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There is a rule of thumb that says in any company, 20 percent of the employees will give you 80 percent of the top-notch work. Which means the other 80 percent of us are just a waste of company money and vending machine sandwiches.

So why do so few of us really excel at our jobs? Well, science says...

5
Our Brains Aren't Made for Multitasking

Are you at work? Stop and count how many windows you have open on your computer screen. Count each tab on your Web browser separately. You've probably got your email open, maybe an Office document, a chat window, Facebook, a Tower Defense flash game. This site. Maybe you're on the phone while you're looking at all that. And depending on what time of day it is, who knows where your blood alcohol count is hovering ...


Sober people do not look that happy while working.

It's all part of life in the modern world, right? Multitasking, we all like to think, comes as naturally as Irish-ing up our coffee on casual Mondays and Tuesdays. Science says you're wrong.

Reputable neuroscientists claim that, for the most part, multitasking is physically impossible. Instead, the brain is able to switch its focus between separate processes really fast. Multitaskers are not saving time by doing multiple tasks at once. They're just segmenting the workload and making it harder to concentrate on any one task enough to actually get it done correctly.


Things get even worse once he adds "drinking" to the queue.

In fact, researchers at Stanford University have found that the more we multitask, the worse we are at it. When tested on memory, ability to switch tasks and ability to focus exclusively on one task, heavy multitaskers (that is, people who reported that they routinely used multiple media at once) scored worse across the board. While non-multitaskers were able to switch their focus completely between tasks, the experienced multitaskers were not able to stop thinking about the other activities while focusing on the job at hand.

In one test, researchers told the subjects to focus on some red rectangles on a computer screen and note changes in position. They then filled the rest of the screen with some useless shapes. A normal person had no problem with the task, but the mutlitaskers couldn't keep from getting distracted by the irrelevant noise. That's right. Multitasking happens to be the one skill that practice makes you worse at. Well, that and the people who consider themselves "heavy multitaskers" also tend to be the type who lose an entire workday every time someone brings a laser pointer into the office. Either way, our projections indicate that if work habits continue on their current path, in 30 years there won't be a single productive employee remaining on earth.


Google corporate HQ, 2047.

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4
We Don't Understand How We Come Across in Email

If you think you've never caused a disastrous misunderstanding via email, it's for one of two reasons:

1) You've never used email before;

2) You were simply oblivious to the misunderstanding when it occurred.


"All I did was post a comment on Jan's wall saying her thighs looked less huge. That's mostly a compliment."

The rest of us can remember vividly at least one occasion where an email was badly misinterpreted because the nod and wink we made while typing it somehow didn't come across in the text. Or, the recipient projected a tone of voice in the message that you didn't intend.

Once more, science confirms what we've seen from the cubicle. One study had participants write an email that they considered to be funny, and then estimate what readers would rate it on a one to 10 comedy scale. The writers guessed they'd be rated at an average of 7.27, while in actuality recipients gave them a measly 3.55 (by comparison, getting a nostril stapled shut is a 4.1).


"The office can't get enough of my witty shenanigans!"

But sarcasm is the real killer. Before sending your coworker your totally sarcastic quips about what you'll do if they don't return your stapler (staple their freaking nostril shut), consider this: In one study, only 56 percent of people could even figure out whether a message was phrased in a sarcastic tone. If you're the type of person who reads Cracked, that should set off some real freaking alarms right there.

No, that girl across the hall doesn't know your sexual advances are a wacky "I could NEVER think of you that way!" joke. Your boss won't get that the 47 paragraphs graphically describing his torturous death are just part of a polite ribbing.

Seriously. We're trying to help you here. Careers end because of this. The cops get called.


One less page view for us.

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3
We're Scared of Using New Tools

There is a very easy way to start a raging, near-riot in any office:

Upgrade the equipment.

Have management buy everyone new, state-of-the-art keyboards, where the keys are just a little off from where they were on the previous versions. Let them upgrade the software or operating system to the newest and best... which includes moving around all of the menu options the employees depend on. By the end of the first day, the staff will be demanding they bring the obsolete equipment back or else they'll set the new stuff on fire and chuck it all out of the top floor window.


Windows Vista has caused more violent uprisings than the Communist Manifesto

It's not just that we blindly resist change, either. After all, we tend to spend a lot of our working hours complaining about the ancient copier or how the computers still run Windows 3.1. If the bosses get everyone together and promise we're finally getting all-new stuff next week, we'll break out the extra-fancy microwave popcorn in celebration. It's only when we sit down to actually use the new stuff for a day that the rage sets in. Why?

Well, psychologists have actually studied this, and found that for whatever reason, we can't quite get a handle on our own learning curve. Before actually using a new piece of equipment or trying a new task, we tend to overestimate how easy it will be to learn it (think of all the guitars sitting abandoned in closets right now).


He'll be that excited for about six seconds.

But then, after actually trying it, we go the other way--we overestimate how long it will take to get good at it ("I'll never be able to use this stupid thing!"). It's as if we have a balloon-like sense of our own competence. Overinflated, and easily punctured.

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2
We're More Racist at Work Than We Think

Racism, much like that muttering hobo that has slept in the parking garage for the last five years, still lives in the workplace even if no one wants to acknowledge it. For instance, a study at the University of Chicago, analyzing five thousand resumes, determined that an applicant's name can determine whether or not they'll get a call back--that is, whether or not their name sounded white.


"Mr. Ulammabat, would you consider switching to 'Rick'?"

People sporting names like Kathleen or Pam got 50 percent more callbacks for interviews than people with names like Lakisha or Shaniqua. A follow up experiment by 20/20 found that when posting two identical resumes, one with a "white name" and one with a "black name," at a job website, the "white named resume" got contacted 17 percent more often than its black counterpart.

Well, you think, everyone knows that people who work in HR are jerks. After all, they consistently reject you from any jobs you apply to, just because you Photoshopped some boobs on the CEO that one time. But you're not racist, right? In fact, if you heard someone make so much as an offhand racial insult, you'd confront them and/or avoid them at all costs from that point forward. Right?


"...maybe I stop parking next to Bob."

Well, an experiment at York University showed that people vastly overestimate their reactions to racism, as long as they're not a member of the race being discriminated against. The experiment took 120 people (no minorities) and split them into two groups. Sixty of them were asked, as a hypothetical, would they be willing to partner up with a person after hearing them make racist comments. Only 10 to 20 percent said they would.

The other 60 subjects, meanwhile, were put in a waiting room along with two people in on the experiment--one white, one black. The black person got up and "accidentally" bumped the white person's knee before leaving the room. The white person would then turn to the subject and say a phrase like, "Typical, I hate it when black people do that," or in some cases, use an outright racial slur. When those subjects were then given the chance to partner up with the racist to complete a task... 63 percent did.

Instead of meeting the racism with fury, it was met with relative indifference. The attitude seemed to be, "I'm totally against racism in all circumstances, unless the person I'm working with hates black people."


"Why isn't Terrence laughing at Jen's Lil Kim impression? She said her black sorority sister thought it was funny."

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1
We Are Bad Judges of Our Own Competence

How many subjects would you say you're an expert on? Well, you're safe in claiming at least one: yourself. After all, you have intimate knowledge of every one of your own secrets, shames, talents and failings. You spend every day with yourself. If a boss says you're incompetent, your first reaction will be to wonder what gave him this clearly false impression. Whether you say it out loud or not, a part of you is always thinking, He doesn't know me!

Well... science says otherwise.


We hope you like eating alone at lunch, Science.

Surveys asking people about how they compare with their peers have turned up a surprising result: Almost no one thinks that they're comparatively bad at anything. One study showed that 94 percent of college professors thought they did above average work. Another one involving students had 70 percent claiming to have above average leadership skills. That's physically impossible, obviously. Everyone can't be above average. The average wouldn't be average any more.


"Above average shape, yeah."

This trend exists in most areas of expertise, and it's caused by illusory superiority. If you're wondering how a person can screw up time and time again and still think they're better than those other "below average" folk, you can thank the infamous Dunning-Kruger effect, a catch-22 seemingly designed by Satan himself that makes incompetent people unable to judge their own incompetence because measuring competence is the thing they're least competent at.

Our delusions about ourselves are so bad that total strangers can take one look at us and gauge our own skills as effectively as we can. One study had people being recorded while reading some text, and then showed the resulting tape to a stranger. The stranger's assessment of the subjects IQ scores was just as good as the subject's self-ratings.

Meanwhile, research has also shown that we tend to overestimate our knowledge of a subject, while underestimating how much we'd benefit from studying it. Like the aforementioned employees trying to adjust to their new computers, we assume every subject is easy until we find out otherwise, at which point we immediately declare it impossible. It's amazing we ever even learned how to operate a broom.


"So ... now what?"

So, be honest:

When you read this article, did you honestly think it applied to you? Or were you spending the whole time thinking that it finally explained those other incompetent fools--you know, the ones you work with? If it's the latter, don't worry: They're thinking the same thing about you. It's science!


Science: Because suck it.

In case you now have it in your head that you need to leave your job, check out The 7 Ballsiest Ways Anyone Ever Quit Their Job. Or learn about how Daniel-san ruined our lives, in How 'The Karate Kid' Ruined The Modern World.

And stop by Linkstorm to see who thinks their a total Internet badass.

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