Random Acts of Kindness

There is another important date in February, 3 days after Valentines Day, one you may not be familiar with. On the 17th February it is National Random Acts of Kindness Day.

The definition of a random act of kindness, or RAoK as it is often abbreviated to, is a selfless act performed by kind people to either help or cheer up a random stranger, for no reason other than to make people happier.

You know those supermarket vouchers you get through the post, the ones for random products, 20p off this or 10p off that. The mouthwash you will never use, flavoured water you do not like, the spread that is not your regular one. I used to just throw those vouchers in the bin, but over the last three months I have kept them. Then as I wander around doing my usual family shopping, I put the unwanted voucher onto the top of the corresponding product. There it sits waiting for the stranger, shopping for the product they really want and finding a money off voucher right next to it. I hope this cheers them up, maybe even inspires them to create their own random acts of kindness.

At home, on the wall, we have a yellow circle of card, about the circumference of a cup. Whenever my wife, daughter or myself recognise an act of kindness one of us has done, a description of the act is written on a rectangular yellow strip and my daughter then sticks it onto the edge of the yellow circle. When 12 strips have been added to the circle we have a completed sunshine. Next as a family we decide on an activity to do. Once it was “Let’s go to space Dad” which started a trip to Leicester’s Space Centre, “I want to see the Christmas decorations at B&Q”, “Let’s bake cookies” were others. It has not only allowed for fun activities for the family, it has made us recognise the wonderful kind acts that we do for each other, that were all too easy to take for granted, not recognise and not say thank you for. The more we find we recognise them, the more we want to do.

In an age of austerity, we can often forget that kindness is free. Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change. Imagine doing something for no other reason than to make another person happy. A search of RAoK reveals lists of ideas and I thought I would just highlight a few. Maybe you will do just one on the 17th? Maybe one on a different day, just to make a someone happy.

• Donate colouring books and crayons to the waiting room at the hospital, doctors etc.
• Write a letter to someone (teacher, parent, neighbour, etc.) who has made a difference in your life and thank them.
• Offer to watch someone’s children so they can take a break
• Tell a random parent you see that they are doing a good job
• Let someone go ahead of you at the supermarket
• Smile!
• Make goodies for your neighbours
• Let your partner sleep in, or even take them breakfast in bed
• Leave random sticky notes with fun or kind quotes on the bathroom mirror at your place of work
• Pick up some litter
• Go to a retirement home and visit anyone who looks lonely
• Leave nice comments on random blogs
• Compliment someone randomly (whether you know them or not)
• Hold the door for someone
• Draw a picture and hand it to a passer by
• Donate canned food items to the local food bank
• Drop change around a playground for children to find
• Volunteer somewhere; an animal shelter, homeless shelter, food bank

You can be the reason someone believes in the goodness of people.

I would love to hear your ideas. What did you do? Did someone act kindly to you and how did it make you feel? Which ideas do you love?

Karl McCormack, Lecturer in the Staffordshire Business School

Undergraduate courses

Postgraduate courses

A New Year Tribute to Hard Workers

Dr. Jenny Gale
Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Organizational Behaviour

Balancing work and family life can be hard.  In the run up to Christmas this is more pronounced. However, there is also the general concern that the workplace is becoming an increasingly pressurised environment as organisations struggle to remain competitive in uncertain economic and political conditions, including the uncertainties of Brexit.  The beginning of the New Year offers an opportunity to reflect on the cost of the increasing intensification of work, in other words having too much to do, in too little time, and sometimes with fewer staff and other resources.

Hard work is nothing new of course, and jobs today are cleaner and safer, while technological advances and the digital age have removed some of the arduous aspects of work.  However, employers also demand higher levels of commitment and loyalty from employees, even to the extent that they identify emotionally with business needs, embodying the organisational brand.  This too contributes to work intensification as it requires employees to give more of themselves, often going ‘the extra mile’.  Coupled with the pressure on organisations to continually ‘do more with less’, it is feasible to expect rising workloads and work pressure.  Left unchecked, these can contribute to human resource management issues such as sickness absence and/or ‘presenteeism’.  Presenteeism is the term used for when employees present for work, despite not being well enough, or when the workplace culture suggests that non-attendance, even when ill, may have negative implications for one’s career or job security.  Under such regimes, employees may contribute to their own work intensification as they seek to demonstrate commitment while also worrying about burdening colleagues with additional work.  However, ‘doing more with less’, while reflecting the harsh economic realities confronting private and public sector organisations, is not only bad for employees, it is not good for business or for service delivery.There is only so much that employees can do.  We are not machines, neither are we simply ‘human resources’. We are people and people can ‘break’ with adverse implications for health and the ability to meet expectations not only of managers and colleagues, but customers too.  As a customer, I have often felt the urgency and speed of being served by employees under pressure – telephone enquiries ending prematurely when they seemed anxious to move on to the next call; leaving queues in banks, department stores, and coffee shops (because I ran out of time more often than patience). Fleeting conversations with fellow customers have included utterances of ‘not enough staff’ and ‘they should open another till’ along with a degree of sympathy for employees trying to do too much at once.  Of course, under-staffing can be a consequence of recruitment and retention problems (the NHS being a clear example), rather than decisions designed specifically to reduce labour costs.

However, those employees who take the trouble to ‘go the extra mile’, though already busy, do so at a cost to themselves.  They need to intensify their own effort and this increases pressure on the rest of their working day.  It can mean extending their working hours and involve giving up precious time with their families or other important aspects of themselves that are nothing to do with work. Some employers pay high rewards for this but many do not.  To champion the hard work of those employees who are doing their best to help their customers, patients, and clients, I extend my thanks to them.  For employers, while there are no easy answers to the imperative to control costs, they should reflect on the consequences of work intensification both for their employees and their business.

To view our postgraduate courses such as Human Resource Management click here

Happy New Two-Year! Best kept secret? Degrees that save you time and money…

Now, the thing about two-year degrees is that they are arguably the best kept secret of all time, excluding of course that exquisite and neatly wrapped Christmas gift you received from your loved one. What’s more, like Christmas, two-year degrees have been around for some time – well, not quite 2000+ years but certainly on and off since the Second World War when they were made available to armed forces personnel to assist with their transition to civilian life. So why is it that two-year degrees continue to fall under the radar of prospective students of higher education? Well, the real issue stems from the fact that few universities have risen to the challenge of providing alternative flexible pathways, such as two-year degrees, preferring the status quo of their inflexible semesterised academic calendar which for years has been the traditional means by which students have engaged in higher education.

In the good old days, before tuition fees, or even today if you are lucky enough to have sufficient financial means, the traditional semesterised academic calendar offers the luxury of three summer months of hedonism. At this point, many of you will have the words of Kylie Minogue ringing in your ears – for those who don’t, here they are…‘I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky….’ OK, so it seems like me, there are others out there who think that studying over the summer months (bar a couple of weeks of well-earned rest) is a good idea, yet there are few universities willing to offer them. The issue is that for a university to deliver two-year degrees, and other accelerated courses for that matter, requires a period of institutional transition and change management to change the out-dated and entrenched semesterised academic calendar, academic culture and supporting infrastructure. Effectively, the resistance to such change by many well-known established universities has meant that two-year degrees are offered by only a handful of forward thinking and progressive universities.

Staffordshire University is proud to have pioneered two-year degrees back in 2006 and to have continued investing in their provision ever since to accommodate the needs of students looking for something other than a traditional three-year degree, whatever their reasons. As a member of Staffordshire University’s academic team responsible for the delivery of our two-year BA (Hons) Accounting and Finance degree I have witnessed students from many different walks of life who have each graduated with excellent results. For example, there have been mature students that enrol on the degree with great trepidation but then relish the experience of studying and redirecting their career. Then there are the more traditionally aged students including those who are motivated to complete their degree quickly and to progress to their chosen professional accountancy qualification – believe me, the thought of becoming a professionally qualified accountant by the age of twenty-four can unlock significant amounts of drive and motivation! Employers also recognise that two-year degree students are always motivated and ambitious too. But there is a common thread that runs through all the conversations I’ve had with two-year students about why they chose a two-year degree and that is, at the end of the day studying a two-year degree saves them an immense amount of money – according to Jo Johnson, the ex-universities minister (aka brother of Boris), approximately £25,000.

Staffordshire University is of course an established leader and expert in two-year degrees and degree apprenticeships, with student satisfaction and employability being our key drivers. So when I read the criticisms contained within the Government’s 2016 White Paper that many universities still provide courses that are inflexible, based on the traditional three-year undergraduate model, with insufficient innovation and provision of two-year degrees and degree apprenticeships, I was confident that my university was in fact one of the few universities, very much at the forefront of delivering exactly the type of alternative ways of engaging in higher education that today’s society needs. I am also immensely proud of my Two-Year BA (Hons) Accounting and Finance team who achieved 100% student satisfaction in the National Student Survey of 2017 and also the university as a whole for being ranked No. 1 for employability in the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education Survey of 2017. Reflecting on these successes, I wonder what 2018 will bring – will the best kept secret now be unwrapped? For further details of Staffordshire University’s Two-Year Accelerated Degrees please visit:- www.staffs.ac.uk/accelerated-degrees

Wishing You a Very Happy New Two-Year!

Alison Maguire MBA (Ed), ACMA, CGMA, Cert.Ed., SFHEA.
Head of Department – Accounting, Finance and Economics

School of Business, Leadership and Economics
Staffordshire University Business School
B336 Brindley Building
Leek Road
Stoke on Trent
ST4 2DF
United Kingdom
Tel: 01782 294155
www.staffs.ac.uk

Social Media And Our Communication Skills

Social media opens vast possibilities for finding connections and interactions. It also is a very powerful tool to communicate ideas. The uprisings that we have observed during last years in various parts of the world were all organised by people getting together in social media platforms. Once the message is out, it can spread to millions within seconds. The latest #metoo movement on social media was so effective that it has been selected to be the 2017 Times Magazine person of the year.

However, this popularity comes with a cost. More connection does not imply more interaction. Having grown up with social media, the new generation prefers to communicate through an online platform than to have a face-to-face conversation. Real-life interactions, however, teach us aspects of non-verbal communication: being able to read and respond to facial expressions, eye-to-eye contact or changes in tone of voice. These abilities could easily be lost in digital communication. Besides, experts relate the rising occurrence of depression, anxiety and isolation among youngsters with their excessive exposure to social media.

While communicating through social media, we often do not feel the need to form grammatically correct complete sentences. This is particularly common for youngsters and teenagers who heavily rely on emoji, acronym or short expressions. However, over time, this convenience is likely to weaken their ability to write and to communicate in formal environments. In a world becoming increasingly competitive, these skills will be the essential assets for success.

So, while we are enjoying the benefits of social media, we need to remember that the real-life friendships and face-to-face interactions are equally valuable. A balanced use of digital and face-to-face interactions can immensely expand our communication capabilities and help us to utilise our full potential.

Mehtap Hisarciklilar-Riegler, Associate Professor, Staffordshire Business School

What are ChatBots and why are they important?

At it’s simplest a chatbot is computer programme that imitates a human conversation…So why is it important?

As a hobby I support local businesses to increase sales, and over the last few years I’ve been supporting some restaurants and hotels. For a one week period I setup and ran a test using a chatbot that gave a personalised experience to potential customers on a Social Media messaging platform. This system was easy to setup and run. In general the restaurants that paid for search advertising on Google had a click-through-rate (CTR) of around 4% and Facebook advertising was around 9%. During this test week the chatbot created a CTR of over 50%, and a major increase in bookings.

With more complicated systems, including adding Artificial Intelligence (AI) or additional support from humans, chatbots can be setup to be much smarter and chat with customers plus find out what they need. Where applicable, it can also learn from previous conversations and the more knowledge it gains, the better it is able to support customers. In addition, it can have lots of separate chats all at the same time, for example H&M can chat with lots of customers to make tailored recommendations to the customers taste (see https://bots.directory/kik/health-and-lifestyle/hm).

If you’re a business owner and short of time, this support could help sell your products and services. Rather than just receiving and monitoring comments on your website, social media or messenger the chatbot could give a personalised service, converse with and sell to customers, sell other products they might be interested in and help build brand loyalty.

Chatbots are becoming a familiar both as apps and chatbot platforms. For example around the home and office are virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Echo and Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Google Assistant and Samsung’s Bixby. Messaging apps are amongst the most popular mobile apps today, for examples Facebook’s Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat and Viber combined have more users than popular social network apps. This has enabled businesses of all sizes to use messaging-app chatbots to expand their customer service, for example in e-commerce and sales.

SMM Marketing Platform reported that in just over six months chatbots, on Facebook alone, grew from 33,000 to 100,000 in April 2017 and some chatbots are getting great results, for example Adidas’s chatbot got 2000 new sign ups in two week and Just Eat chatbot created a conversion rate 266% higher than a simple advert.
Although it can be seen that chatbots are to become an important customer engagement tool, they are still in their infancy stage and need careful development. There are always going to be examples where humans try to sabotage the machine learning of these tools and at the moment, without some form of pre-scripted conversation, the natural-language processing and machine learning hasn’t evolved enough to enable fluid dialog between humans and bots.

Paul Dobson is a Senior Lecturer at Staffordshire University, Business School.

Free Teaching event – Purchasing and Supply Management Fundamentals Staffordshire University 15th and 16th November

Are you a student looking to improve your knowledge and employability in Supply Chain Management area?

The perfect project event is a great opportunity to do it.

The most desired impact of the PERFECT project is an increase in the number of highly qualified students who are suitable for entering the workplace in PSM related jobs. Purchasing and Supply Management (PSM) as an enterprise function is getting more and more important as modern organizations of all types are becoming increasingly reliant on their suppliers to sustain and develop their operational and strategic performance. Therefore, the job market for PSM professionals is also growing, which means that there is not only a greater need for graduates with PSM skills, but also a greater opportunity for those that do have them.

In this PSM focused learning event, you will gain knowledge about PSM fundamentals and insights into current practice, issues and future challenges such as digitisation and sustainability in the field of PSM.

The two-day event will consist of lectures and discussions in a small training group. You will also work in smaller groups putting together a presentation based on a case study.
You will be issued with a certificate of attendance.

When will it happen? 15th-16th November 2017, 9:00-17:30
Where will it happen? Staffordshire University

Programme:
Day 1 – PSM basics
• What is the general role of PSM in organisations and which job roles are relevant?
• How to evaluate a supply market?
• How to negotiate with suppliers?

Day 2 – Future challenges for PSM
• What are future trends and challenges?
• How will digitization impact purchasing?
• How to handle sustainability standards in global supply chains?

Registration:
Please register via: http://projectperfect.eventbrite.co.uk

The number of participants is limited and places are allocated on a first come, first served basis.

The event is organised and conducted by the team of the EU Erasmus+ project PERFECT (Purchasing Education and Research for European Competence Transfer).

More project information and regular updates: www.project-perfect.eu

Marzena Reszka, Staffordshire Business School

Why do women still earn less than men?

In the nearly fifty years since the passing of the Equal Pay Act the gender pay gap in the UK has proved to be stubbornly resilient. What has changed is the way economists try to explain its existence and persistence. Fifty years ago economists used to explain differences in wages predominantly in terms of differences in experience, education and training, what collectively they termed ‘human capital’. Whilst they recognised that luck, nepotism and discrimination may be important, differences in human capital were thought to be the dominant determinant of wage differentials. It was, however, recognised that female workers were typically crowded into a narrower range of occupations and industries than males. Moreover, whilst glass-ceilings constrained many female employees’ ability to move up the job-ladder, it was also evident that employers tended to place a low premium on caring skills, which traditionally have been more associated with female workers.

More recently economists have established the importance of non-cognitive productivity-related characteristics, such as motivation, resilience and initiative, in explaining differences in wages. In terms of explaining the gender pay gap this opens up three intriguing possibilities. It may be that females are, on average, less endowed with those productivity-augmenting characteristics. This may be the result of nature or nurture and here the findings that single-sex schooling may be related to lower gender pay gaps is of interest. An alternative hypothesis is that females may have, on average, different preferences, placing a lower relative value on the monetary benefits from working. A third possibility is that employers do not reward males and females similarly for a given non-cognitive characteristic. Behaviour which is seen by employers as positive when undertaken by males, such a providing leadership in group discussion, may be viewed as indicative of a poor team-player when evident in a female employee.

If we are serious as a society about eliminating the 18 per cent gender pay gap then it may be time to pay less attention to altering the behaviour of female workers and spend more time creating more male homemakers.

Nick Adnett, Professor in Staffordshire Business School

Industry vote of confidence in UK’s first esports degree

A trailblazing degree dedicated to the rapidly growing esports industry has received the backing of the UK’s leading industry experts.

Staffordshire University announced in May that it was launching the country’s first BA (Hons) Esports degree and has been overwhelmed with enquiries from prospective students from all over the world.

The University recently invited organisations including British Esports Association, Ukie, The National University Esports League (NUEL), Fast Web Media and Codemasters to make up an industry panel and help advise on modules making up the course which aims to supply skilled graduates to the global gaming industry.

Gaming Conviction.com: “Staffordshire to offer degree in esports”

This offers the opportunity of future collaboration and companies like Red Bull have already offered student work placements at their new esports studio in London.

Rachel Gowers, Associate Dean for Recruitment in Staffordshire Business School, said: “It is vital that the degree supports the needs of those working and recruiting to this specialist sector. The industry is driving the creation of new jobs and companies are looking for people who are both entrepreneurial and tech savvy.

“Our course focuses on the business and culture of esports from developing teams, communities and a fan base to hosting esports events. We are delighted to be partnering with the businesses and organisations who can help us to fine tune the course prior to launch in 2018.”

Joana Ferreira of Fast Web Media, a digital marketing company which played a major role in promoting the first esports industry awards, said she was delighted to be part of the process.

“Being a part of this panel is very exciting for me. Having worked within digital marketing for esports for a couple of years now, it’s fantastic to be able to help mould what future esports employees look like and what it takes to run an esports business. Staffs Uni is impressively forward thinking, and this esports degree is just another testament to that.”

The University has also won the high profile backing of Ed Vaizey MP and Vice Chair of the British Esports Association.

He added: “Staffordshire University’s decision to establish an esports course is visionary and far sighted. Esports is one of the fastest growing entertainment mediums in the world, and anything that can help the UK establish itself as a centre for this exciting industry should be celebrated.”

The new degree course is in direct response to the Ukie white paper on esports. Dr Bobbie Fletcher, Associate Professor of Games Education, said: “Plans to grow the UK as an esports hub brings huge opportunities and we are well placed as a University to respond to that. Connecting with industry in this way enables us to benefit from their expertise and exciting work experience opportunities.”

Prospective students are invited to visit Staffordshire University on Sunday 22 October for an esports taster event. Taking place between 11am – 6pm at the LRV on Leek Road, Stoke-on-Trent (ST4 2DF), this is an opportunity to experience esports, get hands-on with the games and have a go at casting. It’s also a chance to find out about university teams and watch them compete in the Esports Varsity. Book here

 

Author: Maria Scrivens, Media Relations Manager

The economic benefits of a vibrant university and Business School

Dean of Staffordshire Dr Peter Jones reflects on the start of term and the economic benefits of a vibrant university and Business School in the region.

Last month the population of Stoke-on-Trent changed and transformed as the annual autumn migration to University got underway. Students both arrived and left the city and the region to start or continue their higher education. For Stoke-on-Trent there was a sudden influx of people from not just around the country but from around the world who bring a vibrancy, culture and diversity to the six towns.
This changing demographic is vital for the city and the region. Students and associated workers spending cash on renting property, in bars, eating food and even buying books – students are important for our economy. University students also provide a transient workforce providing casual labour to the region’s businesses. Importantly they will go on to become the qualified and educated future workforce. And this is vital for Stoke-on-Trent.

For a city like Stoke where we have high employment, but typically a low skilled and low wage workforce, a strong University is key and is vital in the economic growth of the city, county and region. This is not a situation that is restricted just to Stoke-on-Trent. In the late 1990s funding of the Northern Powerhouse cities resulted in massive urban repopulation and redevelopment. The growth of cities such as Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and also in the West Midlands / Birmingham meant that the smaller Midlands cities were somewhat overlooked and forgotten about.

However, the introduction of increased numbers of people entering higher education has to a greater or lesser extent be the saviour of many if these economically slowing towns and cities in the Midlands. Places like Coventry, Northampton, Derby, Leicester and Lincoln all now have growing economies where local and regional politicians work hand in with the local “new” university to invent themselves and their identity of place. With the changing role of councils and their declining budgets, the role of the university in developing place has become even more paramount.

I would argue that Business Schools have a key role in new universities as all businesses do business and, I would argue, need business graduates. Therefore, the key to the regional economic growth is a strong Business School. A Business School that is connected to the region’s employers and producing students who bring ideas and support innovation and growth by completing internships, placements and sandwich years with the region’s companies. In our digital age this input from millennials and generation Z is key for innovation and economic growth.

It is also vital that Business Schools are not just outward looking but also develop the business skills of students in other disciplines within their own universities such as entrepreneurship which will help them become the next generation of start-ups and business leaders.

Super Seven Skills in Esports 

On Friday 8 September our Associate Dean for Recruitment Rachel Gowers, set off on a trip to Bergen Norway to see esports in the classroom.  Rachel’s journey started off bright and early by flying to Bergen and then catching a bus into the City Centre, then catching a train, another bus which turned out to be the wrong bus before deciding to get a taxi to the Norwegian School… I would say she has definitely been on an adventure even before the esports fun commenced.

 

Once Rachel arrived at the school she was introduced by Petter Grahl Jonstad, who assisted in introducing esports to the school in 2016. Petter originally had a background in social science and used his research to find out the transferable skills acquired through sports and chess.  When creating the esports course his philosophy was to look at the whole student as well as provide general well-being. To do this he decided that students would have two hours a week of gym sessions, 1 hour of strength training and 3 hours of game play a week to make sure they had a good balance. Petter was very interested in engaging students who were non-academic and to do this he made the requirement that all students must pass all their other subjects, by doing this he has seen a general improvement in attitude, motivations, English language and overall improved communication.

Our focus is not only on the mechanics of the game, but also on how a team works, theory regarding motivation as a professional gamer and, last but not least, teamwork. Understanding the game is one thing, but if the communication does not work within the team, if the players can’t rely on each other, you practically have nothing in our opinion”
Petter Grahl Jonstad

Since introducing esports the school has become oversubscribed and students are even moving house to attend the college. The classes are taught by ex-pro gamer Sindre Rygg, who has competed in the second biggest area network called The Gathering and went to Korea to compete in The Masters of Cheon where they came fourth.

While in Norway Rachel got to meet the next generation of esports managers and players, this allowed Rachel to visualise what type of graduates will be coming out of Staffordshire Business School in the near future. Rachel spoke to three of the students studying esports and here is what they had to say:

‘Esports helps me to concentrate in other classes because I know I have to work hard.’
Christian Nilsen

‘Esports helps me to communicate and work in a team to achieve something’.
Henrik Flo Wilhelmsen

‘Esports practices your brain to think quickly and have fast reaction times.’
Jorgen Treit Brevset

Rachel has come back from Norway more driven and inspired to get the esports course ready for 2018 and cannot wait for it to be part of the Business School. She has also learnt the super seven skills that will be imbedded within the course. These skills are:

  • Decision Making
  • Multi-tasking
  • Problem Solving
  • Perception
  • Communication
  • Team Builder
  • Numeracy

Click here for more information on studying a BA (Hons) Esports degree at Staffordshire University

Joshua Lonsdale, Graduate Intern within Staffordshire Business School