Featured in today's briefing:

  • The small actions that have an outsized impact on the relationship between leaders and organized labor.
  • What declining worker health means for employers.
  • Using a “delete week” to declutter your workflow.

AI and Work Radar

  • Despite predictions that the rise of generative AI would quickly upend the field of marketing, the number of marketing listings mentioning AI on the job-search platform Indeed dipped 8% in November from a year prior. Marketing executives have warned that AI’s ability to create and optimize advertising and social media campaigns could result in smaller teams and budgets.
  • A bipartisan bill introduced last month in the House of Representatives, the Artificial Intelligence Literacy Act, would increase funding for AI education in schools, universities, libraries, and nonprofit organizations.
  • In a new paper, Indiana University researchers described how they were able to bypass privacy protections to get the email addresses of multiple New York Times employees from ChatGPT. When they fed the chatbot a list of other Times workers’ emails, the chatbot dug up the new emails from information it had been trained on. “With a trivial fine-tuning outlay,” the researchers wrote, large language models “can transition from being impermeable to [personal information] extraction to a state where they divulge a substantial proportion of concealed” information.

Focus on How to Build Trust Between Labor and Management

Last year saw no shortage of conflict between labor and management, with half a million American workers on strike at some point during the year, double the figure of 2022 and four times that of 2021. Executives have made headlines for divisive rhetoric, unfair labor practices, and charges of union busting

This adversarial model of labor-management relations doesn’t have to be the default, says Christy Yoshitomi, a commissioner for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services (FCMS), a neutral federal agency that provides free services to both labor and management, including training, mediation, and arbitration. The goal of each of these services, Yoshitomi explains, is to prepare both employees and organized labor “to engage and have a really good foundation for the relationship,” one marked by communication and trust rather than opacity and conflict. When these relationships are successful, labor can even be a partner to leadership in making culture change within an organization.

We spoke with Yoshitomi, who often works with labor management committees—groups of representatives from both sides that meet regularly to address shared concerns and projects—about what that culture-focused collaboration can look like, and what tactics from these groups can teach leaders about building trust between labor and management more broadly. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation, edited for length and clarity: 

How can nonprofits serve as a model for labor-management partnerships?

In the private sector, you're not going to have as much willingness for organizations to talk about employee input into hiring or how the organization actually functions. What I found in the nonprofit world is they're willing to talk about these items—DEI issues, sexual harassment, creating a safe work environment, the four-day workweek, looking at work-life balance. 

Nonprofits are more willing to talk about these more progressive issues—not just as policy or ‘Yeah, we're going to have this,’ but to actually put it into their collective bargaining contract. They're willing to sit down with the union and say, ‘We need to negotiate about what our culture looks like.’ Some in the private sector would not be willing necessarily to go down that road. We're starting to see that break through a little bit. 

Are there examples you can share of labor and management partnering to change culture?

There's one project with a union and an employer where they’re trying to make a cultural change around sexual harassment. It started years ago with #MeToo, and it’s developed into this really great partnership where they’re able to implement cultural change together. 

There's another one we're working on where there's a lot of absenteeism, and labor and management are working together to figure out, how do we handle this? That’s not within the collective bargaining realm, but really great things can happen outside of a collective bargaining agreement to help an organization improve their efficiency, their product, their effectiveness, by labor and management being able to collaborate with each other. 

When people can say, ‘I'm important here. You really value my opinion and what we have to say,’ you're going to find a happier, more interested workforce. People are willing to put in extra time, they're willing to go out of their way a little bit more. Versus with people who do not feel valued, that really breaks everything down and the company has a hard time moving forward or progressing with the times. When leaders have that union with them to be able to help them move along, they find it much easier.

When you encounter workplaces with conflict or mistrust between labor and management, what tactics do you recommend for building trust between those two parties?

When I talk about trust, I emphasize the little tiny things. Are my actions going to align with what I said I was going to do? Will I go a little bit out of my way to go over and say ‘hi’ versus just walking by somebody? In trainings, one thing I encourage is to bring food back and forth. When you have your labor management committees, labor provides food one time. Management provides food the next time. It makes it a little bit more casual, like everybody's human. 

This interview was conducted as part of a joint project between Charter and the Aspen Institute's Business Roundtable on Organized Labor. For more, look out for our upcoming playbook on new approaches to labor-management relationships.

Charter Pro members can read our interview with Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, about rewriting the dynamic between labor and management.

What Else You Need to Know

The US is in the midst of another Covid wave. With the JN.1 variant of the virus spreading throughout the country, hospital admissions for Covid have increased by 20% over the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

  • Hospitals in New York City and Los Angeles have responded to the rising number of Covid, RSV, and flu cases by reimposing a mask mandate. In New York’s public hospitals, health clinics, and nursing homes, all staff, patients, and other visitors are again required to wear masks.
  • While 69% of eligible Americans received their initial round of Covid shots, just 17% have received this year’s bivalent vaccine. 

Americans’ physical health is declining. Incidences of obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol have all increased since 2019, according to new data from Gallup. Some 38.4% of adults are now considered obese, and 13.6% have been diagnosed with diabetes, an all-time high. 

  • For employers, that could mean increased healthcare costs in coming years. The cost of medical benefits is set to rise by an estimated 8.9% in 2024, after an increase of 8.2% in 2023, according to a report from consultancy WTW. 
  • Employee mental health also remains a concern: Roughly two-thirds of employees surveyed by HR platform isolved reported experiencing burnout at work in 2023.
  • Charter Pro members can watch our webinar with psychologists Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter, authors of The Burnout Challenge, on how organizations can diagnose and manage worker burnout. 

Some 80% of employers plan to track workers’ office attendance this year, according to a Resume Builder survey of 800 business leaders.

  • Some 91% also plan to offer incentives to bring workers back to the office, such as catered meals and nicer facilities. 
  • Other recent research suggests that organizations are focusing their return-to-office efforts on new employees rather than existing ones. A survey from people-analytics firm Perceptyx found that the share of new hires working from an office last year rose more steeply than the share of workers overall. 

More than a quarter of workers worldwide plan to leave their job in 2024. In a global BCG survey of 11,000 people across eight countries, 28% said they would no longer be at their current employer within a year. 

  • Pay and benefits were the most common reasons respondents cited for potentially taking a new role. However, when asked to rate different factors that might lead them to leave or stay in their jobs, the most popular answers were more about job quality than compensation: job security, fair treatment, work they enjoyed, and feeling valued and supported. 
  • The US added 216,000 jobs last month, more than economists had predicted. While the number of job openings on Indeed last month remained higher than before the pandemic, listings were down 15% from a year prior, suggesting a continued cooling of the labor market.

Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:

  • Institute a “delete week.” Brian Armstrong, CEO of the crypto exchange platform Coinbase, announced an internal “delete week” at the end of December, challenging employees to stop any redundant or out-of-date meetings, projects, or work practices. At the end of the week, leaders gave out awards for best deletions. 
  • Share your goals for the new year with colleagues. If you’ve made new commitments or resolutions related to work, let your team members know. This transparency creates an opportunity for co-workers to provide any needed feedback or support, and making a commitment out loud increases the likelihood of sticking with your goal. 
  • Modulate how you listen. There are many ways to be an active listener, depending on whether someone is looking for emotional support, a brutally honest critique, or a problem-solving partner. If a colleague approaches you with something to share, start the conversation by evaluating which kind of listener they might need depending on their cues. 
  • Start 2024 by planning out your time off for the year ahead. Before the end of January, take a look at your company-wide holidays and PTO allowances and sketch out your vacation days for the rest of the year. Looking at the full calendar can help you carve out time for longer breaks, ensure you have regular intervals to rest, and give you a head start in planning project timelines around your time off. 

Coda

White collar, blue collar, meet “new collar.” That’s the term gaining ground to describe jobs that require highly skilled workers but not necessarily higher education.

  • The entry of “new collar” into the popular lexicon may help the movement to drop degree requirements in favor of skills-based hiring. “Having a pithy term that helps companies get energized about doing something innovative is helpful,” Colleen Ammerman, director of Harvard Business School’s Race, Gender, and Equity Initiative, told The New York Times. 

AI and workplace conflict. An investigation in The Information of injuries at Tesla’s Austin factory found that an engineer in 2021 was attacked by a robot to the point of bleeding. 

  • The US saw 41 robot-related workplace fatalities between 1992 and 2017, according to a paper published earlier this year. The paper’s authors warned that “public health professionals will likely face significant challenges to keep pace with developments in robotics to ensure the safety and health of workers across the country.”