A year of disruptions to work has contributed to mass burnout.
- Junior members of the workforce, including Generation Z, are facing digital burnout.
- 41 percent of workers globally are thinking about handing in their notice, according to a new Microsoft survey.
- A hybrid blend of in-person and remote work could help maintain a sense of balance – but bosses need to do more.
More than half of 18 to 25 year-olds in the workforce are considering quitting their job. And they're not the only ones.
In a report called The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?, Microsoft found that as well as 54% of Generation Z workers, 41% of the entire global workforce could be considering handing in their resignation.
Similarly, a UK and Ireland survey found that 38% of employees were planning to leave their jobs in the next six months to a year, while a US survey reported that 42% of employees would quit if their company didn't offer remote working options long term.
New work trends
Based on surveys with over 30,000 workers in 31 countries, the Microsoft report – which is the latest in the company's annual Work Trend Index series – pulled in data from applications including Teams, Outlook and Office 365, to gauge productivity and activity levels. It highlighted seven major trends, which show the world of work has been profoundly reshaped by the pandemic:
- Flexible work is here to stay
- Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call
- High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce
- Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energized
- Shrinking networks are endangering innovation
- Authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing
- Talent is everywhere in a hybrid world
"Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says 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. All this needs to be done with flexibility in, when, where and how people work."
Organizations have become more siloed
While the report highlights the opportunities created by increased flexible and remote working patterns, it warns that some people are experiencing digital exhaustion and that remote working could foster siloed thinking. With the shift to remote working, much of the spontaneous sharing of ideas that can take place within a workplace was lost. In its place are scheduled calls, regular catch-ups and virtual hangouts. The loss of in-person interaction means individual team members are more likely to only interact with their closest coworkers.
"At the onset of the pandemic, our analysis shows interactions with our close networks at work increased while interactions with our distant network diminished," the report says. "This suggests that as we shifted into lockdown, we clung to our immediate teams for support and let our broader network fall to the wayside. Simply put, companies became more siloed than they were pre-pandemic."
Burnout or drop out
One of the other consequences of the shift to remote and the reliance on tech-based communications has been the phenomenon of digital burnout. And for those who have most recently joined the workforce, this has been a significant challenge.
The excitement of joining a new employer, maybe even securing a job for the first time, usually comes with meeting lots of new people, becoming familiar with a new environment and adapting to new situations. But for many, the pandemic turned that into a daily routine of working from home while isolated from co-workers.
"Our findings have shown that for Gen Z and people just starting in their careers, this has been a very disruptive time," says 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."
But it is perhaps the data around quitting that is one of the starkest indications that change is now the new normal. Being able to work remotely has opened up new possibilities for many workers, the report found. If you no longer need to be physically present in an office, your employer could, theoretically, be located anywhere. Perhaps that's why the research found that "41% of employees are considering leaving their current employer this year".
In addition to that, 46% of the people surveyed for the Microsoft report said they might relocate their home because of the flexibility of remote working.
A hybrid future
In looking for ways to navigate their way through all this change, employers should hold fast to one word, the report says – hybrid. An inflexible, location-centred approach to work is likely to encourage those 41% of people to leave and find somewhere more to their tastes. Those who are thinking of going to live somewhere else, while maintaining their current job, might also find themselves thinking of quitting if their plans are scuppered.
But remote working is not a panacea for all workforce ills. "We can no longer rely solely on offices to collaborate, connect, and build social capital. But physical space will still be important," the report says. "We're social animals and we want to get together, bounce ideas off one another, and experience the energy of in-person events. Moving forward, office space needs to bridge the physical and digital worlds to meet the unique needs of every team – and even specific roles."
Bosses must meet challenges head on
Although the majority of business leaders have indicated they will incorporate elements of the hybrid working model, the report also found many are out of touch with workforce concerns more widely.
For, while many workers say they are struggling (Gen Z – 60%; new starters – 64%), and 54% of the general workforce feels overworked, business leaders are having a much better experience. Some 61% said they were 'thriving', which is in stark contrast to employees who are further down the chain of command.
Jared Spataro, corporate vice president at Microsoft 365, writes in the report: "Those impromptu encounters at the office help keep leaders honest. With remote work, there are fewer chances to ask employees, 'Hey, how are you?' and then pick up on important cues as they respond. But the data is clear: our people are struggling. And we need to find new ways to help them."
Science has not yet reached a consensus on the nature of consciousness.
It's that intimate sense of personal awareness we carry around with us, and the accompanying feeling of ownership and control over our thoughts, emotions and memories.
Beliefs about consciousness can be roughly divided into two camps. There are those who believe consciousness is like a ghost in the machinery of our brains, meriting special attention and study in its own right. And there are those, like us, who challenge this, pointing out that what we call consciousness is just another output generated backstage by our efficient neural machinery.
Over the past 30 years, neuroscientific research has been gradually moving away from the first camp. Using research from cognitive neuropsychology and hypnosis, our recent paper argues in favour of the latter position, even though this seems to undermine the compelling sense of authorship we have over our consciousness.
And we argue this isn't simply a topic of mere academic interest. Giving up on the ghost of consciousness to focus scientific endeavour on the machinery of our brains could be an essential step we need to take to better understand the human mind.
Is consciousness special?
Our experience of consciousness places us firmly in the driver's seat, with a sense that we're in control of our psychological world. But seen from an objective perspective, it's not at all clear that this is how consciousness functions, and there's still much debate about the fundamental nature of consciousness itself.
One reason for this is that many of us, including scientists, have adopted a dualist position on the nature of consciousness. Dualism is a philosophical view that draws a distinction between the mind and the body. Even though consciousness is generated by the brain – a part of the body – dualism claims that the mind is distinct from our physical features, and that consciousness cannot be understood through the study of the physical brain alone.
MIT's Alex Byrne explains the philosophical underpinnings of the dualist position.
It's easy to see why we believe this to be the case. While every other process in the human body ticks and pulses away without our oversight, there is something uniquely transcendental about our experience of consciousness. It's no surprise that we've treated consciousness as something special, distinct from the automatic systems that keep us breathing and digesting.
But a growing body of evidence from the field of cognitive neuroscience – which studies the biological processes underpinning cognition – challenges this view. Such studies draw attention to the fact that many psychological functions are generated and carried out entirely outside of our subjective awareness, by a range of fast, efficient non-conscious brain systems.
Consider, for example, how effortlessly we regain consciousness each morning after losing it the night before, or how, with no deliberate effort, we instantly recognise and understand shapes, colours, patterns and faces we encounter.
Consider that we don't actually experience how our perceptions are created, how our thoughts and sentences are produced, how we recall our memories or how we control our muscles to walk and our tongues to talk. Simply put, we don't generate or control our thoughts, feelings or actions – we just seem to become aware of them.
The way we simply become aware of thoughts, feelings and the world around us suggests that our consciousness is generated and controlled backstage, by brain systems that we remain unaware of.
Our recent paper argues that consciousness involves no separate independent psychological process distinct from the brain itself, just as there's no additional function to digestion that exists separately from the physical workings of the gut.
While it's clear that both the experience and content of consciousness are real, we argue that, from a science explanation, they are epiphenomenal: secondary phenomena based on the machinations of the physical brain itself. In other words, our subjective experience of consciousness is real, but the functions of control and ownership we attribute to that experience are not.
Future study of the brain
Our position is neither obvious nor intuitive. But we contend that continuing to place consciousness in the driver's seat, above and beyond the physical workings of the brain, and attributing cognitive functions to it, risks confusion and delaying a better understanding of human psychology and behaviour.
To better align psychology with the rest of the natural sciences, and to be consistent with how we understand and study processes like digestion and respiration, we favour a perspective change. We should redirect our efforts to studying the non-conscious brain, and not the functions previously attributed to consciousness.
This doesn't of course exclude psychological investigation into the nature, origins and distribution of the belief in consciousness. But it does mean refocusing academic efforts on what happens beneath our awareness – where we argue the real neuro-psychological processes take place.
Our proposal feels personally and emotionally unsatisfying, but we believe it provides a future framework for the investigation of the human mind – one that looks at the brain's physical machinery rather than the ghost that we've traditionally called consciousness.
Being an intellectual is not really how it is depicted in popular culture.
- When you picture an intellectual, who do you see? Professor Zena Hitz says that somewhere along the way, the idea of what an intellectual is and does became distorted.
- "The real thing is something more extraordinary but also more available to us," Hitz adds, differentiating between an intellectual life constantly in pursuit of something else, and one that enjoys ordinary activities like reading and thinking.
- An example is young Albert Einstein, who spoke highly of his time working in a patent office and hatching "beautiful ideas" long before becoming a famous physicist.
Participants with high levels of narcissism showed high levels of aggression, spreading gossip, bullying others, and more.
Narcissism is defined as “entitled self-importance." The term narcissism comes from the mythical Greek character Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image reflected in still water. Aggression is defined as any behavior intended to harm another person who does not want to be harmed, whereas violence is defined as aggression that involves extreme physical harm such as injury or death.
Our review found that individuals high in narcissism are especially aggressive when provoked, but are also aggressive when they aren't provoked. Study participants with high levels of narcissism showed high levels of physical aggression, verbal aggression, spreading gossip, bullying others and even displacing aggression against innocent bystanders. They attacked in both a hotheaded and coldblooded manner. Narcissism was related to aggression in males and females of all ages from both Western and Eastern countries.
People who think they are superior seem to have no qualms about attacking others whom they regard as inferior.
Why it matters
Research shows everyone has some level of narcissism, but some people have higher levels than others. The higher the level of narcissism, the higher the level of aggression.
Unfortunately, narcissism is on the rise, and social media might be a contributing factor. Recent research found people who posted large numbers of selfies on social media developed a 25% rise in narcissistic traits over a four-month period. A 2019 survey by the smartphone company Honor found that 85% of people are taking more pictures of themselves than ever before. In recent years, social media has largely evolved from keeping in touch with others to flaunting for attention.
What other research is being done
One very important line of work investigates how people become narcissistic in the first place. For example, one study found that when parents overvalue, overestimate and overpraise their child's qualities, their child tends to become more narcissistic over time. Such parents think their child is more special and entitled than other children. This study also found that if parents want their child to have healthy self-esteem instead of unhealthy narcissism, they should give unconditional warmth and love to their child.
Our review looked at the link between narcissism and aggression at the individual level. But the link also exists at the group level. Research has found that “collective narcissism" – or “my group is superior to your group" – is related to intergroup aggression, especially when one's in-group (“us") is threatened by an out-group (“them").
How we do our work
Our study, called a meta-analytic review, combined data from multiple studies investigating the same topic to develop a conclusion that is statistically stronger because of the increased number of participants. A meta-analytic review can reveal patterns that aren't obvious in any one study. It is like looking at the entire forest rather than at the individual trees.
Scientists successfully trained people to use robotic extra thumbs, suggesting body augmentation could revolutionize future humans.
- Researchers trained people to use a robotic extra thumb in daily situations.
- Brain scan data suggest the brain's quick adaptability to new limbs.
- The scientists think body augmentation could transform human abilities.
Would you be willing to attach artificial limbs to enhance your body? A research team that asked people to use robotic extra thumbs found that their brains quickly adapted to body augmentation. Humans of the future are likely to utilize body parts with improvements, the scientists propose.
The robotic appendage, dubbed Third Thumb, was developed by designer Dani Clode and Professor Tamar Makin's neuroscience team at University College London. The researchers were looking to utilize prosthetics not only to restore lost functions but to extend the human body's abilities. Professor Tamar Makin's group specifically focused on how the brain handled such an adaptation by observing 20 participants who used the thumb over the course of five days.
Hand writing with third thumbCredit: University College London
How does it work?
The subjects were trained in the device's operations using a combination of tasks like picking up various objects or holding wine glasses. They were also asked to take the thumbs home to apply the extra fingers in everyday situations. Overall, the participants wore the robotic limbs for two to six hours each day. The control group had ten people who were outfitted with static thumbs.
Professor Makin remarked that while body augmentation is a "growing field" that looks to expand people's physical abilities, it has not been clear how human brains would adapt to the new limbs. "By studying people using Dani's cleverly-designed Third Thumb, we sought to answer key questions around whether the human brain can support an extra body part, and how the technology might impact our brain," she elaborated.
Hand with third thumb holding various ballsCredit: University College London
Making the Third Thumb was accomplished via 3D-printing. The thumb can be customized and worn opposite a person's existing thumb, next to the pinky finger. The attachment is controlled by pressure sensors on the feet of the wearer, placed under the big toes. The toe sensors are connected to the robotic thumb through a wireless connection, allowing the user to control how the thumb moves with even the smallest pressure changes.
Participants quickly adapted
To operate the device, sensors were implanted in the shoes of the participantCredit: University College London.
The results of the research, published in Science Robotics, indicate that augmenting your body is a real possibility, especially with further advancements in technology. "Together, our findings demonstrate that motor augmentation can be readily achieved, with potential for flexible use, reduced cognitive reliance, and increased sense of embodiment," write the scientists.
The participants were able to learn how to operate the thumbs very quickly, while the training helped them gain full mastery and dexterity. The thumb users got so good at it, that they could even use the extra limbs while distracted or blindfolded.
Hand with third thumb holding wine glassesCredit: University College London
Designer Dani Clode said, "Our study shows that people can quickly learn to control an augmentation device and use it for their benefit, without overthinking. We saw that while using the Third Thumb, people changed their natural hand movements, and they also reported that the robotic thumb felt like part of their own body."
The study's first author, Paulina Kieliba, foresees some immediate applications. For instance, the extra thumbs could help a surgeon operate without an assistant. Or a factory worker could manage more on their own, with less help. The extra limbs could also help those with prosthetics to maximize the potential of their bodies, for example by accomplishing everything they need with just one hand.