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December 6, 2021 11:38 AM EST

The fate of the office holiday party is up in the air. The arrival of Omicron has added uncertainty to whether businesses will push forward with the year-end in-person festivities many were planning. Party planners had reported that companies were booking over-the-top spectacles, some to get employees excited about going back to their offices.

  • The nightmare scenario already played out in Oslo: As many as 100 people could have Covid in connection with Norwegian renewable power producer Scatec’s recent Christmas party, with at least 13 Omicron cases linked to the festivities.
  • The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) fielded more than 500 inquiries between last Friday and this past Tuesday from members looking for guidance on whether to proceed with their events.
  • Companies proceeding with in-person parties tend to be smaller startups with fewer people on staff, according to SHRM; meanwhile, event planners are fielding more requests for help planning virtual activities and gifts.
  • Many companies, including Meta and Google, had already decided against hosting an in-person holiday party before the new variant emerged. Some have opted for creative alternatives to boost morale: Paypal has launched an employee-volunteer campaign to run through the end of the year, culminating in a virtual party. Pinterest has provided employees with charitable-giving stipends and BetterUp has done the same, in addition to instituting regular company-wide breaks throughout the month.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said people should consider the size of a gathering and vaccination status of attendees when deciding whether to attend a holiday party, but stopped short of saying that the fully vaccinated should alter their holiday plans.

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Travel will likely take a hit as countries ramp up restrictions to curb Omicron’s spread. The White House rolled out new travel regulations, including the requirement that all travelers entering the US from abroad have a negative Covid test within a day of departure. The UK and Canada introduced similar measures, while Japan and Israel have closed their borders to non-residents and Australia has halted plans to reopen to some foreign nationals.

  • The Biden administration has also extended the federal mask mandate for planes, trains, and other forms of transit, previously in effect through January, through March.
  • Industry events and conferences are being postponed or called off in the wake of new global travel restrictions and last-minute attendee cancellations, including the EuroMedLab Congress, the International Broadcasting Convention, and gatherings of the World Trade Organization and the African Development Bank.
  • EasyJet reported that it was seeing more rescheduled flights than cancellations, and United CEO Scott Kirby said that while the airline has seen some cancellations, he anticipates Omicron will have a smaller effect on bookings than Delta has.
  • Fitch Ratings downgraded its forecast for the airline industry’s recovery in 2021 and 2022, predicting that air traffic will return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024.

Goldman Sachs introduced paid leave for pregnancy loss. The benefit is part of a package of changes meant to help with retention, including extended bereavement leave and increased company matching for employee retirement funds.

  • Earlier this year, Pittsburgh became the first city in the US to mandate paid leave following a miscarriage or stillbirth. The US currently has no federal measure in place, and the Support Through Loss Act, which would provide three days of paid leave, has stalled in Congress.

Layoffs last month hit their lowest point since 1993, according to US government data, a testament to the current tight state of the labor market.

  • More and more workers are also choosing self-employment. Since the start of the pandemic, half a million more people have begun to work for themselves; in October, nearly 6% of US workers were self-employed, an 11-year high.
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Return to workplace speed round:

  • Roughly three quarters of managers in a recent survey said they’d want job candidates to list their Covid vaccination status on their resume. Just over a third said they’d screen out any candidate who left off that information.
  • Google has delayed its return-to-office date amid rising cases of the Omicron variant. The company originally set a January target for most employees to come in three days a week, but said in a staff email that it would revisit its timing in the new year.
  • Employees at the headquarters of the Spanish clothing brand Desigual have agreed to take a 6.5% pay cut in exchange for a four-day workweek.
  • Major League Baseball is expanding its backup caregiving benefits to ease the transition back to the office, offering employees access to babysitting and pet-sitting networks and elder-care support, among other services.
  • The Biden Administration has issued guidance for how to handle federal workers who failed to comply with the government’s November 22 vaccination deadline, telling agencies that firing wasn’t yet necessary. Instead, the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management encouraged “robust education and counseling efforts.” As of this past week, around 92% of federal workers were at least partially vaccinated.

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

  • Improve your do-to-say ratio. That’s the number of times you say you’ll get something done compared to the number of times you actually follow through. Ideally, that ratio will be around 1:1.
  • Plan around your charisma window. Research has shown that charisma tends to ebb and flow according to our circadian rhythms. If you’re most alert later in the day, that’s also when you’ll be at your most compelling. On the flip side, early birds would be better off scheduling presentations and high-stakes conversations for the morning.
  • Treat rest as a skill to hone. It’s okay if it takes your mind a while to settle into recharge mode: the more you practice, the more you’ll improve. Get into the habit of noticing the conditions that help you relax and the conditions that hinder you, and you can adjust accordingly.

Coda

Hybrid meetings may soon be less terrible. Or at least less noisy: Several makers of videoconferencing platforms, including Zoom, Google, and Webex, have said they’re focusing on improving user experience, with tweaks in the works to cut down on background sound and improve face and voice clarity.

The most psychologically satisfying level of busyness is… pretty busy. In a new paper, researchers found that having too little to do can be as stressful as having way too much. But having just a bit too much on your plate—what the study authors called “optimal busyness”—can lead to a pleasurable state of flow.

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