Featured in today's newsletter:
- Takeaways from Davos for the talent agenda.
- How to address gun violence in the workplace.
- A game to play with your colleagues.
The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 22% increase from two weeks earlier, with about 110,000 new cases reported on Friday. Cases are flat or declining in New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, and rising in Arizona, South Carolina, and West Virginia.
The business outlook: Some 75% of Fortune 500 CEOs believe a recession will arrive before 2024, and nearly a third expect it to hit sometime in 2022. But difficulty attracting new hires amid a talent shortage was the threat they were most concerned about. “The nation’s employers were dealing with skills shortages before Covid triggered the last recession,” Richard Wahlquist, president and CEO of the American Staffing Association, told CNBC. “Workers with skills in high demand today will likely be in high demand even when the economy tips back into a recession.”
Focus on Takeaways from Davos for the Talent Agenda
Some US executives see the expected rollback of national abortion rights in the US by the Supreme Court as a potential breakdown issue between employers and workers.
That’s one of our takeaways from moderating panel discussions and taking part in conversations on the ground at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland this week.
One executive—in a side conversation held under the Chatham House rule stipulating their name couldn’t be attached to any comments—said that their multinational company had offered to pay expenses for US employees who needed to travel to access reproductive services. But a group of staff with anti-abortion views is actively challenging that, saying the employer is subsidizing abortions by doing so.
This executive said that when the pandemic started, they expected conflicts between staff and employers over flexible work to be the biggest issues to hash out. But now they see companies’ handling of reproductive rights and other societal issues as a bigger challenge.
Executives in Davos repeatedly suggested that they hoped for more “adult” relationships with their staff—they felt like expectations of employers were high without employees taking responsibility for resolving issues such as those around flexible work. Some said they struggled to satisfy different identity groups among their staff—making Juneteenth an official holiday, for example, spurred calls for a company day off to commemorate the oppression of the LGBTQ community.
But some also hope that this intense period in largely uncharted territory could lead to a breakthrough, and that direct, constructive conversations now could further reset the dynamic between employers and workers.
Other takeaways from Davos:
- Chief people officers are ascendant. There were more heads of human resources present than usual, with about 20 among the roughly 1,250 official corporate participants compared to just 12 typically. (Additional HR chiefs attended sideline events but weren’t on the official roster.) This speaks to how those roles are viewed as more central and strategic.
- Companies gained significant trust from their workers by exiting Russia. When a business ceases operations in Russia while still protecting ex-employees there, its staff are 31 percentage points more likely to increase their trust in that company, according to a new Edelman Trust Barometer report released in Davos.
- Hiring pressures are easing. One CEO of a US tech company, who asked not to be named, told us that they’re already seeing the current macro economic environment (with layoffs mounting) alleviating some of the challenges of hiring and retaining talent, including in the areas of sales and engineering that have been red-hot. They also expect senior staff to bounce around less for the foreseeable future, given that the muted outlook for most stocks reduces the attractiveness of equity compensation.
- The outlook for inflation and recession is somber. Two-thirds of economists surveyed by the WEF expect workers’ wages to effectively decline in advanced economies this year after you factor out inflation. US forecasters increasingly see growth slowing. “We are not in a recession yet, but the signs are not good,” said David Rubenstein, co-chairman of Carlyle, the private equity firm.
- The global mental-health crisis is deepening. “This is long haul,” said Heidi Larson, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “I would say to employers, ‘Handle with care.’ People are very fragile. They’re trying their best.” Companies need to pay for mental-health support for workers where the government is not doing so—both for moral reasons and for business productivity—said Amit Paley, the Trevor Project CEO.
- It’s seemingly possible to hold an event with thousands of people from around the world amid Covid. The in-person annual meeting was canceled last year and rescheduled from its usual January spot this year because of the pandemic. This time, the organizers required that official attendees be triple vaccinated and produce two negative tests, one before arrival and one within 24 hours of getting there (done in free, efficient centers around the venue). Participants seemed confident in the system, with little masking evident and plenty of handshaking. The weak point was the extensive mixing of official attendees with the thousands of others—not subject to the same protocols— in the adjacent venues, bars, and restaurants of Davos.
- Individual actions make a difference. Having one accepting adult in their life can reduce the risk of suicide for an LGBTQ young person by 40%, according to Paley. “We can all be that person,” he said. The way to narrow gender gaps in society and the economy is to start with the women around you, according to Samantha Akwei, a poet and diversity talent manager at Mozilla: “Are they being mentored? Do they have leadership? Every time an opportunity comes up, do you think of them? What access to power do they have?”
What Else You Need to Know
Tech layoffs continue apace. Bolt, Klarna, Lacework, ClickUp, and PayPal are just some of the companies to announce layoffs this week, while Uber, Lyft, Snap, Nvidia, and Microsoft instituted hiring slowdowns or freezes.
- Layoffs.fyi, which tracks staffing cuts at tech startups, has recorded more than 50 companies laying off staff in May alone.
- The wave of layoffs can be attributed to a broad range of factors, including a slowdown in venture-capital funding and shifts in consumer behavior as people grapple with inflation and continue to move from remote to in-person work.
- Tech’s biggest giants haven’t been immune: Meta announced its own partial hiring freeze earlier this month, and Netflix recently let go of around 150 employees, as well as several contract writers from its diversity-focused communications programs.
- Netflix’s cuts, in particular, have highlighted how downsizing can negatively impact diversity. Research has found that women and workers of color are disproportionately affected by layoffs because they’re more likely to hold the roles a company views as less essential.
Employees are reeling from another week of violence in the US. The recent mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York, have organizations wanting to support workers coping with grief and trauma. Here are some actions managers can take:
- Acknowledge the toll the news may be taking on people, especially those with more of a connection to what happened (such as employees of color following a racist violent event, or parents after a school shooting). Dr. Kali Cyrus, a psychiatrist who consults with companies, recommends language like: “If you need to call out, work from home, or take some control over your day, that's one thing that you can do today.”
- Pay attention to their own emotional state and be willing to share it. Emotional intelligence is a key skill in helping others work through difficult feelings, and demonstrating vulnerability can create a psychologically safe environment that helps workers open up about how they’re doing.
- Normalize, both in one-on-one check-ins and larger group conversations, the idea that people will have different reactions following a traumatic event, and encourage teammates to be flexible in accommodating one another’s needs.
- Proactively share the company’s mental-health resources and benefits and clearly communicate how employees can access them.
- Over the long term, model talking about life outside the office, so that workers know they have space to discuss non-work-related events. “If I don't feel comfortable telling you about these things that I do in my off time, or things that are connected to my identity,” Duke assistant professor Angelica Leigh told Charter following the Buffalo shooting, “then how am I going to feel comfortable telling you when things are bad?”
Companies face their next big test on societal issues: taking a stance on gun control. In Texas, they face at least one significant hurdle to doing so: A 2021 state law requires companies doing business with public organizations to attest that they will remain neutral on gun issues, effectively barring them from cutting ties with gun manufacturers.
- A growing number of private companies have taken action to curb gun violence: In 2019, 145 CEOs signed an open letter to the US senate asking for action on gun-control legislation. Everytown, one of the most prominent gun-control advocacy groups, keeps a running list of actions companies have taken to curb the sale of guns, from retailers banning guns in their stores to financial firms declining to bank for gun manufacturers.
- Still, many companies and their leaders, have a history of donating to pro-gun candidates and groups.
- Some 61% of Americans surveyed recently said companies should issue statements condemning the shooting, and 58% wanted to see companies donate to the victims’ families. When it came to policy-oriented donations, respondents were more split, with 44% of respondents saying companies should donate to gun-control organizations.
Return to workplace speed round:
- TaskRabbit has announced that it will close its offices and move to a fully remote model, with CEO Ania Smith telling the San Francisco Chronicle: “The way it has existed pre-pandemic, that kind of construct of an office is no longer here.”
- Texas is leading the country in workplace returns, according to office keycard use monitored by Kastle Systems. Of the metro areas the company looked at, Austin, Houston, and Dallas had the highest office occupancy rates, at 61%, 56%, and 53%, respectively.
- By contrast, New York occupancy rates are around 38%, with many workers citing fears of Covid and subway safety as impediments to their return.
- Zoom sales rose 12% in the first quarter of 2022, its slowest growth to date, as more remote employees head back to in-person work. CEO Eric Yuan said on a recent earnings call that the company would be focusing on the role its products could play in hybrid work.
- People are more likely to don a mask at work than they are for indoor leisure activities, according to a recent survey from WFH Research, with just over half of respondents saying they “always” or “sometimes” mask up at the office.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Agree on a “do not disturb” signal. For remote setups, it could be an emoji in Slack; in person, it might be a physical marker employees can wear or put on their desks. What it is matters less than the fact that everyone on the team recognizes and respects the signal as a person’s need for quiet, focused time without interruption.
- Schedule some game time. A seemingly silly activity like a board game can help break down hierarchy and distance between team members, fostering both collaboration and a sense of psychological safety. (Charter’s team sometimes plays Codenames online together.)
- Look to your past self for inspiration. If you’re in a creative rut, revisit something you produced when you were feeling less stuck to bring yourself back to a more creative headspace.
- Offer sabbaticals. An extended break can be a powerful tool for retaining employees, with long-term benefits for the organization. Sabbatical-takers are more energized upon their return, while their absence gives colleagues a chance to stretch and grow in their own roles.
The newest office amenity: robots. South Korean tech company Naver has unveiled what it calls “the world’s first robot-friendly building,” with a design featuring a team of 100 robots built to transport food and packages.
- The robots, which use facial-recognition technology to make sure their delivery reaches the right person, have their own elevator—dubbed the Roboport—to move between floors.
Hybrid work might be messing up your sleep. Sleeping in on the days when you don’t have a commute won’t make you more well-rested. In fact, inconsistent wake times can cause “social jet lag,” when your biological clock doesn’t line up with the rhythm of your day. Aim to get up at the same time each morning, whether you’re headed 30 minutes across the city or 10 feet across the hall.
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.