Harvard Study: 3 in 4 US Workers Say Caregiving Responsibilities Affect Their Productivity

Harvard Study: 3 in 4 US Workers Say Caregiving Responsibilities Affect Their Productivity

In recent years, business leaders have become increasingly aware of the caregiving burdens affecting their employees’ lives and, by extension, their organizations. At the same time millennials, who make up the largest generational cohort in the workforce, are settling down and starting families, the baby boomer generation is aging and imposing additional elder care responsibilities on their gen-X and millennial children. In recognition of this burden, many progressive organizations have expanded their leave and flexibility offerings for employees with family caregiving responsibilities, but not all employees enjoy these benefits, particularly in the US, where there is no statutory parental leave entitlement.

A major new report from Harvard Business School underscores the significant toll this caregiving burden places on employees’ productivity, which employers may be underestimating. In their report, The Caring Company, Harvard Business School professor Joseph Fuller and Manjari Raman, program director of the school’s Young American Leaders Program, surveyed 1,500 employees and 300 HR leaders to gauge the impact of caregiving responsibilities on workers’ performance, the extent to which employers recognize this effect, the benefits employers are offering to help employees manage these obligations, and how these benefits are being used.

Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • 80 percent of employees with caregiving responsibilities said caregiving affected their productivity, but only 24 percent of employers thought caregiving influenced performance, and 52 percent of employers don’t measure the extent of their employees’ caregiving burdens. Employers recognize, however, that work issues such as unplanned absences, late arrivals and early departures from work — which often arise as a result of caregiving obligations — negatively affect employees’ career progression.
  • 32 percent of all employees said they had voluntarily left a job during their career due to caregiving responsibilities. The impact is particularly acute among millennial employees: 50 percent of employees aged 26-35 and 27 percent of employees aged 18-25 said they had already left a job due to caregiving responsibilities.
  • Among those who had left a job, 57 percent said they had done so to take care of a newborn or adopted child, 49 percent to care for a sick child, 43 percent to manage a child’s needs, 32 percent to take care of an elder family member, and nearly 25 percent left to take care of an ill or disabled family member. The most common reasons they gave for leaving their jobs were that they could not find or afford paid help, or because they were unable to meet their work responsibilities and provide care at the same time.

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In Construction Worker Shortage, US Cities See Opportunity for Struggling Residents

In Construction Worker Shortage, US Cities See Opportunity for Struggling Residents

With the tightest labor market in decades, US employers in most industries are having a hard time filling roles. One sector that is especially hurting for workers is construction, where the labor shortage coincides with growing demand for housing and commercial development in American cities large and small. There’s a lot of work to be done, but not enough people to do it.

At the same time as unemployment is historically low, however, many Americans are underemployed, not looking for work, or lacking in marketable job skills. Some cities are now looking at the construction worker shortage as a chance to help improve the skills, incomes, and employability of underserved populations. The New York Times took a look at what these cities are doing in a recent feature:

Facing a tight labor pool, developers, public officials and community organizations are using commercial projects to provide residents with careers in construction. Together, they’re making an effort to recruit men and women from impoverished neighborhoods or challenged populations, such as former prison inmates. In booming markets like San Francisco, Denver and Miami, where gentrification is squeezing affordable housing, demand for these types of programs is growing.

The training programs are also occurring in smaller markets. In Milwaukee, for example, Gorman & Company, an apartment developer, has teamed up with city, state and community agencies to give former inmates on-the-job training restoring dilapidated, tax-foreclosed homes, which are then rented to low-income earners.

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Microsoft Teams Makes a Play for Retail and Service Sectors

Microsoft Teams Makes a Play for Retail and Service Sectors

Workplace collaboration platforms are already an office staple for professionals working “desk jobs” in fields like technology and media, but these tools are less common among frontline employees in hands-on roles. Nearly two years after its global launch, Microsoft’s workplace collaboration platform Teams has added a series of new features to improve its functionality for workers in fields like retail, hospitality, healthcare, and manufacturing. The latest upgrade was rolled out last week, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reported, including:

  • [A] new customizable mobile experience comes with a series of features specifically for workers on the go, such as location sharing, smart camera and the ability to record and share audio messages.
  • Teams will now include a template to help IT managers grant individual employees access to the features they need.
  • Microsoft is working on a set of APIs, which will debut in public preview later this quarter, that will allow companies to integrate workforce management tools that handle things like scheduling and payroll directly into Teams.
  • Coming later this quarter, Microsoft is enabling a Praise feature, which allows employers to call out important contributions from workers.

This announcement comes just a few months after Microsoft showcased a series of new features for “first-line” workers at its Ignite developer conference in September. These included scheduling tools that enable users create and share schedules, swap shifts, request time off, and access announcements from their employers. Microsoft also revealed that it had a secure patient care coordination tool in private preview as part of an effort to bring Teams into the health care field.

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Flu Season Poised to Cost US Employers Billions Again This Year

Flu Season Poised to Cost US Employers Billions Again This Year

The flu season is upon us in the northern hemisphere, with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting this week that the annual spike in influenza cases was just starting (later than usual) and that this year’s flu appeared to be hitting children particularly hard. While this year may not be as bad as last year, when the annual flu vaccine was only about 30 percent effective against the highly virulent H3N2 strain, which put large numbers of Americans in the hospital, the flu is a perennial winter health hazard, particularly in the close confines of a shared workspace. Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that this year’s flu could cost US employers over $17 billion in lost productivity. That’s not as much as the $21 billion it estimated for last year, but still would represent a meaningful dent in the economy:

Last year’s flu season sickened nearly 49 million people, 32.5 million of whom were over the age of 25, according to the CDC’s age breakdown of flu infections for the 2017-18 season. Last season was the worst since 2009, when that year’s H1N1 strain sickened an estimated 60.8 million people, with more than 40 million of those affected over the age of 18.

Challenger predicts 20 million workers could take four eight-hour days away from work due to the flu. Using the current employment-population ratio of 60.6 percent, and the average hourly wage of $27.48, the cost to employers could hit $17,587,200,000 over the course of the season.

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New Studies Challenge Conventional Wisdom on Gig Economy, Skills Gap

New Studies Challenge Conventional Wisdom on Gig Economy, Skills Gap

Over the past decade, particularly in the US, there has been considerable debate over whether the labor market trends we were seeing represented fundamental shifts in the economy or business-cycle responses to the Great Recession that followed the 2008 financial crisis and the long, slow recovery. In new studies, two of these trends—the skills gap and the gig economy—are reconsidered in light of new data, with researchers finding that phenomena they once thought were secular may actually have just been products of the recession after all.

Economists Alan Krueger and Lawrence Katz made headlines in 2016 when they released the results of a survey they had conducted the year before, which found a major jump in the number of Americans making a living in “alternative work” arrangements (i.e., not in regular, full-time employment), though gig economy platforms like Uber made up a small fraction of this contingent labor market. At the time, Krueger and Katz found that around 16 percent of the American workforce were engaged in this type of work, compared to 10 percent in 2005. Follow-up work indicated that alternative work accounted for almost all of the jobs created since 2005.

Now, the leading economists of the gig economy say their initial study overestimated its impact, the Wall Street Journal reported this week. In a new paper, Krueger and Katz look at new evidence and conclude that their 2015 survey overstated the size of the contingent workforce because of a weak labor market and the impact of the recession. Many of the alternative jobs they counted were stopgap jobs people took to make ends meet while they were unable to find full-time work. Once the economy and their job prospects improved, these gig workers returned to more traditional employment. The vast difference in the health of the US economy between 2005 and 2015 skewed the data.

Accordingly, the economists now revise their estimate of the growth of alternative work during that period to a 1 or 2 percentage-point increase, not 5. This brings their findings more in line with other recent studies that have painted more modest pictures of the gig economy—including the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2017 Contingent Worker Supplement survey, which claimed the alternative workforce had actually shrunk since the last time the survey was conducted in 2005. At the same time, Krueger and Katz argue in their new paper that the surveys used to measure alternative work arrangements, including those conducted by the Labor Department, are seriously flawed (the huge gap in the BLS data due to the dozen years when the survey wasn’t conducted is part of the problem).

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US Job Market Finishes 2018 Strong, but Talent Challenges Remain

US Job Market Finishes 2018 Strong, but Talent Challenges Remain

The US jobs numbers for December, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday, exceeded expectations by a wide margin with the economy adding 312,000 jobs last month, while figures from October and November were revised upward by a combined total of 58,000. It was the best month of job growth since February 2018, when 324,000 jobs were created. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had forecast just around 176,000 new jobs, according to CNBC.

The unemployment rate increased slightly from 3.7 to 3.9 percent in December, but for a good reason: not because workers lost their jobs, but rather because 419,000 new job seekers entered the labor force. The unemployment rate has fallen from 4.1 percent since December 2017, while the workforce expanded by nearly 2.6 million people. With the final report for the year, the US added an average of 220,000 jobs a month in 2018. Wages also grew in December by 0.4 percent over the previous month and 3.2 percent over the previous year, tying with October for the best year-over-year increase since April 2009 and indicating that the tight labor market is finally leading to higher pay for US employees.

“It appears that higher wages are the reason why people are returning to the active labor force in large numbers,” Paul Ashworth, chief US Economist with Capital Economics, commented to CNN, adding that wage growth might spook investors by suggesting that the Federal Reserve would proceed with its planned schedule of interest rate hikes this year. Ashworth added in a note reported by CNBC that the big jump in jobs “would seem to make a mockery of market fears of an impending recession,” while Jim Baird, chief investment officer for Plante Moran Financial Advisors, told the network: “Employers, it would seem, didn’t get the memo from Mr. Market that it’s time to tighten their belts.”

Nonetheless, the robust jobs report comes amid market jitters over the possibility of an overheated economy, missed earnings projections from some major US companies, and concerns about the domestic impact of President Donald Trump’s trade policies toward China. In remarks after the report was released on Friday, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank was prepared to adjust monetary policy in response to changing economic conditions, meaning it could ease up on raising interest rates if the economy shows signs of trouble. Powell described the jobs report as encouraging, saying the rise in wages “does not raise concerns about too-high inflation” and would not prompt the Fed to accelerate rate increases, the New York Times reported.

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Tech Giants Plant Flags in Established and Emerging Talent Hubs

Tech Giants Plant Flags in Established and Emerging Talent Hubs

After a yearlong search that saw cities compete for its favor, Amazon announced in November that it had picked two locations rather than one for its second headquarters (“HQ2”) project: the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, New York, and the Crystal City area in Arlington, Virginia, a major suburb of Washington, DC. The choices proved controversial, as the tech giant had made a spectacle of courting many bidders that may never have had a chance, while both New York and Virginia are giving Amazon generous subsidies to set up shop in their states, despite the fact that these locales are strategically desirable locations for tech companies anyway.

While some observers had speculated that Amazon would pick an up-and-coming city in the US heartland, where the introduction of such a huge employer would transform the local economy, in the end, the choice came down to talent, and the New York and DC areas simply offered better access to talent than any other city Amazon was considering. (It’s also setting up a smaller operations center in Nashville, Tennessee — more on that later.) It’s no coincidence, Recode’s Jason Del Rey observed at the time, that the winning bidders were among the country’s leading tech talent hubs:

[W]hat do you see when you look at rankings of the top technology talent pools in the U.S.? Only two metro areas rank above the Washington, D.C., metro area: The San Francisco Bay Area, which Amazon never considered, and Seattle, the home of Amazon’s original headquarters. At No. 3, Washington, D.C., makes a lot of sense. Fourth is Toronto — but despite its booming tech scene, Amazon never gave any hints that it would seriously consider a big move across the border. Which brings us to No. 5 on the tech talent list: New York City.

Ultimately, Amazon decided it needed two cities — whether it always knew this or not is up for debate — to meet its hiring demands and to reduce some of the potential downsides that Seattle has experienced as a result of Amazon’s 45,000-employee footprint there.

Establishing these new headquarters will take years, the Wall Street Journal added this month, perhaps as much as a decade, because Amazon plans to do most of its hiring for them locally rather than relocate workers from its home base in Seattle. By the end of next year, the company plans to add 400 employees in Crystal City and 700 in Queens — out of an expected total of 25,000 in each city by 2028, assuming the e-commerce giant continues its trajectory of rapid growth.

Amazon’s decision underscores the importance of talent communities for major companies making strategic planning decisions with regard to location. While many workers in tech and other digitally-enabled professions can work remotely today, most organizations still prefer to recruit and base the bulk of their workforce in centrally located offices, so it pays to set up shop in a place where the talent you need already lives or would be willing to move.

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