Featured in today's newsletter:
- What effective Covid safety education campaigns look like now.
- How the impending “child-care cliff” will affect women’s workforce participation.
- A tactic for helping workers embrace AI adoption.
AI and Work Radar
- While more than half of workers believe learning artificial-intelligence skills would help them advance their careers and 22% want more AI-focused development opportunities, just 13% say they have access to such development, according to a new global research from Randstad.
- One emerging use case for generative AI is its ability to write job descriptions to be more gender-inclusive, swapping out terms that research has found to turn off female applicants, such as “competitive,” in favor of more gender-neutral language. While a crop of AI tools focused on crafting job descriptions have entered the market in recent months, employers can also prompt ChatGPT to scan their existing listings for gender-coded keywords and revise accordingly.
- Stanford economist and remote-work scholar Nick Bloom, who runs WFH Research, argued at a recent Scoop panel that some “low-level, fully remote workers,” such as those who work at call centers and in data entry, are “at real risk of being replaced by AI in the next three to five years,” adding that he doesn’t predict the same to be true of hybrid workers.
- With detailed prompts, ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for workers in preparing for salary negotiations, generating scripts for hyper-specific contexts such as having the conversation during a positive or negative performance review, after a round of layoffs, or following a shift in responsibilities.
Focus on What Workplaces Should Be Doing About Covid Now
While the US may be out of the pandemic phase, the country is still currently in the midst of another Covid surge. Hospitalizations and deaths remain low, but have been ticking steadily and significantly upward in recent weeks.
With workplace mask and vaccine mandates largely a thing of the past—and many workplaces now doubling down on return-to-office mandates following Labor Day—we reached out to Susan Peters, a research scientist at Harvard’s Center for Work, Health, and Wellbeing, for insight into how employers should be thinking about Covid right now. Here are excerpts from our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity:
What might an effective workplace education campaign around Covid safety look like now?
We all know that handwashing is important. We're all fairly comfortable taking Covid tests if we have symptoms now. It’s more communicating to your workforce about the policies and programs and practices that are in place to support them. For example: ‘We're seeing an uptick in cases. It could be that your child is going to come home from school sick, or you are unwell. We encourage you to take a Covid test to see if it's Covid, but regardless, if you're sick, you probably shouldn't be at work. We want you to recover and bring your best self to work. These are the policies in place to support you: You can take sick time off, you can convert your work over into remote work if you're an office worker, but these are the caveats around it. You need to tell us when you're doing that. This is the process for putting that in place.’
Most employers who had vaccine mandates have dropped them by now. How do you see workplaces addressing worker vaccination during this latest wave, if at all?
Whether we go back to mandates, who knows? I don't have a crystal ball, and vaccine mandates are not something that I have looked at a lot in my research... [But] I think there has to be an educational component about why a certain vaccine, whether it's the flu vaccine, Covid, whatever it might be, is important. A lot of the time it's like, ‘Well, my family doesn't want me to get it.’ So if you provide them with education about why it could be important for both their health and the health of their families, then they can make a decision.
Some of the issues that we saw were when people were told that they needed to get a vaccine without any information, or conflicting information. It becomes really hard. You're getting mixed messages. You don't know whether you should be doing what A says or what B says. So you can provide education about that sort of stuff, but it needs to be provided in a way that people are going to receive well.
What do you make of this uptick in Covid cases now coinciding with an uptick in return-to-office mandates?
If they're forcing people back to these spaces and they're not really thinking about how people are working together, if they have poor air quality, if they're expecting them to catch public transport where they're probably going to catch it, are they going to see an uptick in the office? Probably, and that’s going to be impactful in itself. Is it going to be a productive workforce if everyone's sick, either at work or at home? There needs to be a conversation around, how do we do this? And if we can't do it in a way that's actually going to be beneficial for the worker and the organization, then should we be doing it?
What else should workplaces be thinking about or prioritizing right now in terms of Covid?
Talking to their workers. It's been a little while since we've had an uptick as big as this, but what worked really well last time? What were we missing? What did we not do so well? And how can we start to build that into what we're doing now? What are people's comfort levels? We are learning to live with Covid. It's not going to go away. And so how do we put in place those processes so that workers feel supported, so it's not just management coming in saying, ‘You know what, this is what's going to happen’ and workers are like, ‘That doesn't really work for me’? You need to have your workers involved in those decisions that you're making.
It’s also reminding people, ‘If you do have concerns or there's something that we missed, we want to hear from you and this is the mechanism for you to do that. We'll take whatever you say really seriously and we'll pull that information together to see how we can improve our policies, programs, and practices to support you better.’ I don't think this is just a Covid problem. I think this is, how do we manage your health? If you need a mental-health day, how do you manage it? Burnout is at an all-time high. There are so many other health things that we're struggling with at the moment, and Covid is just one of them. And so make sure that workers know what they can do, what's available to them if they're struggling with managing things. Who do they talk to? Is there an EAP [employee assistance program] for that? Whatever it might be, just knowing that there's a process in place.
Read our interviews with Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Pandemic Center at Brown School of Public Health, on the end of vaccine mandates, and with Joseph Allen, associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and the author of Healthy Buildings, on making offices healthier for workers.
What Else You Need to Know
Newly promoted workers may be at heightened attrition risk. After receiving their first promotion from their employer, nearly a third of workers left their company within a month, compared to 18% attrition risk among those who did not get promoted, according to a new report from workforce-management platform ADP.
- The results, based on data from the years 2019-2022, upend the commonly held assumption that promotions can be a tool for retaining top employees.
- Researchers point to a few factors to explain the phenomenon: Workers may not receive the training and support required in their new role, causing burnout and frustration; the promotion may give workers the confidence boost needed to start looking elsewhere; and some organizations use promotions as a last-ditch effort to retain workers that have already started applying for new jobs.
- For employers, mitigating this effect requires investing in training and re-onboarding for newly promoted workers, creating employee recognition programs to reward and retain employees beyond promotions, and developing systems to recognize, prevent, and reduce disengagement and burnout.
Pay increased at a slower rate in August, another sign of a cooling labor market. Last month, hourly wages increased just 0.2% from July, the lowest rate of growth since early 2022.
- At the same time, employers are posting fewer jobs and fewer workers are leaving their jobs, two additional signs that the labor market is returning to a more balanced state.
- Employers added 187,000 jobs in August, compared to an average monthly gain of 238,000 from March through May of this year. Unemployment rose slightly, from 3.5% in July to 3.8% in August, though the figure has remained relatively steady since falling below 4% early this year.
The number of working mothers with young children has reached historic levels. The labor-force participation rate for women with children under five years old was 70.4% in June, rebounding past the pre-pandemic record of 68.9%, according to a new report from the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution.
- The workforce participation of women with school-aged children, however, has not yet recovered from the hit it suffered early in the Covid pandemic, the report found.
- The increasing availability of flexibility in working hours and location may be one factor in the gains for mothers with young children. Another is the pandemic-era federal support for child care that injected crucial funding needed to stabilize the industry.
- At the end of September, the $24 billion in funding could expire unless Congress extends the policy. The “child-care cliff” could force as many as 70,000 child-care programs to close and 3.2 million children to lose care, jeopardizing the labor force gains of working mothers.
This year’s return-to-office mandates are less carrot and more stick, as employers feel more empowered to enforce their policies amid a cooling labor market and a shrinking pool of remote jobs.
- Still, executives expect a slight increase in both fully remote and hybrid work over the next five years and a slight decrease in the share of full-time workers who will be fully in-office, according to the latest Survey of Business Uncertainty administered by Stanford, the University of Chicago, and the Atlanta Federal Reserve.
- Some workers are responding to return-to-office pressure by crafting hybrid schedules within a single day, working part of the day at the office and starting or finishing it from home.
- The office return is further along in Europe and Asia than in the US, INSEAD research has found, partly because Americans view remote productivity more favorably than workers elsewhere around the world and partly because of global differences in culture, infrastructure, and urban topography, such as the walkability of European cities making the office more accessible. For example, because European cities tend to be more walkable than American ones, “European offices are more connected to blended, vibrant communities,” Despina Katsikakis, global head of workplace research and insights at Cushman and Wakefield, told Bloomberg, “versus the US, where offices are more dictated by zoning laws and in more isolated areas.”
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Use a shortcut to simplify your decision-making process. Research suggests that simple heuristics, like selecting the proposal preferred by the most senior team member, can be just as effective in predicting successful outcomes as more thorough reviews of all the available information, while allowing your team to move from decision to action more quickly.
- Structure your goals with a syllabus. Break down a daunting professional or personal goal with a document that gives your goal a title, states your objective, and captures prerequisites like foundational knowledge, outside feedback, or formal training. Then, structure the path towards reaching your goals with a timeline, midterm check-in, and a final deadline.
- Put culture in every position’s job description. A strong culture requires all employees to actively shape it, so make sure you’ve made expectations around culture investments clear throughout the employee recruitment process, from job descriptions to interviews to onboarding documents.
- Frame AI adoption to promote employee autonomy. Reduce employee apprehension of new artificial-intelligence tools by explaining how it might increase worker autonomy by reducing the need for strict oversight and supervision from human managers.
Business casual, meet athletic formal. Some athleisure brands like Lululemon and Athleta have crossed into workwear, offering professional staples like blazers and office-appropriate pants—often made from the same fabrics as their workout gear.
- Some garments may adapt to the so-called “workleisure” treatment more successfully than others, as Jessica Ramirez, a senior research analyst at the retail and brand investment research firm Jane Hali and Associates, told Bloomberg: “If you make a dress from an activewear fabric, it still looks like activewear,” she said.
An awkward “like.” A growing number of LinkedIn users are using the platform to share their stories about divorce, disease, fertility challenges, and other deeply personal topics, sparking annoyance among others who would prefer the site remain more strictly career-focused: “I’ve seen a lot of people complain about it,” Wharton marketing professor Americus Reed told The Washington Post.
- Reed also offered advice for those looking to bare their souls on LinkedIn, noting that even personal posts can be branding: “As I think about posting my personal story, what am I trying to convey about myself?” he said.
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.