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The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 27% decline from two weeks earlier, with about 44,000 new cases on Friday, and 45% of US residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
The business impact: The US economy added far fewer jobs in April than expected, likely because, as The Economist put it, “recovery from serious sickness is not always smooth.” Over 8 million fewer workers are employed today than pre-pandemic, and the unemployment rate is at 9.7% for Black workers (vs. 6.1% overall), up from 6% before Covid hit. Sales of Post-It notes increased, amid a return to school and office. Prices are climbing for groceries and cars. And Uber drivers are making more than $40 per hour in some US cities as demand rebounds.
Focus on Working Mothers
Working parents have been among those most harshly impacted by the pandemic over the past year—and research has shown that women have borne an extremely outsized share of that.
Between February 2020 and 2021, for example, a net 2.4 million women left the workforce entirely—many giving up jobs or looking for employment as they assumed responsibility for increased caregiving in their families. According to one study, 40% of mothers added 15 extra hours of caregiving or more each week last year, on top of what they were already doing.
On this Mother’s Day, I wanted to assess the fallout of this pandemic year, and understand how best to support working mothers as many organizations transition back to the workplace. I spoke with two experts, and you can read excerpts of our conversations below (edited for space and clarity.) The first is Katherine Goldstein, a journalist who created and hosts The Double Shift podcast and runs workshops on workplace-caregiver issues.
How do you feel about Mother’s Day?
The personal, financial, career, and psychological losses of this last year for mothers have been truly astounding. And I'm cranky about this holiday because there's this idea that to show mothers we appreciate them, they should have breakfast in bed, or a special gift—some saccharine token of appreciation. When we should really be instead talking about a radical overhaul in how we think about unpaid care work and undervalued care work. Our economy cannot function without all of the unpaid care work of mothers, and yet it gives us no protection or value for what we do. I think it should return to its revolutionary roots, because Mother's Day was actually formulated as a labor holiday.
How would you summarize the impact over the last year on working mothers?
From what I have heard in my reporting and through the conversations that I have had with people—this year has brought a tremendous sense of loss. Especially in the professional realm, because even if people were 'fortunate' enough to keep their jobs and keep their same salaries, or to be able to work from home some portion of that time, the personal toll to maintain that has been great. No one has really accounted, acknowledged, or reckoned with that. To put this in a larger historical context, I think America has a hard time acknowledging our wrongs and moving forward.
We're at a moment where we need to acknowledge what so many mothers have been through, to build better systems and workplaces rather than just saying 'Oh, you know, schools are reopened,' so we don't have to have any more conversations about these things. Or ‘the economy is bouncing back, the labor numbers are better, so everything's fine.’ From some of the stories that I've heard, it's not just lost salary, it's also people working on their dream business plan for two years that has basically died, or being forced out of an industry that you had dedicated 10 years to. It's realizing that the company you thought really had your back did not have your back. There's a lot of trauma in terms of what has happened over the last year in the professional realm.
And the biggest triggers of that are people who either experienced job loss, or the loss of childcare or schooling, or had other caregiving responsibilities that meant it was impossible for them to continue to work at the same cadence?
In the beginning, there was a sense of 'Everything's wild, whenever you can get the work is fine.' But you can't make up your work between 10pm and 2am indefinitely. Maybe you could do that for a week, but that's not a long-term strategy. In white-collar offices, there were many companies that had a radical attitude of 'We're not judging you. We know everything is wild, don't worry about it.' But from what I've heard, managers' and companies' 'patience' around some of these issues ran out pretty quickly, and certainly way before there was a return to any normalcy around childcare, school, and other serious disruptive issues.
There was still a sense of, 'Well, people need to get back to work.' There may have been increased resentment especially aimed at mothers, and increased anti-mom bias in who was laid off, who was promoted, etc. We're still gathering data on that. But definitely some of the open-ended support ended very quickly in a way that wasn't holistic about what the realities were.
Do you have a point of view on how companies should consider caregiving obligations in performance reviews and when designing roles?
I'm so excited that people are finally talking about this. First of all, it's really important to think about caregiving responsibilities holistically and to not categorize people as the moms and everyone else, or the parents and everyone else, because that breeds a lot of resentment in workplace culture. Some of the most critical comments that I get about these issues are from women who don't have children, who feel that they are expected to 'pick up the slack' for moms. This is how patriarchy works—women are angry at each other. They're resentful of each other. They're not supporting each other, because they're being unfairly being asked to do something, etc.
Even if you don't have children, most people at some point in their lives are going to have caregiving responsibilities, whether it's a sibling, or their own parents. So rather than saying that moms get special treatment, think holistically about how to design a workplace that's going to support a wide range of life experiences around caregiving. That will actually increase the diversity pool of who will want to work for you. Especially as people try to get people with unconventional backgrounds or underrepresented racial groups, thinking about family and caregiving in a different way could also help groups other than your stereotypical white male office worker feel more supported in a company.
From the perspective of working mothers, what do you make of the hybrid work and flexible work approaches that are emerging?
What I really would like is for companies to actually start asking people what will work for them. Of course it isn't every company, but a lot of times there's a sense that leadership knows what's best. They might make an edict of 'Everyone work from home Tuesday and Thursday, while Monday and Wednesday are mandatory in-office.' Maybe they're not really plugged into the fact that public school is not back on Wednesdays. Someone who feels like they don't have a lot of power in the organization has to put that out there—this isn't going to work for me. They may feel really alone in that, or it may cause a lot of unnecessary stress. So having open-ended conversations with people about what is working and what isn't working, in terms of hybrid, is really important.
One trap that people or companies fall into is saying big things, like 'Take the time you need,' or 'If you aren't able to, just make up the time later.' But then there's no transparency among the leadership about what they're doing, if they are really taking the time that they need, so other people feel like they can't actually do that. What does that even mean? Today, before I got on this call with you–I have baby twins, and we thought one of them swallowed a button battery. I was at the ER today before I did this call with you. Those hours are gone. I work for myself, but if I worked for someone else then those hours are just gone, they're gone. No one's getting them back. So listen to what people want and then make clear policies rather than just saying, 'Do what works for you. Do what hours work for you.' Because that creates this 24/7 explanation that has been killer for so many caregivers and mothers.
Thanks for keeping this time to speak, given how your day has started. It reminds me of taking my baby son to the emergency room years ago, when he swallowed glass...
I was transparent about this story and through that, I learned that you have children too, and that you can relate to this. If we work together, that's something that builds trust in a workplace.
With flexible schedules, there's a shift to focusing on output, as opposed to time; you can do your work whenever, as long as you get it done. That seems like it could be amazing for working parents. What's your take?
It's really industry based. One thing that is tough is if your company does anything client-facing, you can have a progressive work policy but the client is always right. That overrides everything, unless you have strong boundaries with your clients, which is another potential workplace revolution. Or you can say this team does it this way, that's the policy, but then the manager says, 'I really like doing my emails at 11pm. You don't have to respond.' But then at 7:30am they email you again to say, 'Did you get this?'
This is an exciting time for experimentation. Output-based metrics rather than time-based metrics—I'm excited about that for moms. Because if you want something done, give it to a busy working mother. These are some of the most effective, productive, on-it people that companies should really covet. But they've looked down on this group because they thought, 'They want to leave at 4:30. They aren't a serious worker.' Well, it's because they got all their work done by 2:30, you idiot. They're not spending time on Facebook, or whatever. So there is something very exciting about this experimentation, but I'm not ready to declare one way or the other as the best.
You can read a full transcript of my conversation with Goldstein.
I also spoke with Brigid Schulte, director of the Better Life Lab at New America and author of Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. Here’s a short excerpt from our conversation:
What should companies be doing in this moment for working mothers?
When we think about going back to work, there has to be recognition that women have certainly borne the brunt of so much of the difficulty suffering and challenge of the pandemic. You need to start from the recognition that if you thought that you were being gender neutral or gender blind, that isn't enough anymore. Why was it that almost immediately, it was women who took over the homeschooling and the caregiving? There are some studies where men are doing more than they were in the past, but it was women who really took on the brunt of it.
You look at studies where women are not sleeping, and are having far more periods of anxiety and stress. They really carried people through the pandemic. If you're going to talk about going back to work, companies can't just pick up where they left off. You've got to do more, because women are in the hole. You're not starting from an equal starting point. I would challenge companies to think about how they can do more with hiring, and making sure that you're bringing diversity, equity and inclusion—intersectional gender equity in your hiring. You need to be thinking about how you're promoting people. What metrics are you using? Are you going to be punishing the women who were forced out of the workforce, or who were so exhausted that they were cutting back their hours, or who were responding to emails at 11 at night because they had to do childcare all day?
You need to be really mindful. I think that CEOs in particular, but managers as well, need to be mindful that we are not starting at an equal starting point. You can't be gender neutral/gender blind because the pandemic showed that we aren't a gender-blind society. So you've got to do more to begin with, to bring women back.
With the transition back to the workplace for a lot of companies over the next few months, are there any particular ways that you think that they can support working mothers through this transition period?
One of the first things to think about is you need to support not just working mothers. Working mothers are not the only ones who give care. You need to be thinking about working fathers and working elder caregivers. You need to stop thinking in such a gendered and siloed way. That ends up hurting women more because in a lot of our workplaces we expect men to be the breadwinners and we—again, those gender notions—expect men to be the ideal workers. Companies actually make it more difficult for men to be more active caregivers, which then freezes women into that caregiving role. How can companies help working mothers? By making sure that if you have a paid family leave program, that men use it and they use it across the life cycle. And if you're a boss or a manager, you take it, you model it and you show that care is something that's shared by all people—that it's a human function. It's not just something that mothers do.
You can read a full transcript of my conversation with Schulte.
Content from our partner McKinsey & Company
Here’s to working moms. The pandemic’s effects on women are well-known—so it should come as no surprise that one in three working moms in North America considered downshifting their careers or dropping out of the workforce. For Mother’s Day, check out a new article that lays out the issues and what companies can do to help.
What Else You Need to Know
There’s a new world of workplace perks ahead. Post-pandemic, the free meals and on-site gyms ubiquitous in Silicon Valley and designed at least partly to keep people at the office will likely fade in popularity.
- In their place, experts predict an emphasis on benefits related to physical and mental wellbeing, including online therapy and telehealth coverage. Similarly, employers have increasingly provided coaching and other support for personal development.
- Financial wellness, including support repaying student debts, is another area. New US laws allow businesses to pay off up to $5,250 of an employee’s student debt tax free annually for the next five years.
- Also likely popular will be stipends for home-office setup and internet service or co-working space closer to home on remote working days.
Perks will likely further take off as organizations try to retain workers and compete for hires in the rebounding economy. A new survey by MetLife found that 70% of employers are investing in new emerging benefits or plan to. It also found that increased paid time off was the top “non-traditional perk” desired by workers.
US companies are slow in delivering on racial equity promises. Corporations pledged $50 billion for racial equity initiatives over the past year, but only about $250 million has been spent or committed to a specific initiative, according to an analysis by Creative Investment Research.
Venture capital’s gender bias can be measured in time. When a VC firm was viewing a pitch deck from an all-male startup team, it spent 18% more time on average than if the deck came from all-female founders, according to an analysis by DocSend, a service used for sharing fundraising presentations.
Many companies that say they’re switching to renewable energy are buying credits rather than actual wind or solar power. The problem is these “unbundled credits,” purchased from clean-energy suppliers, don’t necessarily displace carbon-emitting electricity sources, according to S&P Global research. Companies use them to be able to say they’re hitting their clean energy goals, when they should instead generate their own clean power or buy renewal energy directly from a utility.
Return to workplace speed round:
- Few employers are requiring workers to be vaccinated when they return. Experts say they can generally legally require it. But organizations still could face backlash from employees and be sued.
- The Atlantic has a good list of questions to ask before running to the office, including topics such as airflow improvements and vaccine and mask requirements.
- Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom, said its employees will likely be asked to come to the office two days a week.
- JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said he expects office staffing to be similar to pre-pandemic by October. “People don’t like commuting, but so what?” he said, arguing that remote doesn’t work “for those who want to hustle,” idea generation, corporate culture, or competing for sales. “I’m about to cancel all my Zoom meetings,” he added. “I’m done with it.”
- Any of the 4,000 employees of real estate data firm CoStar Group who are vaccinated and show up at the office are entered to win a $10,000 prize randomly awarded daily.
- In highly inoculated Israel, daily attendance at Check Point Software Technologies’ Tel Aviv headquarters is around 35%. “People don’t love crowded working areas anymore,” says Nir Minerbi, CEO of Classiq Technologies in Tel Aviv.
- Post-pandemic office setup costs are expected to rise to as much as $243 per square foot, according to real estate firm JLL, as companies pay more for things such as improved air circulation and custom meeting-space furniture and audiovisual gear.
- A new Verified Healthy Buildings certification indicates that a building operator has measures in place, especially around ventilation, to reduce the risk of contracting the virus.
- Google announced plans for a hybrid approach, with three days in the office the general expectation. It estimates 60% of employees will fit in that bucket, with 20% working entirely remotely, and another 20% moving to a new office upon returning.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Compliment your colleagues. Research shows that giving compliments makes people even happier than receiving them. That’s because giving compliments creates a stronger social connection, generated by your focus on the other person.
- Celebrate your work with check marks. Writer Amitava Kumar draws check marks in the back of a notebook alongside lists of work he’s completed. ”It is the visible symbol of my realization that who I am is defined by what I do,” Kumar writes.
- Start deciding what you do and don’t want to keep doing at home when you return to the office. This might include discontinuing nice-to-have chores you did because you had time at home during the pandemic and continuing special family meal nights. You might want to set up a centralized calendar to better coordinate more-complicated hybrid schedules with your partner, roommates, or family.
Here’s exhibit A in absolutely how not to communicate with employees about returning to the office. Cathy Merrill, the CEO of Washingtonian Media, published an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that an employee who chose to work mostly remotely was a “less valuable employee” who likely didn’t merit benefits or even employee status.
- In case the point was too subtle, she concluded by noting, “the hardest people to let go are the ones you know.”
- Viewing this as a threat, Washingtonian magazine’s editorial staff Friday refused to publish, and Merrill later apologized.
Americans find local business leaders slightly more trustworthy than business leaders in general. Thirty-five percent found local business leaders trustworthy, according to an Ipsos poll, with just 25% viewing business leaders more broadly as trustworthy. By comparison, about 80% felt firefighters and paramedics were trustworthy.
Vanity update, plastic surgery edition. Nose, eyelid, and facelift surgery were the most popular cosmetic surgery procedures in the US last year, as Americans spent an inordinate amount of time looking at their faces on Zoom.
- Now a new national survey suggests that tummy tucks and liposuction are growing in popularity as people try to shed pandemic weight gain before resuming going out and returning to the office.
- The pandemic puppy phenomenon is apparently generating business for plastic surgeons as well: dog-bite repair procedures are up 22%.
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.