Good news, please! | Fin24
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Good news, please!

Aug 11 2014 07:40
*Mandi Smallhorne
"Smallhorne!” The Boss’s heels click on the shiny floor as she marches out of her office. She’s wearing court shoes that are exact replicas of those my high school principal used to wear. “In my office – now!”

The women at their desks around me look away in embarrassment – except for Mandi the B*t*h, who says gleefully, “Hoo boy, sounds like you’ve effed up! Missus Mandi’s in a foul mood!”

A print-out of my latest article is lying on the Boss’s desk, covered in red ink.

“What the hell is this piece of rubbish?” Missus Mandi says in measured tones that make the revving even worse than if she’d yelled. “This is just about the most incoherent bit of writing I’ve ever seen from you. It is simply unacceptable. I cannot believe you turned in anything as poor as this.”

I stumble back to my desk. Everyone’s heard the blistering words. The Nice Girl scoots her chair sideways and whispers, “Never mind, Mandi, I’m sure it couldn’t have been as bad as she made it sound.”

“Thanks, Mandi,” I mutter.

The thing is, I don’t need the chorus of voices in my head to tell me when my work’s not coming together properly. Writing is not something you can do on auto-pilot… Well, it’s true you can do a certain kind of reporting, of the who-what-when-where-why-how nature, without paying full attention.

In fact, it was recently reported that certain media houses in the States intend to let IT programs take over the role of reporting on earnings and annual reports and the like. But they haven’t (yet) developed software that can interpret such stories, in human terms; the day when a software program can go out into the field and interview an impoverished woman farmer about her challenges and obstacles with empathy and understanding is still in the distant future, I hope.

But, like cooking, brain surgery and tracking the anomaly that means the books won’t balance, writing that requires some thought demands concentration, and that’s what I’ve been struggling to achieve in the last month.

First there was the steadily worsening crisis in Gaza. Then on July 17, Malaysian Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, carrying with it someone whose name I knew, people who worked in a field I knew well, all of them en route to the international conference on HIV/Aids in Australia. And the Maslin children with their grandfather. Every time I went online to search for info for something I was working on, more awful news would pop up in various feeds.

Then I heard the voice of little Taegrin Morris’s mother on radio, a day after he had been dragged to his death by hijackers, and my level of distractability went up a notch. I found myself gazing out the window, thinking about the terrible death tolls of recent times, and the deaths of children in particular (at least 10 000 children have died in the mess that is Syria).

Perhaps it’s because some of my friends have been posting pictures of their brand-new babies recently, but somehow the dreadful price that children pay when they’re in the cross-fire of war or crime was haunting me and making it necessary to whip myself out of the doldrums in order to work.

In the end, I put myself on a news fast, allowing one half-hour daily for news consumption and turning to old and loved books to wind my brain down so I could approach my laptop with enthusiasm and mental clarity once more. Then I filled the feeder outside my office window with bird-seed to have something positive to look at. And things started to improve.

Not long ago, I wrote about the productivity cost of being online. Now I found myself wondering about the cost of bad news on our brains and emotions and capabilities at work.

Because we’re even more bombarded with bad news than ever before. Once it was only the morning paper and the radio news bulletin; then it was TV news, in brilliant colour; then it was TV news channels 24/7; now it’s all that plus whatever’s coming down the pike in our newsfeeds, that reach out through the screens of our smartphones whenever and wherever we are to slap us about with some chilling story. But wait! There’s more! The TV news is now in HD!

Search as I may, I can’t find research specifically about bad news as a distractor and an impact on productivity. But we already know that employees’ negative mood influences their work and ultimately, the bottom line. So it makes sense that managers should give a bit of thought to counteracting the impact of what’s in their employees’ newsfeeds. I’m not sure how – perhaps a daily bulletin of good news?

Definitely exposing people to plants and a slice of nature on the job. And it has occurred to me that the Japanese habit of starting the day with company-wide calisthenics has something to be said for it: exercise triggers endorphins, after all.

Why not start the day with some biochemically-boosted happiness?

If building a positive workforce mood is something you’ve succeeded at, feel free to share!

- Fin24

*Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on twitter.

mandi smallhorne  |  good news


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