Featured in today's briefing:
- The type of worker feedback that leads to burnout—and the type that combats it.
- New research on improving decision-making with AI hiring tools.
- Employer-sponsored office etiquette classes.
AI and Work Radar
- As the capabilities of generative AI continue to evolve, some employers are designing their upskilling programs to prioritize speed and nimbleness. “We have intentionally not planned beyond December,” PricewaterhouseCoopers chief learning officer Leah Houde recently told us in an interview for Charter Pro. “If we made a plan now, it would be wrong in January. So we are intentionally doing it in six-month sprints.”
- With the use of AI an ongoing point of contention in the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes, Hollywood studios are staffing up to integrate AI into their production, advertising for a variety of AI-focused roles including product manager, researcher, engineer, and ethicist.
- A study on AI hiring systems found that when managers were reminded of these systems’ propensity for errors, they were less likely to accept AI-generated outputs without question and more likely to interrogate the data they received, resulting in better decisions around candidate selection.
Focus on Worker Voice, Innovation, and Burnout
Workers and employers alike benefit when workers feel they have a voice within their organization, but new research argues that voice is too broad a concept for workplaces to design for.
In a paper commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and published in the Human Resource Management Journal, a team of HR scholars make the case that organizations should instead focus on encouraging two distinct types of worker feedback: organizational voice, when workers share ideas for ways to improve the team or the company, and employee voice, when workers speak up for their own needs.
The researchers found that employee voice was associated with lower levels of burnout, while organizational voice was associated with higher levels of innovation—likely because soliciting feedback on organizational change “shows that the organization has some kind of strategic commitment” to engaging with new ideas, explains paper co-author Helen Shipton, a professor of human resource management at Nottingham Business School in the UK. A complicating factor, though, is the finding that organizational voice also correlates with higher levels of burnout.
We spoke with Shipton and another co-author, Daniel King—also an HR professor at Nottingham—about how workplaces can effectively encourage and balance the two types of voice. Here are excerpts from our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity:
What would be an example of each type of voice in practice?
Shipton: Organizational voice is primarily concerned with, how does an employee suggest improvements for the organization? It's focused on what makes things better in the organization. It could be suggesting that your team could do something differently: Maybe we use a different technology for our team's call, or maybe we have a new idea for improving customer relationships.
Employee-focused voice is all about self-expression. It's being able to say things that may or may not lead to organizational improvements, but which are important for the employee. It might involve raising a suggestion about a perceived injustice at work. It might be a concern about work-life balance, or it might be a concern about a relationship with another member of staff that is important to that individual. It's defined in terms of what matters to that person, what's authentic.
How can organizations balance the two, so they capture the innovation benefits of organizational voice without over-indexing on its burnout effect?
Shipton: What we’re trying to communicate is the potential damage of overt focus on organizational voice at all costs—that's the dark side of voice. If you really put everything into voice and don't actually let any natural conversations evolve that are not to do with improvements, that's where you've got the problem. When you have the two together, that's where you have the optimum effect on burnout. One important area is in the management practices the organization uses. Have a performance-appraisal system set up to actually encourage line managers to understand about the two different forms of voice, and take into account how these two forms of voice are reported in the organization.
King: The importance of line management is so key, particularly in terms of employee-focused voice. We did a follow-up study looking at organizations trying to implement forms of voice and the different challenges, and one organization, for instance, brought in an organizational psychologist—they were a construction company, and it's a very masculine environment where people traditionally don't express their feelings. They were working very hard to think about how to bring in psychological safety, spending quite a lot of time training and supporting managers in order to facilitate those conversations. But often those managers, foreman and other people in those roles, treated people the way they were treated in how they were trained up.
Trying to shift culture can be quite a big challenge over time. It's important to recognize how deep-rooted some of these things are. You can't just suddenly announce, ‘We want to encourage more employee voice.’ It can take time, particularly in industries that have a very performance-driven culture.
To what extent does employer action play into voice—not just encouraging workers to share feedback, but reacting to that feedback?
Shipton: One part of our measure of employee-focused voice is what we call voice efficacy. That's the sense that people feel that their input is acknowledged and there's some idea that they can make a difference. Self-expression, transparency, and voice efficacy are three of the fundamental principles behind employee-focused voice.
King: As an example, we did a follow-up study with the CIPD looking at how some organizations would try to implement voice. One of them set up a suggestion scheme and got completely overwhelmed with the number of suggestions. And the implication was then that people didn't feel they were listened to, because they were so overwhelmed they didn't have the mechanisms in place to provide any feedback to people. So when thinking through a mechanism like that, thinking through the whole cycle of managing it and giving feedback to people is a really important part of the process, both for employee voice and for organizational voice.
Given that many leadership teams are working with tighter budgets right now, how can organizations ensure voice efficacy when workers are suggesting changes they can’t afford?
King: Research points to it being about transparency and the process rather than the actual decision. If you feel that the process has been done in a way that you have been listened to, that you understand the rationale behind the decision, then that leads to a better outcome than if it's just said, ‘No, we can't do it.’ Showing a transparent process and enabling people to feel like they've had their say, and the rationale behind the decision-making, is the way to lead to that.
What Else You Need to Know
Job openings dipped to 9.6 million in June, the lowest number in over two years, according to the Labor Department’s job openings and labor turnover survey. There were just 1.6 unfilled positions for every unemployed worker, compared to 1.9 earlier in 2023, indicating that the labor market is slowly cooling after the post-pandemic hot streak.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this week that US employers added 187,000 new jobs last month, continuing a gradual hiring slowdown from last year’s average of 400,000 new jobs each month. Average hourly earnings rose 4.4% from last July, the same year-over-year rate as last month’s growth.
- Other research paints a similar picture: A new study from the workforce-analytics software company ActivTrak found that the average workweek last quarter was 37 minutes shorter than it was a year earlier, without a reduction in productivity.
- With average office occupancy nationwide still only around 50%, the latest increase is a rebuttal to the narrative pushed by some employers that flexible work harms productivity.
CEOs are increasingly making culture a top priority. One-third of chief executives cite culture as the most important factor in a company’s financial performance, compared to just 7% who said the same in 2021, according to a recent survey from executive-search firm Heidrick and Struggles.
- Some 83% of the 500 CEOs surveyed said they’re currently working on their organization’s culture, and 59% said culture should be a key part of business strategy, up from 50% two years ago.
- In Charter’s playbook Keeping Culture at the Center, a guide to prioritizing culture amid economic uncertainty, entrepreneur Jeff Wald stressed the importance for leaders of codifying culture in a living document: “If you can’t articulate it and put it onto a piece of paper, it doesn’t exist,” he said.
Covid cases are spiking again in the US, as a summer wave brings a greater number of cases and hospitalizations. After a steady decline in Covid rates after this winter’s wave, the number of cases has continued to rise since mid-July. And while the overall figures have remained low compared to previous surges, hospital admissions have also risen by 10.3%.
- Vaccine manufacturer Pfizer estimates that a new booster targeting the XBB.1.5 sub-variant could be approved later this month, making the shot available to consumers in September.
- In a Charter interview last fall, Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Pandemic Center at Brown School of Public Health, urged employers to clarify that unwell workers should stay out of the office, especially as flu season also ramps up. “It’s the most important thing we could do,” she said. “It sounds obvious, but it's not. We shouldn't have a culture of ‘working through it,’ in part because working through it may mean giving it to someone else who then can't work through it.”
Almost half of employers are offering etiquette classes to workers as they return to the office, with special attention towards Gen Z workers. Some 45% of employers surveyed by ResumeBuilder are helping employees readjust to in-office expectations with refreshers on dress code, interpersonal communications, and professional conduct.
- Of those offering classes, some 54% reported that they’re required for Gen Z workers in particular, who may not have worked in office settings prior to the pandemic.
- Employers are also investing more time and resources in training new Gen Z hires in subject-area knowledge, technical skills, and soft skills usually acquired during college. Because of remote learning, students are entering the workforce with knowledge gaps that include making change at a register, hands-on engineering abilities, and specialized knowledge for certification exams.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Cultivate community for managers. Counteract burnout among managers by offering them opportunities to connect with each other across functions and departments. These virtual and in-person spaces should be settings where managers can share challenges and solutions, and offer support to one another.
- Move past a “no” productively. Address disagreement with a question that helps both parties develop a plan to move forward, like “How can we tackle this, even though we see it differently?”
- Create a “to-don’t” list for your time off. Before you sign off for vacation, make sure you can fully unplug by writing a to-don’t list with reminders of tasks you should stay away from while away from work, like checking email or Slack.
- Combat email overload with a collaboration audit. Ensure that your team is using the most optimal channels for collaborating digitally by digging into your existing communication patterns to identify gaps and opportunities. Bring in managers to establish clear, efficient norms around which channels should be used for which kinds of tasks.
Cubicle meets catwalk. Many younger workers—some of whom are excited about the office return as a chance to dress up for work for the first time—are making sure their best looks reach an audience beyond their colleagues, using the hashtag #officewear to show them off on social media.