Featured in today's newsletter:
- Design thinking to address the child-care crisis.
- The outlook for raises next year.
- A tactic for writing better AI prompts.
AI and Work Radar
- JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon predicted that AI will shorten the workweek for future workers: “Your children are going to live to 100 and not have cancer because of technology,” he told Bloomberg, “and literally they’ll probably be working three-and-a-half days a week.”
- Experts are split over AI’s likely impact on call-center and customer-service jobs, particularly in nations such as India and the Philippines, where those roles have expanded thanks to outsourcing. While some argue that those workers are likely to be displaced by the technology—a scenario that’s already a reality in some organizations—others say a more common outcome is that AI will be used to help them become more productive in their roles.
- IBM CEO Arvind Krishna argued this week that “people mistake productivity with job displacement,” noting that while he anticipates IBM’s programmers will see a significant productivity increase as a result of AI, “I don’t intend to get rid of a single one.”
- Among the new roles the AI boom is creating are “reskillers,” who anticipate what workforces will need to learn to keep up with technology use, and “AI psychotherapists,” who can examine a large-language model’s reasoning for bias and errors in judgment. Some AI organizations are also now hiring poets and other creative writers to create literature that can be used as training material for LLMs.
- A new study suggests that generative AI can be used to provide the equivalent of peer review for academic manuscripts. When the study authors asked ChatGPT to review papers from 308 researchers, more than half said the feedback they received was helpful or very helpful, and over 80% said it was more helpful than at least some of the feedback they’d received from real reviewers.
Focus on How You Should Respond to the Deepening Child-Care Crisis
Billions of dollars of child-care funding just expired after Congress failed to extend pandemic-era subsidies that have kept the industry afloat. The loss of funding could force as many as 70,000 child-care programs to close and 3.2 million children to lose care, exacerbating an already critical shortage of affordable care in the US and jeopardizing the recent historic labor-force gains made by working mothers with young children.
What should employers do to respond to this crisis? For answers, we spoke with Brigid Schulte, director of the Better Life Lab at New America and author of Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for length and clarity:
What is the role of the private sector now in addressing the child-care crisis?
We have always been in a crisis. The pandemic opened a lot of people's eyes, because we had this notion that somehow child care was always a family responsibility. We didn't want to know about it. ‘You take care of that and then you bring your best self to work and oh, we don't understand why women are leaving the workforce. Why are they not going on and advancing in their careers?’ The pandemic really helped people see that you can't have your women's leadership cohort without having adequate child care.
Companies need to be thinking along two lines right now. The first is internal. There was a Harvard Business School report that came out called The Caring Company. What they said is companies really need to be aware of the caregiving responsibilities of their workers, and the first place to start is data. So many companies don't even know who has caregiving responsibilities among their employees, so they don’t know what to do about it.
The first thing is to understand the care responsibilities that your workers have. Ask them, what kind of impact does that have on you? What kind of stress does that create? How hard is it to do your job? What do you need to be able to do your job effectively? What would help? Do that research. What are other industry leaders doing? Are there other bright spots out there that you could learn from and then get input internally on, maybe put together a task force or a group? What would work? Do some user-centered design thinking with your own workers as the centerpiece.
What does design thinking look like in this context?
Design thinking is all about putting the user at the center. If I'm a company and I have no idea what my employees are going through, you start with an anonymous survey. You get that data and you analyze it and you see certain trends. When it comes to what you do about it, get people together and present them with the problem and then ask the question, what's not working? What would work? What would different solutions look like? You throw them all up on the screen or a board and you have little sticky notes and you vote. You keep funneling down. ‘There's 10 ideas. Well, let's work on these three. These seem to be the most where we got the most heat. Let's workshop them some more.’
Once you come up with your plan, recognize that it's an experiment. Pilot something with your data and analysis and then make tweaks and iterate. It's like any good work redesign. Ask, plan, do, test, and then iterate and revise. And you listen. That's the most important part of design thinking, is you listen and then you iterate and make tweaks from there.
People talk about creating onsite child care. That might be a good solution for you. It might not, especially if you're moving into a more flexible or hybrid environment. But are there tuition reimbursements you could give? Is there a way that you could help people breathe more life into the systems that they already do use? There was a Ford Auto plant a couple decades ago, and they didn't create onsite child care, but they did breathe life into the family cares that a lot of people used closer to their own homes that they actually preferred, and gave them more flexible hours.
You absolutely have to do this with long-term leadership buy-in. It can't just be seen as the baby of one person, because as we know from work redesign, once that one person leaves, your work redesign fails. You need to make it not only have leadership buy-in, but culture buy-in that this is something for the long term that will make it a better place to work, that will make the work better, and that will make the company better.
You mentioned companies should be thinking along two lines. If the first is internal, what are the external considerations?
Even in the absence of federal response, there are a lot of really interesting and uplifting things with businesses involved in community-building efforts. I’m thinking of Build Up San Mateo County, which is a recognition that you can't just give parents more money if there's no place to take your kid. What they began doing is working with developers and the local community and advocates and local businesses to see if they could create more child-care infrastructure. It's a community-wide effort where business plays a really important role. Then there are things like ReadyNation, a whole organization backed by former CEOs who recognize how critical this is.
Read a full transcript of our conversation, including how workplaces can revise their policies to better support working fathers and audit their cultures to be more inclusive of caregiving needs.
What Else You Need to Know
Workers’ self-described financial situation is at its lowest point in more than a decade. Some 42% of US workers rate their financial wellness as “good” or “excellent,” according to Bank of America’s annual workplace benefits report, the smallest proportion since the report launched in 2011.
- Some two-thirds of respondents said the cost of living is growing more quickly than their wages, up from 58% who said the same thing in February 2022.
- Around 12% of US households saw a decrease in income last month, more than the 10.7% who saw a drop the month prior, a Morning Consult poll found. Slightly under half of employees worked more than 35 hours per week, the fewest since spring 2021.
- US employers are budgeting for slightly smaller merit raises in 2024. A poll from the consulting firm Aon found that the average increase next year will be 3.7%, compared to 3.9% in 2023, while a Mercer survey identified a 3.5% average increase, down from 3.8% this year.
Remote work’s impact on productivity varies widely. New research presented at the Remote Work Conference at Stanford suggested that it depends on industry and position, as well as individual workers and managers.
- Federal Reserve board economist Anthony Diercks evaluated the productivity of his Federal Reserve peers from spring 2020 to the end of 2021, finding that productivity and collaboration both increased during the period when they were fully remote.
- A paper Nicholas Bloom of Stanford co-authored with researchers at Mexico’s ITAM business school and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business found that close to half of respondents reported that their productivity increased while working remotely, more than three times the share who reported a decline in productivity. Bloom explained this self-reported productivity boost, in part, with the difference of perception between workers and managers. “Disagreements about the productivity effects of work from home turn partly on what counts as productivity,” Bloom said. “Workers regard commute time savings as a source of productivity gains, while managers do not.”
- Many corporate leaders haven’t gotten the memo. Some 90% of CEOs surveyed by KPMG said they will reward employees who come to the office with raises, promotions, or plum assignments. Some 62% would like to see their traditionally office-based workers fully back within three years.
The number of job openings rose again in August, after declining gradually from a peak this spring. There were 9.6 million openings in August according to the Labor Department, up from 8.9 million in July, a larger-than-expected increase.
- The rate of workers voluntarily leaving their jobs was down to 2.3% in August, equal to the pre-pandemic quit rate in February 2020. Economists point to slowing wage growth for job switchers and higher worker satisfaction as reasons for the decline.
- US employers added 336,000 jobs last month, significantly more than expected and the largest increase of 2023, while the unemployment rate remained steady at 3.8%.
Investors predict a severe crash in office prices. When asked whether the US office market will rebound without a severe crash, 65% of respondents said no in a Bloomberg Markets Live Pulse survey.
- When asked when they predict US commercial real-estate prices will hit bottom, nearly three-quarters of respondents said the second half of 2024 or later.
- Investors and economists point to low office occupancy as workers continue to work from home, leading many commercial tenants to reduce their physical footprints.
Women are making progress in senior leadership representation, but women of color in particular continue to face an uphill climb. Women now represent 28% of c-level executives, up from 22% five years ago, according to the latest Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey and Lean In, which surveyed more than 27,000 workers and HR leaders from 276 companies in the US and Canada.
- Women of color, however, make up just 6% of c-level leaders.
- The report pointed to a “broken rung” early on the corporate ladder as a barrier to women’s advancement: For every 100 promotions of men from entry-level to managerial roles over the past year, there were 87 such promotions for women.
- The authors also identified traits shared by “top performers,” or companies with stronger-than-average representation for women overall and women of color: Among other things, a significant majority have women’s employee resource groups, have policies in place to ensure those who opt for flexible work aren’t penalized for it, and train managers to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Embrace shorter meetings. Instead of blocking off 30 minutes as the default length, schedule meetings for 15 minutes to make them more efficient. The tighter time frame forces better meeting hygiene, such as thoughtfully considering the invite list, setting structured agendas, completing pre-work, and staying on topic.
- Hold a weekly team retrospective. To stay aligned on work products and practices in a hybrid setting, schedule retros for the end of each week to identify what worked and what didn’t.
- Audit your collaboration norms. Stave off burnout by making work more efficient through team collaboration agreements. Start by identifying three positive norms that you want to maintain, then decide on three negative norms to eliminate. For example, a positive norm might be to use bullet points in emails for more efficient communication, while a negative norm could be to stop emailing at night.
- Write better AI prompts with five questions. AI chatbots produce the best outputs when they have all the necessary context, so start drafting your prompts by naming who, what, where, when, and why.
Girlboss, meet “snail girl.” The latter concept, an Australian import that’s gaining popularity on TikTok, is framed as an antidote to the girlboss’s hard-charging ways, with a slower, gentler pace of work.
- “A snail girl takes her time and creates to create,” fashion designer Sienna Ludbey, who coined the term, told Fortune. “She’s running her own race, and maybe that race isn’t going anywhere but home and back to bed.”
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.