Featured in today's briefing:
- Middle-manager burnout.
- A new framework for workplace mental health.
- Remote work and the Covid baby boom.
The latest virus forecast: The US had a 3% decrease from two weeks earlier, with about 37,000 new Covid cases on Friday. As cold and flu season sets in and more workers are showing up to the office while sick, public-health experts fear that the healthcare system will be strained by a “tripledemic” of simultaneous waves of flu, Covid, and RSV.
The business impact: Slow third-quarter growth of the US GDP stoked ongoing fears of an impending recession. Some 79% of executives now believe a recession will happen next year, according to an Aon survey of 800 c-suite and senior leaders, but 47% describe themselves as only somewhat prepared for a downturn, while 18% are only a little or not at all prepared.
Focus on How to Support Middle Managers
Middle managers are exhausted. They’ve lately been tasked with enforcing return-to-office plans, ramping up productivity in the face of a faltering economy, responding to layoff anxiety among their teams, communicating company stances on social and political issues, shouldering greater responsibility for the wellbeing of their teams, and fielding numerous other complexities. In Future Forum’s latest pulse report, some 43% of managers described themselves as burned out, more than both individual contributors and more senior leaders.
To understand the evolving pressures on middle managers and how workplaces can mitigate them, we reached out to Cara Allamano, chief people officer at the people-management software company Lattice. Here are excerpts of our conversation, lightly edited for space and clarity:
What can organizations be doing right now to set their managers up for success?
One thing I'm seeing come up more and more is the need to be able to identify areas of risk for employees who might be having some challenges. Because the manager's role has gotten so broad, those challenges are as much in the realms of mental health and relationships among coworkers and the employee's relationship with the vision, mission, values of an organization as they are the tactical day-to-day work. So having broader discussions and educating our leaders on how to identify some of those risks as they arise. Supporting those leaders from the organization's standpoint, letting them know, ‘In this kind of scenario, this is what your people partner can do to help. This is what your leaders are here to do.’ Building that infrastructure.
Recent research from Microsoft’s Work Trend Index found that 85% of leaders struggle to know when their employees are being productive. How can workplaces help managers get past so-called “productivity paranoia”?
It's the back-to-basics scenario of what we know about really good management: If you have clear goals and you've set clear priorities and you're measuring those, it's not about how much time people have in their seat. It's about what their deliverables are against goals. So organizations should make sure they’re aligned from top to bottom with business goals, and everybody has their own set of goals that tie to the mission of the organization as well as the business outcomes that the org wants. It’s the responsibility of every organization to train their managers on the kind of goal-setting that particular organization participates in.
And then as an organization, have really open conversations about achievement toward those goals. You've got to be transparent about how your organization is tracking toward those things. And I think if managers get really comfortable with the idea of goals and then the measurement against goals, it makes everybody's life easier because it's a very tangible process for people to participate in. There are very few surprises when you are very clearly measuring against the outcomes that you want.
How can they maintain a sense of autonomy while acting as a conduit between employees and leadership, especially right now as return-to-office power struggles play out at many organizations?
What's really important on the manager's side is to make sure that you're articulating your needs as well. Some of that is a new skill that we're having to learn: What is the best way to communicate in this new environment, whether hybrid or virtual or even back to the office? You have to formalize some of these more informal communication channels. You need to be really crisp and clear about articulating what the best communication avenues are, since we now have a million, from Slack to email to Zooms to texts.
The one-on-one is an example of that. In the past, we might not have been as structured around one-on-ones, or we might not have been as consistent. In this new world, it's become the foundational employee experience within organizations. It is the core of what I think good management is, because it's just you making time to have a one-on-one conversation and address the needs of that person in that moment. It's something that requires planning and thoughtfulness, and it can be a really powerful lever if you're leveraging it effectively.
And I'm thinking a lot about the concept of self-engagement these days. How do you give folks optionality in how they want to learn and grow? How do you let them opt into the work style and the work experience that works best for them? For me, that's bringing in tools like Udemy and WorkRamp and putting things at individuals’ fingertips. Trust the individual to be able to raise their hand and ask for the learning that they need, and make sure they have access to that learning content, to those learning opportunities that really help them engage in the work.
What Else You Need to Know
‘Long social distancing’ kept some 3 million Americans out of the workforce in the first half of 2022. According to a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper from the team behind WFH Research, people who aren’t working or looking for a job in part due to fear of infection make up about 2% of the labor force. Researchers calculate that this corresponds to an annual loss in GDP of around $250 billion.
- Out of the thousands of people who responded to the researchers' monthly Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes, 10% said they will not return to pre-Covid activities — e.g, riding subways and dining at indoor restaurants — after the pandemic ends. Another 45% say they will continue limited forms of social distancing. The team of researchers refer to this phenomenon as “long social distancing.”
- The occurrence of long social distancing increases with age, and it’s higher for women than men at all ages.
- Jose Maria Barrero, one of the paper’s authors, told Bloomberg, “Those who haven’t been infected but have seen a close friend or relative get hospitalized, get long Covid, or have other bad outcomes are most likely to say they will be cautious in the future.”
- This paper adds to earlier research that found that 2 to 4 million Americans were out of work due to long Covid.
LinkedIn is making it easier to hire internally. To help employers tap into the retention-boosting power of internal mobility, the site recently rolled out a new feature to highlight internal candidates to recruiters, along with one to show job seekers open roles within their current company.
- Research from BCG and workplace-insights firm Revelio Labs has shown that employers with strong internal mobility have systems in place that allow workers to apply to roles without involving their current managers, as well as more flexible systems of project-based movement between teams.
- A tight labor market has heightened the importance of internal mobility for employers looking to hold on to talent. In a Pew Research survey earlier this year, 63% of workers who had quit their jobs in 2021 pointed to a lack of advancement opportunities as a reason why.
- Compared to compensation, the ability to move laterally within an organization is two and a half times as powerful a factor in driving employee retention, according to an MIT and NYU analysis of more than 1.4 million Glassdoor reviews.
- A Gartner survey of around 3,000 workers last year identified three primary reasons why employees don’t apply for internal roles: lack of awareness, the belief that open roles are out of reach for them, and a perceived lack of support from managers and colleagues in applying.
The surgeon general’s new plan for workplace mental health calls on employers to take on the responsibility of creating more supportive cultures. “Ensuring workplace well-being requires an intentional, ongoing effort by employers and leaders across all levels,” wrote US surgeon general Vivek Murthy, “with the voices of workers and equity (i.e., a more equitable policy and practice environment) at the center.”
- The new report outlined five components of mental health and wellbeing at work: protection from harm (including physical and psychological safety, DEI support, and rest); work-life harmony (including autonomy, flexibility, work-life boundaries, and paid leave); mattering at work (including recognition, purpose, and a living wage); connection and community; and opportunity for growth.
- To effectively weave these elements into an organization’s culture, Murthy wrote, “organizations should build in systems for accountability, review existing worker engagement survey data to better understand the needs among disproportionately impacted groups, utilize validated tools for measuring worker well-being, and ensure processes for continuous quality improvement.”
- More than a third of workers in a recent Conference Board survey said their mental health has worsened over the past six months, a finding that was especially pronounced among women, millennials, and individual contributors.
New York City’s pay-transparency law takes effect this week. Starting November 1, the city will be the most populous jurisdiction in the US to require salary information in all job postings.
- While pay transparency can help reduce pay inequities, implementing it can bring challenges for employee sentiment and engagement. Charter’s pay transparency playbook, created in partnership with OpenComp, provides step-by-step guidance to help employers navigate those challenges by creating an equitable compensation strategy, communicating it to employees and candidates, and sustaining it for the long term.
- Download the playbook here.
DEI initiatives often fall flat because many organizations don't manage conflict well. Researchers at MIT Sloan say there’s a better way. Their recommendations:
- Leaders should capitalize on “shocks to the system” including employee walkouts, company scandals, mergers, or news events, to restart conversations that may have stalled out of fear of speaking up.
- Surveys, conversations, and internal reports can help leaders understand what’s working (or not working) for marginalized and underrepresented employees.
- Accountability, with clear goals and assignments for concrete steps to take, can create “staying power,” the researchers said. Workshops on how to manage these difficult conversations can also be critical to making progress.
Return to workplace speed round:
- With hybrid schedules fully in place, some organizations are using timeshare office leases that allow them to rent space for just part of the week, trading off with another company for the remainder of the week.
- San Francisco currently has a record amount of office space available, with 27.1 million square feet of space for rent. With even more commercial leases set to expire by 2025, city officials are concerned about how that will affect the local economy.
- As the energy crisis continues and winter approaches, some three-fourths of Americans are “concerned” about energy costs related to working from home, according to survey data from Infogrid.
- In spite of return-to-office mandates in effect across the legal profession, many lawyers continue to resist in-person work. According to a survey from the American Bar Association, nearly half of young lawyers would leave their current position for another organization with more flexibility.
- With several companies having pushed back RTO mandates and varying levels of adherence to existing policies, PWC US chairman Tim Ryan observed that workers still have the upper hand. “The war for talent is over. Talent won,” he said at the CNBC Work Summit.
- With demand for laboratory space rising in accordance with the growth of the life-sciences sector, a rising number of vacant offices are finding new life as labs.
- Over half of Chicago employers will require employees to work onsite at least one day a week, with 22.3% mandating three days a week, 17.6% two days a week, and 16.9% five days a week, according to survey data from Crain’s Chicago.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Swap “sorry” for “thank you.” Feeling the need to apologize for small slights like running late to a meeting or responding to emails after a delay is all too common, but it can water down the meaning of apologizing and leave your colleagues feeling disempowered. Instead, replace unnecessary apologies with expressions of gratitude like “I appreciate your flexibility,” or “Thank you for your patience.”
- Help employees share pronouns. For a more trans-inclusive workplace, encourage employees to share their pronouns in email signatures and Slack profiles with shared templates and standard profile fields. Stop short of making pronouns required—some trans and non-binary employees may not feel comfortable discussing their gender identity with co-workers.
- Check in daily during remote onboarding. Managers in remote workplaces can help new hires feel more welcome by scheduling a daily call during the employee’s first week. During the call, the manager can touch base with the employee, and the new hire can ask any questions that have come up during their first few days.
- When getting feedback, apply the 2% rule. Before dismissing feedback you might disagree with, ask yourself, “What if 2% of it was true?” It might help you uncover blindspots or shortcomings to work on.
As the saying goes, behind every LinkedInfluencer is a LinkedIn ghostwriter. Some of the lengthy manifestos filling your feed are penned by writers who charge thousands of dollars per post.
One more side effect of remote work: a baby boom. The conventional wisdom on the pandemic’s effect on fertility have been all over the map—experts previously pointed to a baby bust, then a blip—but new research suggests that for a certain segment of the population, remote work has indeed led to more children entering the world.
- A recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper found that the fertility rate increased for US-born mothers during the pandemic, and disproportionately so “for women ages 30-34 and women with a college education, who were more likely to benefit from working from home.”
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.