Featured in today's newsletter:
- How addressing power imbalances improves teams’ creativity.
- New anti-discrimination guidance around artificial intelligence.
- A proliferation of “ghost jobs.”
AI and Work Radar
Starting this week, Charter is leading our Sunday newsletter highlighting new developments related to AI’s impact on work. We’ve been covering such issues since Charter’s launch, and know from conversations with readers that it’s even more urgent now. We’re especially interested in reporting on ways that AI tools can be deployed to increase the quality of jobs rather than to eliminate human workers.
- Research has found that the use of AI can make employees better problem-solvers by enabling them to ask better questions: In a qualitative survey from researchers at MIT and EY, respondents who used AI in their work asked a higher volume of questions that were both more varied and more novel.
- Some 67% of workers would willingly spend their own money to increase their AI skills in order to avoid being replaced by AI, according to a new survey from the human-resources technology company Checkr. Some 86% said they would take a pay cut in exchange for the ability to outsource some of their work to AI tools.
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued new guidance warning that employers will be held responsible for any instances of workplace discrimination in decisions made by AI, such as hiring and firing. That includes those made by third-party AI tools.
Focus on Making Creativity More Inclusive
Research has shown that power—determined at work by factors including social capital, organizational hierarchy, and underrepresentation —affects not only how comfortable people are in expressing their ideas, but how well they can generate those ideas in the first place.
For insights on how to make creativity more inclusive, we reached out to Brian Lucas, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the author of a recent study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology examining how to bridge the creativity-power divide. Here are excerpts from our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity:
What does your research say about the relationship between power and creativity?
Generally speaking, whether you feel more powerful or less powerful changes your psychology quite a bit. If you feel powerful—maybe that’s because you have a higher rank, maybe you have control over resources, maybe you are part of a societal group that tends to be valued more, or maybe you have skill sets that are valued more—it changes the way that you think about things. You become a little less concerned about what other people think of you. You get a little less concerned about whether other people are going to reject your ideas. You become more willing to take risks, and it actually facilitates abstract thinking, the ability to help us see connections between disparate things. As you can imagine, all of those things would tend to have a positive impact on creativity, or our ability to generate new ideas that are both novel and useful.
In our study, we randomly assigned people to either a manager role or an employee role, and people think that they're being assigned to their roles based on their leadership potential. So the managers are given control over resources, decision-making power, all things that mimic what make people feel powerful in the workplace. Then we had them individually work on idea-generation tasks. And what we found was that when we had people do this task for about a minute, the people in the high-power roles generated more novel ideas than the people in the low-power roles. However, in the second round, where we told them to just work on the task again, the novelty of the low-power people basically caught up to the high-power participants. Their ideas became more novel, while the high-power participants’ ideas basically stayed the same.
A lot of times, feeling low-power, you feel a little more constrained by the situation, maybe less willing or less able to come up with those more novel connections. There's other research showing that just engaging in the act of creativity itself can make you feel liberated, and it can make you feel less constrained by your situations. So the logic here is that that first warmup round is allowing the low-power people to essentially get into the mindset of a high-power person.
What might a warmup look like in the real world, beyond asking people to do the same work twice?
Generally speaking, what I'd prescribe is to just allow more time to work on creative tasks. That way, your first couple ideas could be treated as a warmup that leads you into those subsequent better ideas. Another version of it could just be something like an icebreaker. A lot of team leaders will do icebreakers at the beginning of a team meeting just to get people warmed up and get their minds moving. You could easily imagine a version of that taking on aspects of a creativity task or an idea-generation task.
What about encouraging creativity in a broader sense, apart from specific tasks?
If you encourage creativity on a specific task or you encourage psychological safety on a specific task, if you do that enough times with enough tasks, that's going to create an environment or a culture that encourages creativity and that encourages psychological safety. So if employees have that in the back of their minds, then that's going to encourage them to think about creative ideas and offer up creative ideas even in situations where they're not specifically prompted to.
A culture of creativity is just a culture where employees think that their employer wants their creative ideas. There are a number of studies now where if you bring participants into a lab and you have them do an idea-generation task, and in one condition you tell them, ‘We really want your most creative ideas,’ those people give you more creative ideas. It's not surprising—they're basically following instructions. But one thing that organizations and managers often overlook is that if you tell employees that you want their creative ideas, they're going to be more likely to give you their creative ideas.
Read a full transcript of our conversation, including research-backed creativity-generating icebreakers and strategies for leveling the power playing field in group settings.
What Else You Need to Know
Women’s labor-force participation hit a record high. Last month, 77.5% of women aged 25-54 were in the workforce, a sharp about-face from the decline brought about by the pandemic.
- The current rise is driven in large part by financial necessity, with rising inflation and the end of some forms of pandemic-era government assistance pushing many households to look for new ways to stay afloat. Economists have pointed to a strong job market and flexible work as additional factors, as well as a lower fertility rate and more women receiving higher education.
- A growing number of women are joining the independent-worker population in the US, which increased by 2.2% last year, according to a new report by the Freelancers Union and the freelancing platform Fiverr. The report also found that women were more likely than men to transition to independent work—which it defined as freelancing in a creative, technical, or professional industry—out of a desire to have more flexibility or to avoid a toxic work environment.
- Immigrants’ share of the labor force is also increasing, with people born outside the US comprising 18.1% of the country’s workers last year, the highest level since the Labor Department began tracking.
Anti-union activities are increasing at Apple, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and REI, workers allege. Retail workers attempting to unionize are calling out increasing incidents of retaliation, including disciplining or firing workers involved in organizing.
- Although the companies deny that any disciplinary decisions were in response to union activity, workers report increasing scrutiny and aggressiveness on the part of employers, a marked shift from union campaigns’ beginnings.
- Workers and organizers are calling for increased protections for employees involved in labor organizing. In rural Georgia, a recent unionization victory at a factory receiving federal money conditioned on union neutrality demonstrates how much workers could have to gain with more robust workers’ rights protections.
The proliferation of so-called “ghost jobs” is lengthening the job-search process and discouraging job seekers. Ghost jobs are open positions that organizations leave up for months without recruiting or hiring for the role. For job seekers, submitting applications for ghost jobs often means, well, getting ghosted.
- Some 27% of hiring managers surveyed by Clarify Capital in 2022 admitted to maintaining ghost job postings for more than four months. Their reasons for doing so include creating an outward impression that the company is expanding and placating burned-out employees who want to see new hires take on some of their responsibilities.
- A similar proliferation of job-posting scams only compounds the difficulty of finding a new role right now. In response, LinkedIn earlier this week rolled out new verification features to cut down on the number of false posts that leave job seekers vulnerable to wasted time and identity theft.
A new petition urges Slack to offer greater privacy protections to protect abortion seekers. As more states and localities move to criminalize abortion, the letter, whose signatories include abortion-rights, digital-privacy, and racial-justice advocates from the non-profit and private sectors, calls on Slack to offer end-to-end encryption and a blocking and reporting feature to prevent harassment and protect users’ privacy.
- “Slack is a workplace communication tool and we take the privacy and confidentiality of our customer’s data very seriously,” Slack has responded.
- “Slack isn’t just a workplace tool, it’s used by all different kinds of people, communities, and it’s also used in workplaces,” wrote researcher Caroline Sinders, one of the signatories. “Blocking is a necessary tool to help mitigate harassment; it’s something users need to create their own safety, especially in the workplace, but in any community.”
- Slack’s users include abortion funds, abortion providers, and reproductive-rights organizers, as well as employees seeking support from coworkers. Advocates argue that the enhanced privacy protections are necessary to protect both organizations and individuals from law-enforcement subpoenas and harassment from other users.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Look for imbalances in meeting participation. Carnegie Mellon professor and associate dean Anita Williams Woolley, whose research has found that a more equal distribution of communication leads to more effective collaboration across teams, suggests using a tool to track how frequently team members talk during meetings (Zoom and Google Hangouts both have built-in functions) and following up with those who have a pattern of staying quiet to troubleshoot what would make them feel more comfortable speaking up.
- Mentally prep for high-stress social situations. Build your confidence by running through a few questions before any anxiety-inducing socializing: What’s your goal for the situation? What are the expectations on you? And knowing those two things, what are the specific behaviors that will enable you to succeed?
- Prep for questions about AI before walking into job interviews. With generative AI rapidly changing the white-collar workplace, be ready to answer questions about your openness to and experience with working with new technologies.
- Prioritize autonomy in skill development. Micromanaging and scaffolding every aspect of skill-building can lead to defensiveness and disengagement. Instead, promote employee autonomy by explaining the benefits and research related to a specific skill, then provide opportunities for them to practice on their own timescale.
A workplace faux paw. At the recent Best Pet Workplaces conference—which convened employers including Starbucks, Walmart, and Zoom to discuss pet-friendly benefits such as bereavement and on-site pet care—one Google executive stressed the importance of establishing clear definitions for acceptable animals to bring to the office: “People will ask, ‘Can we define what a dog is? What about a wolf?’”