Would you send a photo?

Picture the scene. You’re one of the largest supermarket chains in the Netherlands employing more than 100,000 people. You’re planning on introducing a new staff uniform. Do you ask people what size uniform they are or do you ask them to upload semi-naked photographs of themselves to an app so that it can work out the sizes?

Yep, you guessed it. The supermarket chain, Albert Heijn asked staff at their Nijmegen branch to upload photos of themselves in their underwear or tight-fitting sports gear.

It was supposed to be a trial to see how it worked before rolling it out to the whole organisation.

Apparently, the idea behind it was that it would be more efficient to load up 100,000 images to an app to analyse the sizes rather than receive 100,000 emails.

Whoever came up with the idea failed to appreciate that not everyone would be keen to load up a half-naked photo to an app run by their employer.

It was not only the staff that thought this was a bit strange as the Dutch Data Protection Authority described it as bizarre saying the company had “no grounds whatsoever to require its staff to do this”.

The news was first reported by the Dutch newspaper NRC who highlighted that a poster had appeared in the staff canteen at the Nijmegen supermarket saying “Wear underwear or tight-fitting sportswear so the contours of your body can be measured as accurately as possible. And ask someone to help you take the photos”.

Now, whilst the person that came up with the idea probably thought this would be an efficient way of getting the sizes, it does remind everyone to always take a step back and ask yourself “is this ok?”

A spokesman for the company said “We have cancelled the pilot and apologised to all involved”.

Ericsson fined $1 billion for bribery.

The Swedish telecommunications group Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson (or Ericsson as most people refer to it as and how my spell checker prefers) is an incredibly successful organisation.

The group provides services, software and infrastructure in information and communications technology.

Oh, and they were also recently fined $1 billion to settle bribery charges.

The company was founded in 1876 by Lars Magnus Ericsson and now employs nearly 100,000 people and operates in around 180 countries.

Not all of these employees were ethical though and Ericsson’s Egyptian subsidiary recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the US’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

This bribery had been taking place for 17 years and was reported to have netted the group business worth more than $400m.

US attorney Geoffrey Berman was quoted as saying “Through slush funds, bribes, gifts, and graft, Ericsson conducted telecom business with the guiding principle that money talks.” He went to say “Today’s guilty plea and surrender of over a billion dollars in combined penalties should communicate clearly to all corporate actors that doing business this way will not be tolerated.”

The bribery took place in a number of countries. It appointed agents and consultants to bribe government officials in Djibouti, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Kuwait.

One example of the techniques involved was in Kuwait where an Ericsson subsidiary agreed a payment of approximately $450,000 to a “consulting company”.

No consulting actually took place but a fake invoice for the consulting services was issued to Ericsson.

As a result of this payment, inside information about a tender for the modernisation of a state-owned telecommunications company’s radio access network in Kuwait was obtained.

The end result was that the modernisation contract, which was valued at $182m, was awarded to an Ericsson subsidiary. In return Ericsson paid the $450,000 to the consulting company and improperly recorded it in its books as consulting fees rather than as a bribe.

IRS Criminal Investigation head Don Fort was quoted as saying that “Implementing strong compliance systems and internal controls are basic principles that international companies must follow to steer clear of illegal activity. Ericsson’s shortcomings in these areas made it easier for its executives and employees to pay bribes and falsify its books and records. We will continue to pursue cases such as these in order to preserve a global commerce system free of corruption.”

Wave hello to a discount

The accountants amongst you will be well aware of the different methods of setting the price of a product or service.

Going rate, cost-plus and perceived value are all fairly common but what about basing the price of your service on the size of ocean waves?

This month, Alaska Airlines have segmented the market nicely and are targeting surfers by offering discounts on flights to Hawaii. These discounts are based on the forecast size of the waves which they hope the surfers will soon be surfing.

They have teamed up with surfline.com who forecast the size of the waves and the higher the forecast waves, the higher the discount.

The discounts start off at 10% for waves up to 10ft (3m) and go to a maximum of 30% for waves above 21ft (6.4m)

All in all, a nice way to target surfers

You can’t McFlurry Love

Until recently, Steve Easterbrook was the boss of McDonalds. He had been with them for a long time having started working for them back in 1993 as a manager in London.

Mr Easterbrook no doubt had a lot of affection for the company he ran but it turned out that he also had a lot of affection for a colleague as he had started dating a lady who also worked for McDonalds.

Although the relationship with his colleague was consensual, it didn’t go down too well with McDonalds.

According to the company, Mr Easterbrook had “violated company policy” and shown “poor judgement” (by “poor judgement” I assume that refers to him having the relationship rather than the choice of who he had the relationship with).

Now, whilst some people may say that it was a consensual relationship between two adults so let them get on with it, the key thing here is that it was against company policy and the two people involved had agreed to the company policy when they joined the firm so it’s a straight forward case of a breach of that policy.

More and more companies are having either outright bans on any relationships or are requiring individuals to disclose any relationships (I’m not a legal expert here but it does raise some interesting questions as to what is the definition of a relationship and how quickly after reaching that definition you need to notify your employer – is it minutes, hours, days…).

Mr Easterbrook won’t be short of funds to carry on wining and dining his new love as the termination package is pretty significant. He earned nearly $16m last year and will receive 26 weeks of pay on his departure.

Bloomberg estimate that his total leaving package which includes previously granted shares will be in excess of $37m.

That should buy a few romantic meals at Burger King for the two love birds.

Don’t sweat your exams

Most people enjoy it when the weather gets warmer. Sunny weather often makes people happier but some recent research indicates that a heatwave may not be good news if you’re taking an exam.

Researchers from Harvard Chan School of Public Health found that students who were exposed to hotter temperatures did significantly less well in cognitive tests than those students who lived in a temperature-controlled environment.

The research involved a group of students who had already been allocated accommodation on campus. Half of the rooms had air conditioning and half didn’t.

The students were followed during a 5-day heatwave where temperatures exceeded 26C.

Before, during and after the heatwave, the students had to perform a number of cognitive tests which measured the speed they processed matters as well as their working memory. The results showed that the scores of these students in the hotter accommodation fell by 13% compared to their colleagues in the air-conditioned temperature stable environment.

The researchers said that it was not clear what was behind the drop in performance during an increase in temperature. It could have been because the brain was working harder on maintaining critical body functions such as thermoregulation or it could have been due to a poorer quality of sleep due to the heat.

Either way, let’s hope it’s not a heatwave the next time you sit an exam…

How to impress over a business lunch…

Picture the scene. You’ve got an important business lunch coming up. You want to make a good impression on the person you are meeting with. What should you eat for lunch?

A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology has some interesting findings which indicate that if you have an important business lunch, there are various benefits to ordering the same food as the person you are trying to impress.

Scientists from the University of Chicago studied nearly 500 people to identify whether eating the same food helped them agree in negotiations.

The researcher’s conclusion was that people who are served the same food are more likely to trust each other, smooth out problems and make deals.

As part of the study, participants in the research were told to imagine they were “investors” who had to decide whether to invest in funds operated by their “fund manager” eating partners. The researchers found that those people who were served similar food invested more money.

Another interesting finding in the study was the link between food consumption and the effectiveness of advertising. The authors said that “consumers are more trusting of information about non-food products – e.g. a software product – when the advertiser in the product testimonial eats similar food to them”.

Back to the business lunch though and although the research found that there are benefits to ordering the same food as the person you are trying to impress, I’m not sure that if you’re wearing a nice clean white shirt to the lunch meeting you should necessarily follow the other person in ordering that “tricky to eat tidily spaghetti with the sloppy tomato sauce”…

I never emailed you…

Sometimes it’s the simple scams that can cause the most damage.

We hear all the time about ignoring scam phishing emails where fraudsters are pretending to be banks to get online bank account log in details but there’s a new scam involving email which is costing some people a lot of money.

The Art Newspaper reported that at least nine art galleries and art dealers have been caught up by the fraud. The amounts lost to the fraudsters have been significant with amounts ranging from £10,000 to £1 million.

The fraud itself is fairly simple.

The fraudsters hack into an organisation’s email system and look out for emails sending invoices to clients.

For example, if an art dealer has made a sale of a piece of art and then emails the invoice through to the customer for payment, the fraudsters send another email straight after the original email.

This second email looks like it’s come from the art dealer and includes an identical invoice with the only exception being it has a different bank account on it for payment of the invoice. Yes, you’ve guessed it but the bank details on the second invoice are not those of the art dealer but instead are details of a bank account in the name of the fraudsters.

The customer innocently pays the invoice as it looks genuine and as soon as the money is received the fraudsters withdraw the money, close the bank account and are never heard of again.

As far as the art dealer is concerned they are waiting for the payment to be made but the customer has already paid the money but to the fraudster. By the time the fraud is discovered it is too late.

There’s a fairly simple solution to this and ensuring that anti-virus programmes are up to date and email passwords are changed regularly will go a long way in preventing this sort of fraud.

Does this help you concentrate?

The Journal of Consumer Research published the results of five experiments into how the level of background noise can impact on performance when someone is working on creative tasks.

The  results are interesting and in simple terms found that a moderate level of ambient noise is better for enhancing performance on creative tasks than both low levels and high levels of ambient noise.

Or put another way, people are more likely to be able to work creatively if there is a medium level of ambient noise compared to where there is silence or loud noise in the background.

So, what lessons can we learn from this if we’re studying?

Whilst the optimum situation and level of background noise is very much a personal preference the science behind it could indicate that we should head somewhere with a mid level background noise.

Now, where could we find such a place?

Well, the local pub around the corner has a great mid level background noise as far as I’m concerned but there are some liquid distractions that will harm studying.

What about a coffee shop or cafe? Again, there would be some great mid levels of background noise but you’ve got to get there and what happens if you don’t find a seat. All of this will dig into your valuable study time.

Well, up step the fantastic website coffitivity.com which enables you to play background coffeeshop noise on your computer whilst you’re studying.

You can’t order a Cafe Latte or Cappuccino but in my opinion it’s a great tool for those who like to study with a non intrusive background noise.

It’s also excellent for people who don’t have any friends to go to the coffee shop with.

Just to be a bit different I’ll eat…

What do you fancy for lunch today?

Do you want your usual lunch or would you like something a bit different?

A survey by New Covent Garden Soup found that office workers tended to show a complete lack of imagination when it came to lunch with most of those surveyed choosing the same lunch as they had yesterday.

More than 75% of workers who were surveyed had eaten the same meal for lunch for the past 9 months.

The most common lunches were sandwiches with the top 3 being ham in first place followed by cheese and then chicken. In 4th place was salad.

Yep, three quarters of people had eaten the same sandwich for 9 months.

In what was without a doubt, not a surprise, over 80% of respondents to the survey said they were “bored” with lunch.

Becky Spelman, a psychologist said that “eating the same thing every day means we risk not getting a wide enough array of nutrients, as well as simply being very monotonous. Making small changes, such as trying something new for our lunchtime meal, can – in a small way – help to open our minds to new experiences in other areas of life too.”

In summary, if you’re heading out to buy your lunch now and you’ve been eating the same ham sandwich for the last 9 months then maybe you could go for something dramatically different like a tuna sandwich instead…

Working from home?

Let’s be honest now – have you ever had a day off work when you really shouldn’t have? Have you ever called in sick when you were actually feeling ok?

Well, even if you have taken a day off work when you should have been in the office then you are nowhere near as bad as Mr Joaquin Garcia.

Mr Garcia was a Spanish civil servant who was paid €37,000 a year by a water company run by a local authority in the Spanish city of Cadiz.

He had worked for the organisation for so long that he became eligible for a long service award. The deputy mayor was due to award Mr Garcia a plaque for 20 years’ service but unfortunately Mr Garcia was not in the office.

Further investigation led to the discovery that despite being paid €37,000 a year the Spanish civil servant had failed to turn up for work for “at least” 6 years. Yes, he was employed and was being paid but hadn’t turned up for work for at least 6 years and nobody had noticed!

The water company thought that Mr Garcia was being supervised by the local authority whilst the local authority thought that the water company was supervising him. The end result was that Mr Garcia was not in the office, was not working but was receiving his full salary.

The local authority was understandably not that happy at paying somebody a full salary when that person was at home enjoying life and took Mr Garcia to court. The court found in favour of the local authority and ordered Mr Garcia to pay a fine.

Despite the local authority paying Mr Garcia for doing no work for at least 6 years, the maximum amount of fine that the company could legally reclaim was equivalent to one year’s salary.

Mr Garcia has since retired. No doubt to take it easy after all of his hard work over the last 6 years…