Featured in today's briefing:
- Workplaces and Roe v. Wade.
- Does innovation require a hard-charging culture?
- Calculating the climate impact of remote work.
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The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 52% increase from two weeks earlier, with over 70,000 new cases on Friday. The US reported death toll has now surpassed 1 million, by some counts, and Covid has become the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. The White House is reportedly preparing for the possibility that 100 million Americans become infected this coming fall and winter.
The business impact: The US added more jobs than expected in April, while a record 4.5 million people quit their jobs in March. Over half of people in their job less than three months said they were already looking for something else. Companies report that new hires aren’t showing up for their first day and that employees are quitting without notice.
What You Need to Know
Employers confronted the possible end of abortion rights. In the wake of the leaked draft opinion suggesting that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, companies are facing pressures from employees, lawmakers, shareholders, and the public to share where they stand on the issue.
- If the court does overturn Roe when it issues its final ruling in the coming weeks, 13 states would immediately ban abortion via so-called “trigger laws,” and the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 26 states in total would enact bans. Past research suggests that companies in those states would likely face issues with employee recruitment and retention, with many workers indicating that they’d be reluctant to take a job in a state with such restrictions.
- In an overview of common arguments for restricting abortion, Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the opinion, wrote that “leave for pregnancy and childbirth are now guaranteed by law in many cases.” In reality, one-third of American employees—disproportionately women and Black, Hispanic, and low-income workers—have no access to parental leave, and a quarter of birthing parents return to work 10 days after having a child.
- Research has shown a direct link between abortion access and women’s labor-force participation and earnings.
- As multiple states have tightened abortion restrictions over the past few months, several companies have announced abortion-related benefits; that number has grown since the opinion leaked this week. Amazon will offer employees up to $4,000 for out-of-state travel to obtain health care, including abortions. Citigroup, Apple, Uber, and Yelp are some of the companies that have announced they will provide similar benefits for employees who need to travel to access abortion care, while Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are currently mulling whether to do the same. Uber and Lyft will also cover the legal expenses of drivers who are sued for transporting patients to or from an abortion.
- Many of these same companies have also donated millions to fund the campaigns of anti-abortion political candidiates.
- Senator Marco Rubio has introduced the "No Tax Breaks for Radical Corporate Activism Act," which would prevent companies from receiving tax breaks for employee reimbursements for abortions or gender-affirming care for children. Transgender-rights advocates have pointed out that the fall of Roe will make it harder for trans people, who already face discrimination in the healthcare system, to access reproductive health care.
- The Zeno Group, a public-relations agency that counts Salesforce, Netflix, and Coca-Cola among its clients, circulated an email template to staff this week counseling companies to remain quiet, writing: “Do not take a stance you cannot reverse.”
- Activist shareholders have taken steps to push companies to protect abortion rights: Lowe’s, Walmart, and TJX (the parent company of retailers such as TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods) are all facing proposals asking the companies to prepare reports of the risk they incur when employees have difficulty accessing abortions.
Corporate boards are still overwhelmingly white. A new analysis of board diversity among companies in the Russell 3000 Index found that despite progress over the past couple years, racial minorities were significantly under-represented.
- Among the companies studied, 2.7% of directors were Hispanic (vs. 18% of the overall US population), 6.2% were Black (vs. 13.4% of the population), and 5% were Asian or Pacific Islander (vs. 6.1%).
- New research separately sheds light on challenges for Asian workers in particular: Just 16% of Asian men and 20% of Asian women report feeling included at work, the lowest numbers of any racial group, according to a recent Bain report.
Calculating the climate impact of remote work is a struggle. Without a standard for what to include and what to leave out, companies are all over the map: In a recent Reuters survey of 20 large companies, just half had attempted to calculate carbon emissions from home-office setups.
- Apple, Amazon, and Wells Fargo are among those that haven’t accounted for home offices at all. Google and Salesforce omitted electricity in employee homes from their calculations, while Meta omitted natural gas.
- Several reports have found that hybrid work may lead to increased emissions, combining the energy required to keep an office open with the energy used by employees at home and during their commutes.
Return to workplace speed round:
- Just 4% of employers are making all their workers come back into an office five days a week, according to a recent survey of human-resources leaders from the Conference Board, while 45% are asking some employees to return full-time.
- Airbnb bookings are at an all-time high as workers take advantage of geographic flexibility, with bookings of four weeks or longer more than twice as common as they were before the pandemic. The company also reported that its jobs page has been viewed more than 800,000 times since it announced a new work-from-anywhere policy last week.
- Some 50% to 60% of Goldman Sachs employees in the US are back at the office, compared to 80% pre-pandemic, despite efforts by CEO David Solomon to bring everyone back full-time.
- Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin is ending remote work for state employees, requiring anyone who doesn’t have a health-related or other exemption to return to in-person work by July 5.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Use a buddy system. Research has shown that younger and more junior workers feel less supported by their coworkers, leaving them lonelier and more disconnected in hybrid setups. Pair these employees with a peer or mentor to facilitate the workplace relationships they might otherwise be missing.
- Make space for change-related anxiety. Managers tend to respond to change and uncertainty with bursts of energy and problem-solving, when often what employees need is a chance to slow down and work through their discomfort. When faced with a big shift, set aside time for your team to talk through what they may be feeling, and consider establishing a short ritual, like a breathing exercise, that keeps everyone feeling connected and grounded.
Focus on Whether Innovation Requires A Hard-Driving Culture
Researchers recently uncovered a striking phenomenon: The more positively employees talk about innovation at their company, the more likely they are to leave it.
Donald Sull, Charlie Sull, and Ben Zweig, for a paper published in MIT Sloan Management Review, analyzed millions of online employee profiles and reviews for over 500 companies. They found the attrition rates of the three companies described as most innovative—Nvidia, Tesla, and SpaceX—were significantly higher than those of their industry peers.
A likely reason for that higher attrition? “When employees rate their company’s innovation positively, they are more likely to speak negatively about work-life balance and a manageable workload,” the study concluded.
The finding comes at a critical moment, when employers are trying to provide more flexibility and counter worker burnout while still driving innovation and performance. It raises a critical question: Can you have an innovative culture without the hard-driving approach that often tags along?
Absolutely, say innovation experts. “Our research suggests that this unbalanced culture is only successful in the very short term,” says Henry Chesbrough, faculty director of the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation at UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “If a balance is not found, over time some talented people will leave. Others will stay, but feel burned out and become less productive.”
Rita Gunther McGrath, professor at Columbia Business School, says many companies manage to be highly innovative while also maintaining a happy, highly loyal workforce. She cites those that made history, and broke speed records, in developing safe Covid vaccines.
“People actually aren’t in these crazy work environments. They discover things, they learn things,” she says. “They are given time to tinker and play around.”
So how can fast-growing organizations be innovative while also maintaining some sanity in their work cultures? Experts offered this advice:
Make schedules predictable
“One thing we found is especially powerful is schedules,” says Charlie Sull, cofounder of CultureX, an HR technology firm that uses artificial intelligence to analyze organizational cultures. “If you make schedules predictable—if you tell employees exactly when they’ll be working, you don’t call them at unexpected times—you can create quite a powerful way to alleviate attrition.”
Get remote work right
“One of the most powerful drivers (of retention) we found were remote work arrangements,” Sull says. “So if you can move the needle on that, it’s going to have 1.5 times as powerful an impact as compensation.”
Lead by example
“Sincere leaders who walk the talk of greater balance must hope and trust that their employees will respond in turn with greater loyalty and support,” improving overall company performance, says Chesbrough. “Over time, it is possible that happier employees spread the word to their friends, and the company attracts other highly talented people into their organization.”
When some high-profile companies seem to hew to an old-fashioned notion that the only route to success demands pushing employees to burnout, or worse, a work culture that values employee happiness and well-being is innovative in itself.
Wear your best socks to meetings at this office. The San Francisco interior-design company Studio O+A asks people to remove their shoes when they enter, with the aim of reducing germs tracked in.
- The practice is common in Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, though it’s unlikely that the health benefits of doing so are significant.
There’s a new Guinness world record for the longest job tenure. That distinction now belongs to Brazilian centenarian Walter Orthmann, a sales manager at the textiles firm RenauxView, where he started work as a shipping assistant 84 years ago.
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.