Featured in today's briefing:
- Parallels to the 1970s, and what history tells us about the future of work.
- Inflation and pay raises.
- What commuting means for whether you’ll work out.
The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 55% decrease from two weeks earlier, with about 52,000 new cases on Friday. With the two-year anniversary of the official start of the pandemic this coming Friday, the US is approaching 1 million deaths attributed to the disease (which experts say is an undercount of the true death toll.) Low-income countries in the southern hemisphere continue to be ravaged.
The business impact: The US economy is showing signs of moving beyond the pandemic (just in time for an energy crisis and concerning military conflict to kick in, alas.) Employers added close to 700,000 jobs last month, significantly more than expected. There are now 2.1 million fewer jobs than in February 2020, a recovery of nearly 20 million jobs since the pandemic low point in April 2020.
Focus on 1970s Parallels and the Future of Work
We are working in a world whose future feels as confused and as opaque as any time in recent memory.
Except perhaps one. Some historians and economists are tentatively drawing parallels between mounting macro pressures we are experiencing today and the 1970s, a time that also saw inflation, a budding energy crisis, tension with Russia, and concerns about automation. Not to mention talk of the four-day workweek and the rise of vintage flare jeans.
Jefferson Cowie is a Vanderbilt University professor and a specialist in the history of the 1970s. In his book Stayin’ Alive, Cowie argued that decade saw the decline of support for a strong American working class and rise of shareholder capitalism, which has rippled through our workplaces over the past 40 years.
And now—while he cautions against forecasting the future based on historical analogies—Cowie believes we are at another inflection point in the history of the US worker. “What was built in the ‘70s is falling apart now,” he says.
The pendulum seems to be swinging back:
- Politicians on both sides of the aisle—from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump—are at least claiming to champion the US worker. President Biden’s defining political identity is the working class.
- The tight labor market is forcing companies to improve compensation and working conditions. Some employers who have for decades gotten away with treating workers poorly have been in crisis because they now can’t retain or hire staff.
- Globalization is under pressure. Pandemic supply-chain problems and geopolitical conflict with Russia and China are leading US companies to shift work closer to home.
- Corporate America—especially tech platforms—face the prospect of increased antitrust scrutiny and regulation.
- The pandemic, climate crisis, and Russia conflict have demonstrated the role for an active government.
Where will this take us? “We don't really quite know what's going on,” says Cowie. “It could go far right. It could go far left. It could stumble forth in some other way.”
While they remain unresolved, the trends Cowie cites could suggest the potential for a better chapter for work ahead. It is possible that we could end this turbulent decade with more workers earning living wages and enjoying better job security and working conditions. There are reasons to hope that we’ll see greater flexibility and support for caregivers, and concrete progress toward closing gender and racial pay gaps. Amid the confusion, it’s up to all of us to insist on, lead toward, and vote for such progress.
What Else You Need to Know
More companies are pulling out of Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. Shell, Apple, Nike, and Walt Disney and many more are heading for the exits. The moves, coupled with broad government sanctions, are isolating the country with unprecedented speed.
- Some of the exits appear more pragmatic than principled: Sanctions and economic conditions have made it more or less impossible for many US companies to operate in Russia anyway.
- For what it’s worth, many of the same companies are reluctant to take a principled stand in confronting China—where they are still able to operate—over its human rights abuses.
Workers are pointing to high inflation to request higher pay. Emboldened by a tight labor market and facing rising living expenses, they’re expecting raises unlike most workers have experienced in recent decades.
- Consumer prices are up around 7% over the past year, and with the Ukraine war costs are rising sharply for gas and anything with a significant energy component. Private sector hourly wages were 5.1% higher than a year earlier in February.
- One worker told the Washington Post that it was “a slap on the face” to get a 4% pay increase this year, given inflation and her employer’s record 2021 profits.
- Some 44% of businesses are planning pay increases above 3%, according to PayScale.
- Nearly a third of professionals who quit are now making over 30% more in their new jobs, according to a Conference Board survey.
Companies' climate-related corporate disclosures are inadequate. Only 1% of firms provide investors with the necessary information to assess whether they have a credible plan to reduce emissions, according to environmental-disclosure platform CDP.
Covid mandates continue to fade in the US. Mask mandates ended in numerous states including California, Illinois, and Oregon.
- Current CDC guidelines suggest that 93% of Americans live in areas with Covid rates low enough that they can stop wearing masks indoors.
- New York City is dropping masking requirements in schools as well as proof-of-vaccination requirements in restaurants and in entertainment venues.
Return to workplace speed round:
- Remote work is slamming San Francisco, as the tech hub struggles with weak office occupancies, low transit ridership, and a slow job recovery. “The place to be was Silicon Valley. It feels like now the place to be is the internet,” tweeted Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. “I expect this trend to only accelerate.”
- Federal workers are being urged to return to the office, as the White House seeks to show the country that in-person work can be safe. About half of the 2.1 million civilian federal workers were working remotely as of January.
- Cisco reopened its US offices on March 1. Twitter is opening offices on March 15 and resumed business travel. Verizon asked hybrid workers to try in-office returns in March.
- Detroit’s Big Three automakers dropped masking requirements at workplaces.
- Zoom’s sales rose at their slowest rate ever during the fourth quarter, as work shifts back in-person and out-of-video meetings.
- Hotels are offering midweek-stay discounts and subscription deals for regular stays for workers who now live too far to comfortably commute to their offices.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Design work to make everyone smarter. Jobs that provide autonomy and require problem solving strengthen workers’ cognitive skills and stimulate ongoing learning.
- Speak your colleagues’ “love language.” You can better show appreciation if you know how people prefer to receive it. At one South Dakota mining company, workers put colorful stickers on their hard hats to indicate whether their preference is for words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, or gifts.
- When you work affects how you feel about your work. Working nights and weekends damages motivation, for example, as people consider better uses of their time.
- Make lists of pros and cons. Research shows that generating pros and cons to any decision reduces one’s fear of failing—making you more likely to negotiate and speak up.
Return to the office/gym. The likelihood that someone will go to a fitness facility more than doubles on days when they’re in the office.
Beam me over. Tech companies are seeking to offer holograms that allow executives to communicate while reducing business travel.
- One offering already in use projects a life-size hologram inside a seven-foot-tall box.
Making fun of work goes viral. Watching people complaining about their jobs is a satisfying TikTok genre.
Best wishes for a great week!