Featured in today's newsletter:
- The most effective way for organizations to describe their diversity commitments.
- The latest trend in office sizes.
- The simple trick for counteracting “screen apnea.”
AI and Work Radar
- Researchers at the University of Minnesota Law School studied how access to ChatGPT affected student performance on law school exams. They found that while students near the bottom of the grade distribution saw significant improvements in their performance, top students saw performance declines. “This suggests that AI may have an equalizing effect on the legal profession, mitigating inequalities between elite and nonelite lawyers,” the authors write.
- Newsrooms including the Associated Press, The Guardian, Insider, and Reuters have rolled out new guidelines surrounding the use of AI in their news products. Although the policies differ, some require disclosing the use of AI in public-facing products.
- Generative AI tools could soon replace free online translation services. Tools like ChatGPT are able to produce messages in other languages, and one user found that the platform was able to write a clearer, more accurate translation than Google Translate.
- Some 75% of business leaders say that employee fears that technology will render their jobs obsolete presents a challenge to workplace transformation, according to a new PWC pulse survey. In Charter's own preliminary survey of workers and managers, 50% are concerned about job loss or job replacement from increased AI usage in their industry, while 72% of Fortune 500 CHROs predict that AI will replace jobs in their organizations in the next three years, according to Gallup.
Focus on How Organizations Can Improve Worker Buy-In on Diversity Efforts
Research has shown that talking about the business case for diversity can backfire on employers. Job seekers from marginalized groups interpret such linking of diversity to corporate profit or stock performance, for example, as a sign that an organization would value them less and stereotype them more. “The way organizations talk about diversity tells you a little bit about whether it's an absolute commitment,” Oriane Georgeac, now at Boston University's Questrom School of Business, told us last year, “or rather one that is contingent on the world changing, priorities changing, or on how the firm is doing.”
A new study in the Academy of Management Journal poses a similar question about existing employees: How does the way organizations talk about their diversity commitments affect workers’ willingness to buy into those efforts? The authors found that the most common framing leaders use is also the one least likely to get workers on board—and that the most effective framing is one most leaders shy away from.
We recently spoke with co-author Lisa Leslie, a professor of management and organizations at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for space and clarity:
How do organizations typically talk about their diversity efforts, and why does the framing matter to workers?
I had noticed this interesting disconnect where I would talk to practitioners and leaders, and when they would talk about diversity, they would always emphasize how valuable it was. It could be that it's valuable in general, it's valuable for business reasons, it helps to perform better as a company. It might be that it's valuable for moral reasons, it's the right thing to do, new perspectives, etc. But if you look at the research on what actually happens when organizations become more diverse, it's a lot more complicated.
Sometimes diversity does in fact lead to better performance. It's seen as the moral and right thing to do and has these positive effects supporting that value-based rhetoric that leaders are always using. But sometimes, the exact opposite happens. Diversity actually has a negative effect on performance. People see it as unfair and therefore morally dubious, or it has to do with conflict and tension: People from different groups might not get along as well together as people from the same group.
My co-authors and I came up with this more nuanced message about diversity that we refer to as contingent rhetoric, which is the idea that diversity is valuable for organizations, but only if you overcome the challenges—if everyone learns to take other people's perspectives, or if people learn to successfully navigate the tensions that might arise, that sort of thing. We wanted to compare value rhetoric, ‘Diversity is good,’ to contingent rhetoric, ‘Diversity is good only if you overcome the challenges,’ in two different ways. The first question was just, which are leaders more likely to use? What we expected, and what we found, was that leaders were more likely to use value than contingent rhetoric, the reason being that value rhetoric is a uniformly positive message about diversity. There's a lot of evidence that leaders are hesitant to say negative things about diversity because they worry that they might be perceived by their employees as being prejudiced—maybe they'll interpret that as a signal that the leader doesn’t really value diversity.
That's a benevolent motive, but it really prevents leaders from using the most effective rhetoric type. That was our second question: When leaders use value rhetoric versus contingent rhetoric, which one is more likely to increase what we call diversity effort among employees? That's basically, are employees willing to put personal effort into fostering diversity and inclusion? Do they call out discrimination when they see it? Do they provide resources and mentoring to minority groups? And what we expected and what we found was that even though leaders are more likely to use value rhetoric, contingent rhetoric is more effective. It has a stronger positive effect on employees’ diversity efforts.
Why might that be the case?
There's a lot of work on employee motivation that shows that when you give employees a goal that's more difficult, as opposed to a goal that's easy, that actually makes them work harder. It makes it salient to them. A lot of effort and persistence are going to be needed to attain the goal, and therefore they actually work harder—as opposed to when they have an easy goal, they assume that they don't need to really persist that much because it's going to be easy to do, so they don't work as hard. That's what contingent rhetoric is doing, because it implies that benefiting from diversity requires overcoming some challenges. It says to employees that diversity goals are actually difficult to achieve. They're going to have to put some effort in, some sweat. And because of that, they actually work harder than when leaders use value rhetoric.
I mentioned that leaders are hesitant to do this because they worry that they'll be seen as prejudiced. When leaders use this rhetoric type, do employees in fact see them as prejudiced? And we find that they don't. It's an important piece of this—basically, what is preventing leaders from using it is not actually grounded in reality. They're afraid of being seen as prejudiced, but that doesn't actually happen when people use it.
Ideally, how prescriptive should that rhetoric be? Is it more effective to say it's challenging but valuable, or to say it's challenging but we can do x or y specific things to make it less so?
More the former. You want to emphasize first that diversity is valuable, but then just add, ‘But we need to work through the challenges to get that value.’ Another way that I sometimes talk about it is that value rhetoric is ‘Diversity is good’ and contingent rhetoric is ‘Diversity is good but hard.’
It sounds easy, but the evidence we provide about why leaders are hesitant to use contingent rhetoric suggests that it might be a little bit harder than it sounds. So it’s important for leaders and managers to really do a lot of training and education if they want others in the organization to use contingent rhetoric, and really emphasize that even though it's not very common, it does in fact work better. And even though it's a less positive message about diversity, it's not going to have negative repercussions in terms of how employees perceive their leaders.
Read a transcript of our conversation, including Leslie’s past research on the unintended messages workers can pick up from employers’ diversity-focused rhetoric and how to avoid them.
What Else You Need to Know
Companies are shrinking their physical footprints. While the number of lease signings has increased in 2023 compared to recent years, the average office size continues to decrease. In the second quarter, US lease sizes averaged 3,275 square feet, 19% less than from 2015 to 2019.
- In New York City, planners are responding to the decrease in demand for office space with initiatives to convert more office space to residential units. Under the proposed changes, an additional 136 million square feet of real estate would be eligible for conversion to housing, including much of Midtown South in Manhattan.
- Globally, some 36% of desks and other workstations remain unoccupied throughout the week, according to a report from XY Sense, an Australian workplace sensor provider. Even among occupied desks, three in 10 are used for three hours or less on a typical day, and just 14% are used for more than five hours.
- Office attendance in North America is particularly low when compared to other regions, sitting at just 29% per week on average, according to a report from workplace consultancy AWA. Office attendance is 32% in the United Kingdom, 36% in Asia-Pacific, and 43% in Latin America.
A less competitive job market has resulted in declining pay for new hires. Average pay for most job titles has declined in 2023, according to an analysis of job postings for 20,000 titles on job site ZipRecruiter. The trend is a marked shift from last year, when pay increased for three-fourths of job titles posted on ZipRecruiter.
- Meanwhile, pay expectations continue to rise among workers. On average, the lowest annual compensation workers would accept to change jobs—or reservation wage—was $78,645 in July, an increase from $72,900 one year earlier and $69,000 in 2021, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
- Among women, there was an even sharper rise in average reservation wage, at an increase of 11% from last year, double the rate of men. Still, the average reservation wage for men was $91,000, some $25,000 higher than the average for women.
- For hourly workers, federal minimum-wage regulations are increasingly becoming irrelevant, as workplaces hike pay to stay competitive and the national minimum stagnates at the $7.25 level set in 2009. In 2023, fewer than 70,000 workers earned the federal minimum wage, or less than 0.01% of hourly workers. In almost all 50 states, low-wage workers—those making the 10th percentile wage—are earning more than their state’s minimum wage, which in a majority of states is higher than the federal level.
Paid family leave plans are including grandparents. With an aging workforce delaying retirement and a child-care crisis that has left parents scrambling for care arrangements, companies such as Fannie Mae, Booking.com, and SentinelOne have started offering paid grandparent leave upon the birth or adoption of a grandchild.
- Beyond explicit grandparent leave policies, other employers have offered support to grandparents through flexible work arrangements in scheduling and location. For more tactical strategies to support caregivers of all kinds, download A Better Future for Working Parents, Charter’s playbook for workplace caregiver policies.
Workers want fertility benefits—so much so that some are taking on second jobs to access them. As coverage for in vitro fertilization (IVF), egg freezing, and artificial insemination becomes a more common benefit among employers with hourly employees including Tractor Supply, Amazon, Starbucks, and Target, some individuals are picking up shifts in addition to their existing jobs to access fertility benefits.
- Fertility benefits are becoming a more common strategy for attracting workers, with some 40% of employers offering IVF coverage in 2022, up from 30% in 2020, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, a nonprofit educational and research organization. A 2021 survey from Resolve Mercer suggests that it’s a modest investment: some 97% of employers surveyed reported that offering fertility benefits didn’t significantly increase their medical plan costs.
- Previously, we’ve covered tactics for designing more inclusive fertility benefits plans for Charter Pro. Our recommendations include framing benefits to maximize choice, rather than signaling out a single benefit like egg freezing; broadening the definition of infertility to include access for LGBTQ+ employees and single women; and making fertility benefits visible in your company benefits materials.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Sigh it out. Staying on top of a barrage of email, text, and Slack notifications can trigger a stress response called “screen apnea,” where breathing becomes shallow or stops entirely. If you find yourself locked into your computer screen while holding your breath or altering your breathing, reset your breathing pattern by sighing audibly.
- Build trust with low-stakes asks. If you find yourself managing an employee you can’t entirely count on, start by making a list of responsibilities or deliverables you can trust them with. Then, look for ways to incrementally increase these areas with larger and larger asks that build on each other.
- Learn in bite-sized chunks. Build professional development into your routine with “microlearning" opportunities—like brief articles, two-minute podcasts, or video shorts—during brief periods of downtime, from commuting to waiting for a large file to download.
- Ask open-ended questions instead of giving recommendations. Even well-intentioned suggestions can come off as micromanaging if they become too frequent. Shift to asking open-ended questions like, “How do you think we should approach this problem?” “What is your instinct here?” or “What do you think the client is going to ask next?”
Felt under the weather on Thursday ? More Americans take a sick day on August 24 than any other day of the year, according to a study based on attendance data over the past five years from Flamingo, a platform for managing employee absences and medical leave.
- It’s unclear why Aug. 24. The second most common day to call in sick is Feb. 13, which is close to Valentine’s Day and the Super Bowl.
Swipe right for your next big career move. Some young professionals are using dating apps like Hinge and Grindr to make professional connections instead of romantic ones.
- That includes tech recruiters reaching out to potential hires, job seekers looking for a foot in the door at target companies, and founders seeking investors.
- “Where you can network, you should network,” one career coach told The Wall Street Journal.
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.