Featured in today's briefing:
- Tough conversations as a form of caring.
- Employer policies shaping workers’ family-planning decisions.
- Job descriptions for your personal life.
The Macro Context
- On the cusp of another likely Covid surge, with both cases and hospitalizations again on the rise, in the US, the question of how employers can support and accommodate workers with long Covid—which has already pushed millions of people out of the workforce—is taking on renewed urgency.
- The Business Roundtable’s latest quarterly survey of CEOs’ economic outlook captured a grim mood, with drops in both hiring plans and sales expectations, even though the majority of those surveyed don't believe that a recession is on the horizon.
Focus on Leadership Lessons from the US Men’s Soccer Coach
Gregg Berhalter led a young US men’s soccer team into the knockout stages of the World Cup in Qatar. It was a respectable performance, with the US coach employing tactics instructive to leaders in other fields as he built a team culture ahead of the tournament.
En route back home after the US was eliminated by the Netherlands, Berhalter spoke at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York on Tuesday. Below are excerpts from his comments, lightly edited for space and clarity. (Editor's note, Dec. 11, 8:25pm EST: Berhalter's comments were at a gathering held under the Chatham House Rule and were not meant to be public, but were erroneously greenlit for publication by someone representing the event organizers.)
On creating a cohesive team identity:
The journey started four years ago when we failed to qualify for the World Cup. I took a team over that was in disarray. It was lacking a clear identity, lacking a clear culture amongst the group. And fortunately having played for the national team, I know what it could look like. I knew what it looks like when it works. So I was basically starting from day one with a very clear vision: We wanted to change the way the world views American soccer. Every camp we started for the next four years, that was the first slide that the players saw.
To me, the culmination of that became what you guys saw this November. And it was really nice to see, because the guys did come together and the guys did fight for each other and they were so proud to represent the country. And we did have a clear identity on the field. So the work over four years paid off on what you saw, which was a really cohesive unit.
The answer that we came up with as a group is we can be the best team—not the most talented team, but we can be the best team. And what does that mean? It means guys that are there for each other no matter what happens, guys that are supporting each other, no matter what happens.
When I took the group over, it was a very young team, and I thought, ‘Okay, I don't think it's fair to put the burden of leadership on one young player who may or may not be prepared for this.’ So we worked with a leadership council where we empowered seven guys on the team to help make decisions with the coaching staff, getting feedback from the players and trying to groom young leaders. And that was really successful.
When we got to the World Cup, I asked the leadership council, ‘Okay guys, what do you want to do? We've been rotating captains every game. Do you want to do the same thing in the World Cup?’ And they said—this was another moment when I knew we had good guys—they said, ‘You know what? We would be proud and happy and supportive if any one of us was the captain. So we want to vote. We'd rather it be one person, and we'll live with whoever it is because we trust everyone here who's doing this.’ And that's what we ended up doing.
On tough conversations as a form of caring:
Something that's really important to me is honesty. And then the second thing is caring honestly—being able to listen and hear and really care for these guys. You form this bond together that becomes so strong. A moment like when [player] Timmy Weah was hysterically crying on my shoulder, that was a tough moment, but it comes from the fact that we grew together and we bonded together and I'm there to support these guys.
And it's the same way in business. I can't imagine any type of leadership position where you don't care about the success of the employees, the wellbeing of your employees. Before the World Cup I flew to Italy to have lunch with [player] Weston [McKennie] in Turin and flew home that night to Chicago. The gesture of being there for four hours at lunch with him from the United States went a long way.
But then the honesty part comes in. I don't think you sacrifice your leadership authority when you’re close. I still have leadership authority, because I bring honesty to them and I tell them things they don't like to hear. ‘You're not playing today. I know you're not going to like the decision, but here's why you're not playing.’ You're respecting them with the truth. When you give somebody the truth and you don't massage it, they feel that you respected them. As leaders sometimes we shy away from those difficult conversations, because it's harder to actually tell the truth than to just not have the conversation. So I go out of my way to have those difficult conversations.
On handling difficult decisions around performance:
Every day you come into the locker room and you're checking the scales to see where guys are at, to see what issues can arise. You always have to be ready to hit issues head-on, using your values as a filter.
An example I can give you: In this last World Cup, we had a player that was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field. One of 26 players, so it stood out. As a staff, we sat together for hours deliberating what we were going to do with this player. We were ready to book a plane ticket home, that's how extreme it was. And what it came down to was, we're going to have one more conversation with him, and part of the conversation was how we're going to behave from here out. There aren’t going to be any more infractions.
But the other thing we said to him was, you're going to have to apologize to the group, but it's going to have to say why you’re apologizing. It's going to have to go deeper than just ‘Guys, I'm sorry.’ And I prepped the leadership group with this. I said, ‘Okay, this guy's going to apologize to you as a group, to the whole team.’ And what was fantastic in this whole thing is that after he apologized, they stood up one by one and said, ‘Listen, it hasn’t been good enough, You haven’t been meeting our expectations of a teammate and we want to see change.’ They really took ownership of that process. And from that day on there were no issues with this player.
As a coach, the way you can deal with things most appropriately is going back to your values. Because it's difficult to send a player home. It was going to be a massive controversy. You would have been reading about it for five days straight. But we were prepared to do it, because he wasn't meeting the standards of the group, and the group was prepared to do it as well.
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What Else You Need to Know
Workplace policies may be shaping family planning decisions for younger workers. Some 10% of Millennial and Gen Z workers who do not plan to expand their family listed childcare concerns as a reason, according to a new survey of around 1,000 workers by childcare company Bright Horizons.
- Gen Z and Millennial workers whose employers offer childcare benefits like on-site care and childcare subsidies were significantly more likely to report that they were planning to have kids—representing over half of employees with employer-based childcare support, compared to just 36% of employees without such benefits.
- Sponsored or subsidized childcare (11%) and backup childcare (8%) are among the benefits least offered to full-time employees, according to a recent Charter survey of business leaders across industries.
Employers in New York City may soon find it harder to fire their workers. A new City Council bill would force companies to prove “just cause,” like employee misconduct or performance issues, before letting someone go.
- The bill, which would also limit the use of technology to track employee performance and would allow employees to sue for wrongful termination, is similar to a 2021 New York City law that protects fast-food workers from being fired or having their hours reduced without just cause.
- The majority of US workers are currently at-will employees, meaning employers don’t need a reason to let them go.
Fewer people are defining themselves by their jobs. Some 52% of people said that their job was “the pillar of [their] focus and professional identity,” down from 70% pre-pandemic, according to a survey of 585 tech workers by the venture-capital firm WorkLife Ventures, .
- That’s largely due to workers diversifying their activities outside the workplace: Some 70% of workers surveyed picked up a new project during the pandemic—including new skills and hobbies, crafts and creative projects, involvement in community and neighborhood groups, and charitable work, among other activities—and half of the respondents said they hoped their passion project would replace their current full-time job.
- Some 78% said that their side project was possible because of the increased flexibility granted by remote work.
The current wave of tech layoffs is putting H-1B visa holders in a precarious position. As the number of laid-off tech employees surpasses 148,000 for the year, high-skilled international workers have 60 days to find a new job in the same industry before they’re required to leave the country.
- Those who can’t find a new job can try to switch to a different type of work visa, get a non-work visa, or become a “dependent” on their partner’s work visa.
- After Meta recently let go of more than 11,000 employees, hundreds of H-1B workers drafted a letter asking the company if they could stay on the payroll for the length of their severance, which would give them more time to find a new job before the 60-day clock started.
Return to workplace speed round:
- Nationwide, offices are at 16% capacity on Mondays, roughly 60% lower than pre-pandemic levels, according to new data from space-utilization software company Density. (Friday was the least popular office day pre-pandemic, and it remains so with an average of 11% capacity).
- Some 64% of workers would be more likely to come into the office if they knew their team was there, according to a new survey from the workplace connection platform Robin that identified social connection as one of the most compelling in-office perks for bringing employees back.
- At the same time, in a new Gensler survey of 2,000 U.S. workers, the top reason employees gave for going into the office was “to focus on my work,” beating out answers like “access to technology” and “to sit with my team.”
- A shift to remote work two days a week could increase national single-family home construction by 49% above its pre-pandemic level by making employees more willing to live farther from their employers, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
- While the number of office leases in the US in the first three quarters of this year was higher than the pre-pandemic average, total square footage leased was 4% lower, indicating a growing demand for smaller offices.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
Frame a pay discrepancy as a problem to solve together. If you discover that you’re making less than a colleague or the market rate for your role, broach it with your manager by asking, “Can you talk to me about how we can help close that gap?”
Use a visual scale to check in on employee burnout. A new measurement tool uses images of increasingly burned-down matches, similar to the smiley-face pain scale used in healthcare settings, to help diagnose burnout more easily than a survey could.
Write out job descriptions for your personal life. To clarify and recalculate your expectations around each of the various roles you hold—such as employee, partner, parent, and friend—create job specs for each one.
Think big-picture about burnout solutions. In addition to taking time to rest when burnout strikes, ask yourself (or your burned-out colleague) what systemic changes would solve the problem and how to make them a reality.
A different kind of holiday party. As tech layoffs stack up ahead of the year’s end, “pink slip parties”—gatherings for the newly jobless to connect and network—are poised to make a comeback.
Workplace goals, indeed. Around the world, employers this week have faced one pressing question: whether to let workers watch the World Cup on the job, or bar them from tuning in (and, in plenty of cases, have them find ways to sneak in some viewing anyway).
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.