If you're putting together a team for a project, you might be inclined to pick people with cheerful, optimistic dispositions and flexible thinking. But a new management study indicates your team might also benefit from people who are exactly the opposite, according to experts at Rice University, the University of Western Australia, Bond University and the University of Queensland.

The study, co-authored by Jing Zhou, the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of Management and Psychology at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business, investigates the effects of "team affective diversity" on team creativity. The paper published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior is among the first research to reveal how, why and under what condition teams' "affective diversity" promotes team creativity.

Team members with what researchers call "negative affect" exhibit critical and persistent thinking that allows them to identify problems needing solutions, as well as to search out and critically evaluate relevant information. On the other hand, team members with "positive affect" engage in broad and flexible thinking that expands their range of information and helps them see unusual and creative connections, the researchers say.

"At any given point in time, some team members may experience positive affect such as joy and inspiration, whereas others may experience negative affect such as frustration and worry," Zhou said. "Instead of trying to homogenize team members' affect, teams should embrace affective heterogeneity."

When a team experiences a high level of this "affective heterogeneity," what Zhou describes as "dual-tuning" leads to greater creativity.

The researchers tested their hypotheses among 59 teams working on a semesterlong project in an undergraduate management course at a university in Hong Kong. Each team developed a business plan, which involved designing a new product and differentiating it from potential competitors in the market.

Zhou stresses that a team's "affective heterogeneity" can serve as a resource for team creativity. This unique type of diversity facilitates team creativity, provided the teams have a strong so-called "transactive memory system." "Our study suggests that teams may be aided in using their affect heterogeneity via interventions that focus on building the team's transactive memory system, which can be accelerated when team members spend time together, share goals, receive information about member specializations and train on the task together," Zhou said.

Zhou co-authored the paper with March To of the University of Western Australia, Cynthia Fisher of Bond University and Neal Ashkanasy of the University of Queensland.

Workplace incivility is on the rise, and a new Portland State University study found that employees who experience or witness incivilities are more likely to be uncivil to others -- a worrying trend that could intensify as people return to in-person work.

"People have gotten used to not having to engage in interpersonal communication as much and that can take an already distressing or tense situation and exacerbate it because people are out of practice of not having to have difficult conversations," said Larry Martinez, associate professor of industrial-organizational psychology and co-author of the study. "These spirals that we're seeing might be stronger in a post-pandemic world."

Uncivil behavior at work can range from criticizing someone in public, rude or obnoxious behavior or withholding important information to more subtle acts such as arriving late to a meeting, checking email or texting during a meeting, or ignoring or interrupting a colleague.

Incivility can mean different things to different people, so it can be easily overlooked or missed.

"Incivility is typically ambiguous and not very intense, but it has harmful effects all the same," said Lauren Park, a recent Ph.D. graduate in industrial-organizational psychology who now works as an HR research scientist.

Park and Martinez's study is the first comprehensive review of its kind to analyze the factors that predict uncivil behavior in workplaces. They focused on the instigator's perspective to better understand incivility and how to stop it at its source.

Among the findings:

Employees who have more control over their jobs are less likely to reciprocate incivility. Researchers suggest that employees with greater job control have more freedom in deciding when and how their work tasks are completed, offering them the time and energy to seek social or organizational support, mentally and/or physically detach from work, reflect on the situation, or confront their uncivil colleague.

Employees whose immediate team or workgroup engages in more civil behavior are less likely to reciprocate incivility.

Employees who are older are less likely to reciprocate incivility.

In a remote working world, Park and Martinez said incivility could more easily go unchecked as people hide behind Zoom boxes or chat messages and it can be difficult to discern intent from text without body language or tone of voice. Even as people return to work, organizations may choose to adopt a hybrid model where employees may only come in for team-based work.

"There will inevitably be some conflict as people might be meeting coworkers in person for the first time or they'll be working together again in the same physical space," Martinez said. "Relationships will need to be renegotiated in different kinds of ways and the likelihood that people are going to be able to address these situations in a conducive manner as compared to before the pandemic will decrease."

Park said it's key that organizations provide support to employees who've experienced incivility.

"They're at a high risk of starting these vicious cycles," she said. "Providing support is not only the right thing to do but it stops that behavior from spiraling through the organization."

Martinez added that complaints about uncivil behavior shouldn't be discounted and organizations should have policies and practices in place that take incidents seriously and address them in a way that curtails them from continuing.

The study was published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

Mental health conditions and certain personality traits play a role in ‘phubbing’

Smartphones have made multi-tasking easier, more understandable, and at times compulsive. But in social settings, these devices can lead to a form of contemporary rudeness called phone snubbing, or phubbing, the act of ignoring one's companions to pay attention to a phone.

While it may be commonplace, snubbing one's friends (Fphubbing) can have serious repercussions on relationships, and there are a variety of factors that may drive individuals to ignore their friends in favor of an electronic screen, according to a new University of Georgia study.

The study reveals positive associations between depression and social anxiety on increasing Fphubbing: depressed people are likely to phub their friends more frequently, and socially anxious people, who might prefer online social interactions to face-to-face communication, might also exhibit more phubbing behavior. Personality traits such as neuroticism also influence phubbing behavior.

"And of course, some people who have high social anxiety or depression are more likely to be addicted to their smartphone," said Juhyung Sun, lead author on the paper who completed her master's degree in communication studies at UGA.

The very ordinariness of phubbing suggests some fundamental insights about how technology interrupts social interactions -- and how quickly they are accepted, if not embraced.

"I observed that so many people use their phones while they are sitting with their friends at the cafe, any dining time, regardless of the relationship type," said Sun, currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Oklahoma.

She first considered some negative reasons behind phubbing -- smart phone addiction and relatedly, the habit of constantly reading notifications that pop up onscreen.

"People are really sensitive to their notifications. With each buzz or sound, we consciously or unconsciously look at our phones," she said, noting that the device's wide utility across applications -- from weather to breaking news, are key drivers fostering this dynamic.

A third significant finding in the study revealed that agreeable individuals have a lower instance of phubbing in the presence of their friends. People who have agreeableness as a personality trait tend to show cooperative, polite and friendly behaviors in their interpersonal relationships and social settings, Sun said.

"They have a high tendency to maintain social harmony while avoiding arguments that can ruin their relationships.," she said. "In face-to-face conversations, people with high levels of agreeableness consider phubbing behavior rude and impolite to their conversational partners."

And though agreeable people may prioritize strong friendships, an exploratory study by the researchers revealed phubbing also to be more likely in the presence of three or more people.

That dynamic may influence the prevalence of phubbing in the context of a work environment

"It's ironic that while so many people believe that phubbing behavior is rude, they still do it," Sun said. "A majority of people phub others, and in a group, it may seem OK, because it's just me, the speaker doesn't notice I'm using the phone. The number of a people in a group can be one reason."

Alternately, disabling or turning over a phone can indicate a show of respect for a situation and focus on a person.

"That, too, is a signal -- I am listening to what you are saying, this meeting is important and I am focusing on you," Sun said.

Jennifer Samp, professor in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department communication studies and Sun's advisor on the project, believes that the act of Fphubbing may have even greater implications once the larger public returns to face-to-face interactions after the pandemic subsides.

"People relied heavily on phones and other technologies to stay connected during the pandemic," Samp said. "For many, staying connected in a more distanced manner via texts and video messaging was more comfortable than face-to-face interaction. Will people -- particularly anxious ones -- still phubb when physically reunited? Time will tell."

Our motivation to put effort for achieving a goal is controlled by a reward system wired in the brain. However, many neuropathological conditions impair the reward system, diminishing the will to work. Recently, scientists in Japan experimentally manipulated the reward system network of monkeys and studied their behavior. They deciphered a few critical missing pieces of the reward system puzzle that might help in increasing motivation.

Why do we do things? What persuades us to put an effort to achieve goals, however mundane? What, for instance, drives us to search for food? Neurologically, the answer is hidden in the reward system of the brain -- an evolutionary mechanism that controls our willingness to work or to take a risk as the cost of achieving our goals and enjoying the perceived rewards. In people suffering from depression, schizophrenia, or Parkinson's disease, often the reward system of the brain is impaired, leading them to a state of diminished motivation for work or chronic fatigue.

To find a way to overcome the debilitating behavioral blocks, neuroscientists are investigating the "anatomy" of the reward system and determining how it evaluates the cost-benefit trade-off while deciding on whether to pursue a task. Recently, Dr. Yukiko Hori of National Institutes for Quantum and Radiological Science and Technology, Japan, along with her colleagues have conducted a study that has answered some of the most critical questions on benefit- and cost-based motivation of reward systems. The findings of their study have been published in PLoS Biology.

Discussing what prompted them to undertake the study, Dr. Hori explains: "Mental responses such as 'feeling more costly and being too lazy to act,' are often a problem in patients with mental disorders such as depression, and the solution lies in the better understanding of what causes such responses. We wanted to look deeper into the mechanism of motivational disturbances in the brain."

To do so, Dr. Hori and her team focused on dopamine (DA), the "neurotransmitter" or the signaling molecule that plays the central role in inducing motivation and regulation of behavior based on cost-benefit analysis. The effect of DA in the brain transmits via DA receptors, or molecular anchors that bind the DA molecules and propagate the signals through the neuronal network of the brain. However, as these receptors have distinct roles in DA signal transduction, it was imperative to assess their relative impacts on DA signaling. Therefore, using macaque monkeys as models, the researchers aimed to decipher the roles of two classes of DA receptors -- the D1-like receptor (D1R) and the D2-like receptor (D2R) -- in developing benefit- and cost-based motivation.

In their study, the researchers first trained the animals to perform "reward size" tasks and "work/delay tasks." These tasks allowed them to measure how perceived reward size and required effort influenced the task-performing behavior. Dr. Takafumi Minamimoto, the corresponding author of the study explains, "We systematically manipulated the D1R and D2R of these monkeys by injecting them with specific receptor-binding molecules that dampened their biological responses to DA signaling. By positron emission tomography-based imaging of the brains of the animals, the extent of bindings or blockades of the receptors was measured." Then, under experimental conditions, they offered the monkeys the chance to perform tasks to achieve rewards and noted whether the monkeys accepted or refused to perform the tasks and how quickly they responded to the cues related to the tasks.

Analysis of these data unearthed some intriguing insights into the neurobiological mechanism of the decision-making process. The researchers observed that decision-making based on perceived benefit and cost required the involvement of both D1R and D2R, in both incentivizing the motivation (the process in which the size of the rewards inspired the monkeys to perform the tasks) and in increasing delay discounting (the tendency to prefer immediate, smaller rewards over larger, but delayed rewards). It also became clear that DA transmission via D1R and D2R regulates the cost-based motivational process by distinct neurobiological processes for benefits or "reward availability" and costs or "energy expenditure associated with the task." However, workload discounting -- the process of discounting the value of the rewards based on the proportion of the effort needed -- was exclusively related to D2R manipulation.

Prof. Hori emphasizes, "The complementary roles of two dopamine receptor subtypes that our study revealed, in the computation of the cost-benefit trade-off to guide action will help us decipher the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders." Their research brings the hope of a future when by manipulating the inbuilt reward system and enhancing the motivation levels, lives of many can be improved.

Traditional market research, based on clipboards and questions, has a glaring weakness, according to Carl Wong, who has worked in the industry for more than 20 years.

He says people cannot answer some questions honestly because they are not aware of their own deep underlying motives.

"We are all influenced by things we're not able, or willing, to reflect on at the time a purchasing decision is taken or when we answer a survey question," says Mr Wong.

That gap in our understanding is being filled by a data-rich world that generates masses of information about our inner desires through tracking cookies and a host of other clues we leave behind as we trek across websites that pique our interest.

In addition, market researchers can access massive amounts of computing power and data storage using low-cost cloud computing services, which offer data processing and storage that can be quickly scaled-up or down, depending on the customer's needs.

This tech-fuelled revolution is shedding light on how we conceal our innermost urges from ourselves - for example why we are drawn to the exploits of certain public figures and celebrities.

Jason Brownlee researches consumer behaviour on a grand scale, fuelled by the social media data explosion and the resulting caches of big data.

The founder of Colourtext, a data analysis and consumer insights specialist, is based in a village in the Lake District. But he can follow all our movements from his rural idyll. "People leave digital footprints behind them," he says.

He has studied news consumption patterns, using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud computing to peer into the trail people left as they viewed 100,000 news articles online.

"Once they click onto a page we begin to see a pattern emerging. We can't do this in any other way than using AI and the cloud, you'd be in your grave before you'd finished reading all those articles!"

This produced startling insights into how figures such as Boris Johnson and Meghan Markle are really perceived. The power of big data has broken down traditional categories that the market research industry used to define our taste.

"The rule was that people who go to show business stories tend not to be interested in politics," says Mr Brownlee.

His deep dive into the readership habits of 18 different UK online news outlets, including BBC News Online, dashed this assumption and uncovered attachments that had eluded previous researchers.

"I discovered a group of people who read about celebrities. The top of their list is Meghan Markle. But they also read about Boris Johnson. They are not normally interested in political stories, but Boris has a much broader reach than just politics."

Pouring big data into the cloud and scrutinising it with AI suggested that the Prime Minister is seen by many as a celebrity.

These connections defy accepted market research segmentation, and only number-crunching in the cloud can spot them. The pay-as-you-go model means cloud power is flexible and affordable says Mr Brownlee. "You can dial up or dial down the computing resource and you get the ability to do interesting things through online AI programmes."

Market researchers can understand human behaviour as never before by trawling through this trove of data.

Facial expressions can now be put under a data analysis microscope for first time, says Mr Wong, who works for US analytics software house Medallia after selling them his Merseyside-based consumer insights business, Living Lens.

His technology measures a face at multiple points with different patterns emerging depending on the emotions it expresses. These patterns alter with age, sex and race. Show AI software enough examples of these patterns and it can begin to establish what a person is feeling.

Del Taco, the US fast food restaurant chain, turned to Mr Wong when the company updated its décor and menus but wanted to align these changes with customer feedback.

Mr Wong's team stepped in with a survey app that allowed Del Taco diners to answer questions via video on their smartphones. "We captured that video and analysed hours of feedback from customers looking at their language and their sentiments as they spoke. It gave us a much richer view than a traditional survey."

This data was all streamed into the cloud for analysis, which exposed the underlying emotions the customers felt as they were quizzed about their meal.

The scale of data that can be manipulated in the cloud has grabbed the attention of the whole market research industry. Jon Puleston analyses online material for consumer research giant Kantar and revels in this new element: "We are producing oil tankers of data and the cloud is allowing us to refine it."

By plunging into the cloud with its own software Kantar confirmed that we are incapable of being truthful to market researchers trying to establish what really floats our boat.

"Talking to a camera is a very effective tool, but what people say is often miles apart from what they feel, there are so many unconscious factors at play."

Specialist software pointed at filmed responses taps into these unconscious factors via clues such as tone of voice and facial expression. This tells Mr Puleston we are very hard on ourselves over our guilty pleasures, such as watching a rom-com.

When we are asked to rate a film our natural instinct is to mark down a lightweight movie although we've really enjoyed it and lie about how we liked one with intellectual content. We might be giving the serious show a four star rating, but in truth we only got emotionally involved with the rom-com story.

Kantar applies AI to a bank of human emotions recorded on film and assembled in the cloud and demystifies our real sentiments. This unlocks the ingredients of a Hollywood crowd-pleaser.

Market researchers may have given up knocking on our front doors with their clipboards, but technology is allowing them to get inside our heads.

What springs to mind when you think of advertising? Don Draper in the TV show Mad Men sipping a cocktail? Or perhaps trendy people swapping catch phrases in a converted warehouse?'

Well, more of the creative work these days is not being done by humans at all.

When Dixons Carphone wanted to push shoppers towards its Black Friday sale, the company turned to Artificial Intelligence (AI) software and got the winning line "The time is now".

Saul Lopes, head of customer marketing at Dixons Carphone, thinks it worked because it didn't have the words Black Friday in it.

His human copywriters had produced dozens of potentially successful sentences but they all mentioned Black Friday. It was technology that broke this chain of thought.

The software in question is from Phrasee, whose boss is Parry Malm, a Canadian who moved to the UK in 2006. Working in marketing he assumed the technology existed to boost human creativity. He describes himself as "flummoxed" that this wasn't available.

Phrasee, the company he set up in 2015, is the product of Mr Malm's perplexed reaction.

"Getting the right message had been left to the Mad Men type characters. But I wanted to apply scientific rigour to those messages," he explains.

Standard copywriting takes place through a process of editing, argument and approval. Mr Malm says Phrasee does the same thing using a technique called Deep Learning, a vast network of parameters and pre-set limits that guide the programme in the right direction.

This allows it to bounce a slogan around, ranking its impact against raw data gleaned from many sources.

At Rapp, an agency that packages products and services into messages and videos that appeal to the public, Phrasee absorbs a million emails that have been fired off over the years. Then it reassembles those sentences into new messages while adding guidance from Rapp's own writers, technologists and social media experts.

Phrasee builds up models that generate words appropriate to each product and the target audience of consumers. Language that has featured in previous campaigns is poured into the Deep Learning model which applies values based on factors such as the look, feel or taste of a product.

Mr Lopes knows that in an age of information overload consumers are becoming harder to reach as online sales patter diminishes their appetite for any message. As Phrasee comes armed with a terrific linguistic arsenal and is divorced from the individual points of view that shape the words of human copywriters he thinks it suits our jaded eyes.

Dixons Carphone still employs agencies and copywriters, but they come up with an idea which Phrasee then adapts, finessing the human perspective.

For a recent Dixons Carphone campaign Mr Lopes used Phrasee to create variations on messages derived from a decade of sales campaigns. "What surprises me is that we still see wild cards leaping out from the list of messages it generates."

That Black Friday message was one such wild card. Working online, Dixons Carphone gets rapid consumer feedback and quickly saw how well "The time is now" was going down with the public.

Copywriters shouldn't fear that AI is about to take their job, says Mr Lopes, because they are still needed to get the ball rolling. "But the human brain can't look at thousands of options. Our writing team sets out the strategy for the messages, we haven't replaced them."

He's convinced about this AI future. "Combining creative people with AI is the next step for the agencies. It's not AI versus the human, it generates creative thought."

This might come as a relief to Ogilvy, the agency founded by advertising legend David Ogilvy. His name invokes brilliant and witty campaigns that inspired generations of copywriters, and today Ogilvy bills itself as the "teaching hospital of advertising".

It boasts a behavioural science practice ran by its vice-chairman and veteran copywriter Rory Sutherland. He's a fan of new thinking, but only if it doesn't dampen the spark of creativity that sets consumers' desires alight.

"AI can't hurt if it generates interesting suggestions," Mr Sutherland concedes, "but it's like satnav in a car. Great for directions but you don't allow it to drive the car!"

He worries that AI will be steered into agencies by "bean counters" and has railed against an "alliance between technology and finance" that uses innovation as a cost-cutting tool regardless of the opportunities that get lost in the process. "These things tend to be viewed through an efficiency lens."

Advertising, Mr Sutherland declares, "is about producing something distinctive. It's not a production line." Programmes like Phrasee can mirror a copywriter's work on an industrial scale. This, a digital factory for ads, is Mr Sutherland's worst nightmare.

"My only reservation about using AI is that people will afford it more power and influence than it deserves in an attempt to automate things, to realise the Fordist dream of multiple copies rolling off an assembly line."

In support of the creative human element he cites great advertising slogans that have been fine-tuned by critical voices from beyond the copywriter's desk. After 30 years as a copywriter Mr Sutherland is always ready to listen to someone who spots that a word or image may have the wrong connotation in another culture.

If AI can be that third party source of constructive criticism it has a home in his world. But he definitely won't allow it a deciding vote. "As a stimulus, suggesting ideas, it has a great future. As a source of judgement it's dubious."

Back at Dixons Carphone, Mr Lopes and his team keep trying to outsmart the software. They hold competitions to see who can guess what the winning line from Phrasee will be. "It's an internal game, we do it just before we push every new message out," he says.

"And we always lose to the computer!"

How much personal information do you share on your social media profile pages?

Name, location, age, job role, marital status, headshot? The amount of information people are comfortable with posting online varies.

But most people accept that whatever we put on our public profile page is out in the public domain.

So, how would you feel if all your information was catalogued by a hacker and put into a monster spreadsheet with millions of entries, to be sold online to the highest paying cyber-criminal?

That's what a hacker calling himself Tom Liner did last month "for fun" when he compiled a database of 700 million LinkedIn users from all over the world, which he is selling for around $5,000 (£3,600; €4,200).

The incident, and other similar cases of social media scraping, have sparked a fierce debate about whether or not the basic personal information we share publicly on our profiles should be better protected.

In the case of Mr Liner, his latest exploit was announced at 08:57 BST in a post on a notorious hacking forum.

It was a strangely civilised hour for hackers, but of course we have no idea which time zone, the hacker who calls himself Tom Liner, lives in.

"Hi, I have 700 million 2021 LinkedIn records", he wrote.

Included in the post was a link to a sample of a million records and an invite for other hackers to contact him privately and make him offers for his database.

Understandably the sale caused a stir in the hacking world and Tom tells me he is selling his haul to "multiple" happy customers for around $5,000 (£3,600; €4,200).

He won't say who his customers are, or why they would want this information, but he says the data is likely being used for further malicious hacking campaigns.

The news has also set the cyber-security and privacy world alight with arguments about whether or not we should be worried about this growing trend of mega scrapes.

What's important to understand here is that these databases aren't being created by breaking into the servers or websites of social networks.

They are largely constructed by scraping the public-facing surface of platforms using automatic programmes to take whatever information is freely available about users.

In theory, most of the data being compiled could be found by simply picking through individual social media profile pages one-by-one. Although of course it would take multiple lifetimes to gather as much data together, as the hackers are able to do.

So far this year, there have been at least three other major "scraping" incidents.

In April, a hacker sold another database of around 500 million records scraped from LinkedIn.

In the same week another hacker posted a database of scraped information from 1.3 million Clubhouse profiles on a forum for free.

Also in April, 533 million Facebook user details were compiled from a mixture of old and new scraping before being given away on a hacking forum with a request for donations.

The hacker who says he is responsible for that Facebook database, calls himself Tom Liner.

I spoke with Tom over three weeks on Telegram messages, a cloud-based instant messenger app. Some messages and even missed calls were made in the middle of the night, and others during working hours so there was no clue as to his location.

The only clues to his normal life were when he said he couldn't talk on the phone as his wife was sleeping and that he had a daytime job and hacking was his "hobby".

Tom told me he created the 700 million LinkedIn database using "almost the exact same technique" that he used to create the Facebook list.

He said: "It took me several months to do. It was very complex. I had to hack the API of LinkedIn. If you do too many requests for user data in one time then the system will permanently ban you."

API stands for application programming interface and most social networks sell API partnerships, which enable other companies to access their data, perhaps for marketing purposes or for building apps.

Tom says he found a way to trick the LinkedIn API software into giving him the huge tranche of records without setting off alarms.

Privacy Shark, which first discovered the sale of the database, examined the free sample and found it included full names, email addresses, gender, phone numbers and industry information.

LinkedIn insists that Tom Liner did not use their API but confirmed that the dataset "includes information scraped from LinkedIn, as well as information obtained from other sources".

It adds: "This was not a LinkedIn data breach and no private LinkedIn member data was exposed. Scraping data from LinkedIn is a violation of our Terms of Service and we are constantly working to ensure our members' privacy is protected."

In response to its April data scare Facebook also brushed off the incident as an old scrape. The press office team even accidentally revealed to a reporter that their strategy is to "frame data scraping as a broad industry issue and normalise the fact that this activity happens regularly".

However, the fact that hackers are making money from these databases is worrying some experts on cyber security.

The chief executive and founder of SOS Intelligence, a company which provides firms with threat intelligence, Amir Hadžipašić, sweeps hacker forums on the dark web day and night. As soon as news of the 700 million LinkedIn database spread he and his team began analysing the data.

Mr Hadžipašić says the details in this, and other mass-scraping events, are not what most people would expect to be available in the public domain. He thinks API programmes, which give more information about users than the general public can see, should be more tightly controlled.

"Large-scale leaks like this are concerning, given the intricate detail, in some cases, of this information - such as geographic locations or private mobile and email addresses.

"To most people it will come as a surprise that there's so much information held by these API enrichment services.

"This information in the wrong hands could be significantly impacting for some," he said.

Tom Liner says he knows his database is likely to be used for malicious attacks.

He says it does "bother him" but would not say why he still continues to carry out scraping operations.

Mr Hadžipašić, who is based in southern England, says hackers who are buying the LinkedIn data could use it to launch targeted hacking campaigns on high-level targets, like company bosses for example.

He also said there is value in the sheer number of active emails in the database that can be used to send out mass email phishing campaigns.

'No ambiguity'

But cyber-security expert Troy Hunt, who spends most of his working life poring over the contents of hacked databases for his website haveibeenpwned.com, is less concerned about the recent scraping incidents and says we need to accept them as part of our public profile-sharing.

"These are definitely not breaches, there's no ambiguity here. Most of this data is public anyway.

"The question to ask, in each case though, is how much of this information is by user choice publicly accessible and how much is not expected to be publicly accessible."

Troy agrees with Amir that controls on social network's API programmes need to be improved and says we can't brush off these incidents.

"I don't disagree with the stance of Facebook and others but I feel that the response of 'this isn't a problem' is, whilst possibly technically accurate, missing the sentiment of how valuable this user data is and their perhaps downplaying their own roles in the creation of these databases."

Mr Liner's actions would be likely to get him sued by social networks for intellectual property theft or copyright infringement. He probably wouldn't face the full force of the law for his actions if he were ever found but, when asked if he was worried about getting arrested he said "no, anyone can't find me" and ended our conversation by saying "have a nice time".

Could your next lawyer be a robot? It sounds far fetched, but artificial intelligence (AI) software systems - computer programs that can update and "think" by themselves - are increasingly being used by the legal community.

Joshua Browder describes his app DoNotPay as "the world's first robot lawyer".

It helps users draft legal letters. You tell its chatbot what your problem is, such as appealing against a parking fine, and it will suggest what it thinks is the best legal language to use.

"People can type in their side of an argument using their own words, and software with a machine learning model matches that with a legally correct way of saying it," he says.

The 24-year-old and his company are based in Silicon Valley in California, but the firm's origins go back to London in 2015, when Mr Browder was 18.

"As a late teenager in Hendon, north London, I was a horrible driver," he says. "I got a lot of expensive parking tickets - which, since I was still in secondary school, I couldn't afford."

Through lots of research and freedom of information requests Mr Browder says he found the best ways to contest the tickets. "If you know the right things to say, you can save a lot of time and money."

Rather than copy and paste the same document each time, he says it seemed "the perfect job for software". So he created the first version of DoNotPay in a few weeks in 2015, "really just to impress my family".

Since then the app has spread across the UK and US, and it can now help the user write letters dealing with a range of issues; insurance claims, applying for tourist visas, complaint letters to a business or local authority, getting your money back for a holiday you can no longer go on or cancelling gym membership. Mr Browder says the last two uses soared during the pandemic.

DoNotPay now claims to have 150,000 paying subscribers. And while it has its critics, with some saying its legal advice is not accurate enough, last year it won an award from the American Bar Association for increasing legal access.

Mr Browder claims an 80% overall success rate, down to 65% for parking tickets, because "'some people are guilty".

You might think human lawyers would fear AI encroaching on their turf. But some are pleased, as the software can be used to quickly trawl through and sort vast quantities of case documents.

One such lawyer is Sally Hobson, a barrister at London-based law firm The 36 Group, who works on criminal cases. She recently used AI in a complex murder trial. The case involved needing to quickly analyse more than 10,000 documents.

The software did the task four weeks faster than it would have taken humans, saving £50,000 in the process.

Lawyers using AI for assistance is "becoming the norm and no longer a thing that's nice to have", says Eleanor Weaver, chief executive of Luminance, which makes the software Ms Hobson uses.

More than 300 other law firms in 55 countries also use it, working in 80 languages.

"Historically you had a lot of [document checking] technologies that were no better than keyword searches, like hitting Control-F on your laptop," says Ms Weaver. By contrast, she says that today's sophisticated software can connect associated words and phrases.

AI is, however, not just helping lawyers sort through documentary evidence. It can also now help them prepare and structure their case, and search for any relevant legal precedents.

Laurence Lieberman, who heads London law firm Taylor Wessing's digitising disputes programme, uses such software, which has been developed by an Israeli firm called Litigate.

"You upload your case summary and your pleadings, and it will go in and work out who the key players are," he says. "And then the AI will link them together, and pull together a chronology of the key events and explanation of what happens on what dates."

Meanwhile, Bruce Braude, chief technology officer of Deloitte Legal, the legal arm of accountancy giant Deloitte, says that its TAX-I software system can analyse historical court data for similar tax appeal cases.

The firm claims it can correctly predict how appeals will be determined 70% of the time. "It provides a more quantifiable way of what is your likelihood of success, which you can use to determine if you should proceed," adds Mr Braude.

Yet while AI can help write legal letters, or assist human lawyers, will we ever see a time of robot solicitors and barristers, or even robot judges?

"I think, really in reality, we're nowhere near that," says Ms Weaver.

But others, like Prof Richard Susskind, who chairs the Lord Chief Justice of England's advisory group on AI, aren't so sure.

Prof Susskind says in the 1980s he was genuinely horrified by the idea of a computer judge, but that he isn't now.

He points out that even before coronavirus, "Brazil had a court backlog of more than 100 million court cases, and that there is no chance of human judges and lawyers disposing of a caseload of that size".

So if an AI system can very accurately (say with 95% probability) predict the outcome of court decisions, he says that maybe we might start thinking about treating these predictions as binding determinations, especially in countries that have impossibly large backlogs.

The pandemic was a golden opportunity to fix the most toxic parts of work culture – yet we made many worse. Why?

In July, Mark, who works for a small technology company in East London, emailed his manager to tell her that he had tested positive for Covid-19. His boss didn’t ask any questions; instead, she expressed sympathy, wished him a speedy recovery and told him to take as much time off as he needed.  

Mark, whose surname is being withheld for job-security concerns, didn’t actually have Covid-19. In truth, he was exhausted and anxious; the toll of the pandemic, coupled with working 80 hours a week, and being expected to be on call around the clock, had become too much to handle. The 40-year-old was feeling severely depressed, and suspected that he might be on the cusp of a serious clinical burnout. 

“At that moment it was just so much easier to say I had the virus,” he explains, admitting that he felt some guilt for lying. “The stigma around mental health is real: questions are asked and judgements are made. The only good thing about Covid is that everyone just accepts it as a reason to be out of action, feels sorry for you and then moves on.” 

As the pandemic started spreading aggressively around the world, almost every industry was forced to adapt its way of working – in many cases, overnight. Management experts framed this as potentially positive: they were swift to forecast that this period of extreme and forced experimentation would provide a rich and unique opportunity to stamp out some of the most insidious elements of toxic workplace culture: presenteeism, a glorification of overwork and an entrenched authority bias that stops employees from speaking up when things don’t feel right.  

But as businesses reopen and companies begin to explore ways of operating that are fit for a post-pandemic world, there’s evidence that much still needs to be done to dismantle the relics and features that most prominently perpetuate unhappiness and ill health in the workplace. Mark’s experience is just one brutal and vivid example of this. 

A missed opportunity 

For years, it’s been widely acknowledged that many elements of modern workplace culture are problematic – and even damaging. 

In the past few decades, technology in globally interconnected companies and industries has introduced a fresh level of competition and speed. Almost anyone was given the opportunity to work from anywhere at any time, which led to overwork and overtime becoming dangerously glorified. Workaholism emerged as a sign of praiseworthy ambition and commitment to corporate causes, even as the detrimental health effects of never switching off became impossible to ignore.  

There’s much evidence that harmful pre-pandemic ways have simply been adapted for the remote world

Many consultants, managers and workplace experts witnessing the evolution of labour practices were acutely aware of these harmful shifts, and agonised over how to fix what was broken. But the relentless grind of everyday life provided scant opportunity to reflect and ultimately challenge such an entrenched status quo. 

However, when Covid-19 hit, businesses all around the world were forced to pause, assess and recalibrate. As companies retooled how they worked, and made decisions for how their workforces would go forward, this collective breath provided a rare opportunity to remedy the most insidious parts of working culture. 

Except, despite this open window, little seems to have changed. Even as workplace practices have been fiercely debated and discussed, there’s much evidence that harmful pre-pandemic ways have simply been adapted for the remote world, raising fears that even as we re-invent work in a hybrid and flexible way, toxic culture could endure – or even worsen, becoming even more rife and ubiquitous. 

Bad – and getting worse? 

“The arrival of the pandemic first seemed to put the work-to-death mentality on hiatus,” says Maryam Meddin, the founder and CEO of a behavioural health clinic in London called The Soke. “But after a while, it emerged that ‘working from home’ had somehow morphed into ‘living at work’, and people were working even longer hours than before.” 

This is particularly evidenced in the evolution of presenteeism, wherein employees come to work as a performative measure, despite being sick or fatigued. As a huge chunk of the global labour market moved out of the office and into a remote set-up during the pandemic, presenteeism silently shifted into the digital workplace.

Earlier this year, amid a reported rise in companies using surveillance software to ensure that employees put in the hours while working from home, cybersecurity company Kaspersky surveyed 2,000 full-time workers in the UK. A quarter of respondents admitted to working harder out of fear that their superiors would think of them as lazy, a proportion that rose to 40% among those who had monitoring software installed on the devices they were using for work.  

And, overall, poor pandemic workplace culture has meant that workers are putting in far more hours: a late-2020 survey by HR consultancy Robert Half showed that 45% of respondents were working more during the week than before the pandemic, a trend that the researchers attributed to the flexibility “[making] disconnecting extremely difficult”. 

The knock-on effect of this increase in work is clear: an October 2020 study of more than 3,600 UK employees showed work-related pressure as the most common cause of mental health issues by far. More than a third of respondents put symptoms of poor mental health down to workload, long hours and not taking enough leave, and almost one-third said their mental ill-health was caused by not feeling supported in their role, potentially an indication of their reluctance to share their circumstances. 

Now, as many employers begin to shift into hybrid-work arrangements, these effects may only worsen, experts warn. “The danger is that with some people continuing to work remotely whilst their colleagues opt to go back into the office, the ‘work-from-homers’ will feel a pressure to prove their commitment on an ongoing basis and continuously turn the dial up on a culture of overwork,” says Meddin. 

A matter of trust 

Theories vary on why so many companies have failed to use the pandemic pause to fundamentally reset the damaging elements of corporate culture. Some say that panic and uncertainty discouraged managers from trying anything that was not familiar. Economic fears, others contend, led to a myopic focus on short-term gains, like financial revenue, at the expense of everything else. 

But many also suggest that managers did not – and many still do not – appreciate the root cause of some of the most problematic workplace practices: a lack of trust. 

So many of the working practices that we’ve all become accustomed to are not built on the premise of trust – Peter Cheese

“Managers need to trust their employees in the same way as they need to engage with employees to trust them. But so many of the working practices that we’ve all become accustomed to are not built on the premise of trust,” explains Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the UK’s professional association for human resource management professionals. 

Cheese explains that managers at all levels and in every industry must be trained to appreciate the contributions of employees not “based on how many hours they spend in the office or how many texts they can answer in the middle of the night, but on their output and outcomes”.  

Through the decades, he explains, managers have become accustomed to evaluating the performance of their employees based on easily measurable factors: hours spent at work, or money generated for the business, for example. Humans like standard yardsticks against which they can measure and compare things, but we must appreciate that productivity comes in many forms, he adds. 

“Managers have to trust that employees understand their duties and responsibilities without being constrained and policed every hour of the day, and we need employees to know that managers trust them and trust their judgements,” adds Cheese. “Employees want to feel empowered. If they don’t, that will affect their engagement as well as their productivity.” 

While trust issues were already rampant prior to the pandemic, Cheese suggests that the unfamiliarity of remote working may have exacerbated them in some situations. Suddenly not being able to physically keep an eye on what members of the team were doing might have been disconcerting for some managers, who then overcompensated by checking in excessively over phone and email. Employees, in turn, could have interpreted that as a sign of not being trusted, creating tension and stress among seniority levels. 

Simply, not only did companies not use the pandemic to mend trust issues among their workforces, they doubled-down on many elements of corporate culture based on distrust. 

This has left employees feeling even more stifled and unable to speak up, amplifying anxiety, stress and poor mental health. Mabel Abraham, professor of management at Columbia Business School in New York, says it’s imperative that employers “create an environment that helps employees feel comfortable making their needs and preferences known”. “People will only speak up if they feel like they are being listened to and if they are not concerned about potential penalties for sharing their views,” she says.

No easy solution  

Coming up with a way to eradicate the most damaging habits, beliefs and patterns of behaviour is extremely challenging, not least on account of their entrenched nature.  

Paul Young is a former assistant psychologist in Britain’s National Health Service. He decided to pursue his PhD in workplace psychology at Loughborough University, UK, after spending a decade in the financial-services sector and witnessing a variety of workplace cultures over that time. 

“Undoubtedly, employers have a huge role to play in influencing work cultures and creating environments which are supportive of employee wellbeing,” says Young. But he argues that employees also have agency to develop their own personal resources to cope with adversity and stressors at work, and that companies should do more to help their people to tap into the resources they need. 

One potential pitfall that Emma Parry, a professor of Human Resource Management at Cranfield School of Management, in the UK, sees is that organisations make changes as a knee-jerk reaction to potential problems: that they panic and grasp for quick fixes. “Whereas at the outset of the pandemic, it was necessary to act quickly to be reactive to the situation, now is the time to ensure that any organisational development is evidence-based,” she says. She adds it’s important for managers to invite feedback from employees both through surveys and frank conversations, “so they can examine the culture and shared values of the organisation in a systematic way”.

I think there has been a lightbulb moment in society where young people especially are not prepared to put up with toxic work cultures – Paul Young

Abraham, of Columbia, says that she considers one of the greatest challenges to be that companies often become “paralysed by where to even begin in addressing these seemingly huge issues”. “To make these changes realistic organisational leaders must treat this as they would any other business problem and devise an actionable strategy to tackle the issue piece by piece, otherwise it will be insurmountable,” she says.  

But despite all the undeniable headwinds, Meddin of The Soke is confident that harmful behaviour can be eradicated, giving rise to workplaces where the culture is built on empathy, compassion and – most importantly – trust. “On average, it takes between eight to 12 weeks for behaviour to become ingrained,” Meddin says, “so I have faith that we have the capacity to form new habits.” 

Young says that even just the fact that we’re talking about issues like mental health more is encouraging. “I feel very optimistic that, in general, workplaces in the future will be better informed and more geared towards maximising employee wellbeing,” he says. “I think there has been a lightbulb moment in society where young people especially are not prepared to put up with toxic work cultures and environments which are detrimental to their health,” he says. 

So, while there might be plenty of grim evidence that things got worse during the pandemic, it might be wrong to think of the window of opportunity as closing any time soon. What Young calls a “lightbulb moment” might indeed be the catalyst for progress to come.