Featured in today's briefing:
- A new way to think about discussing mental health at work.
- The artificial-intelligence training workers expect from their employers.
- A warm-up exercise that yields better brainstorm meetings.
AI and Work Radar
- More than 150 companies highlighted their use of ChatGPT on earnings calls in the first half of this year, according to an Insider analysis of call transcripts, including several in customer-facing functions. The cowboy-boot company Boots Barn, for example, noted that it uses the chatbot to help shoppers build outfits around the boots they’ve selected.
- Programs designed to detect AI-generated text often mistakenly flag writing by non-native English speakers, according to a new Stanford study. One program tested for the study marked nearly all essays written for an English proficiency test as products of AI. In their paper, the authors called for “increased focus on the fairness and robustness of GPT detectors, as overlooking their biases may lead to unintended consequences, such as the marginalization of non-native speakers in evaluative or educational settings.”
- Insurance company Cigna has overhauled its internal hiring system to include an AI-powered recommendations system that draws on workers’ experience, goals, and skills to surface new opportunities within the company that they might apply for.
- In a Salesforce survey released this week, some 62% of knowledge workers said they lack the skills necessary to use generative AI “safely and effectively,” while 70% of business leaders said the same of their teams. The survey also identified a gap between the upskilling workers want and what employers are offering: While two-thirds of workers surveyed said that they expect their employer to provide training in generative AI, around the same number said their workplace currently has no such training.
- In new MIT research on ChatGPT's effect on productivity, workers who used the chatbot as part of the study experiment were twice as likely to be using it in their jobs two weeks later, and nearly twice as likely to still be using it two months later.
Focus on How Workplaces Can Be More Proactive About Supporting Mental Health
Nearly one-fifth of US workers describe their mental health as fair or poor, and twice as many say their job has a negative impact on their mental health, according to Gallup. At the same time, more than 20% of US adults have some form of mental illness.
While many workplace mental-health strategies tackle those two issues as one, new research in the Academy of Management Annals argues that supporting workers’ mental health and supporting workers with mental illness are two distinct tasks, requiring two distinct approaches from employers.
“People often conflate those things, mental health and mental illness. That's really problematic, because workplaces need to do different things to address poor mental health than they do to address mental illness,” says co-author Emily Rosado-Solomon, an assistant professor of management at Babson College. “And when they're conflated, we don't really see a lot of opportunity for those sorts of nuanced discussions.”
For further insight, we spoke with Rosado-Solomon and Jaclyn Koopmann, another of the paper’s co-authors and an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business. Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for length and clarity:
What gets lost when workplaces conflate support for workers’ mental health with support for workers with mental illness?
Rosado-Solomon: A lot of times people say that you either have mental illness or you're in good mental health, and it's a singular spectrum. And it's really not. You could have a specific condition, like bipolar disorder, but you could be in otherwise good mental health and able to thrive at work. Or you could be in generally poor mental health, just like you can be in generally poor physical health but not necessarily have a specific clinical condition.
But what ends up happening is organizations hear, ‘Oh, depression is bad.’ And that promotes this ableist trope against people who have mental illness. There are lots of people who have mental illness who are great at their jobs, but a lot of the messaging is, ‘If your employees are going to be depressed, they're not going to be able to do their jobs as well, or productivity is going to suffer.’ A lot of times employers misunderstand that and say, ‘I should stay away from people with depression or anxiety,’ when in fact that's really not true.
How would you characterize the different approaches organizations should take for each issue?
Rosado-Solomon: There are a lot of things about the way jobs are designed that cause poor mental health or exacerbate poor mental health. Things like a lack of clarity about what your responsibilities really are, or a lack of flexibility, or a lack of feeling ownership over making decisions in your work. In order to address poor mental health, those are the systemic things that need to be changed. We might need to redesign jobs. We might need to revisit the job description and make sure everybody understands what is expected of them. And what comes out of our paper is this opportunity that organizations have to really get in front of this, to not wait until their employees are burned out or their employees are feeling anxiety or depression in order to proactively fix things.
What we see, though, both in terms of practice and in terms of a lot of the experiments about how to fix this, are really reactive strategies. Organizations are looking at, ‘Okay, Bob is feeling depressed. We could send him to counseling or we could do something to help him,’ without connecting the dots that maybe there's something about his job that could be changed more proactively.
Koopmann: It’s revisiting policies about being flexible with work schedules or building autonomy into positions, clarifying roles, eliminating any ambiguity in what someone is responsible for, removing excess demands that might be embedded within a certain role. Maybe there was a removal of a position in an org restructuring, and now one person is holding two jobs and it's a really excessive workload. Find a way to make that person be doing just one job again, and find a way to spread the second job across people in a way that is reasonable. So it's a lot of making sure that jobs are giving some empowerment or control or autonomy to employees, giving them some flexibility, making sure their responsibilities are very clear to them, expectations of them are very clear.
Rosado-Solomon: For mental illness, because it's a chronic condition, organizations are likely not going to be able to solve it, but there are a lot of things that they could do to accommodate people with mental illness. Things like depression and anxiety are often episodic, so people with an anxiety disorder might be fine for months and then all of a sudden they have a panic attack. To support them is not necessarily a matter of clarifying their job description or redesigning their job. It's something like, can they leave the office or can they work from home for a few days without having to feel like they're forced to disclose to anybody why they're doing that? It's much more about accommodations, as opposed to a strategic redesign.
A lot of the guidance for managers in particular focuses on how to help their reports feel comfortable discussing mental health at work. But some recent reporting has highlighted the pitfalls of putting too much of that burden on managers to support workers’ mental health. How should organizations find the right balance?
Rosado-Solomon: There is this false assumption that a lot of organizations have, like, ‘I need to know about an employee's mental health or mental illness to be able to support them.’ You really don't. If you do the strategic proactive redesign, and you're a little flexible, and you take your employee's word for it when they say, ‘Hey, I'm having a problem, I need to work from home today,’ then they feel supported.
Koopmann: A lot of those proactive steps mean that employees don't have to think about disclosing and take on the burden of worrying about, ‘If I disclose this to this person, will they look at me differently in the future? Will my boss be supportive?’ Built-in flexibility in the job is going to lead to a built-in ability for those with chronic conditions to take flex time that they might need, without having to fully disclose what their medical condition is.
Even if you create a safe environment for an employee to disclose, I don't know that you would fully remove the vulnerability experienced by the employees in that situation. So it's not necessarily that we want to make it a climate where everybody can fully disclose all their conditions that they need help with. It's not bad to have a safe culture for that, but we should be really thinking proactively about it and making the organization the responsible actor for making sure that employees are well taken care of. They might not need to disclose a mental-health challenge, for example, if the organization has taken proactive steps to mitigate psychological hazard [features of work that have the potential to cause psychological harm].
Read a transcript of our conversation, including how workplaces can make mental-health support more intersectional and what to do when employees do choose to disclose a mental illness.
What Else You Need to Know
More than a quarter of jobs are vulnerable to automation. Some 27% of jobs in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’ member nations are at high risk of being replaced by AI, and 21% of jobs in the US, according to the OECD’s Employment Outlook report released this week, which considered high risk to be any role using at least 25 skills experts believe could be outsourced to AI.
- The OECD also found that real wages in member nations have fallen by 3.8% over the past year, noting: “Company profits have risen more than labor costs in many countries and sectors, suggesting that the cost-of-living crisis has not been shared equally by everyone.”
- Some 63% of workers who use AI say that doing so has made their jobs more enjoyable, and slightly more than half say it has improved their mental health, according to an OECD survey of finance and manufacturing workers fielded last year and highlighted in the report. At the same time, roughly 60% worry about job loss over the next 10 years.
- Around three-quarters say the pace of their work has increased, with some respondents reporting that their roles feel more intense as the easier tasks that provide a mental break become automated.
- Across both sectors, leaders were significantly more likely to say they were responding to AI by training or upskilling workers (64% in finance and 71% in manufacturing) than by cutting jobs (17% and 14%).
In-person attendance has stabilized at 30% below pre-pandemic levels. That’s according to new McKinsey research, which also found in a global survey of 13,000 workers that average office attendance is 3.5 days per week, relatively close to workers’ average ideal of 3.2 days.
- Attendance is currently highest in small companies (fewer than 50 workers) and lowest in large ones (more than 25,000 workers).
- In a US-focused analysis, McKinsey researchers also found an inverse relationship between office attendance in a given county and the share of people in that county who work in knowledge roles.
Women’s labor-force participation rates are at an all-time high. Three years after the pandemic caused a “she-cession,” the percentage of women aged 25-54 currently working or looking for work is now 77.8%, the highest number recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists point to the availability of remote work, which allows more women with children to stay in the labor force, as one factor.
- During the initial months of the pandemic, millions of women dropped out of the workforce due to job losses concentrated in female-dominated industries and increased caregiving responsibilities resulting from day-care and school closures.
- While the economic downturn affected women’s labor-force participation more than that of men, both in initial job losses and the first couple of years of economic recovery, that trend has recently reversed, with women experiencing greater job growth relative to pre-pandemic levels than men.
The number of workers involuntarily working part-time hours increased in June, a signal that the economy may be cooling. The number of workers with part-time schedules who wanted to work full-time increased by 452,000 last month, which could be a signal of layoffs to come.
- Some economists warn that a recession may still be on the way, pointing to employers cutting workers’ hours and forcing them into part-time schedules, as well as other factors including a decline in Black employment.
The Maine state government authorized a new paid family and medical leave program to take effect in May 2026. Under the program, certain private and public workers can receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year due to a medical condition or to care for a family member, including those not biologically or legally related to them.
- Without federal paid family and medical-leave legislation, Maine joins 11 other states and Washington, DC, in creating state-level paid family leave protections. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that just under one-fourth of private-sector workers have access to paid family and medical-leave programs.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Try a three-round warmup before group brainstorms. Instead of starting with typical free-for-all brainstorming, which can yield both groupthink and an overabundance of unrealistic ideas, prepare your creative brain with a solitary exercise: In a two-minute window, write down as many ideas as you can think of—and then do the same thing two more times. In all likelihood, the third round, after you’ve pushed past the obvious answers, will be the one that produces the most innovative results, which you can then bring to the group.
- Create micro-opportunities for innovation. In standing meetings, build in small dedicated windows of time for colleagues to share insights and ideas, like a 10-minute agenda item to ask, “What problems have you seen or heard about that we need to solve?”
- Prepare a shorter version of your presentation. For major presentations, practice a full version and a version that is 50% of the length, just in case your time is cut short at the last minute. If you find yourself low on time, you can switch to the shorter version and circulate additional resources after the meeting.
- Walk through target job postings with reports. To help direct reports develop stretch projects and growth areas, ask them to show you a job posting for a position they would be excited about having in a few years. Talk through the responsibilities of that role with them and identify what they would need in order to succeed in it. Then, create a plan to develop needed skills and experience in their current work.
Every minute counts. As part of its ongoing quest to cut down on meetings, Shopify—which previously declared company-wide meeting bankruptcy on all standing gatherings outside of 1:1s—has introduced a tool that calculates the cost of a given meeting based on attendees’ compensation.
- The tool, which is embedded into workers’ calendars, is one of several tactics Shopify is using to “change the default answer from yes to no” when it comes to meetings, COO Kaz Nejatian told Bloomberg.
The handbook for this new era of business doesn’t exist. We’re all drafting our own as we go along—and now we’d like to start doing so together. You can sign up here to receive this briefing by email.