May 2011

This edition of Crackers (our occasional series that highlights valuable nuggets elsewhere on the blogosphere – see the full list) picks up two posts with a common source – a recent Mind survey on workplace stress. Back in 1991, American singer and pianist released an album called Old Songs for the New Depression: it seems in 2011, even the old songs have been forgotten but the depression affects the people more than the economy. A powerful workplace taboo, this very much a topic where openness can save not just the wellbeing of individuals but also the performance of organisations, which makes the powerfulness of the taboo all the more puzzling.

  • Failure to tackle workplace depression costing millions, as one in four workers suffer discriminationa posting from the Open University’s Social Matters blog, where Dick Skellington highlights the increasing incidence of both stress and depression in workplaces, and the lack of managerial insight or sympathy. 25% of us, it seems, are never asked how we are, as mental health issues are swept under a metaphorical carpet, where their financial costs are as hidden as their human ones. With presenteeism costing the UK economy £16bn a year, Dick emphasises that employers can help where they “engage more fully with staff suffering mental ill-health and to create a culture of openness in the workplace, and a culture of care which supports workers and does not stigmatise or abuse them.”
  • Workers keep quiet about stress over redundancy fears – the survey is also picked up at People Management by James Burkett, who points out thatWork colleagues are still seen as unsympathetic to mental health difficulties, with seven in ten saying that they would not expect any support from their boss if they mentioned their stress. Four in ten described stress as a ‘taboo’ topic at work, while 46 per cent said that taking time off for stress was typically seen as an excuse for something else.”

A free employers’ brief guide, issued by Mind and the Federation of Small Businesses, Taking care of Business, is available as a downloadable PDF file.

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A review of Source Code – and Director Duncan Jones’ previous film, Moon – for an HR-related blog could probably do one of two things: a) encourage you to go and see one, and possibly two, excellent films, or b) make a point about nepotism. As the son of David Bowie, that latter is an issue that Jones has no doubt been forced to address throughout his life. In an interview with Time Out in 2009, he acknowledged the theme but in words that made it clear that being the son of someone famous is not necessarily a free silver spoon:

Expectations are so much higher. You don’t have to measure up, you have to measure beyond…”

It’s to his credit that he doesn’t trade on the most immediately obvious advantage he might wield (and seemingly remains acutely conscious that others will choose to do so for him, whether he likes it or not), but it’s to his much greater credit that he’s now given us two exceptional films to enjoy. If you missed it, Moon  (now out on DVD) was a quirky sci-fi film set on the moon in an undated future, where LUNAR employee Sam Bell is nearing the end of his three year stint with only a talking robot for companionship. That doesn’t sound any more promising as a scenario for the audience than for the character, yet Jones produced something moving and affecting from the situation – and from a small budget that saw model-making replace the lavish CGI we’re accustomed to – that, like the follow-up, poses some interesting questions about what it means to be human.


The attrition rate, at just one business hopeful a week, is just another example of the differences between The Apprentice and real life, but still it trundles on, dragging its self-belief behind it in its black wheeled suitcase. We now have just the dozen disciples gathered at the table, but sadly the last supper is still many weeks ahead of us. And for something presented as a business spin on the reality tv model, reality remains as elusive as ever.


Although we read incessantly that social networks and anytime media are bringing sharing to the top of the agenda and people closer together, our experience doesn’t always chime in tune with the assertion. So it was interesting that three people here at ASK independently stumbled upon an article by Alexander Fliaster at People Management last week, and were interested enough to present each other printouts of it as ‘something I wondered if you’d seen’. (And yes, we do know we could email each other: I think we hit the print button and used some shoe leather as we were genuinely interested rather than wanting to pay it the digital passing glance of a ‘Like’ button or its ilk– an aspect of social media that Evgeny Morozov commented on in The Net Delusion, reviewed here recently.)

It probably also says a lot that we all recognised each other as people who would – as individuals – be particularly interested in the article, and in Fliaster’s comments. We’re not a project team, and there’s no pressing current project that is focused primarily on creativity: but we do have a culture that means we chat openly and widely, and understand what each other might be particularly interested in (or are curious about what a particular person’s reaction to something might be).

Our reaction to the article proved, in one way, part of its author’s point that:

The real engine of creativity and organisational success is to be found in internal networks of friendship and collaboration.”


We volunteered you to do a session for ALW so you can show people how to play guitar’, they said, sweetly. Mmmm: my turn to stand on my hindlegs and do the teaching bit. In the spirit of ‘can do’, I naturally said ‘Yes’ before my brain had an opportunity to think in any more depth. (I’ve also undergone the psychometric assessment experience as part of ALW, more of which in later posts, but I’ll be interested to see if a tendency to overthink things figures in the feedback.) Apart from a term as an Artist in Residence many years ago, teaching calligraphy to secondary school children, my teaching experience is pretty sketchy. I’ve trained people to use bespoke software – making sure I write them task-focused user guides that are heavily illustrated with screen grabs – but I usually have a pretty good idea what they will use the software for, and their daily context (not least as I’ve often been the man that wrote the specification for the programmers.) But something as free-form as ‘teach them to play guitar’ – that’s pretty open-ended …


Elaine Explains - The Dame of DoughAs an organisation that could hardly get away with believing that learning is something that stops when you leave school or university, ASK is always proud and happy to support Adult Learners Week (as we did last year) – and to have fun while we’re about it. Recognising that everyone is always interested in making lots of dough, Elaine valiantly stepped up to the mark this morning and led a group of us into the kitchen to make lots of it!

When we say ‘making dough’, we do of course mean it absolutely literally. We might watch it through interlaced fingers, but ASK Towers is not The Apprentice. We mean dough as in bread – in the sense of the staff of life, and we take the opportunity to inject a little yeast into the life of staff while we’re at it. (Is that too many dough puns, or am I off the hook?)


Well, well, something new on The Apprentice. Who would have thought it? This time around Lord Sugar isn’t hiring them; he’s going to be their business partner and invest £250,000 in a venture with them. (Which makes the series title a misnomer, surely, but since when was this series about giving a realistic education in any aspect of business?). Novelty and innovation were quickly restored to their usual levels as we met another 16 hopefuls – on second thought, make that boastfuls (these people don’t hope: they believe global success is their birthright) – and Lordalun duly sent them to flog fruit and veg. I, meanwhile, recalled an old joke about the difference between a barrow-boy and a daschund. (If you don’t know it, click here.) But the punchline doesn’t work when the only thing a bunch of dogs wears out is the viewers’ patience …


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