5 Scientific Reasons You're a Bad Employee

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.

#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.

#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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