had air-pods in-ear and talked loudly about “what’s the big deal,” seemingly upset when interrupted by staff that they must go to the back of the line. In one of the most affluent, well-educated communities in our country I did not anticipate such ignorance from people walking from their million dollar row-houses or stepping our of German vehicles with Ivy League stickers. That is when it hit me: America is blind to the reality of the situation and is seemingly at-odds culturally with personal sacrifice. Weeks old videos of Italians warning of their dead family members laying in their homes because there are no resources to remove or cremate them could not be further from the American psyche. We have a long road ahead. 

March 24th: Awaiting a mandatory “stay-in-place” order from our governor, I decided to mobilize my staff and self to get as much site investigation work done as possible. My coworker and I headed to Roanoke, VA to take measurements for a proposed roadway there. On our way, we stopped at a gas station (gas was incredibly cheap) and I went in to use the restroom. The two employees spoke of how the governor hated churches because gatherings of 10+ people are not allowed. In Roanoke, many people were waling about and driving. It became apparent in our venture down south that the rural communities did not seem to be heading the warnings of the government.

March 25th-27th: Our governor has mandated that all non-essential businesses be closed for 30 days and that restaurants may only serve take-away/delivery meals. To be honest, the situation still seems surreal. Time has begun passing more quickly, days are indistinguishable. We have continued to purchase many meals from local restaurants while we can. Yesterday I found out one of our favorite restaurant groups has over 200 employees furloughed, only 3 remain working to over 3 stores. As I write this, the US has surpassed any other country for number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, still I see people in the park playing soccer, driving to work, etc. Harrowing days and a test of American hubris are ahead. 

Turning lemons into lemonade, I have worked with Dr. Carmine Gibaldi to devise a survey to track global productivity and opinions on virtually working (telework):

Click HERE to take our Virtual Working Survey

I hope the information gathered will be helpful in a post-Covid19 world.

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COVID Log #1 – Day 4 (Week 1)

It has been said that, in moments of historical significance, one should frequently notate their thoughts and observations. Herein this blog series, I will state my thoughts on what is happening as I experience, potentially adding in some helpful information in relation to my studies/research at Harvard. That said, let me get you up to speed with the last few weeks!

March 3rd: With the market slowly declining in late February, I arrived back in America after a brief trip to Ireland with little to no concern of COVID-19 or a financial crisis. At the time, uncertainty about the growth of COVID-19 and an oil trade dispute were the likely cause of market volatility. Disruption was hardly in the American zeitgeist.

March 9th: After a normal weekend, our small firm’s management meeting went on with nothing abnormal to report. Our IT vendor was to come in on Thursday to introduce our account team, and so the week was set to go.

March 12th: The Dow Jones is at levels as low as May of 2017, signaling the end of a bear market. Employees begin asking if we have a plan, what is happening, etc. Seemingly out of nowhere, our introductions with our IT firm has become a springboard for mobilizing our entire workforce within 4 days. Some employees expressed concern working in public, many concerned their elderly parents could be seriously harmed. Our own government began to change their tone from “this is nothing to be concerned about” to “this is about to get worse.” Universities, including Harvard, immediately shifted toward virtual learning and forced their students off campus with nearly zero notice. The US put a travel ban on people entering the US from Europe, I was days shy from living in Copenhagen for 3o days or more!

March 13th-16th: Our executive and admin team devise a plan based on our meetings with IT, other firms’ actions, and our own experiences both professionally and academically. Friday our CEO sends a message ensuring our staff a plan is being made and on Monday we institute mandatory training and equipment sign-out for all employees. Employees were mobilized and given specific, rotating time-frame for when they may access our physical servers via VPNs. Our new IT folks (trial by fire you may say) helped with on-site support of each employee to test equipment. Seemingly, employees’ fears faded while we all made sure to laugh and make the best of “the great migration” towards teleworking and self-isolation. Did we know if come March 17th our entire staff would be able to work remotely and effectively? No. But we had a plan based on our best information and proceeded as best we could.

March 17th: The sun rose, as did I with my cup of coffee in hand in my home office, awaiting a server or network failure and a complete halt of productivity…. yet alas… nothing to report. The rotational schedule and use of different software worked well! Our small business may remain operational! On the 17th, our president suggested people not to eat from restaurants or bars; I ordered lunch at my local favorite shop and was the only person to be eating there. My fiancé and I walked down the city streets that night, nearly every bar was completely empty and the sidewalks bare. It was then that I realized, this is not a temporary situation, this will have economic effects on millions of Americans.

March18th-20th: Our workforce is humming along, though some are showing beginning signs of stir-crazy. Our household has tried to order as many meals as possible from our favorite local restaurants (for take out, you may not dine-in anywhere anymore), hoping to keep them afloat a little longer. Our frozen food reserves will be there in a week, should the situation become more drastic. Gatherings of more than 9 people are prohibited. Many local shops have shut down and already laid off as much as half of their workforce. Unemployment websites are crashing and the Dow Jones now sits 30% lower than it was last month. Those in the professional services space are fortunate for now, as they may be able to telework. Thus, the first 100% remote work week concludes.

As a paid Faculty Aide/Researcher for Harvard, my sponsoring professor and I are trying to find the best way to gather information on the greatest test of long-term remote work in history. For more info, see here: http://blogs.harvard.edu/ryanmccreedy/covid-19-virtual-work-study/

 

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