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We can't avoid a recession by working harder

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. I can’t stop thinking about this ridiculous person who wrote to Ask a Manager to ask if they should be able to switch teams because one of their co-workers adopted a dog from a breeder instead of a shelter. TL;DR: no. Today Zuck tells his Metamates to “turn the heat up,” but experts say blaming workers for the downturn is not ideal. Malcolm Gladwell is the internet’s least favorite return-to-work outlier, and the gender pay gap starts earlier than you think.

— Meg Morrone, senior editor (email | twitter)

Don’t blame the worker

In the past few weeks Mark and Sundar have told their Metamates and Googlers that given threats of a recession, workers need to buckle down. Zuckerberg wants to “[turn] up the heat” and Pichai wants to see “more hunger” from employees. Leaders across the country are likely holding similar “we need to be more productive” conversations — it’s a better alternative to layoffs and hiring freezes, after all.

But how do you handle that conversation delicately, in a way that doesn’t alienate employees? Vaguely gesturing toward the need for workers to be more productive can be at best unhelpful and at worst stressful to the point where they lose all focus.

  • You don’t want your productivity pep talk to place blame on workers. Sure, every company has some slackers, but are they the cause of the company’s large-scale financial problems? That’s highly unlikely.
  • Timing is everything. It’s easier to identify declining productivity when times are bad, but ideally you shouldn’t have let it get to that point.
  • “Individual employees can be mess-ups, and they should be held accountable,” Steve McElfresh, founder of HR Futures, said. “But if it’s at such a level as to affect the fundamental success of the organization, that is not a failure of individual contributors, that is a failure of management.”

Productivity is hard to measure and pinpoint. The metrics are different for every role, and are especially difficult to quantify in software jobs. It’s part of the problem with issuing a productivity ultimatum.

  • “People have attempted for many years in the software world to create metrics that can measure individual employee productivity, and they just don’t work,” said David Hanrahan, former CHRO of Eventbrite. “So I'd be immediately suspicious if I heard any software CEO who says, ‘I believe our individual productivity is down.’ Well, how are you measuring that?”
  • McElfresh thinks that the only true way to measure productivity is via skilled, personalized managers. Anything else can and will be gamed, he said.
  • On the macro level, though, productivity becomes easier to measure. A detailed analysis might reveal you could get the same level of work done with fewer people.

You don’t have to sacrifice flexibility when asking employees to focus on the work. “It’s not an either-or,” said executive coach Mikaela Kiner. “I think sometimes people can confuse flexibility versus accountability and performance.”

Read the full story.

— Lizzy Lawrence, reporter (email| twitter)

The tipping point for back-to-the-office mansplaining

“The Tipping Point” and “Outliers” author and podcaster Malcolm Gladwell became one of Twitter’s main characters on Monday after comments he made about remote work went viral. “It’s not in your best interest to work at home,” Gladwell says in a YouTube video. And “If you’re just sitting in your bedroom in your pajamas, is that the work life you want to live?”

These quotes and others that remote work advocates found objectionable came from the intro to the podcast, so it’s likely that most people raging on Twitter didn’t listen to the podcast in its entirety and that the comments were taken out of context. Many of those tweeting and substacking probably just don’t like Gladwell for all the other reasons there are not to like him (there are many).

The common argument is that managers want workers back in the office to make sure they’re actually working. But Gladwell’s argument is that managers should want workers back in the office so they won’t quit and go work somewhere else. Gladwell believes that remote workers lack a sense of belonging and that that lack will make them want to leave the job. Whether or not this is a “core psychological truth,” as Gladwell says, is debatable. But one thing that’s not debatable is that workers have very strong opinions about remote work and forcing unwilling people back to the office for their own good is very likely to backfire.

Watch: Working from home is destroying us.

— Meg Morrone, senior editor (email | twitter)


Chip shortage could undermine national security: The global shortage of semiconductors has impeded the production of everything from pickup trucks to PlayStations. But there are graver implications than a scarcity of consumer goods. If the U.S. does not ensure continued domestic access to leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing, experts say our national security could suffer.

Read more from Micron

Around the internet

A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.

According to data from 1.7 million former students, the pay gap between men and women develops only about three years after graduation. Men’s median wages exceeded women’s by 10% or more. At Georgetown University, male graduates made 55% more than women. (The Wall Street Journal).

Bored at work? Try incorporating Beyoncé songs into your daily tasks. (Digg)

Some personnel news: layoffs at SoftBank’s Vision Fund after a disappointing quarter. (Bloomberg)

Another company is trying very hard to convince people to work in a virtual office that looks like Second Life. (TechCrunch)


Chip shortage could undermine national security: To ensure American security, prosperity and technological leadership, industry leaders say the U.S. must encourage domestic manufacturing of chips in order to reduce our reliance on East Asia producers for crucial electronics components.

Read more from Micron

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