This article was originally published on ScoreNYC
Just last year, corporate leaders dismissed the prospect of remote work as being unrealistic, unproductive, and uncollaborative. But now, those same leaders face a working landscape that has been rewritten to favor flexible working. The Covid-19 pandemic forced companies to crash-test remote work during quarantine — and the results were far better than anyone expected.
According to recent research from PwC, 83 percent of corporate executives view their organization’s shift to remote as a success. Fewer than one in five want to return to pre-pandemic office norms. This isn’t to say that the office will disappear entirely. Researchers noted that 87 percent of participating leaders described the office as “important for collaborating with team members and building relationships.”
Workers benefit from hybrid models, too. As researchers for Microsoft noted in a recent report, “Employees want the best of both worlds: over 70 percent of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, while over 65 percent are craving more in-person time with their teams. The data is clear: extreme flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace.”
But adapting to flexible work isn’t as simple as telling employees that they can work from home a few days per week. As corporate America attempts to find its post-pandemic footing, leaders will need to tread carefully to avoid inadvertently disengaging employees during the transition to hybridized working models.
Understanding the Employee Value of Flexible Work
The business and employee benefits of teleworking are well-documented. Research indicates that workers who can sign in remotely often exhibit better performance, less stress, and more autonomy than their in-office peers.
But for some, having a remote work option is more than a stress-reliever — it’s a career booster. Women who sign in virtually experience less bias and have more opportunities to advance professionally. As one Workforce researcher wrote in early 2020, “The data suggest that flexible work options may actually be helping women overcome barriers such as access to career growth and work-life balance.”
For instance, Workforce found that 57 percent of remote women reported having a promotion in the previous year, compared to just 35 percent of onsite women, 51 percent of remote males, and 43 percent of men working on site. Research further noted that 80 percent of remote women felt they had room for growth in their current position, compared to just 60 percent of those in office.
Given these statistics, it’s hardly surprising that female knowledge workers are more likely to list remote work as one of their top-preferred perks than their male peers.
But the boost provided by remote work is not guaranteed — and if rolled out poorly, flexible policies can inadvertently damage remote worker productivity and female career prospects.
The Consequences of a Thoughtless Remote-Work Policy
Just as teleworking benefits have been extensively documented, so too have the potential consequences of implementing remote work policies without considering how to link remote and in-office employees into a cohesive team. One study found that a full 62 percent of surveyed employees felt isolated when working remotely.
“Unless there is a conscious effort to create opportunities for formal and informal interactions, teleworkers may feel excluded from the workplace community,” management researchers Eric Brunelle and Jo-Annie Fortin wrote for SAGE Open earlier this year.
If left unchecked, this sense of isolation can have a profound and troubling impact on employee stress, communication, satisfaction, innovation, and work relationships in the short term. But short-term problems aren’t the only ones at hand. Employers also need to consider the long-term personnel implications of poorly rolled-out flexible work policies.
During quarantine, remote work was the norm for most knowledge workers. Employees contributed via digital channels and were judged for the quality of their virtual work. Once we return to the office, employers will need to make a concerted effort to ensure that they weigh and welcome contributions equally regardless of where an employee works. Otherwise, businesses risk ostracizing and limiting their remote employees. This eventuality is particularly problematic, given — as discussed above — that women often prefer remote work.
“What happens when some team members are in the office or traveling for work while others are WFH?,” researchers Herminia Ibarra, Julia Gillard, and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic wrote for the Harvard Business Review last year. “Will we see a gender skew, with men disproportionately in the office or on the road, very visibly contributing to the business, while women are out of sight and mind?”
“Unless companies learn to evaluate output, rewarding people for what they actually contribute rather than for the show they put on, a world of mostly remote work may increase organizations’ bias for rewarding those who are present, disproportionately harming women,” the team concluded.
As businesses transition into a hybrid model, proactive thought will need to be given towards inclusionary policies. Leaders will need to establish protocols that explicitly welcome teleworker input via informal and formal means. Similarly, companies should train their managers to avoid unintentional bias against employees who aren’t physically in the office and ensure that review criteria weigh remote and in-person workers equally.
Corporate America is entering a new era of flexible working. If at all possible, leaders should try to start the journey on the right foot.
This article was originally published on ScoreNYC
For the vast majority of Americans, work and family have long stood as two distinct spheres, coexisting in uncomfortable isolation and connected by the frail string of a commute. Once clocked in, workers were expected to leave their personal obligations at the office door and focus on their professional to-do lists. Conversations about kids and families were limited to brief water-cooler chatter; leaving work to care for family members was allowed grudgingly, if at all. The United States is one of just a few countries that doesn’t mention the word “family” in its Constitution — and in our work culture, the omission shows.
Or, at least, it did.
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the nation and compelled office workers to conflate their cubicles with their home desks — or, in some cases, their kitchen tables — the traditional degree of separation between our working and family lives has all but disappeared. Leaving your home life by the door is a little difficult when you literally cannot walk through said door.
Since social distancing began, countless parents have shared their stories about how difficult it is to achieve their pre-pandemic productivity levels while simultaneously juggling their childcare responsibilities.
“Attempting to work full time while rooming with, feeding and educating one or more children during the pandemic is not going well — not for me, and not for most people I know,” New York Times journalist Farhad Manjoo shared in an op-ed in the early months of the pandemic. “Though we are embarrassingly indulgent of self-care, neither of us feels as if we are doing anything other than failing at everything, every day.”
The challenges shouldered by two-worker households weigh particularly heavily due to the lack of available childcare. Before the pandemic, almost 80 percent of dual-career working parents relied on some form of paid childcare. Now, many find themselves struggling to shoulder two full-time workloads — one professional and one parental.
“I know I am not working to the best of my capabilities,” Llyra De La Mere, a market-research analyst who lives with her husband and 12-year-old autistic son, commented for an article. “I’m forgetting things constantly. I’ve lost every semblance of organization. It’s embarrassing and troubling and I’m not proud of the work I’m doing.”
Manjoo and De La Mere’s experiences are hardly unique. One survey conducted on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA) in late April and early May reported that a full 46 percent of parents with children under 18 said that their stress levels were high, compared to just 28 percent of surveyed childless adults.
Another recent study conducted on working parents in Belgium found a significant prevalence of parental burnout. This condition creates unusual feelings of exhaustion, emotional detachment, and a lack of joy around parenting. The researchers found that the parents who tended to have the most burnout symptoms tended to be confined with small children or teenagers.
The personal impact is significant — as are the professional consequences. Earlier in 2020, the HR analytics company Syndio released a shocking report that 14 percent of working women and 11 percent of men were actively considering quitting their jobs because of work-family conflict relating to COVID-19. The short- and long-term costs this potential turnover rate poses to businesses, careers, and the economy at large are considerable.
The last year has made it abundantly clear that parents can’t balance full-time jobs with full-time parenting. But, at the same time, quarantine has also illustrated the flaws of our formerly strict separation between work and family spheres.
The same study that provided insights on parental burnout found that 82 percent of parents surveyed said that they were grateful for having extra time with their kids; for 30 percent of fathers and 36 percent of mothers, stress rates actually went down as parents were able to enjoy quality time with their children without needing to manage a cramped professional schedule.
These findings suggest that perhaps we can find a balanced compromise between our pre-pandemic dichotomy and the current work-home overload. Maybe the future of American work culture is one that acknowledges familial responsibilities, rather than asking employees to leave them at the proverbial office door.
As writers for Unicef recently noted: “Family-friendly business policies and practices in the workplace play a vital role in keeping kids out of poverty. They support and enable working parents to reconcile family responsibilities and work demands so they can do the most important job of all: raising their children.”
As defined by the UN agency, FFPs include features such as paid parental leave, paid sick leave, breastfeeding support at work, high-quality and affordable child care, livable wages, and other government-supported child benefits. The global nonprofit further notes that companies who have, over the years, established strong FFPs tended to adjust to the post-pandemic working world with more ease than family-aloof companies.
Others have concurred on this point. To borrow an explanation from writer and Harvard Business Review contributor Julia Beck:
As late as February, when companies committed themselves to family-friendly benefits by offering flexible workdays, back-up-care reimbursement, and remote working options, and by prohibiting end-of-day meetings, they typically did so in the name of recruitment, retention, and brand culture. But no longer. Some of these programs grew out of the economic realities of a formerly low unemployment rate, they’ve left organizations well-positioned for the quickly shifting workplace dynamics of Covid-19.
Family-friendly policies make it easier to support workers through the stresses of parenting during — and beyond — a pandemic. As a result, they facilitate better retention and workplace performance, and further limit the company’s contribution to employee/parent burnout.
Our experience demonstrates that there may be room for a new kind of family-friendly culture, one that doesn’t isolate or superimpose the family spheres but instead creates an overlapping design. Maybe we haven’t prioritized family in the past — but now we have a real understanding of its importance to the worker as a person. We can and should do better; we must craft a working culture that allows Americans to live and work in an environment that accepts them, childcare stresses and all.
Kamala Harris’ ascension to the country’s second-highest political office marks a pivotal point — in politics and our national identity.
This article was originally published on ThriveGlobal
On Wednesday, January 20, the United States of America welcomed its first female, Black, and South Asian vice president into office.
Kamala Harris’ ascension to the country’s second-highest political office marks a pivotal point — in politics and our national identity. CNN’s Brandon Tensley and Jasmine Wright might have written the significance of the shift best: “The California senator’s history-making win represents the millions of women in the demographics — often overlooked, historically underrepresented and systematically ignored — who are now the recipients of that new power for the first time in the country’s 200-plus-year history.”
When put in so many words, the symbolic importance of Harris’ position is hard to rebut. But, of course, there will always be those who argue against the point. Some might say yes, okay — but we’ve seen women in higher political positions in other countries. Aren’t the achievements of leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May, Angela Merkel, and Jacinda Ardern more impressive than Harris’ Vice Presidency?
It’s a complex question. On the one hand, yes — all four leaders have effectively shattered the proverbial glass ceiling by achieving their country’s highest political office. Those victories deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated. But while it is undoubtedly inspiring to see female changemakers ascend to power across the ocean, it’s not the same as seeing them rise in your home country. A sense of limitation, of restriction, remains. We find ourselves thinking, those opportunities might be available elsewhere, but they aren’t accessible here.
Harris’ entrance to the White House effectively proves that line of thinking wrong. True, it would be even more exhilarating to see America’s first female president — but seeing a woman step into the West Wing is nonetheless inspirational. For the first time, a generation of girls will grow up knowing that the doors to the highest echelons of government are not barred to them.
The symbolic importance of this historical moment resonates with me because I understand how difficult it is to be one of the first women to break into a male-dominated field — and how vital the representation you offer can be.
When I first started working in the New York City real estate sector in the 1970s, women’s career paths were limited at best. Generally, female employees worked in lower-level administrative roles. But I knew that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my career as someone else’s secretary; I wanted to be the person owning the business.
Over the next several years, I threw myself into learning everything I could about New York’s real estate industry. I worked at property management firms and went to night school for six and a half years. Eventually, I struck out on my own to found Bach Realty, my first real estate company.
Leaving the security of my job was an intimidating prospect. I had a lot of support from my colleagues and friends — but I also faced a lot of skepticism. At the time, female representation on leadership teams was laughably low; when I built my company, I was the first female CEO in New York City real estate.
But now, I see women building thriving careers in every industry. Women hold leadership roles and set strategic direction at major Fortune 500 companies. When I started my career, the idea that a woman could lead a major corporation was met with dismissal. Now, the mention of it barely warrants a blink. Increased representation naturally opens the door to more diversity in business.
The positive influence that representation affords isn’t limited by sector, either. As Pew Researchers noted in 2018, “Two years after Hillary Clinton became the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party, and with a record number of women running for Congress in 2018, a majority of Americans say they would like to see more women in top leadership positions – not only in politics, but also in the corporate world.”
Given this data, it stands to reason that Kamala Harris’ rise to the vice presidency could herald a wave of female changemakers in politics and business alike. Doors that were previously shut have cracked open — and through them, we can see the potential for a more diverse and gender-equal future.
Your employees are shouldering the accumulated burden of months of emotional trauma and persistent anxiety. Here’s how, and why, you should help them.
This article was originally published on ChiefExecutive.Net
For all that we try to keep our personal and professional lives separate, spillover is inevitable. The threshold separating the two is hazy and permeable; it’s all too easy to schlep the frustration of a stressful workday to the dinner table or allow the negativity of a family argument to color your tone in business meetings.
But now, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, workers aren’t dealing with a one-off spat or work problem. Instead, they are shouldering the accumulated burden of weeks of emotional trauma and persistent anxiety.
A recent survey conducted by researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the UNC School of Medicine found that a striking 90 percent of surveyed respondents reported experiencing emotional distress related to the pandemic.
“The coronavirus has already led to diverse mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, PTSD and other trauma and stress-related disorders,” Drs. Phebe M. Tucker and Christopher S. Czapla wrote on the matter for the Psychiatric Times. “Different groups have met DSM-5’s traumatic exposures qualifying criteria for PTSD during the pandemic: those who have themselves suffered from serious Covid-19 illness and potential death; individuals witnessing others’ suffering and death as family members and healthcare workers; individuals learning about the death or potential death of a family or friend due to the virus; and individuals experiencing extreme exposure to aversive details.”
Tucker and Czapla further point out that beyond these initial traumatic events, the pandemic has indirectly created a host of other stressors that worsen the problem, such as social isolation, unemployment, economic insecurity and increased childcare responsibilities. The stress suffered by people of color has been further exacerbated by the intergenerational trauma of processing the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
The stress posed in 2020 has been, for many, utterly overwhelming — and not only in an emotional sense. Research has demonstrated that trauma can manifest in a host of physical symptoms, including but not limited to the loss of energy, pain, poor memory, limited concentration, mood swings and feelings of guilt.
Given the breadth and intensity of these symptoms, it makes sense that team members can’t simply leave their trauma behind when they log into work. Past explorations also demonstrate that expecting them to do so could backfire on employers.
One 2016 study that examined the interplay between work conflict, negative emotions and performance found that employees’ feelings of guilt and sadness often predict lower performance in and beyond the workplace for days on end. Other research initiatives have reported that employees who continually mask their emotions at work can develop a lower sense of self-worth, emotional exhaustion and a feeling of disconnection from their peers. It’s intuitive to think that these symptoms, in turn, can impact productivity and achievement.
Business leaders can’t afford to dismiss Covid-19 trauma. The pandemic impacts us all, and as I’ve written before, the boundaries demarcating our personal and professional lives have faded during the remote-work revolution. We’re in this together; we need to take steps to support employees when pandemic stress inevitably spills over into at-work life.
Upholding employees is a moral imperative — but there is also a business argument to be had here.
Past research suggests that compassionate workplaces tend to foster higher levels of employee satisfaction and loyalty. As one writer for Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine once explained, “A worker who feels cared for at work is more likely to experience positive emotion, which in turn helps to foster positive work relationships, increased cooperation, and better customer relations. Compassion training in individuals can reduce stress, and may even impact longevity.”
Furthermore, there is little doubt that companies will be judged by the measures they do — and don’t — take to support employees during these troubled times.
If leaders treat their team members with coldness and dismissiveness, their brand reputation will tarnish and leave them less able to attract talented workers. According to a 2016 Glassdoor Site Survey, around 70 percent of job searchers check online review platforms before making career decisions, and employees who feel mistreated by a callous employer are much more likely to leave a negative review warning others of their experience. Leaders can’t treat their team members as expendable; if they do, they risk losing good workers in the short term and scaring away others in the long view.
So, how can employers help their teams to deal with Covid-19 trauma?
The first step is to encourage communication in the workplace and meet emotional spillover without judgment. To borrow a quote from BBC’s Keren Levy, “Organizations which allow people to take a break from high levels of emotional regulation and acknowledge their true feelings with understanding and non-judgemental colleagues behind the scenes tend to fare better in the face of these demands.”
Employers may also consider pairing their cultural considerations with formalized resources. A recent survey conducted by the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions found that 53 percent of surveyed employers said they were providing special emotional and mental health programs to their workforce because of Covid-19. By supplying resources, leaders enable their workers to seek support and help themselves stay afloat professionally and personally amid the pandemic’s stresses.
In the end, helping your employees persist against Covid-19 could be as simple as providing support, flexibility, and understanding to those who are overwhelmed. More than ever, we need to come together as community members. Stand up for your employees, and they — and your business — will be stronger for your efforts.
Research has repeatedly demonstrated that business leaders with high empathy scores tend to be more attuned to their customer base’s needs, more innovative and more capable of motivating, supporting and leading their employees.
This article was originally published on ChiefExecutive.Net
Everyone starts out with the best of intentions. As a new founder or a newly-promoted leader, you begin making promises to yourself, swearing that you’ll be the compassionate boss you wished you had as an overworked intern, the thoughtful leader who can inspire hope and dedication even in the toughest of times. You will be savvy, empathetic, charismatic, and, most of all—kind.
But over time, as you climb the corporate ladder and take on ever-increasing burdens of responsibility, those promises start to erode. You find yourself closing your once-open office door, dismissing friendly conversation, and contemplating employee-impacting decisions with a clinically dispassionate eye.
You begin to suffer, in other words, from a very real neurological phenomenon called hubris syndrome. First named by David Owen, a British physician and parliamentarian, hubris syndrome refers to the “disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years.”
Owen developed his diagnosis after evaluating all UK Prime Ministers and US Presidents who held office across a 100-year span. In his analysis, he found that the qualities often associated with top-notch leadership—charm, inspirational ability, persuasiveness, vision, bold self-confidence, and risk-taking—often came paired with darker, less immediate qualities. These included impulsivity, recklessness, and above all else, an exaggerated pride that leads to dangerous self-confidence and contempt for others.
The British physician’s findings paint a concerning picture of the long-term side effects of high-stakes leadership. However, his analysis relates solely to world leaders—which is why, in 2018, another cohort of researchers reframed his investigation to CEOs. Their findings paralleled Owen’s; often, CEOs pulled back from their colleagues, friends and even family members as they gradually shed empathy from their thinking and decision-making.
“Through our interviews, we heard variations of this time and again,” Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter and Louise Chester summarized their conclusions for the Harvard Business Review. “It’s not that power makes people want to be less empathetic; it’s that taking on greater responsibilities and pressure can rewire our brains and, through no fault of our own, force us to stop caring about other people as much as we used to.”
But what are the consequences of this? What happens when leadership practices are bereft of empathy?
First and most obviously, these leaders lose the benefits of empathy. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that business leaders with high empathy scores tend to be more attuned to their customer base’s needs, more innovative, and more capable of motivating, supporting, and leading their employees. Empathetic workplaces have benefits, too; their employees frequently report less stress, better morale, and stronger collaborative spirit than non-empathetic environments. One study even found that employees in empathetic workplaces tend to bounce back from emotionally-fraught events such as layoffs more quickly.
Without empathy, these benefits are absent—and workplaces are undoubtedly worse off for the lack. The business and human costs posed by an unempathetic working environment can be severe. For one, the American Psychological Association (APA) estimates that roughly 550 workdays and $500 billion are lost due to workplace stress annually. Research has also tied at-work pressures to health problems such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and even death.
Ironically, a leader’s cold, detached focus on achievement over employee wellbeing may even backfire in the long run. As one writer explains for the Harvard Business Review, “While a cut-throat environment and a culture of fear can ensure engagement (and sometimes even excitement) for some time, research suggests that the inevitable stress it creates will likely lead to disengagement over the long term. Engagement in work — which is associated with feeling valued, secure, supported, and respected — is generally negatively associated with a high-stress, cut-throat culture.”
Statistics back this point. Studies by Gallup indicate that workplace stress can boost costly voluntary turnover by nearly 50 percent and foster 37 percent higher rates of absenteeism, 49 percent more accidents, and 60 percent more at-work errors. With all this in mind, it becomes clear that empathy isn’t just a social must-have — it’s a business necessity.
But, how can a CEO preserve their sense of empathy? If Owens, Hougaard, Carter and Chester’s theories around hubris syndrome are correct, eroding empathy is a side effect of long-term leadership. Is preventing the character leak even possible?
Yes; however, leaders need to make a concerted effort to preserve their empathetic skills. Empathy, like public speaking or leadership itself, is a skill — if you work harder at developing it, your capability will grow.
Spend some time in self-reflection, and think back over the last major business decision that impacted your staff. Did you consider the consequences from an emotional perspective? How did you relay the good — or bad — news to your personnel? Do you generally welcome feedback and conversation, or do you tend to shut people down? If you tend towards clinical decision-making and an emotionally-detached leadership style, you may already be experiencing empathy erosion.
If you feel this is the case, take some time to check in with your team. Do they seem happy and productive, or anxious and poorly-oriented for success? If your workplace is suffering from a lack of empathy, the latter will likely be in evidence.
Once you have a gauge on the extent of the problem, you can start developing a plan to improve your organization’s empathetic culture. In most cases, your first step will be simple — start demonstrating empathy yourself. Show that you care about your employees by codifying simple gestures of kindness and understanding into management policies. Embrace a transparent, thoughtful tone in your office communications, and always take a moment to consider what the emotional reaction to your news may be.
Research from New York University’s Stern School of Business suggests that when leaders are empathetic to the point of being self-sacrificing, employees are often inspired to become more loyal and committed to the organization. In turn, this feeling encourages them to go out of their way to support other employees and create a self-reinforcing cycle of goodwill.
Above all else, always strive to put the wellbeing of your team front and center. Your business succeeds because of your team — so why wouldn’t you support its members? Empathy matters; don’t let yours fade!
The trend away from older workers is a mistake — but the current crisis could offer us an opportunity to push back against damaging ageist stereotypes and provide a needed talent boost to businesses during the pandemic.
This article was originally published on ThriveGlobal
When marketing veteran Anne Zacharias attempted to restart her career after taking a few years off to spend time with her family, she didn’t expect the process to be so demoralizing.
On paper, Zacharias was a shoo-in hire for any company. She had over 25 years of experience in the field and prior experience as a regional vice president for a national marketing company. Her work ethic and productivity weren’t anything to pass over, either. Her resume was ironclad, or so she thought.
Zacharias chose to take a few years off because her hectic work and travel schedules prevented her from spending any real time with her family. When she was ready to return work and began interviewing, she was blown away by the tidal wave of rejections she received.
Hiring managers told her that she had too little experience — even though she had spent most of her decades-long career working in sales jobs for firms like Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Johnson & Johnson. Eventually, she realized that the hedging was code.
“The message was, ‘She’s been out of the workforce too long and she’s too old,’” Zacharias told reporters for the Wall Street Journal of her experience. She had been in her fifties at the time.
Once you start asking around, stories like Zacharias’ aren’t all that hard to find. Despite the fact that countless older women are eager and ready to work — and that employers need to fill the professional gap posed by retiring Baby Boomers — women over 50 often struggle to overcome gender and age discrimination in the interview room.
Senior activist Ashton Applewhite defines ageism as occurring “when a dominant group uses its power to oppress or exploit or silence or simply ignore people who are much older or significantly younger. We experience ageism any time someone assumes we’re ‘too old’ for something — a task, a relationship, a haircut — instead of finding out who we are and what we’re capable of.”
At first thought, the kind of assumption Applewhite describes feels too rude and uncomfortable to be common. But the effects are more pervasive than you might think in the job market even though age discrimination is illegal in the United States. According to research conducted by the Urban Institute and shared by the Washington Post, jobless women are 18 percent less likely to find new work at age 50 to 61 than they would be at ages 25 to 34. When they reach 62, they are 52 percent less likely to be rehired.
Given these statistics, it’s little surprise that NBC reports that 70 percent of surveyed women believe that age discrimination in the workplace is a significant problem, or that 31 percent of surveyed women over 50 have personally experienced age discrimination at the office.
Studies indicate that this trend has its roots in social stereotypes and stigma; researchers have found that the effects of aging on appearance tend to have a more severe impact on working women than men. As they write: ‘physical appearance matters more for women’ because ‘age detracts more from physical appearance for women than for men.’
To add insult to injury, a recent study from the University of Buffalo found that state age protections often provide women with flimsy coverage. As lead researcher Joanne Song McLaughlin, an assistant professor of economics in UB’s College of Arts and Sciences, recapped of her findings: “The evidence indicated that both state age discrimination laws and the [Age Discrimination in Employment Act] ADEA improved the labor market outcomes for older men, but had a far less favorable effect on older women. In some cases, I found that age discrimination laws did not improve the labor market outcomes for older women at all.”
These trends are troubling at the best of times but amid a global pandemic, they are exponentially more so. Right now, workers over 50 — of which there are roughly 54 million in the US — now face job-market challenges only made worse by the current recession. As of the start of September, the unemployment rate for women over 50 hovered at 7.2, 4.6 points higher than reported in September of last year.
The trend away from older workers is a mistake — but the current crisis could offer us an opportunity to push back against damaging ageist stereotypes and provide a needed talent boost to businesses during the pandemic.
In June, writers for the Harvard Business Review reported an interesting trend: the pressing demand for certain niche medical and technology professionals has compelled retired medical and technical professionals to return to work.
“More than ever before, they are being embraced and brought back to work as fast as they can make themselves available,” Carol Fishman Cohen wrote. “Employers are recognizing the strengths this pool of workers has demonstrated all along: institutional knowledge, education, work experience, mature perspective, stable life stage, dedication, loyalty, and an energy and enthusiasm about returning to work.”
I believe that there’s an opportunity here — not just in medicine or technology, but in business in general. This example proves that older workers have valuable talent and experience that could support companies through difficult times; who’s to say that other industries couldn’t make use of senior employees’ skills?
These women only need a little upskilling and orientation to rejoin the workforce — and thankfully, there’s already a foundation for the re-entry process in place. As I’ve written before, corporate “returnship” programs offer a means for veterans and mothers who have taken time off work to reacclimate to the working world.
These programs provide mentoring support, professional development sessions, and skills training classes to returning employees, often to notable success. According to statistics provided by the Harvard Business Review, hiring rates post-returnships usually average over 80 percent.
Alternatively, older women could upskill independently by taking classes on technical skills such as coding; doing so could help them reframe their existing skills in a more marketable light.
“One of the big obstacles in a job interview when you’re older is that people think you’re inflexible and can’t learn new things. Coding gave me an edge. I developed a confidence I didn’t have before.” Liz Beigle-Bryant, age 60, once commented for the New York Times.
Beigle-Bryant, who had lost her job as an administrative assistant for Microsoft, began taking coding classes after spending months struggling to find a job. Soon after she completed her courses, she netted her dream job as a document control coordinator for a public transit agency in her home of Seattle.
Beigle-Bryant’s story — as well as Anne Zacharias’ and so many others’ — demonstrates that her skills weren’t so much the issue as a matter of employer perspective. As business leaders, we need to establish the right upskilling frameworks to help older women return to work and contribute their considerable skills to corporate causes. They are far too valuable to be left underutilized.
This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC
To say that COVID-19 has reshaped working expectations would be dramatic — but not, strictly speaking, incorrect.
Since the pandemic began spreading across America in March, employees have managed to build a new normal out of highly irregular, even impossible, circumstances. Faced with the need for social distancing and isolation, workers have rerouted their commutes to their kitchen counters and home offices, connected with their coworkers over digital channels, and continued to deliver top-tier work even while siloed and separated.
At the beginning of the pandemic, these measures were framed as fleeting and temporary — expected to last only as long as the threat of disease transmission did. But now, as companies and employees grow increasingly comfortable with the prospect of working from home, some have begun to wonder whether America’s unplanned experiment with long-term remote work will usher in a new, hybridized work model.
In mid-summer, the Adecco Group, a staffing and HR firm, surveyed 8,000 office-based employees, managers, and executives across the USA, UK, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, and Australia about their working preferences post-COVID. The results were striking: nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of those surveyed said that they would prefer a mix of in-office and at-home work — ideally, splitting their time almost equally between the two (49 percent remote, 51 percent in-office).
A desire to improve work-life balance appears to be a driving factor behind these preferences. Eighty percent of surveyed workers claimed that it would be essential to maintain a good work/life balance post-pandemic, and half said that their work/life balance has improved during the lockdown.
Employers are remarkably amenable to remote work, too — 77 percent of surveyed C-level and executive managers claimed that allowing remote work and increasing workplace flexibility will generally benefit their businesses. Seventy-nine percent further noted that employees “will personally benefit from having increased flexibility around office and remote working.”
As one Adecco writer concluded in the report: “There is universal approval of flexible working, across business structures and geographies, across generations and parental status. It is a clear affirmation that the world is ready for ‘hybrid working’.”
But what is hybrid working, exactly? The term is new, but it generally refers to a working model where employees can divide their time between the office and home as-needed.
To borrow an explanation from McKinsey: “Talented people could live in the cities of their choice, which may have a lower cost of living and proximity to people and places they love, while they still work for leading organizations. A monthly trip to headquarters or a meeting with colleagues at a shared destination may suffice. This approach could be a winning proposition for both employers and employees, with profound effects on the quality of talent an organization can access and the cost of that talent.”
At first listen, this approach sounds like an ideal way to offer the best of both worlds and bridge the gap between pre-pandemic routines and post-pandemic preferences — but is it?
The answer is somewhat complicated.
While hybridized work models do hold a tremendous amount of potential and appeal to current employee preferences, they will not succeed unless employers can address a few outstanding remote-working concerns that have arisen during COVID-19.
Take managers’ (lack of) support for remote employees as an example. According to the Adecco report referenced above, only two in five employees said their managers had “exceeded their expectations” by checking in on and supporting their mental health during the lockdown. For the managers’ part, over half said that “it was not easy to provide effective advice on mental wellbeing” to employees.
This lack of ability, the report concludes, points to a shortage of soft-skills training in the past and — given that 28 percent of employees claimed that their mental health worsened during COVID-19 — leads to a potential flaw in a long-term, hybridized work model. If managers are not equipped to support their team members from afar, they may not be able to identify when their employees start to struggle or provide guidance when they need it. This, in turn, may lead to lapsing productivity and lower morale.
Another issue at hand is the potential for declining gender diversity. As I’ve written before, a long-term shift to remote work may erode women’s presence — and voices — in corporate environments.
Previous studies have noted that while professional men with children and professional women without children tend to extend their working hours in remote environments, female employees with children usually do not, as they need to balance their domestic responsibilities with their working ones. Female employees’ need to address at-home obligations may also lead them to work from home more often, and remain removed from impromptu at-work decision-making.
Thus, women may be unfairly (and incorrectly) perceived as being more disengaged and less productive than their male and non-parent colleagues. Over time, this perception could erode working mothers’ abilities to progress into leadership roles and succeed in their careers.
To borrow a summation from one writer for the Harvard Business Review, “Unless companies learn to evaluate output, rewarding people for what they actually contribute rather than for the show they put on, a world of mostly remote work may increase organizations’ bias for rewarding those who are [physically] present, disproportionately harming women.”
There is no straightforward solution to these flaws, and, in all likelihood, employers will probably need to go through some trial and error when addressing them. However, a few fixes have already been suggested.
According to research from Adecco, over two-thirds of employees (69 percent) believe that employee contracts should be rewritten to be more deliverable- and task-based. Thus, an employee in a flexible model may be able to achieve a better work-life balance by setting their own schedule and changing their focus to improving the business instead of logging hours. This approach will need fine-tuning and experimentation, to be sure — but by making employee contribution the priority, it may lessen the risks of an in-office bias.
Above all else, employers need to develop strategies to support employees wherever they may choose to work. As one writer for Adecco puts the matter: “Rather than applying old models and then blaming the shift to remote work when teams fail, companies and leaders must be deliberate in how they set up the new working structures, communication cadence, and team dynamics, and take accountability for actively framing the new model of work. Taking time to invest in building a stronger set of soft skills will be paramount.”
Hybridized work models are promising, to be sure — but employers cannot leap into them without thinking. Thorough planning and soft-skills training must come first; otherwise, avoidable miscommunications and poor policies may undermine the benefits provided by flexible working.
Sometimes, employees just need to know that their company cares about their wellbeing.
This post was originally featured on ThriveGlobal
The signs accrue slowly. Group chats that once hummed with good-natured conversation and project discussion devolve into silence. Employees who had prioritized their work-life balance before the pandemic begin to veer into exhaustion as the lines between their professional obligations and personal lives blur. Formerly friendly coworkers snap at each other or coexist in icy silence. Team productivity dips; efficiency drops.
Given any one of these problems, a leader might think that they have a company culture problem on their hands — and that might be the case. However, before you launch into an initiative to reinvent your managerial approach, rearrange your teams, and rewrite your policies, you should ask yourself: Have you tried addressing your team’s COVID stresses yet?
Addressing the Psychological Impact of COVID-19 at Work
COVID-19 has been hard on all of us. One recent survey conducted by psychology researchers at Vanderbilt University found that most participants reported experiencing stressful disruptions to their everyday lives. They struggled to obtain necessary supplies, needed to change or cancel their travel plans, were often isolated from their close friends and family friends, experienced job loss or reduced hours, and suffered financial strain.
The impact that these stressors can have on workers cannot be understated. Even before the pandemic demanded a rewrite of our usual routines, financial concerns, and high-stress levels significantly impacted employee performance and wellbeing.
Research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) indicates that financial stresses correlate to a significant 34 percent increase in absenteeism and tardiness. Another study conducted by Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research complements these findings, noting that financial strain can cause employees to miss nearly twice as many workdays as their unstressed peers.
However, stress doesn’t need to be financially-rooted to have a detrimental effect on worker performance. As researchers for a 2018 study on the matter write: “high level stress results in low productivity, increased absenteeism and […] problems like alcoholism, drug abuse, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.” The writers further indicate that stress can also lead to higher rates of job dissatisfaction.
There’s no doubt that these stresses can contribute to low office morale, poor productivity, and, perhaps most importantly, burnout. Recent data published by the online employment tool, Monster, indicates that over two-thirds (69 percent) of employees are currently experiencing burnout symptoms while working remotely due to the coronavirus.
These are alarming numbers. The emotional and physical harm to employees is evident — but the impact on employers shouldn’t be overlooked, either.
The Business Cost of Stress
Workplace stress exacts a $500 billion annual toll on the U.S. economy, and roughly 550 million workdays are lost due to work stress each year. The American Psychological Association (APA) further notes that burned-out employees are more than twice (2.6 times) as likely to be actively seeking a different job, 63 percent more likely to take a sick day, and 23 percent more likely to visit the emergency room.
All of this makes one thing abundantly clear: protecting employees from burnout, even if that burnout is not explicitly caused by their work, is in the company’s favor.
If company leaders want to maintain high levels of performance and cohesive teamwork during the stresses of a pandemic, they need to go above and beyond to demonstrate their support, empathy, and flexibility for overstressed employees. If they can do so, they will encourage better work performance, boost team morale, and improve employee health and engagement.
But how can they accomplish this? The answer seems almost too simple — outreach.
Past research indicates that increasing supervisor support can moderate the impact of role overload and work stress on burned-out employees. If business leaders can make outreach and support staples of their pandemic leadership approach, they may be able to lessen the amount of work- and health-damaging stress that employees experience.
Don’t know how to go about this process? Here are a few tips.
First, Check In With Your Employees.
You have the power to alleviate any unnecessary work-related stresses that your team members might have. For example, while you might not be planning to conduct layoffs or restrict team hours, your employees may live in fear of such an event happening. Without clear communication of the risks, financial stress can compound unnecessarily.
As one writer for CNBC reports: “Despite work burnout, the majority (59%) are taking less time off than they usually would, and 42% of those still working from home are not planning to take any time off to decompress [even though] most people return to work from even a short amount of time off feeling more productive and refreshed.
The reasoning behind this seemingly counterintuitive decision, reporters note, is that employees feel they need to work while they still have a job, and that working hard will convince their employers of their value should layoffs become a possibility.
Be transparent about your plans, and alleviate any unnecessary worries. Then, check in with your employees to make sure they are taking the time to stay healthy and productive.
Next, Ensure That Support Measures Are In Place.
Don’t let overwork add to the stress that your employees are already handling! Thoroughly audit your team’s capacity, and make a note of any workers who are overburdened with assignments. Remind your team of any support structures you might already have in place and, if necessary, consider hiring an additional person to take some of the weight.
However, if you’re running lean because of the pandemic and can’t afford to hire extra help, try talking with your team to develop a work-sharing strategy that will allow team members to cover for each other when overloading occurs. Even a conversation can help defray work stress.
Finally, Make Yourself Available for Conversation.
Sometimes, employees just need to know that their company cares about their wellbeing. Maintain open communication channels and remind employees that you are available for conversation if they need to discuss working concerns or request flexibilities. Above all else, make sure that managers check in on employees’ mental health as often as they do their at-work performance.
In times like these, leaders need to support their employees — because without them, businesses couldn’t even dream of achieving the level of success that they do.
CEOs have a rare opportunity to rebalance the scales for male and female workers and cultivate a thoughtful, family-friendly perspective.
This post was originally featured on ChiefExecutive.net
Remote work has long been touted as a means for female workers to balance their career and family responsibilities. The benefits are evident; women can forego their commutes and spend more time with their families, save on childcare costs and arrange their flexible work schedules around their parenting obligations.
But in the isolation and chaos of Covid-19, those benefits seem to have dried up — or worse, turned toxic. With childcare on hold and schools gone virtual, the remote working arrangements that were once considered to be the dream for working parents have become downright nightmarish. According to a recent survey conducted by the HR analytics company Syndio, an incredible 14 percent of women are considering quitting their jobs because of work-family conflicts relating to Covid-19.
As shocking as this statistic might seem at first glance, it becomes all too understandable when you consider the circumstances and research at hand. Nearly 80 percent of dual-career working parents used some form of paid childcare before COVID-19 — but once mass closures began, two-thirds of working mothers reported becoming the sole caregivers for their children. Moreover, past research has indicated that women are more likely than men to try to carry out more domestic obligations while working remotely.
But this tendency to take on more domestic responsibilities while working at home exacts a toll. As social researchers Herminia Ibarra, Julia Gillard, and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic recently concluded in an article for the Harvard Business Review, “The additional burden of working from home while juggling child care, virtual schooling, and other household responsibilities is compounding stress in women’s personal and professional lives.”
One mother and survey respondent summarized her experience like this: “It’s difficult to work while managing teenage angst, assisting with 4th grade projects, learning all of the technology, feeding a family of five three times a day, and dealing with new work-related chaos.”
The resources that were once there to support working moms — childcare, school, after-school programs, neighborhood babysitters, and grandparents — are no longer readily accessible. Is it any wonder that professional women are trying to unburden their schedules, even if doing so means giving up their jobs?
But as reasonable as the decision to step out of the workforce may be, a mass exodus could have significant long-term consequences. Past research tells us that mothers who stop working for a few years often face challenges upon their return.
“Leaving the workforce does stall their careers, and it takes them longer to achieve career success,” Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), recently commented for Fortune.
An en masse exit of overburdened mothers from the workforce could also inadvertently step back progress for gender parity in the workforce as a whole.
According to research findings from SHRM, the 80-cents-on-the-dollar gender pay gap widens for working mothers; earnings lost during even a short absence tend to compound over time. Another 2018 report from the IWPR found that annual earnings for women who took a yearlong absence from the workforce between 2001 and 2015 were, on average, 39 percent lower than earnings reported for the women who worked all 15 years uninterrupted.
The knee-jerk reaction to these statistics might be to encourage women to stay at work, bear out the difficulties of a Covid-19 remote environment, and hope for a swift end to the pandemic. But even this plan has its flaws.
For one, women who work from home may appear less present and engaged in their work. One study recapped in a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review found that while professional men with and without children and women without children tend to increase their unpaid overtime hours when allowed flexible working arrangements, professional women with children do not — presumably because they take on the brunt of a household’s domestic responsibilities.
Over time, this unfair perception of disengagement may inadvertently harm working mothers’ abilities to climb the corporate ladder and limit their access to growth opportunities.
“Will the new environment exacerbate existing disparities, with women likely to be only in the formal, official channels of communication and left out of the myriad subsets of conversations that shape decisions?” Ibarra, Gillard, and Chamorro-Premuzic lament in their above-mentioned article.
“Unless companies learn to evaluate output, rewarding people for what they actually contribute rather than for the show they put on, a world of mostly remote work may increase organizations’ bias for rewarding those who are [physically] present, disproportionately harming women.”
We face a seemingly impossible situation. During Covid-19, the pressure on working women to balance their work and family responsibilities is near-untenable. Overburdened mothers need to leave the workforce to support their families and protect themselves from burnout — but if they do, they may end up inadvertently hamstringing their careers and accelerating pay inequities. Yet, if they continue to sign in to work remotely, they face being undervalued and passed over.
So, given the current circumstances and the increasing likelihood that Covid-19 will usher in a new era of remote-friendly work, how can we protect and support women in the workplace?
As it turns out, we currently face a rare opportunity to rebalance the scales for male and female workers and cultivate a thoughtful, family-friendly perspective in the business world at large.
The first step to accomplishing these goals is to foster more acceptance of and expectations for men as working parents. With childcare resources suddenly out of reach, male workers have had the chance to develop a new understanding of how heavy childcare burdens are.
According to a recent survey conducted by the culture consultancy Have Her Back, twice as many fathers as mothers viewed caregiving during the lockdown as “extremely difficult,” and 38 percent “very strongly agreed” that they should be taking on a larger share of the unpaid work at home.
As Have Her Back researchers conclude: “While mothers have always had to share most of the burden of child-caregiving, this demonstrates just how unaware fathers may have been to the difficulty of that role and the importance of resources such as child daycare, the educational system and employer benefits policies that help working women.”
It is worth noting that many working men want to equalize work-home responsibility-sharing, as well.
“We hear all the time from men whose organizations have outdated leave policies that give the ‘primary caregiver’ months off but give far less time off to the ‘secondary caregiver,’” social researcher Joan C. Williams shared in an article for the Harvard Business Review. “We’re all seeing how the pandemic can serve to level the playing field as some men take on more domestic responsibilities than they used to.”
As businesses continue to navigate working norms during the pandemic and move towards a remote-based future, they should consider the steps they can take to be genuinely women- and family-friendly.
These may include destigmatizing family leave for men, thereby recognizing them as equal caregivers, facilitating a more equitable distribution of domestic work, and allowing women to pursue their careers without burning themselves out from overwork. Business leaders should also proactively audit their remote work policies for any potential bias against working parents, clarify their promotion processes, and uphold the importance of female inclusion in project and policy conversations. Finally, businesses of all industries should establish a path for women to return to work if they need to take a brief absence from the workforce to support their families during Covid-19.
Despite all of the challenges that Covid-19 has given us, we can — and should — view this time as an opportunity to pursue gender parity in the workplace.
The shift to remote work can offer a plethora of benefits to workers and businesses alike — but only if we stop glorifying overwork.
This post was originally featured on Thrive Global
Before COVID-19 drove us from our corporate workstations, the workday flow had a distinct rhythm. Our alarms would go off every morning, pushing us out of our beds and onto our commutes. We would arrive at the office as it opened and work a full day, taking an hour or so for lunch. When five o’clock rolled around, we made light conversation with our coworkers as we packed up to leave, cheerful with our accomplishment and eager to return home for some well-deserved relaxation and family time.
The workday is different in a post-pandemic working world. The once-structured flow that defined our days has become hazy, and the lines between personal and professional time blurred. When our alarms go off in the morning, we can travel from our beds to our home workstations in a matter of moments — so, we might as well start work early. Because lunch can be cooked at home and eaten at the table, there seems to be little point in actually taking a full hour break. Justifying an extra half hour of work at the end of the workday is similarly easy; after all, there’s no commute to worry about.
But these extra minutes stack up quickly. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans’ workdays have reportedly increased by nearly 40 percent.
According to a recent report published by NordVPN Teams, employees in the United States have added an average of three hours to their daily work schedules. This is the largest leap worldwide, although workers in the UK, France, Canada, and Spain have reported still-significant two-hour increases.
This data seems insane. Workers are at home and commute-free; shouldn’t their work-life balance be, well, balanced?
Not necessarily. Without proper checks in place, it’s easy for remote workers to fall into a “might as well” mentality.
Well, I might as well get started early.
I finished eating; I might as well cut lunch short and get back to work.
I only have another hour or so — I can stay late to finish this project.
These additions only add a half-hour here and there to a worker’s day — but over time, they add up. This tendency towards extra work isn’t a COVID-unique phenomenon, either. In 2015, a Stanford research initiative on remote work found that Chinese call-center employees who worked remotely were 13 percent more productive than control group employees. They tended to take fewer breaks and make more calls per minute than their office-bound peers.
From a business perspective, this boost to productivity is fantastic. But taken in the context of our COVID-prompted pattern of overwork, isn’t it also problematic from a human resources standpoint?
Not exactly. Interestingly, Stanford researchers also found that remote workers tended to be happier and less likely to quit their jobs than their in-office peers. The complicated truth of the matter is that remote work can offer the best of both worlds; it can boost productivity and optimize employees’ work-life balance. Previous research has amply demonstrated that remote work can be particularly valuable for working parents.
One 2015 study found that six months following childbirth, women who worked remotely experienced a “statistically significant decrease in their levels of depression” compared to women who had returned to the office. Remote work arrangements give working parents the flexibility to balance their work responsibilities with their family obligations. By removing the need to commute and in-office distractions, remote workers should have a greater ability to work hard and, when that work concludes, clock out and enjoy their home life.
But if remote work offers such notable benefits in theory, why is it failing Americans in practice? The answer probably has something to do with our always-on cultural attitude towards work.
It’s no secret that Americans have a cultural tendency to glorify overwork. In 2018, analysts for Project: Time Off, a research initiative dedicated to exploring the economic and social benefits of taking time off, found that Americans gave up 212 million days off in 2017 — a sacrifice amounting to roughly $62.2 billion in “lost benefits.”
“The American dream—that hoary mythology that hard work always guarantees upward mobility—has for more than a century made the U.S. obsessed with material success and the exhaustive striving required to earn it,” The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson wrote last year on the matter.
Today, technology has made it ever-more easy for workers to stay logged into work even after they have — technically — clocked out. To borrow a quote from Glassdoor community expert Scott Dobroski, “You’re one finger swipe away from your email inbox while you’re sitting on the beach in Hawaii.”
Moreover, there is a pervasive — if subtle — assumption that because workers can work outside of work hours and have nothing “better” to do, they should. Consider a line recently published in a Washington Post article on American overwork as an example: “Remote workers also often work longer hours – not surprising since the average American spends 54 minutes a day commuting.”
The core assumption here — which is included in the article as an aside — is that workers will naturally dedicate the time they would have typically spent commuting to more work, rather than sleeping in or taking more time for themselves.
This work-first mentality is not unique to the United States, but it is notable when compared to other nations. In France, a worker’s refusal to log off at the end of the workday is referred to as “info-obesity” and is viewed as such a problem that the country outlawed sending professional emails outside of work hours.
Will America need similar restrictions as remote work continues to entrench itself as a norm? Perhaps. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for workers to fall into overwork patterns when they work from home. This, in turn, can cut into family time and erode the most upheld benefit of remote work: family time.
Adverse consequences have already resulted from this trend. According to a recent survey, a full 14 percent of polled women and 11 percent of men say that they are considering quitting their jobs because of a work-family conflict related to COVID. If we leave the situation to worsen, employers will ultimately see burnout, lost productivity, and increased turnover.
As we move forward into a post-COVID, remote-friendly work era, business leaders need to make an active effort to break the toxic culture of overwork that currently undermines the benefits that remote work should provide. Managers should emphasize the importance of regular breaks and discourage — or, at the very least, not actively encourage — working beyond the formal end of the workday. Workers should also strive to balance their work-home lives and be mindful of when they exceed their shifts.
The shift to remote work can offer a plethora of benefits to workers and businesses alike — but only if we stop glorifying overwork.