Featured in today's newsletter:

  • How leaders can build trust.
  • Increasing employee burnout.
  • The return of the office romance.

The Macro Context

  • On the heels of the “tripledemic” of Covid, flu, and RSV, cases of norovirus—a highly contagious intestinal disease otherwise known as “winter vomiting disease”—are rising.
  • After a 1.1% dip in December, retail spending rose 3% last month, the sharpest increase since March 2021.
  • Inflation continues to cool, with consumer price increases easing to 6.4% last month.

Focus on How Leaders Can Cultivate Employee Trust

Workers worldwide now trust their employer more than any other institution, according to Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer. But other research suggests that that trust is nevertheless weak when it comes to organizations’ senior leaders.

Only around a third of 15,500 human-resources professionals and organizational leaders said they trusted their employer’s senior leadership, in a recent survey from leadership-consulting firm DDI. Less than half trusted their direct manager. As layoffs and hiring freezes continue apace, that trust is now especially fragile.

To understand how organizations can strengthen employee trust, we reached out to Stephanie Neal, the director of DDI’s Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research. Here are excerpts from our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity:

What are some reasons why trust in leadership might be lower right now?

We came through a really tough time. So I think our expectations of leaders really got high, especially in companies or in industries where leaders didn't normally care about where you worked, your health and wellbeing, all of that. So there's a big expectation increase that's happened for people. In those times, that helps us to then look more for those opportunities to say, ‘Are our leaders really meeting our expectations? Are we really seeing that people still care?’ People are starting to think about, what does it mean to have a human work experience anymore? What is uniquely important? And they're looking for more from their leaders for that as well.

And there's all this uncertainty right now. There's a lot of ways that people are feeling about work and even some of the disruptions at work—things like ChatGPT—technologies that might be replacing certain roles, and people feel vulnerable about that. When there's that kind of uncertainty out there, it makes it harder for people to trust. And leaders may not be taking as many opportunities as they need to help build that trust.

The recent Edelman Trust Barometer report noted that employees trust their coworkers more than their managers, more than their head of HR, and more than their CEO. In your experience, is there any kind of trickle-up effect, or are those three instances of trust separate from one another?

It's more the proximity of the relationship. Who we see definitely biases how much someone has an opportunity to even build trust. So the two ratings that we reported out in our trust finding were that only about a third of leaders trust their senior leaders, and just under half trust their direct manager. And that's likely because they have that closer relationship, they have more proximity to that person, they can actually think of opportunities where that person has built trust with them. Immediate managers really do bear more of the burden of making sure they're building trusting relationships in day-to-day conversations.

Senior leaders have a level of visibility where they have to build trust differently. Just knowing that they can't realistically meet with every single employee one-on-one and build that same relationship, communication becomes so much more important. What we see with senior leaders and executives, the best way for them to build trust is to make sure that they're visible and then they're communicating effectively. That's in the big moments, those big opportunities where they have to share out their values and what they see as important for the organization.

There are opportunities where they do have those one-on-one leadership moments too, not only with their direct reports, but at companies where they're on the floor, where they're meeting with people more. That's where those interpersonal skills really become important.

As you said, a CEO can't regularly have one-on-ones with every employee. What else can leaders do to cultivate that sense of a two-way relationship?

We see a lot of organizations build in approaches to make sure they're getting feedback from people. It's getting that feedback cycle, making sure that there's an opportunity to stay in touch with employees. Formal mentoring is one way that we see a lot of that get built in for senior executives or leaders that may not necessarily get that kind of feedback—it's really reverse mentoring, where they act as formal mentors and then they get input from people that they work with.

What's the way to make sure that verbal messages of caring about wellbeing aren't being received as self-serving, or leadership patting itself on the back?

That's where every leader needs to understand their audience. Show you're continuing to check in with people about, how this is feeling? Some leaders are really good at just checking across people from different functional areas to see how they're feeling. But certainly surveys are a great tool and there's a lot of different feedback mechanisms to do that. We use one that we like a lot, that's more of an ongoing quick check-in survey rather than a long, lengthy survey, because a lot of people get concerned about survey fatigue.

What’s in your quick check-in survey?

It’s specific to the behaviors that leaders are developing. It allows people that are around you to quickly respond just via text to say, ‘Yes, this, I'm seeing this frequently,’ or ‘I'm not.’ And it gives leaders feedback explicitly on those behaviors to say, ‘Oh, am I doing a good job here or not?’

Read a transcript of our conversation, including how leaders can calibrate the right level of transparency, and the link between trust and creativity.

What Else You Need to Know

Workers are even more burnt out than before. In Future Forum’s latest quarterly pulse report, over 40% of knowledge workers said they were feeling burned out at work, the highest number since the pandemic started.

  • Future Forum researchers point to several factors that are contributing to burnout, including economic uncertainty, looming possibilities of layoffs, and hardline return-to-office policies.
  • Workers who report feeling dissatisfied with the amount of workplace flexibility are 43% more likely to report feeling burned out than employees who report satisfaction with their current amount of flexibility at work.

Lawmakers in Iowa and Minnesota proposed relaxing child-labor laws last month. New bills in the state legislatures seek to roll back child-labor protections in response to a still-tight labor market.

  • In Minnesota, the proposed bill would open construction jobs to 16- and 17-year-olds, while Iowa’s bill would lower the minimum age for jobs in meatpacking, industrial laundries, pools, and assembly-line work, as well as jobs that require heavy lifting. The Iowa law would also protect businesses from being held liable for workplace injuries, sickness, or death.
  • The bills could potentially add relatively cheap labor to the workforce, though critics point out that increasing benefits and wages to attract adult workers would be more effective and safer.

Companies are increasingly tying executive compensation to diversity goals in hiring. Companies including McDonald’s, Nike, and Starbucks have changed policies in recent years to hold executives accountable for diversity hiring goals.

  • The hiring initiatives have mostly focused on widening recruiting efforts, though critics of the policies insist that these policies encourage making decisions solely on the basis of race, which would violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Some 49% of Black workers are currently considering switching jobs, according to a recent Indeed survey, driven primarily by the desire for fairer pay, more advancement opportunities, and more support from managers.
  • In a recent column for Charter, S. Mitra Kalita offered a list of Black History Month initiatives to continue year-round in support of Black workers, including publicly recognizing Black pioneers within your organization and partnering with Black-owned businesses.

Employers are struggling to fill lucrative roles that don’t require college degrees. As high schools focus on counseling students toward expensive four-year degrees, high-paying trade jobs—that, in many cases, may be a better financial investment—sit empty.

  • Despite the fact that median pay for construction roles is higher than overall US median wages, some 90% of US construction companies currently find it challenging to hire qualified workers.
  • Some 86% of US adults think a college degree can help workers advance their careers, though just 52% say that college education leads to a stronger economy, according to a 2022 report from the research organization Public Agenda.
  • The bias against skilled trade jobs is driven in large part by parents, Kate Blosveren Kreamer, deputy executive director of Advance CTE, a network of career and technical education professionals, told NPR: “They remember 'voc-ed' from when they were in high school, which is not necessarily what they aspire to for their own kids.”
  • Some 61% of students, job seekers, and career changers believe their academic credentials don’t qualify them for STEM jobs, a recent global IBM survey found. As the market for alternative digital credentials grows, many workers are concerned about their cost—some 60% worry they would be prohibitively expensive—though those who have obtained such credentials are bullish about their return on investment, with 86% saying they’ve helped them in their career.

Return to workplace speed round:

  • Companies are continuing to scale back their office footprints. In a recent survey from Robin, some 46% of 247 respondents planned to reduce office space, while a report from PwC found that companies are cutting real-estate spending more than any other cost.
  • New York City Mayor Eric Adams has started walking back his previous opposition to hybrid work for city employees as the municipal government seeks to boost recruiting and fill vacant roles.
  • Workers in Manhattan are spending $12.4 billion less on meals, shopping, and entertainment per year due to working from home, a Bloomberg report finds.
  • Los Angeles’s largest holder of downtown commercial office space, Brookfield Corp., is defaulting on loans connected with two buildings as demand for office space remains lower than pre-pandemic levels in LA’s central business district.
  • As part of its return to office plan that requires two days a week in person, Walmart announced that it will close its offices in Austin; Carlsbad, California; and Portland, Oregon. Workers currently assigned to those offices must either relocate to another office or take severance pay.

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

  • Try a perspective-taking exercise. When making group decisions, increase empathy and mutual understanding by inviting each member of the team to share their point of view. Next, have someone else summarize it back, and move on only once each person feels their perspective was accurately represented.
  • Ask, “What are you stuck on?” Including this question as a regular part of your recurring meetings can encourage members of your team to reflect on their goals and blockers, leading to more productive conversations while normalizing frank discussion of failure.
  • Do regular technology audits. Establish a cadence for assessing which of your tech tools are still serving you well and which can be retired. For the fullest understanding of what’s useful and what’s not, make sure your audit includes the voices of all employees who touch the technology in question.
  • Be a defender of the marginalized employees you sponsor. For women and workers of color, who face disproportionate criticism of their leadership abilities, having someone in a position of power who’s willing to go to bat for them—including pushing back against biased criticism—can be invaluable in helping them advance their careers.


A new level of “Let’s take some time back.” One month after Shopify got rid of almost all meetings besides 1:1s, the results are in: By the company’s tally, it freed up 322,000 hours on employees’ calendars.

  • Shopify also calculated that getting back those extra hours was equivalent to bringing on 150 additional full-time workers.

Younger workers are reviving the office romance. A third of Gen Z and younger millennial employees say they’re open to becoming romantically involved with a colleague, according to a recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management. That compares to 15% of older millennials, 27% of Gen Xers, and 23% of employees in the Baby Boomer generation and above.

  • Across generations, workers were a little more lax about their coworkers’ love lives—some three-fourths of respondents said they were comfortable with other people at their workplace getting together.
  • In another instance of employees blurring the lines between work and love, more than half of respondents in a recent Glassdoor survey said they’d checked in on work during a date.