Featured in today's newsletter:
- What workplaces should be doing about Covid and the flu as vaccine mandates expire.
- The job market starts to cool.
- Biden’s marijuana possession pardon and workplaces.
The latest virus forecast: The US had a 26% decrease from two weeks earlier, with about 40,000 new Covid cases on Friday. While hospitalizations hit their lowest point since June, health officials are worried about slow uptake of the latest bivalent booster as the weather turns: Just 4% of eligible Americans have received the shot, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found, and roughly half of US adults say they’ve heard little to nothing about it.
The business impact: As the likelihood of a recession grows, 47% of employees who are looking for other jobs have concerns about their employer’s performance, up 11% since July, according to LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index.
Focus on How Workplaces Should Approach Vaccine Mandates Now
Many organizations are having to figure out whether they’ll continue requiring vaccination once legal mandates for private employers expire, as New York City’s does on November 1.
To understand the best approach, we reached out to Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Pandemic Center at Brown School of Public Health. Here are excerpts from our conversation this week, edited for space and clarity.
How would you advise employers who are now considering dropping their vaccine mandates?
First of all, I really, really, really hope that nobody takes away from these changes the message that vaccines are not as important. Vaccines remain the most important tool we have to keep our society functioning and to protect ourselves from the worst that this virus has to offer. That has not changed at all.
You're seeing some of the shift in thinking around mandates in part because they're not as great at preventing transmission as we once thought or hoped. There’s also a fairly high level of population immunity by this point. That emergency phase where we're trying to do everything possible to keep everything open, and if vaccines reduce transmission even a little bit, that's something that we very much needed—there’s a different calculus now.
But we haven't had enough conversations around vaccines as important for the protection of the workforce and the continuity of the workforce. People who are vaccinated may still get infected, but they may have a less severe course of illness. They’re likely not going to wind up in the hospital. They're not going to die. That's really, really important for employers. We also know that getting vaccinated reduces your likelihood of contracting long Covid, another important workforce availability issue.
So the case for employers thinking about whether or not to strongly encourage their workforce to be vaccinated—or mandate by whatever means possible—is still a pretty compelling one, even if the emergency period that perhaps necessitated mandates is not the same. Employers have to think about running a business and making sure people are continuing to show up and do what they need them to do, and vaccines are an important tool in allowing that to happen.
What else should companies be prioritizing at this point in the pandemic?
Making sure that people who are sick don't have to come to work. It’s the most important thing we could do. It sounds obvious, but it's not. We shouldn't have a culture of ‘working through it,’ in part because working through it may mean giving it to someone else who then can't work through it. You give it to your coworker, they're sick, they're out, then they give it to their kid, and then they have to be out more because now they have to take care of their sick kid.
We're talking about Covid vaccines, but we should also be talking about flu vaccines. We don't quite know how the flu season is going to go, but there are a number of reasons to be concerned that it might not be a good one. We just haven't had a lot of flu over the past few years, and we've missed the opportunity to build some immunity in the population in those years. Again, we have tools that may not prevent infection, but they sure do lessen the severity of illness.
And it's also a good, civic thing to do. I'm really quite worried about health systems' abilities to manage both flu and Covid, knowing that we have seen both of those viruses separately really stress health systems. When the health system is overwhelmed, the quality of care goes down for everybody. So flu vaccination and Covid vaccinations have many, many important benefits. Even if they may not be mandated anymore, I don't think that the benefit calculation has changed.
There’s some recent Gallup research suggesting that a third of workers are either moderately or very concerned about Covid exposure in the workplace. What would you advise employers to do for those workers?
This is how masks can help. I'm sitting in my office, so I'm not wearing a mask, but when I go out in the hallway, I do put one on. If I was around someone who was uncomfortable being around me not wearing a mask, I'd wear a mask. We have to take care of each other and recognize that our own risk tolerance may not be the same as our coworkers’. And certainly if we have vulnerable coworkers who would feel more comfortable with our masking, then we should absolutely do that to take care of each other. I don't think mandates or lack of mandates in any way erase our responsibilities to each other. Provide masks in the office, and also have a policy that says, ‘If people are uncomfortable, it is expected in our workplace culture that we will take care of each other and not let our individual preferences stand in the way of anybody else.’
If people have really extenuating circumstances, they may need accommodations, and so employers have to make decisions about what level of accommodations they're able to provide. I think I said this last time we spoke, and I still believe this: I just don't think it's great to have anybody have to be at work under duress. If they can continue to do the job in other circumstances, I'm not sure in the long term that the juice is worth the squeeze if you're trying to force people to come back just because.
Read a full transcript of our conversation, including the possibility of a fall Covid surge and how organizations should adjust their staffing models during a rise in cases.
What Else You Need to Know
A cooling job market has left knowledge workers newly hesitant about quitting. While 4.2 million people in the US voluntarily left their jobs in August, just 682,000 of them were office workers, a 12% drop from the prior month.
- Job openings also fell by 10%, the steepest drop since early in the pandemic.
- September’s jobs report released Friday separately showed signs that the tight labor market is easing, with a seasonally adjusted total of 263,000 new jobs last month, compared to an average of 400,000 per month in January through June. Average hourly earnings were up 5% from a year earlier, the slowest increase since December 2021.
- “Everybody’s feeling the whiplash,” Suzanne Bates, partner and managing director of the people-focused consultancy BTS, told the New York Times. “It’s this strange reversal of fortunes where everybody has been incredibly busy—and they still have needs, clients and customers—but at the same time there’s a lot of whispering in the hallways about hiring freezes.”
- Some 6.5 million people say they’re not working outside of their home because they’re caring for children or an elderly person.
Employers are increasingly offering emergency-savings benefits. Organizations such as Starbucks are helping workers navigate the current economic climate by providing savings programs that help them put money away for a rainy day.
- Almost a quarter of US consumers have no money saved to use in case of emergency, according to a March report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- Inflation has been outpacing wage growth, and around half of respondents in the Census Bureau’s latest household pulse survey said they were “very stressed” by rising prices.
Workplaces unfairly penalize Black employees for self-promotion. In a recently published study in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers found that Black workers who touted their own accomplishments were seen as lower performers and worse organizational fits compared to their colleagues of other races.
- Self-promotion among Black employees was also linked to a lower likelihood of securing “idiosyncratic deals,” personalized work setups negotiated between an employee and their manager.
- As S. Mitra Kalita wrote earlier this year, one way to support marginalized employees—especially those who face barriers to showcasing their own work—is through sponsorships, relationships with people further along in their careers who will act as advocates for their sponsorees. (Sponsorships are different than mentorships, which are more about advising than promoting.)
President Biden has pardoned everyone convicted of federal charges of marijuana possession, removing a barrier to employment for many. Nationwide, there are currently more than 40,000 laws in place that prevent people with criminal records from accessing various types of employment.
- In his announcement of the pardon on Twitter, Biden wrote: “There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My pardon will remove this burden.”
- The pardon is estimated to affect thousands of people, disproportionately people of color.
- “We’re going to work with them to make sure they can get into good employment, so that this is not an impediment to their ability to get into the middle class and get a good paying job,” said Labor secretary Marty Walsh in an interview with Yahoo Finance.
- Organizations can set formerly incarcerated workers up for success by investing in social workers or coaches who can serve as direct sources of support.
Politics are an increasingly touchy subject at work. Some 45% of employees have gotten into political arguments with colleagues, up 3% from 2019, according to a new survey from the Society for Human Resource Management.
- Around a quarter of the 500 employees in SHRM’s survey said they’ve been treated differently—favorably or unfavorably—because of their political beliefs, a significant jump from 12% three years ago.
- Some 66% said their workplaces were inclusive of views across the political spectrum, a sentiment that was higher among workers who identified as moderate and liberal (73% and 70%, respectively) than those who identified as conservative (60%).
- Heidi Brooks of the Yale School of Management recommends that colleagues with conflicting political viewpoints mitigate tension by addressing it head-on. “I do think it’s worth saying, ‘Hey, let’s do what it takes to be able to work effectively together,’” she told Charter in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election. “Then the question is what does it take in your context to be able to work effectively together?“
Return to workplace speed round:
- Hybrid work has increased worker productivity, as they’re driven by fewer distractions at home and time saved from commuting, according to data from Nicholas Bloom’s Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes.
- Some 90% of employers will require employees to work on-site at least once a week in 2023, according to a survey of 1,000 business leaders conducted by Resume Builder.
- Enterprise software company ServiceNow is making changes to its facilities management strategy, consolidating office floors to decrease its office footprint and subleasing some of the remaining office space.
- Media companies including Dotdash Meredith, Hearst, NBC News, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal have requested employees begin working on site again, but haven’t enforced that with disciplinary actions.
- Effective Nov. 1, American Express is ending its vaccine requirement to enter offices globally.
- Over a fourth of workers surveyed by KPMG have stated that they prefer to work entirely in person. Supporters of in-person and hybrid work cite the more structured workweeks and the opportunities to make in-person connections.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Carve out the first few minutes of a meeting for pre-work. Make sure attendees are aligned before conversation starts by making pre-work part of the meeting itself. For meeting organizers, that means preparing a document that outlines the purpose of the meeting, key decisions to be made, and the necessary background information. Then, spend the first part of the meeting going over the memo individually or in pairs. (Amazon is famous for devoting the first part of meetings to silently reading six-page narrative memos.)
- Play your newbie card. New employees can turn their inexperience into an asset for the whole team—and their own relationship-building—by asking basic questions for the benefit of their longer-tenured colleagues who may feel too embarrassed to reveal what they don’t know.
- When searching for job candidates on LinkedIn, ignore the first page of results. Looking further afield can help you broaden your idea of the ideal candidate, and makes it more likely that the people you reach out to don’t already have dozens of recruiters clogging their inbox.
- Invite former employees to hang out with your staff. To encourage more boomerang hires—candidates that return after previously having left the company—keep connections with past employees strong by inviting them to company events.
Business cards make a comeback—and get a makeover. Sales are picking up from their pandemic-induced sluggishness, but some are forgoing the plain cards of yore for flourishes like QR codes that link to digital contact information.
Employers are feeling extra festive this year. While some workplaces are opting for more low-key celebrations or leaving it to individual teams to plan their own festivities, party planners report that others are going all out, with ice-skating rinks, jugglers, and celebrity chefs.
- Phoenix Anna Porcelli, VP of sales at hospitality firm Convene, told Protocol: “Companies are using holiday parties as a way to bring folks back to the office and entice them with really unique experiences.”
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.