Featured in today's briefing:
- How to support colleagues in the wake of racist violence.
- What organizations are doing amid the virus resurgence.
- What biking to work does for your day.
The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 53% increase from two weeks earlier, with about 108,000 new cases reported on Friday and hospitalizations rising in most states. One third of Americans live in areas where they should now consider wearing a mask in indoor public settings, according to the CDC.
The business impact: More than a third of Americans say they are having some difficulty paying their household expenses amid rising prices. Gen Z is particularly hard hit by inflation, with increasing costs for rent and everyday necessities like gas and groceries. Some economists believe pent-up demand for travel, cars, and other purchases will help power the US economy through this year but have cut their growth outlook for 2023.
Focus on How Workplaces Can Respond to Racist Violence
The mass shooting in Buffalo last weekend, in which 10 people were murdered by a gunman targeting Black shoppers at a supermarket, gave new urgency to a question that’s come up far too many times in recent memory: What can managers do to support traumatized employees, especially employees of color, in the wake of hate crimes and racist violence?
We reached out to Angelica Leigh, an assistant professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business who studies diversity and emotions in the workplace. Leigh recently co-authored a paper examining the effect of “mega-threats,” or widely publicized instances of marginalized groups suffering violence or harassment, on workers of color. Here are excerpts from the conversation, edited for space and clarity:
How do “mega-threats” affect how people show up in a workplace context?
When you see that someone who looks like you was targeted in this way, it really brings that threat to the surface. When you're worried about your safety, you're worried about your community, you're worried about your friends and family and whether this could happen to you or to them—it's hard for people to be able to push that down and then go to work. It’s something that you carry with you.
But because this event is identity-related, it's not always readily apparent that you can show people how you're feeling. You run into a colleague in the morning, and the question is like, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ And you're struck with this moment where you end up having to pause. Do you say to this person, ‘I'm actually not doing well, it's not a normal day for me’? Or do you just decide to say, ‘I'm fine, how are you?’
Oftentimes people in that moment end up having to put on this face of, ‘I'm doing fine, it's just another day in the world for me.’ We all have a limited amount of energy to invest in our work, our home lives, et cetera. And if you're investing some of that energy in suppressing these negative emotions, then there's less energy for you to then invest into your work. You may still be working on your tasks, but you're maybe not doing them as well, or you’re working slower on things, or you're in a meeting and you're speaking up less.
What are some things that managers can do to make it so that employees don’t feel like they need to suppress those feelings?
As we were working on this paper, we looked at a lot of different potential organizational features that could impact this: whether there were more racial minorities in a workplace, whether people said that their workplace was more inclusive. And one of the most interesting things about this project is that we were finding, in the wake of these events, that those features of the organization weren't really that important. It was much more this feeling that there was safety in the workplace to have conversations about identity.
My advice to managers would be to really examine whether you've created an environment in your teams and where you are having identity-based discussions. Where you're talking about those differences and they're being highlighted in conversations before an event happens, so when something happens, your employees can say, ‘Yes, when my manager asked me how I was doing, I told them I'm not doing well.’
In the coming weeks, managers could be having conversations with their employees about aspects of their lives that are connected to their identities. We say, ‘What did you do this weekend?’ and we talk about sports or the weather or whatever. When I'm telling you what I did this weekend, I may say, ‘Oh, I watched the game,’ or something like that, but I might not mention the fact that I went to a church function at my predominantly black Baptist church in my community that I'm super active in. But if I don't feel comfortable telling you about these things that I do in my off time, or things that are connected to my identity, then how am I going to feel comfortable telling you when things are bad?
Are there other specific, tactical things managers can do to build that psychological safety? Is it about modeling?
Modeling is a big thing, as a manager—really highlighting things that you may participate in, whether it's at work or outside of work, that are unique to your identity. And saying, ‘I might not understand what you're going through, but I definitely get that this could be a really challenging time for you. My door is open if you ever want to have a conversation about this.’ Just opening the door to allow for people to really share more of their feelings and experiences in the world.
Are there any added challenges to this that come with remote and hybrid working?
It is much harder, but I would say that the same strategies of being consistent and really thoughtful about how you're doing it still apply. You can't just leave your office door open, so now you actually need to set aside time to schedule a meeting with your employees to check in with them, or schedule time on the team meeting to go into breakout rooms, where you're a little more structured with it because you're remote.
I think Slack could assist you, once you've already established the relationships in richer communication channels. Slack is very similar to any other social-media environment, where it becomes much more about short messages that can be taken out of context. People don’t have the signals of your body language and your tone of voice to add more information to what you're trying to communicate. Once those close bonds are there, Slack could be used as a tool, but I would say that the first thing should be to develop consistency in more rich communication channels.
We've talked about what managers can do in their relationship with their reports. Is there anything that managers can do to cultivate that same sense of safety between employees on the team?
I would think of the strategies that you use in the team setting as really just building on what you've done one on one. Make sure that you create opportunities to connect and bond. Informally, but also formally, saying, ‘We as a team are going to get together once a month for 30 minutes to really check in with each other, and talk to each other more about who we are and the things that are important to us.’ It cultivates this environment where the first time I have a conversation with my coworker that acknowledges the fact that we're in different racial groups isn't right after the Buffalo shooting.
What if those conversations haven’t been happening all along? What can managers be doing right now to support employees who might be feeling traumatized?
The thing would be to start the long-term process. There's no better time to start it than now.
What Else You Need to Know
The latest spike in Covid cases has organizations scrambling.
- The New York Times Co. announced a “brief delay” to its plan to have employees return a few days a week starting in June. A memo suggested that employees who feel comfortable returning wear masks in common areas in its New York locations.
- Tech giant Apple cited the rising wave of Covid in tabling a policy, which was supposed to take effect this week, that would have required workers return on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.
- Apple also reinstated mask requirements for its common areas as well as for employees at 100 stores.
- As they assess the risks, organizations should at the very least communicate the limits of what they know. "Even if you don’t have all the answers, I think that the big obligation of leaders in this time is to give what certainty you can,” Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield explained last year.
Tech layoffs could imperil diversity-and-inclusion efforts. A number of tech companies have recently announced hiring freezes and workforce cuts amid slowing growth and economic uncertainty.
- Preliminary research by Sarah Kaplan at the University of Toronto found that diversity initiatives tend to fall by the wayside when companies are belt-tightening. “They’re seen as an HR thing–a ‘nice to have’,” she said.
- Supposedly neutral criteria, like laying off more recent hires, can disproportionately impact women and people of color.
- Netflix was criticized on social media for cutting dozens of contract writers who were part of its diversity communications initiatives. A person familiar with the company said the company’s overall diversity numbers remain the same post-layoff and that all social channels were affected (not just those that impact underrepresented groups).
The Great Resignation shows little sign of slowing among Gen Z. Some 40% of workers aged 18 to 27 would like to leave their job within two years, and over a third would do so without another job lined up, according to a new Deloitte survey.
- Nearly half say they feel stressed all or most of the time, and 46% feel burned out due to their working environments.
- Three-quarters say working remotely is preferred; roughly 15% say remote work has allowed them to relocate to a less-expensive locale, up from 9% last year.
- Some 45% of Gen Zs believe business is having a positive impact on society, the fifth consecutive year the percentage has fallen.
The pandemic has made business conferences more gender-inclusive. Women are more likely to attend professional gatherings when they’re held virtually, according to recent research.
- In an analysis of attendance at STEM conferences, the number of female participants at one conference rose by 253% after 2020, when the events moved from in-person to online programming—more than twice the 121% increase in male participants.
- Another study focused on university events found that the proportion of female speakers increased during the move from in-person to online—likely in part because a lack of travel made it easier to schedule around caregiving responsibilities, which especially during the pandemic have disproportionately fallen to women.
Meta curbs abortion discussion among its employees. The company previously known as Facebook reportedly issued a directive stating employees could discuss abortion at work only with a single “trusted” colleague in a private setting or in a “listening session” of up to five “like-minded” people.
- The company’s vice president of human resources told employees that discussing the topic “can leave people feeling like they’re being targeted based on their gender or religion,” according to Business Insider.
- Some employees reportedly asked the company to get rid of the “respectful communication” policy, believing it inconsistent with other policies that allow them to discuss other social issues.
Return to workplace speed round:
- Coworking spaces are back in demand, as startups looking for physical workplaces are opting out of traditional leases in favor of more flexible, short-term arrangements.
- Capital One has set a new target of September for its hybrid return-to-office plan, which designates Mondays and Fridays as remote work days and encourages—but doesn’t require—employees to go to the office Tuesday through Thursday.
- A new global survey found that British workers are most adamantly against a full-time office return, with 23% saying they’d rather quit their jobs than go back five days a week. (For US workers, that number was 14.8%.)
- Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of the hedge fund Citadel—which has called employees back to in-person work in almost all its office locations—lamented the rise of remote setups at a Bloomberg conference, arguing: “Collaboration within our four walls, I think, has been an incredibly important part of our success story over the last two and a half years.”
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Bike to work. Or, if you work remotely, take a quick ride before you start your day. New research found a link between more active commutes—think biking or walking, versus sitting in a car or a subway—and greater productivity.
- Do a “mind wipe.” Start your day with a lighter cognitive load by taking time each morning to write down all the tasks that are stressing you out. Simply moving what’s overwhelming out of your brain and onto the page can be enough to make it feel more manageable.
- Add pauses to your meetings. Rather than using the time for nonstop information-sharing, build in some breathing room for people to absorb what’s being said and think through their questions.
- Replace “why” with “what.” Asking “why” can exacerbate a mental rut, setting you up for answers that reinforce what you already believe. Instead reframing questions around “what”—like changing “why did that go wrong?” to “what should I do differently?”—can be a way to push yourself toward new ways of thinking.
Welcome back, lunch hour. Workers returning to offices are rejecting the sad desk salad of pre-pandemic days, instead using their lunch breaks for long, leisurely catch-ups with coworkers over a meal.
- New York restaurant owner James Mallios told The New York Post that he’s selling more wine at lunch than almost ever before, and he’s seen a 20% increase over 2019 levels in weekday lunchtime eaters.
The golden age of the slacker. In a record-tight labor market, companies are increasingly willing to let performance issues slide.
- In one survey, a majority of managers said they’d take back mediocre “boomerang” workers, and 16% said they would now rehire any former employees who applied, no matter how good they’d been at their jobs.
Office humor gets a WFH update. A new workplace comedy film with the working title Out of Office is set to premiere this summer. The movie, by the executive producers of The Office, focuses on the challenges of separating the personal from the professional when it’s all happening in the same space.
Hoof it to Iceland. The country’s newest tourism campaign, “OutHorse Your Email,” invites travelers to unplug while horses stomp on giant keyboards to answer their emails. (An auto-reply might be easier, but if the impulse to check your inbox while on vacation is too strong, do whatever it takes to, ahem, rein it in.)
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.