Featured in today's briefing:
- How to pursue work-life-civic balance.
- New research on worker attitudes toward artificial intelligence.
- A training-video series with a cult following.
The Macro Context
- Consumer prices last month rose at an annual rate of 4.9%, the lowest rate in two years and slightly lower than predicted by some economists.
- While around 20% of US adults said last fall that inflation was the country’s most pressing problem, just 9% currently say the same, signaling that more people are becoming accustomed to inflation—which in turn hampers efforts to bring it down as rising prices become less of an anomaly and more of a new normal.
Focus on Work-Life-Civic Balance
Work-life balance is something that organizations have focused on in recent years, amid high burnout rates, the caregiving crisis, and some workers’ reassessment of the centrality of jobs in their lives.
‘Work-life-civic balance’ is an even better way to think about it, according to Danielle Allen, a Harvard professor of political philosophy, ethics, and public policy and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. We reached out to Allen, who was formerly a candidate for governor of Massachusetts, to discuss what workplaces can do to support such a three-part balance. Here are excerpts from our recent conversation, edited for length and clarity:
What does the need for 'work-life-civic balance’ mean specifically?
The first point to make is that the economy isn't an end in itself. We have a lot of trouble remembering that—but the economy is actually a means to human flourishing. The actual goal is human flourishing or wellbeing. You could use the ancient Roman idea from Cicero: salus populi suprema lex esto (the health and wellbeing of the people are the supreme law.) That got translated into the Declaration of Independence as the safety and happiness of the people. It got translated to the Constitution as the general welfare. The economy is meant to deliver so that we can have that human thriving.
The second really important point is that human thriving depends on freedom and empowerment. Humans do well, we show the best of ourselves, when we have the chance to steer our own lives. That means steering our own lives in our private lives. But it also means being a contributor, a co-creator to our public steering. We all live constrained by rules, norms, and laws. Freedom and empowerment depend on our being able to contribute to shaping the constraints that structure our lives. Human empowerment is a necessary good, and that requires civic participation.
The economy is in service of something, it's in service of human wellbeing. And human wellbeing is about the 'life' part and the 'civic' part as well as the 'work' part.
What are examples of that balance?
I would point to two things. One is about time, and the other is about opportunities. With regard to time, there are some really straightforward things. It's giving people a paid day off on election day so that we all see that we have a civic duty to participate and employers should support that civic duty. But the point about time goes a little further than that. There are lots of folks who struggle without control over their schedules, they have lots of last-minute changes. Worker protections around time allocation, around hours, scheduling shifts and the like, is actually a part of achieving civic balance for people. A lot of civic life happens in the evenings and there's also times people need to take some personal time in the day. Certainly that there needs to be control over scheduling and not the sort of last-minute changes that workers have no control over is an important part of protecting civic life.
With regard to opportunities, there's an interesting movement starting up where some employers have come to see that helping their employees learn how to participate in civic life is actually a benefit that employees appreciate. It's a really great opportunity for employees. I want to name three organizations that do this kind of work with companies. There's an organization based in Boston called GenUnity. They have a great program with Blue Cross Blue Shield. There's another called The Citizens Campaign that started in New Jersey, and then a third one called The Institute for Citizens & Scholars.
In all of these cases, they offer civic development for people—in the same way that employers often offer various kinds of training or skills development, professional development. Typically what this means is that they help people see how their municipal government works, how they can play a role, how areas that they care about are directly affected by their own role as possible participants.
I will just add to this another piece, which is that we have a governance crisis in the country right now. I'm not talking about the one everybody's focused on, the federal level. I'm talking about the fact that at the municipal level, it's just amazing how many boards and commissions and really important roles for keeping a healthy foundation of infrastructure are going unfilled. People don't even know what civic roles are available to them, let alone how to activate them or access them. It's truly a benefit that employers can provide. As a part of that, all three of these programs—GenUnity, Citizens Campaign, and Citizens & Scholars—also focus on giving people civic skills that are about bridging difference, forging compromise. Citizens Campaign is famous for talking about 'no-blame' problem solving as a core civic virtue. These are all skills and qualities of character and habit that are also beneficial in the workplace.
Some employers might be concerned that civic activity is political activity. That is challenging for different reasons, including not wanting to alienate customers, politicians, or their own workforce by seeming to support specific political issues in a politicized, polarized political context or civic context even. How do you navigate that?
It's really important to say that so much of the important work of governance is actually local and it is not part of that polarized national frame. All the programs I've mentioned have done a really excellent job of figuring out how to enable participation based on good, strong education and training that is not getting pulled into those polarized frames. For example, the Citizens Campaign I mentioned, it teaches people 'no-blame' problem solving. The goal is to find a problem in your community that people broadly agree as a problem, regardless of their political positions or backgrounds, to bring a 'no-blame' problem-solving approach to addressing that problem. Then learn what parts of your municipal government can help move that forward. The programs are by-and-large structured to actually help people get out of the polarizing frames of our national conversation.
That brings us back to that core original idea of work-life-civic balance. Often we think about benefits in a work-life framework: hybrid schedules, in the office, out of the office, how we support space for parenting, picking up kids, those kinds of things. Actually there's a craving for some of that support for civic life as well.
Read a full transcript of our conversation, including more on how companies can choose which societal issues to speak out about and equip their employees to engage on others.
What Else You Need to Know
New research finds workers are optimistic about AI’s ability to lighten their workloads. Some 70% of employees would willingly delegate as much of their work as possible to AI tools, according to Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index report.
- Around three-quarters of respondents said they would use AI for administrative work, while 79% said they would use it for analytical tasks and 73% for creative ones.
- By comparison, just under half of employees are worried about losing their jobs to AI, according to the report, which analyzed survey responses from 31,000 workers around the world.
- One key area where AI could make workers’ lives easier is in freeing up the copious time currently spent on emails and in meetings—according to Microsoft’s research, the average user of its apps spends 57% of their time in those activities and internal chat.
- Some 82% of leaders in the survey said their employees will need to acquire new skills to keep up with AI’s growing role in the workplace, with analytical judgment as the most commonly cited skill workers will need.
- As Charter’s Kevin Delaney wrote in The New York Times this week, “Part of the opportunity with tools that use generative AI, which allow users to type questions or commands in normal language, is to include a broader group of nontechnical staff members in figuring out how it can change a company’s business.”
With an aging US population, labor shortages may be here to stay. Moody’s Investors Service predicts a sharp decrease in the American working-age population as declining fertility rates and increasing life expectancy push up the median age in the US and other G20 countries.
- In the past two decades, the proportion of Americans above the age of 55 has doubled, and that share is expected to continue growing.
- Currently, labor-force participation among “prime age” workers, or those between 25 and 53, is higher than February 2020, but a greater share of retirees means that overall labor-force participation has taken a hit.
More than a third of employees describe their workplaces as psychologically unsafe. And nearly half of employees report experiencing non-inclusive behaviors in their workplace, according to a survey from Kelly Services.
- In a different survey from corporate-philanthropy platform Benevity last month, some 90% of employees said that they have personally benefited from diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at work, and 62% said they believe that companies should dedicate more effort than usual to DEI over the next year amid the climate of economic uncertainty.
- However, an April report from DDI found that the number of companies that do not offer DEI programs has increased from 15% to 20% since 2020.
A majority of workplaces are settling into a norm of structured hybrid work arrangements. Some 51% of companies have implemented hybrid work schedules for their corporate employees for the second quarter of 2023, an increase from earlier this year, according to a report from remote-work platform Scoop.
- Remote work is associated with reductions in the amount of time spent giving and receiving mentorship, according to the most recent report from WFH Research. The decline in time being mentored is particularly pronounced among women—a reduction of 3.4 minutes per day, or 24%. Among men, the decline was just 1.5 minutes, or 10%.
- Charter’s research has found that remote and hybrid mentorship programs can be just as effective as in-person mentoring with the right support and structure, such as training for mentors, frequent meetings, regular recognition and time from the employer, and substantive recognition for mentors.
Artificial intelligence speed round:
- The list of major employers that have banned the use of ChatGPT now includes Amazon, Accenture, Northrop Grumman, and Verizon, among others.
- Google this week opened up a public waitlist for new generative AI features in its Workspace tools, including text generation in Gmail and Docs, image generation in Slides, and table generation in Sheets.
- IBM chief commercial officer Rob Thomas advised managers to adopt AI into their work to make themselves more indispensable. “AI may not replace managers, but the managers that use AI will replace the managers that do not,” he said.
- Microsoft announced that it will not increase employee salaries this year as the company shifts to cost-cutting mode while doubling down on its focus on AI.
- Amid worries that AI will replace low-skilled workers, some experts are calling for regulations to harness the technology for social good and safeguard against it exacerbating income inequality.
- DeepMind cofounder Mustafa Suleyman urged governments to consider universal basic income as one way to mitigate potential widespread job loss due to automation. “That needs material compensation,” he said at a recent technology conference. “This is a political and economic measure we have to start talking about in a serious way.”
- Fast-food chain Wendy’s has adapted Google’s language-learning model to create a customized chatbot that takes drive-through orders—and that has the ability to translate customer requests into Wendy’s-specific terms, such as “milkshake” to “Frosty.”
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Identify detractor patterns and turn them into amplifier patterns. Detractor patterns refer to behavioral patterns that perpetuate systemic inequalities and undermine inclusion on a team, such as tokenism or gaslighting marginalized employees. Labeling these patterns enables teams to identify the corresponding amplifier pattern, or behavior that promotes inclusion, for each one: for example, moving from gaslighting to empathetic constructive feedback that acknowledges an employee’s lived experience.
- Look beyond LinkedIn when researching a prospective employer’s culture. A company’s posts on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram can be helpful resources to learn more about its culture, practices, and behaviors. Use what you learn to tailor your resume, cover letter, and questions during an interview.
- Use AI to define your key performance indicators. Artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques can help leaders identify KPIs that human analysts might miss. Teams with a wealth of data on past outcomes and practices can use classification trees, which sort information into a specific set of categories, to identify connections that may have eluded the human eye.
- Limit your inbox to batches. To cut down on distracting notifications throughout the day, change the settings in your email client to only receive messages in batches at specific time intervals, like every 15 minutes.
Get the popcorn ready. “Trust Code,” Microsoft’s TV-style series of internal compliance training videos, is so beloved among employees that it’s spawned seven seasons, watch parties, fan art, and, at one point, an auction to bid for a cameo spot.
- The show follows an engineer named Nelson as he navigates one ethical pitfall after another. An internal poll asking employees whether Nelson should be fired has sparked fierce debate, one worker told The Wall Street Journal: “You would meet your co-workers and have an argument: ‘You think Nelson should stay? We can’t be friends now.’”
That’s hard to hide on Zoom. In a survey of 516 US workers by the HR platform RemoteBridge, 11% said they would willingly grow a mullet if it would guarantee them the ability to work from home.