Featured in today's briefing:
- How AI responds to emotional appeals.
- Caregiving policies that work for workers.
- The Zoom wave, explained.
AI and Work Radar
- A new study found that adding large language models (LLMs) perform better when they’re given prompts with emotional language, like “This is very important for my career” or “You’d better be sure.”
- Over half of people who say they have at least some knowledge of AI say that they are mostly teaching themselves, according to new findings from the Ipsos Consumer Tracker. Only a quarter say they’re being trained by their employer.
- Researchers found that OpenAI’s GPT-3.5-turbo LLM does a good job assessing corporate political, environmental, and AI-related risk from transcripts of earnings calls. The authors concluded that “generative AI technology enables users to obtain valuable insights about firm-level risks at a relatively low cost.”
- An analysis of earnings calls from the top 11 publicly traded software companies in the US revealed a fivefold increase in AI mentions from the first quarter of 2022 to the third quarter of 2023, accompanied by a boost in their stock prices.
- AI tools can raise artist productivity by 25% and increase the likelihood of receiving positive peer feedback, according to a new study out of Boston University, with one caveat: While peak novelty of the artists’ output increased over time, average novelty declined.
Focus on How Workplaces Can Level Up in Supporting Caregivers
There are currently 11 million workers in the “sandwich generation,” providing care for both children and elderly parents, and one-fifth of all full-time workers are caring for aging, disabled, or ill loved ones.
The value of supporting the work of caregiving has also become clear. In a forthcoming study, Stanford and Harvard researchers found a 336% return on investment for caregiving policies when the impacts on productivity, retention, and absenteeism are calculated.
Mike Jones, of caregiving concierge service Wellthy, previewed that research data at the CareFest by Caring Across Generations conference in Los Angeles this week. At the event, we spoke with researchers, advocates, and political and business leaders, many of whom called for stronger public investment in care, an area where the US continues to lag: In an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report on member nations’ public funding for child care and early-childhood education, the US ranked near the bottom, spending less than 0.5% of its GDP, compared to the average of around 0.8%—and well below investments of European nations with strong public child-care systems, such as Iceland and Sweden.
As more than one speaker noted, in the absence of public solutions, much of the burden has fallen on workplaces to address workers’ care needs. A question that came up throughout our conversations: Given the current state of affairs, what would it look like for businesses to take seriously our collective responsibility to invest in care?
Here’s what we heard:
Rethink the assumptions in current workplace policies. Tara McGuinness, head of New America’s New Practice Lab, noted that much of the way work is structured comes assumes two-parent households with one full-time caregiver at home. “If we were to rebuild the ideal workplace today and you conceived a design that worked for a single Latina mom, what time would the day start?” McGuinness asked. “What would the benefits package look like? What would the language around caregiving sound like? And what would the way you show up as a leader look like?”
Design benefits programs to reflect the different care identities workers can hold. Speakers encouraged leaders to not silo caregivers by groups. “Every single one of us is going to need to give or receive some kind of care, so it’s important that we think about it expansively and think about it inclusively,” said Dawn Huckelbridge, director of Paid Leave for All. Paid leave programs, for instance, should “cover different kinds of caregiving… not just maternity leave, not just parental leave, but it should cover all working people.”
Many caregivers have multiple care relationships in their life, including children, aging parents, family members with disabilities, or other loved ones. Support for caregivers must help them navigate these transitions, said Dr. Jennifer Olsen, CEO of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers.
Workers should be partners in designing these policies. That could mean involving caregiver employee resource groups, drawing on data from employee feedback surveys, interviews, and town halls. Where workplaces are organized, unions can also play a role. April Verrett, secretary-treasurer of SEIU, pointed to SEIU Local 1199’s Child Care Fund, which is jointly funded by labor and management.
Paid care workers at home should be valued, too. This means bringing the same values of clarity, transparency, and fair compensation and benefits to babysitters and nannies, home-care workers, and home cleaners. Acting secretary of labor Julie Su announced a set of new sample employment agreements for private households to use as a tool. Many employers recognize that “when they do right by their workers, they do better as a business,” she said “It’s a very basic fundamental principle, and I think it applies when you’re employing people in your home as much as it would in an outside business.”
Companies should fight for care investments outside their workplaces. Building a care economy that works for all workers means that employers shouldn’t “have to win the best boss lottery in order to have access to care policies like paid leave or child care,” argued Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. She urged business leaders to think beyond their own workplaces.
That could mean creating public-private partnerships to increase the supply of care in communities, joining business councils focused on advocacy, or lobbying directly for care policies. “We live in a world of profound scarcity for care policy, especially when it comes to families with young kids,” said McGuinness. “We don't need modest changes. We need transformational changes.”
What Else You Need to Know
President Biden’s new AI executive order paves the way for employer guidance on “safe, secure, and trustworthy” adoption. Among other things, the order directs the secretary of labor to create “best practices for employers that could be used to mitigate AI’s potential harms to employees’ well-being and maximize its potential benefits,” addressing job quality, potential job displacement, and data privacy.
- The order also calls on the Labor Department to emphasize to employers using AI that they “must continue to comply with protections that ensure that workers are compensated for their hours worked,” and for the government to report on how AI will affect the labor market.
- Charter’s playbook, “Using AI in ways that enhance worker dignity and inclusion,” highlights multiple strategies for protecting and improving job quality with AI adoption, including giving workers more control over how the technology is used in their roles. “Ask them where they see opportunities, ask them where they see challenges—and figure out whether anything on the market actually solves for those,” Stephanie Bell, a senior research scientist at Partnership on AI, told us.
Women now make up a record-high percentage of MBA students. Some 42% of full-time MBA students at the start of this school year were women, up from 38% five years ago, according to new data from the Forte Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting women in business leadership.
- Forte’s analysis, which focused on 58 top-ranked schools in the US, Canada, and Europe, also found that five schools reached gender parity this year, while 34 schools had a student body that was at least 40% women.
- Business schools still lag behind law schools, where women represented 56% of the students last year. And US college enrollment is now significantly skewed toward women, with close to three women for every two men.
Unions are winning the highest pay increases for their members in more than 30 years, a new Bloomberg analysis found. Within the 425 ratified contracts included in the analysis, the average first-year wage increase was 6.6%, with unions in industries as diverse as healthcare, Hollywood, and auto manufacturing achieving significant gains.
- Public approval of unions has also risen in recent years: Two-thirds of US adults currently support them, up from 62% five years ago and 54% 10 years ago.
US adults are working fewer hours. The number of hours that salaried and hourly employees worked per week dropped in the first half of this year to 32.9, compared to 33.5 in 2013, according to new research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
- The economists who authored the paper argued that the primary driver is a rise in paid time off as an employee benefit, with many employers using it to attract talent in a tight labor market.
- Some 80% of workers currently have access to paid sick leave, 27% to paid family leave, and 77% to paid vacation time. Ten years ago, those figures were 67%, 12%, and 74%, respectively.
Companies with more board diversity are more environmentally conscious, according to a new analysis of S&P 1500 companies that looked at 15 years’ worth of data on board composition and ratings from MSCI, a financial-research firm that provides environmental, social, and governance scores.
- The analysis found that a 10% increase in the proportion of female directors corresponded to a 17.5% increase in environmental rating, while a 10% increase in Black directors corresponded to an 18.4% increase in rating.
- Some 58% of companies mentioned ESG metrics in their quarterly earnings calls last year, an increase of four percentage points from 2020, while corporate funding for environmental programs grew by 51%, found a new report from Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose.
- Despite these increases, a recent survey of leaders from 250 global businesses found that more than 30% intend to continue using fossil fuels for the next few decades, even as some of those companies have set net-zero goals for much sooner.
Spotlight: How one employer is addressing the child-care crisis.
- Molly Moon Neitzel, owner of the Seattle chain Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, explained at CareFest that her company offers a stipend of $1,000 per child per month to help her workers access the child care they need. (For school-aged children, the stipend is up to $4,200 per year.) Providing the benefit is “crazy expensive,” she said. “It is unsustainable.”
- “We need to say, ‘Look at our P&L, look at all the money we’re spending on healthcare, on child care. Collectively, we shouldn’t have to do this. It’s your job, federal government,’” Neitzel said, adding that employers could band together to present their collective data.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Play low-stakes games to teach new employees skills related to the job. Citadel Securities, a trading firm, incorporates games, like poker and turn-based trading games, into its intense onboarding process. The firm uses such games to get a better sense of its new employees, as well as an opportunity to encourage staff to think strategically and learn from each other.
- Make it a practice to ask, “Who else?” Expand the group of people you seek feedback from when you’re working on a project, to capture the valuable insights that can emerge from those not traditionally involved in the process.
- Ask people to rate your work on a scale of one to 10. Then ask them how you can get closer to a 10, and work to get higher marks in priority areas, while cutting yourself some slack in others.
- Make a list of everything that can go wrong with a project. If a task feels overwhelming or overly complicated, start by imagining all the possible pitfalls, which can give you a roadmap of things to check and double-check as you go.
The end of “revenge travel.” Following a summer travel burst of people making up for lost pandemic time, Airbnb reported a lackluster fourth-quarter outlook, pointing to a more volatile economic climate.
- The “workcation,” meanwhile, is alive and well. People are working remotely from vacation locations, whether employers know about it or not.
‘Do as I say…’ Elon Musk—a hard-liner on return-to-office mandates—reportedly dialed in remotely to host an X all-team meeting last week, as did CEO Linda Yaccarino.
- Musk had previously told employees that they needed to show up in person at least 40 hours per week, and sent a company-wide email earlier this year reminding workers that “the office is not optional.”
- “Elon 'Back to the Office' Musk Called in Remotely to First X All-Hands,” a Gizmodo headline noted.
The long tail of the Zoom wave. More than half of workers wave goodbye when signing off of a videoconference—in part because of a psychological phenomenon called “motor resonance,” our tendency to reflexively mirror gestures. (In other words: One waver may be enough to keep the practice going for all.)
- For some, the wave has become entrenched as a gesture of basic politeness: “It bothers me when I wave, and people don’t wave back,” one worker told Bloomberg. “I would compare it to when you hold the door for someone and they don't say thank you.”