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November 29, 2021 11:06 AM EST

The Virus

The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 10% increase from two weeks earlier, with about 87,000 new cases on Friday. Michigan has the worst level of recent cases per capita and Massachusetts and Illinois are seeing surges from lower per capita levels. About 70% of the US population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 11% has gotten a booster.

  • The Omicron variant identified in southern Africa has sparked new concerns, given its mutations that could possibly make it more contagious or resistant to vaccines.
  • “Its ability to infect people who have recovered from infection and even people who have been vaccinated make us say, ‘This is something you’ve got to pay really close attention to, and be prepared for something that’s serious,'” said Dr. Anthony Fauci.
  • Experts say it is likely to take weeks to assess the effectiveness of existing vaccines against Omicron, and vaccine makers are preparing to update their vaccines if needed.
  • There aren’t any known cases of Omicron in the US as of this writing, but Dr. Fauci and others said that it was possibly already present and just undetected.

The business impact: The S&P 500 stock index fell 2.3% on Friday amid the Omicron concerns. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits hit their lowest level since 1969, as the labor shortage continues. Americans’ concerns about the economy are increasing to their highest point during the pandemic.

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What Else You Need to Know

Plans for return to offices remain all over the place. And it’s possible that the concerns about the Omicron variant will lead organizations to further delay requiring workers to resume working in person; the spread of the Delta variant was a factor in some earlier delays. The fact that it will likely be weeks before the Omicron risk is fully assessed could be especially frustrating for firms planning on a January return.

  • Consider shares in Zoom as a bellwether for the outlook for remote work. They initially dipped this week as the company reported slowing sales growth, a sign of easing demand for videoconferencing as more workers resume in-office work. But with the Omicron news, they rose nearly 6% on Friday, an apparent bet by investors that remote work would remain widespread. (Peloton, another stay-at-home investment play, was also a big Friday gainer.)
  • January return-to-office dates are looming for many organizations. In tech, Google and Apple had set return-to-office deadlines of January and February. Amazon has left the question up to individual teams, with the instruction that workers should hear from their leaders by early January. Meta (formerly known as Facebook) has said it will require some employees to work in offices starting in January, though staff could request to work remotely full-time.
  • Daily in-person attendance at the New York offices of financial-service companies—some of the firms most adamant on returning earlier this year—was still only 27% as of October, well below the 80% level typical prior to the pandemic.

Recruiting firms are struggling to, well, recruit. The Great Resignation and a tight labor market have led to an unprecedented unmet demand for recruiters.

  • Between February 2020 and this past September, the number of listings for recruiters on the job-search site ZipRecruiter has more than doubled.
  • Amid the scramble to fill newly vacated roles, internal hiring remains an overlooked but powerful tool for retention; one LinkedIn study found that internal hires were more likely than new hires to still be with the same company three years after their start date.

Return to workplace speed round:

  • Roughly one-third of unvaccinated workers have said they would lie about their vaccine status—including creating a fake vaccine card—to avoid being fired for non-compliance with employer mandates.
  • At least 600 Google employees have signed a petition protesting the company’s instructions to all workers to report their vaccine status by December 3, regardless of their return-to-office plans. Google also said that everyone working on government contracts must be fully vaccinated.
  • HP said it is enjoying increased commercial demand for computers as companies prepare to reopen their offices.
  • “A lot of people are using holiday parties as the pre-welcome to get people excited to come back into the office,” says caterer Lauren McGeough. She says that a lot of companies are springing for theatrical, over-the-top office parties, and booking them at the last minute.

Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:

  • Ask for favors face-to-face. Research shows you’re more likely to get a “yes” in person than if you make your request over email or text.
  • Pair every critique with a solution. We have a tendency to think of naysayers as more intelligent than people presenting creative ideas, a cognitive bias that can prevent things from moving forward. To overcome it, try implementing a system that Steve Jobs called “plussing”: Every time someone criticizes an idea, they also have to suggest an alternative or a way to improve it.
  • Give extra support to friends of departed employees. When someone close to an employee leaves, that employee is more likely to leave, too. Pay attention to when relationships are disrupted by a departure, and reach out to the worker who remains to ask how you can help them through the transition.
  • Stop asking candidates for reference letters. The practice favors applicants from privileged backgrounds, who are more likely to have a network of potential letter-writers to tap into.
  • Set up rules for Zoom-based conflict resolution. When you’re working through a disagreement with a colleague, it helps to agree to keep cameras on and build in time for breaks.

Coda

Your commute predicts your day. Researchers found that people with less variability in their commute time tended to be higher performers, likely because having a consistent routine cuts down on stress.

  • Workers with more active forms of commuting, like walking to work, were also likelier to be high performers.
  • Lower performers spent more time using their phones during their commutes.

Workers in France aren’t exiting the workforce like they are in other countries. The proportion of working-age people employed or seeking work is at a record high of 74%. (The US labor-force participation rate remains far below pre-pandemic levels.)

  • One possible reason why France’s workforce hasn’t shrunk since the pandemic is that its effective retirement age, at 60.8, is among the lowest in the world.
  • While workers elsewhere took early retirements over the past year, in France many of their peers had already retired.
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