building a new headquarters in Midtown that will be the home base for up to 14,000 workers, will move to a more “open seating” arrangement.

Banks outside New York are also adapting: KeyCorp, which is based in Cleveland, hasn’t set a specific return-to-office date, but expects half its staff to eventually show up four or five days a week. Another 30 percent will probably come in for one to three days, with the ability to work from different offices. And 20 percent will work from home, albeit with in-person training and team-building events.

The new setup is “uncharted territory” that is necessary to keep the work force engaged, said Key’s chief executive, Chris Gorman. While he comes in every day and is a big believer in face-to-face meetings, Mr. Gorman said he had avoided a heavy-handed approach that could alienate employees and prompt them to look elsewhere.

Mr. Naratil, the UBS president, is also a believer in in-person gatherings — he still spends most of his week at UBS’s office in Weehawken, N.J. — but he said the great remote-work experiment of the last two years had debunked the myth that employees were less productive at home. In fact, he said, they are more productive.

The increasingly hybrid workplace has forced leaders to connect with their teams in new ways, like virtual happy hours, Mr. Naratil said. The rank and file have shown that they can rise to the occasion, and the onus is on bosses to attract workers back to physical spaces to generate new ideas and strengthen relationships.

Managers, he said, need to have a good answer when their employees ask the simple question: “Why should I be in the office?”

“It’s not ‘Because I told you to,’” he said. “That’s not the answer.”

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What if It Never Gets Easier to Be a Working Parent?

Above all, issues around managing child care and work that had long been considered private family matters were suddenly out in the open, turning the needs of working parents into a subject that resonated in conference rooms and state capitals across the country.

The potential implications were profound: Not only could the pandemic help recalibrate the answer to a question like, “Who picks up a sick child from school?” but it could also radically alter whether workplaces look askance at the parent who takes time away from work to do to so. More fundamentally, any number of policy ideas that the pandemic inspired, if realized, could make it easier for working parents, especially women, to balance work and child care, as well as increase gender equality at work and at home and upend entrenched gender norms about caregiving.

“It just feels like an Overton window, where you have increased public dialogue but also you have public will to really change and reflect on women’s experiences in the work force,” C. Nicole Mason, the president and chief executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said in an interview this summer.

Roughly half of mothers with children under 18 were employed full-time last year. For white-collar women and women with office jobs, who were more likely to benefit from increased work flexibility, the possible reforms were uniquely promising.

But the optimism is fading, partially because of Washington. The Biden administration and Democrats in Congress indicated early in the year that federal paid family and medical leave was a priority in the president’s domestic spending package — but the plan was pared down from 12 weeks to four weeks, then dropped entirely from the framework President Biden announced on Thursday.

“As you can see, the window is closing,” Dr. Mason said this past week.

Now, as the pandemic recedes and everyday life begins to return to normal, some working mothers are worried that nothing much will change.

“People are finally seeing how important child care is in our society,” said Kristen Shockley, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Georgia who studies the intersection of work and family life. “But is that going to translate into a way that our society values caregiving? I’m less optimistic about that.”

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The Economic Rebound Is Still Waiting for Workers

Some businesses seem determined to wait them out. Wages have risen, but many employers appear reluctant to make other changes to attract workers, like flexible schedules and better benefits. That may be partly because, for all their complaints about a labor shortage, many companies are finding that they can get by with fewer workers, in some instances by asking customers to accept long waits or reduced service.

“They’re making a lot of profits in part because they’re saving on labor costs, and the question is how long can that go on,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist for the employment site ZipRecruiter. Eventually, she said, customers may get tired of busing their own tables or sitting on hold for hours, and employers may be forced to give into workers’ demands.

Some businesses are already changing how they operate. When Karter Louis opened his latest restaurant this year, he abandoned the industry-standard approach to staffing, with kitchen workers earning low wages and waiters relying on tips. At Soul Slice, his soul-food pizza restaurant in Oakland, Calif., everyone works full time, earns a salary rather than an hourly wage, and receives health insurance, retirement benefits and paid vacation. Hiring still hasn’t been easy, he said, but he isn’t having the staffing problems that other restaurants report.

Restaurant owners wondering why they can’t find workers, Mr. Louis said, need to look at the way they treated workers before the pandemic, and also during it, when the industry laid off millions.

“The restaurant industry didn’t really have the back of its people,” he said.

Still, better pay and benefits alone won’t bring back everyone who has left the job market. The steepest drop in labor force participation came among older workers, who faced the greatest risks from the virus. Some may return to work as the health situation improves, but others have simply retired.

And even some nowhere near retirement have made ends meet outside a traditional job.

When Danielle Miess, 30, lost her job at a Philadelphia-area travel agency at the start of the pandemic, it was in some ways a blessing. Some time away helped her realize how bad the job had been for her mental health, and for her finances — her bank balance was negative on the day she was laid off. With federally supplemented unemployment benefits providing more than she made on the job, she said, she gained a measure of financial stability.

Ms. Miess’s unemployment benefits ran out in September, but she isn’t looking for another office job. Instead, she is cobbling together a living from a variety of gigs. She is trying to build a business as an independent travel agent, while also doing house sitting, dog sitting and selling clothes online. She estimates she is earning somewhat more than the roughly $36,000 a year she made before the pandemic, and although she is working as many hours as ever, she enjoys the flexibility.

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Productivity Tips: Forget About Being Productive.

Some groups have found being productive particularly challenging during the pandemic. Half of parents working from home with children under 18, and nearly 40 percent of all remote workers ages 18 to 49, said it had been difficult for them to be able to get their work done without interruptions, according to the Pew Research Center. Parents were also more likely than those without children to say they had difficulty meeting deadlines and completing projects on time while working at home.

It is possible that people who are working from home — a relatively small percentage of workers compared to those who cannot do their jobs remotely — also have a false sense of how much they are working. In effect, people who are working at home may be using the wrong denominator when calculating the portion of their time they spend doing work, Mr. Syverson, the University of Chicago economist, said. That could make them feel as if they are working less when they are really working the same amount. (This may not be the case for those working remotely in jobs where their output can be more quantified easily, such as sales representatives.)

“I think there is something to the fact that a lot of workers who work at home are never sort of on the clock versus off the clock,” he said. “Rather than dividing a day’s work by eight hours in the office, they divide the day’s work by the 16 hours they are awake.”

As employers continue trying to figure out how to engage their employees and entice them back to empty offices, how to get the most from their work force has become a management puzzle with wide-ranging economic implications. Already, some have announced plans to give employees more flexibility — a nod to the idea that total output and how people feel are intertwined. Twitter said that employees who are able to do their jobs remotely could work from home forever.

Brigid Schulte, the director of the Better Life Lab at New America and the author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” said American culture has long believed that working longer means working harder and being more productive, despite the flaws in that way of thinking. She noted the idea that there is a “productivity cliff” — workers are only productive for a certain number of hours, after which their productivity declines and they may begin making mistakes.

“We’ve long had this really erroneous connection between long work must mean hard work and productivity, and it never has,” she said.

Productivity may also no longer be the be-all end-all it once was.

The pandemic has prompted a collective awakening, borne from a constant and immediate fear of contagion and death, over cultural priorities. For many people, especially the percentage of workers who remained employed and are able to work remotely, personal productivity — at least in the sense that it means producing the most at work, in the most number of hours — is no longer necessarily even the goal.

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Could Gen Z Free the World From Email?

In 2017, a study found that the average inbox had 199 unread emails. And here, almost 16 months into remote work for many white-collar employees, inboxes have only become more bloated.

But younger workers, who were disproportionately hard-hit by the instability of the pandemic, appear to be reassessing their professional priorities. And maybe they will really be able to do what the work of Mr. Newport — who at 39 is on the elder cusp of millennial — has not been able to do.

Harrison Stevens, 23, started a vintage clothing company while attending the University of Oregon and opened a brick-and-mortar location after graduating in 2020. He started giving clients his personal number and has them text or call him, which he says helps alleviate the load but introduces a new problem of not having clear work-life balance.

Emailing is “almost like a social anxiety people have,” Mr. Stevens said. “I think a lot of people find it easier and more convenient to send a text than compose an email. It almost feels like there are other eyes looking, like, I have to be so professional in this setting and make sure everything is perfect,” he says, noting that there’s something less formal about using your fingers and thumbs on a phone keyboard, rather than a computer keyboard.

For some people, adding texting can complicate communication, introducing multiple ways to be expected to get in touch with someone.

Aurora Biggers, 22, a journalist who recently graduated from George Fox University, said she used to give out her personal number but was getting so many texts that it was infringing on personal time. She thinks her generation is less inclined to use email as their main form of communication. While she likes the work-home boundaries that email offers, she said what she finds most difficult is that there isn’t one standard form of communication. The main problem with email then is not necessarily that there is too much of it, but there is too much competition.

“It’s impossible to expect email to be the main form of communication because so many people aren’t working office jobs or are sitting in an office with an email notification coming through,” she said. “I don’t think it’s the most relevant way to expect people to communicate with you.”

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Look, Just Keep Filling the Chocolate Dish

Send questions about the office, money, careers and work-life balance to workfriend@nytimes.com. Include your name and location, or a request to remain anonymous. Letters may be edited.

I am a senior leader in a large health care system. In my department’s break room, I noticed a small, empty wicker basket. I started to fill it (anonymously) with individually wrapped chocolates I buy personally, as a small morale booster. Every week or so I refill the basket. Last week I walked into the office of one of my direct reports for a brief meeting and noticed on their desk a small pile of Hershey Kisses, likely taken from the basket in the break room.

This employee is a high-performing, outstanding individual. They are also quite overweight. I said nothing of course, but now am wondering: am I contributing to this person’s weight problem, with all its attendant health risks, or am I just doing something nice for the office staff, or both? Do I continue to fill the basket with chocolates?

— Anonymous, New Hampshire

Your employee’s weight is not a problem. Your employee’s weight is none of your business. What they eat is none of your business. Your employee is a high-performing, outstanding individual, in your words. That is all that matters. Their health is not your business and you should not make assumptions about what their health is or is not. Keep filling the basket with chocolates or don’t but stop obsessing about someone else’s public body and private life. It is fatphobic and unkind and unnecessary.

I work as a contractor, freelancing on a large project I really enjoy for a project manager I love — with a co-worker who has me pulling out my hair. We are both working on the same project, for which we bill hourly. We do the same set of tasks, but my colleague works much less and bills more hours. On the list of nearly identical tasks for this project, I’ve completed 75 percent of the tasks to her 25 percent, and our project manager — who doesn’t seem to be aware of the division of labor — recently let slip that my colleague has been billing more hours than I have. I don’t think my colleague is patently dishonest or even a bad person. I think she’s very, very slow and fudges her hours.

I don’t know whether to bring this to my project manager’s attention. Normally, what another person earns is not my affair. And I don’t want to create bad feelings, especially between me and my project manager, for whom I’d like to work a lot more. But the other freelancer and I are paid out of the same pot of money. We’re actually competing for it — for time and for dollars.

My project manager is blinding herself to what’s going on because it’s easier than having to confront an often challenging person. Of course the injustice stings. But I’m not sure I should say anything, though I am the only person in a position to do so.

— Anonymous, California

Your colleague’s business is none of your business. This isn’t injustice. Injustice is … voter suppression or police brutality or any number of truly horrible things. This is frustrating and, perhaps, unfair. I hear your frustration. I do. Our co-workers often do maddening things. They seem to get away with behaviors we would never get away with or even attempt. I want you to think about why this bothers you so much. Why do you care? You don’t think your colleague is “patently dishonest or even a bad person,” right? Your colleague isn’t really taking money you would otherwise receive. She is earning money for work she performs, just like you. If you genuinely think your colleague is doing something nefarious, let your manager know and then it is up to her to handle the matter. If your colleague, however problematic in other ways, just works more slowly and differently, let it go. Or work more slowly, yourself. The only thing you can really control in this situation is you and I don’t think it serves you or your well-being to obsess over this.

In a small argument, not related to work, my husband basically told me I am worthless, that my salary (with benefits) does not make enough compared to the pension he started receiving at age 60 (he’s been unemployed for four years and he is still looking for work). How do I counter this language being thrown in my face?

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The Dead Moose in the Office Next Door

Send questions about the office, money, careers and work-life balance to workfriend@nytimes.com. Include your name and location, or a request to remain anonymous. Letters may be edited.

I live and work in a small European country where the cost of living is less than in the United States. I have someone clean for a half day each week. When I asked for her hourly rate when I hired her, she told me a price much lower than I expected and much lower than I paid in the U.S. I asked several sources, and it seemed to be about the “going rate” for household cleaning. I thought it was enough to be a living wage. It is clear to me now that it is not, and we have raised it to a more just level, I hope.

But I would appreciate your thoughts on how to determine if you are being a just employer when you are a temporary resident of a foreign culture. I am pretty sure some co-workers would think me foolish for paying above the norm, and some would — and have — argued that I am doing her a long-term disservice, because she is unlikely to get the same salary from her next employer. I’m OK with being thought foolish but hope the second part is wrong. What do you think?

— Anonymous

There is nothing foolish about paying someone well or, at the very least, paying them fairly. The mental gymnastics your co-workers are engaging in by suggesting you are doing someone a disservice by paying them too much, are ridiculous. It is a poor reflection on them and how they value the people among whom they live and work. In general, yes, you pay people the wage expected for a local area, but this is not something that should be exploited. The reality is that, particularly for domestic work, people are almost always underpaid. You are not paying your employee too much. In fact, pay her more. Treat her kindly and respectfully. Treat her the same way you would treat an American employee whose labor you value. That is the just thing to do.


I am a photo archivist for a large corporation, recently hired to preserve its historic photography collection. As I process the images, I pull out interesting photos each month to create an internal newsletter showing ones never seen before. Naturally, the social media group wants to use them, and I provide those I have scanned and search for others on request. Recently, members of that team have asked me to write copy for Facebook and Instagram posts. I have done it, but I don’t love it, mostly because the posts are written as a quote with my name attached. I’m comfortable writing background information, not copywriting. Now they are asking me to “do little videos, just 30 seconds long” to talk about my favorite photos. I have severe stage fright and no desire to be on social media. I have expressed my concerns and they are dismissed, and even laughed at. The head of social media used to be a television news reporter, is always camera-ready, and doesn’t understand my trepidation.

I am lucky to have kept this nonessential job during the pandemic and I don’t want to be seen as difficult, but shouldn’t the social media department create this content? Am I out of line?

— Anonymous, Colorado

You are not out of line to not want to add social media content creation to your workload. That is a specialized field beyond your purview. You are not difficult for having professional boundaries and thus far, you have been as much a team player as anyone could expect. That’s lovely of you and it’s something most of us are willing to do, within reason. I am guessing you’re being asked to do this work because as the archivist, you’re the person who works with these images every day and knows them best. That said, you clearly don’t want to do it. Your concerns matter and shouldn’t be dismissed or mocked. Given that your reluctance to make these posts is related to both stage fright and an aversion to social media, it would be totally reasonable to say you’re not willing to do it. Hold that line. It’s also often easier to say no to a request by offering an alternative. Maybe suggest that you can offer two or three talking points for others to draw from as they produce the videos. I don’t get the impression that you report to the social media team, so if you can’t work this out with them, it may be time to discuss the issue with your supervisor so that he or she can clarify, to the social media team, your work responsibilities, and allow you to do the work you were hired for and do best.

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Email, a Modern Expression of Passive Aggression

One of my responsibilities is managing a team in another state. That department is used to a lot of freedom. I’ve implemented structure, and it’s going smoothly. Recently, I’ve come upon a challenge of managing a long-term employee who is also a mother of two small kids.

Prepandemic, this employee would drop her work to stay home if her child was sick. Her role is client facing and appointment-based so rescheduling a full day of appointments on a moment’s notice is disruptive, but when it happens occasionally it’s not a big deal. Now, however, with Covid-19 scares and potential exposures, she has been missing a lot of work and even demanding — on multiple occasions — 14 days off for her kids’ school quarantines. We talked it through and I thought we had come to an agreement about how to proceed, but it came up again and she plainly stated she’s not interested in making a backup plan for these not-so-isolated instances.

She’s loyal and good at her job, albeit doing the minimum. I want to be supportive and provide the appropriate accommodations for parenthood. But how much is too much? At what point is she taking advantage of her status as a senior employee?

— Anonymous, New York

With the pandemic, we’re all having to be more flexible about schedules and fulfilling responsibilities. I commend you for supporting this woman as both an employee and a mother. All employers should do that. When you and your employee mutually agree on a way forward and she doesn’t hold up her part of the bargain, you have a problem that must be managed. She doesn’t have to be interested in making a backup plan for meeting her responsibilities, but she needs to do it anyway. It isn’t up to her.

Refusing to have a backup plan for when the work of raising her family must take precedence is … irresponsible and strange. That is definitely too much. She is, indeed, taking advantage of her seniority. Give her a timeline and your expectations for developing contingencies when necessary. You should also outline consequences if she doesn’t comply and be prepared to follow through on those consequences. There is a mutually beneficial way to accommodate parenthood while supporting your staff members in performing their jobs well. I am confident that you will find it.

I’m in grad school and I work pretty closely with a colleague in another graduate program at a nearby university. Every time I email him directly, he copies my (very wonderful but extremely overworked) adviser on his response. This really irks me because I intentionally leave her off less important email chains, because I know how out of control her work inbox is and I don’t want to clutter it with more irrelevant messages. I also think this makes me look bad — as if I messed up and forgot to include her on all of these email chains, when in fact I intentionally left her off them.

Should I confront my colleague (a fellow grad student) about this behavior and ask him to stop? Or should I let it go and accept that this is just the way he emails?

— Lauren, California

People play all kinds of ridiculous games with email. Think of it as modern expressions of passive aggression. Your colleague is cc’ing your boss so she knows what he is up to. He is trying to make his work visible to a person with power. Or, he doesn’t respect your authority or competence and is looping in the person whose authority he does respect. It’s transparent and annoying, but just let it go. You certainly can ask him to stop but, in doing so, you might create unnecessary drama. This would irk me, too, for the record, but it’s a nuisance you can process in your group chat or with friends over drinks once you’re all vaccinated.

As for your leaving your boss off emails and your concerns about looking bad, it’s a thoughtful gesture, but it is not your job to manage her inbox. She is a grown woman who can handle her professional communication. If she doesn’t want to be copied on this pedant’s emails, she is perfectly capable of letting him know. If it will make you feel better, you can embrace the petty and copy his boss when you email him. He’ll get the message fairly quickly.

Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at workfriend@nytimes.com.

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What Working Too Much Does to Your Body

When these sorts of companies enact work-life policies, why don’t they seem to stick?

Look at the reward structure. You have an OK base salary, but then the bonus is allocated based on how you’re stacking up at the end of the year against your peers. It’s like a tournament. It’s like a race. And all you know is that the people next to you, against whom you will be measured, are just as smart as you. They work just as hard. And so the only lever you have is try to outwork them. These reward structures perpetuate this work ethic.

When an organization says “we value work-life balance, we want our people to not work on weekends, we want blah blah blah” — there is still this competitive structure where people have an incentive to work all they can because others are doing the same thing, and only winners get rewarded.

Churning through talent may work for a company. But you found that many employees choose these grueling schedules, even when they come at great personal cost. One associate told you: “I work hard because I want to.”

The people who get hired at banks have been through performance competitions all their lives. When I talk to students at the beginning of their undergraduate career and ask them, “what do you want to be?” very few want to go into banking.

So what happens? When these firms descend onto campus, people start competing because that’s what they have been conditioned to do throughout their lives. They chase after what everyone else chases after, regardless of whether they actually care about the work. Regardless of whether there are consequences or not, these people want to win.

This is maybe the final part that locks people into these intense work schedules. It is the idea that there is a cadre of individuals who are the best and brightest, and if you don’t keep up the pace you’ll end up at some kind of second-tier firm — part of an undefinable “rest.”

What’s so bad about that?

The people in the best and the brightest group, they have opportunities, they earn a lot, they work with other interesting people, they work on global deals. The rest push paper with uninteresting colleagues and over time, you’ll become like them. That’s what people sincerely believe. They believe that if you don’t work for an elite organization, you fall into an abyss of personal social status descent.

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Revolut Will Allow Employees to Work Abroad for 2 Months a Year

Before the pandemic, companies used to lure top talent with lavish perks like subsidized massages, Pilates classes and free gourmet meals. Now, the hottest enticement is permission to work not just from home, but from anywhere — even, say, from the French Alps or a Caribbean island.

Revolut, a banking start-up based in London, said Thursday that it would allow its more than 2,000 employees to work abroad for up to two months a year in response to requests to visit overseas family for longer periods.

“Our employees asked for flexibility, and that’s what we’re giving them as part of our ongoing focus on employee experience and choice,” said Jim MacDougall, Revolut’s vice president of human resources.

Georgia Pacquette-Bramble, a spokeswoman for Revolut, said she was planning to trade the winter in London for Spain or somewhere in the Caribbean. Other colleagues have talked about spending time with family abroad.

JPMorgan Chase, Salesforce, Ford Motor and Target, have said they are giving up office space as they expect workers to spend less time in the office, and Spotify has told employees they can work from anywhere.

Not all companies, however, are shifting away from the office. Tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, have added office space in New York over the last year. Amazon told employees it would “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.”

Dr. Dan Wang, an associate professor at Columbia Business School, said he did not expect office-centric companies to lose top talent to companies that allow flexible working, in part because many employees prefer to work from the office.

Furthermore, when employees are not in the same space, there are fewer spontaneous interactions, and spontaneity is critical for developing ideas and collaborating, Dr. Wang said.

“There is a cost,” he said. “Yes, we can interact via email, via Slack, via Zoom — we’ve all gotten used to that. But part of it is that we’ve lowered our expectations for what social interaction actually entails.”

Revolut said it studied tax laws and regulations before introducing its policy, and that each request to work from abroad was subject to an internal review and approval process. But for some companies looking to put a similar policy in place, a hefty tax bill, or at least a complicated tax return, could be a drawback.

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