Featured in today's briefing:
- A mental exercise for a more optimistic mindset.
- How workers measure their own productivity.
- Anonymous workplace gossip in the age of hybrid work.
The Macro Context
- The US added 253,000 new jobs last month, while hourly wages rose at an annual rate of 4.4%, overshooting the 4.2% economists had predicted.
- Layoffs in March hit a two-year high of 1.8 million, according to new Labor Department data, while job openings reached their lowest level since April 2021, with the drop most pronounced among small businesses.
- Big tech companies reported modest first-quarter growth, a performance improvement from the fourth quarter of 2022 and a signal that the industry’s recent slowdown may be reversing.
Focus on Top Tips for Managers and Talent Leaders
Earlier this week, we tuned into Work/23: The Big Shift, a virtual summit from MIT Sloan Management Review about navigating some of the most important challenges workplace leaders face right now.
One of the standout ideas from the event came from the closing presentation by Andrew Barnes, founder of 4 Day Week Global. Barnes argued that moving to a four-day workweek is a feminist act. We’ve previously covered several positive outcomes of four-day workweek trials in terms of productivity and performance, burnout and job satisfaction, and retention and attraction. 4 Day Week Global’s analysis of multiple global trials also suggests the four-day workweek could be a boon to gender equality at home. Women experienced better outcomes in terms of burnout, life and job satisfaction, and mental health, and men reported spending 22% more time on child care.
Other useful takeaways from the event:
Audit your “career accelerator” roles as part of your diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy. Haig R. Nalbantian, co-founder of Workforce Sciences, shared his research on data-driven DEI strategies to demonstrate the importance of certain career experiences in promotions and mobility later on. Those experiences include reporting to a high-performing supervisor or holding “career accelerator” roles, which he defined as “roles that no matter who you are, if you touch them in your career, it increases the likelihood that good things are going to happen to you from a career standpoint.”
For example, he explained, supervisory roles are often career accelerators, but “women and people of color are less likely to be in supervisor roles. And for women very often, even if they get to supervisor positions, it's later in their career relative to comparable men.” Nalbantian found that women and people of color were similarly less likely to be in other kinds of accelerator roles and report to high-performing supervisors.
Removing degree requirements is only the first step of moving to skills-based hiring. Many employers have championed skills-based hiring as a way to diversify workforces, but “even if you are to remove the degree requirement from your job descriptions, if you continue to source talent in the same way as you have previously, you will continue to get the same results,” said Beth Berwick, partner at DEI consultancy Grads of Life. Instead, she encouraged employers to follow through with community partnerships that actually diversify hiring pipelines. Consider offering apprenticeship programs that upskill workers and prepare them for a permanent position, or partnering with community colleges or other training programs to place new hires.
Optimism is a key skill associated with achieving workplace success and preventing extreme failure at work, argued Martin Segilman and Gabriella Rosen Kellerman, co-authors of Tomorrowmind. According to the pair’s research, optimism is one of five drivers of resilience, along with emotional regulation, cognitive agility, self-compassion, and self-efficacy. The good news is that “all of these drivers can be measured and taught,” said Segilman.
For individuals, Segilman recommended a mental exercise to deal with pessimism: When you find yourself catastrophizing, imagine that those negative thoughts are coming from a third party “whose mission in life is to make you miserable.” Then, construct your arguments against the anonymous hater. You can visualize this process when facing a difficult situation by drawing a line with “worst possible outcome,” “best possible outcome,” and “most likely outcomes” at either endpoint and the midpoint. Then brainstorm and plot potential outcomes beyond the most catastrophic one.
Use “power questions” to help employees chart career paths and boost retention. George Westerman, senior lecturer at MIT Sloan and founder of the Global Opportunity Initiative, cited a statistic from a 2022 McKinsey report that a lack of career development and advancement was the top reason employees said they were leaving jobs.
To keep employees engaged, build opportunities for career pathing into existing talent-management structures. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, for example, recently expanded the self-evaluation portion of its performance review process to include “power questions,” or questions that make employees think deeply about their own career trajectory:
- Where do you want to go in your career, and what’s your target role at UPMC?
- What tools and resources, knowledge, and skills do you need to get there?
- How can your manager assist you?
What Else You Need to Know
The impact of the new wave of artificial intelligence is accelerating within workplaces.
- IBM chief executive Arvind Krishna told Bloomberg that the company will slow or freeze hiring for back-office functions representing roughly 26,000 jobs, such as human resources, as it anticipates shifting work to AI. “I could easily see 30% of that getting replaced by AI and automation over a five-year period,” Krishna said, including some instances of not filling open roles as employees depart.
- Akash Nigam, CEO of the avatar company Genies, bought each of his 120 employees a ChatGPT Plus account—at a total cost of $2,400 monthly—and is holding workshops to teach them AI skills. "In my mind, this is for the health and growth of the company," he told Insider.
- Geoffrey Hinton, known in some circles as “the godfather of AI,” resigned from Google to warn that the race to develop increasingly sophisticated AI tools is headed down a dangerous path. Among his concerns: that it will become impossible to differentiate AI-generated material from real images, videos, or text; that AI systems will behave in unpredictable ways as they absorb ever more information; and that AI tools could quickly replace human workers at a large scale. “It takes away the drudge work,” Hinton told the New York Times, but “it might take away more than that.”
- Vice president Kamala Harris this week met with the CEOs of OpenAI, Google, Anthropic, and Microsoft to call for increased safeguards around AI development.
- While some have cautioned that generative AI can’t replace a human touch, a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine, which had both ChatGPT and human doctors reply to patient questions, found that the chatbot showed more empathy. Human evaluators also scored the AI higher than human doctors for quality as well.
- The use of AI was one of the bargaining topics that led to the current Writers Guild of America strike, with the union putting forth a proposal rejected by entertainment companies to limit the use of AI in rewrites and generating source material.
Only 9% of companies offer equal amounts of paid parental leave to primary and secondary caregivers in 2022, according to JUST Capital’s recent report analyzing Russell 1000 companies. That figure is an increase from 2021, when just 6% of companies with public policies offered equal amounts of leave.
- Many companies do not disclose parental leave policies at all. Just 60% of organizations studied have public parental leave policies.
- Advocates have argued that equity in primary and secondary caregivers—usually non-birth parents or fathers in many parental leave policies—is necessary to support gender equity in the workplace. Even at organizations with equal parental leave policies, leaders can support gender equity by encouraging (or requiring) men to take their full amount of leave.
New research finds that most workers believe they’re more productive than their peers. Some 87% of knowledge workers believe they’re very or extremely productive, while just 64% believe the same of their colleagues, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 US knowledge workers from the productivity platform ClickUp.
- That discrepancy is at least partly because of double standards in how productivity is measured. Respondents in the ClickUp survey were more likely to define their productivity in fuzzier, more emotional terms, such as the ability to get through everything on their list or simply feeling accomplished. When asked how others’ productivity should be judged, they were likelier to cite the volume and success of the work accomplished.
Some 60% of workers will need to be reskilled in the next five years. That’s according to a new World Economic Forum report, which identified AI literacy, green skills, and complex problem-solving skills as abilities that will gain more importance to employers as jobs evolve. The report found that despite this need, just half of employees currently have access to the necessary training.
- The report, which surveyed 803 companies comprising 11.3 million workers worldwide, also estimated that 23% of jobs will change by 2027, with 69 million new jobs created and 83 million eliminated.
- An analysis from Indeed, which partnered with the Forum on the report, noted that the growth of “social jobs”—those in the care, healthcare, and education industries—has outpaced overall job growth in several countries, largely because these sectors are more resilient to economic fluctuations.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Become a better Zoom conversationalist with non-verbal cues. People rated as good conversationalists nodded affirmatively and shook their heads negatively more often, according to a new study from BetterUp that analyzed hundreds of hours of video calls. Good conversationalists also tended to speak louder and faster during their calls.
- Create opportunities for “digital lingering.” Next time you facilitate a virtual meeting, make space for more introverted attendees to ask questions or give input by offering to stay on for an optional 10-minute debrief after the official meeting time has ended.
- Train younger workers in foundational professional skills. The UK offices of Deloitte and PwC are providing their newest hires extra training in communication and teamwork after finding that members of this cohort, whose college years coincided with pandemic lockdowns, have struggled to adapt to the workplace more than their older peers.
- Use uncertainty to frame your ideas. Saying “This is the problem I’m trying to solve” and asking for input will yield more fruitful responses than “Here’s how I see it,” which can have the unintended effect of cutting off dissent.
“There’s no work emails, no Instagram updates, nothing from Facebook, nothing from TikTok.” A growing number of Gen Zers are turning to an old-school tool to help cut out digital noise: the flip phone.
- Sales of “dumb phones” are picking up across age groups, Lars Silberbauer, chief marketing officer of HMD Global, told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s not a small trend.”
Don’t leave a paper trail. Online forums like Reddit and Blind are enjoying newfound relevance in the remote-work age. Employees, worried that gossip traded via Slack isn’t truly private, are heading to those anonymous forums to dish.
- Still, it seems workplace gossip hasn’t gone entirely underground. In a recent Pepperdine University survey of around 800 US workers, over a third said rumor-spreading was the most common form of office politics, tied with sucking up.