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Earlier this week, we tuned into Work/23: The Big Shift, a virtual summit from MIT Sloan Management Review about navigating some of the most important challenges workplace leaders face right now.

One of the standout ideas from the event came from the closing presentation by Andrew Barnes, founder of 4 Day Week Global. Barnes argued that moving to a four-day workweek is a feminist act. We’ve previously covered several positive outcomes of four-day workweek trials in terms of productivity and performance, burnout and job satisfaction, and retention and attraction. 4 Day Week Global’s analysis of multiple global trials also suggests the four-day workweek could be a boon to gender equality at home. Women experienced better outcomes in terms of burnout, life and job satisfaction, and mental health, and men reported spending 22% more time on child care.

Other useful takeaways from the event:

Audit your “career accelerator” roles as part of your diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy. Haig R. Nalbantian, co-founder of Workforce Sciences, shared his research on data-driven DEI strategies to demonstrate the importance of certain career experiences in promotions and mobility later on. Those experiences include reporting to a high-performing supervisor or holding “career accelerator” roles, which he defined as “roles that no matter who you are, if you touch them in your career, it increases the likelihood that good things are going to happen to you from a career standpoint.”

For example, he explained, supervisory roles are often career accelerators, but “women and people of color are less likely to be in supervisor roles. And for women very often, even if they get to supervisor positions, it’s later in their career relative to comparable men.” Nalbantian found that women and people of color were similarly less likely to be in other kinds of accelerator roles and report to high-performing supervisors.

Removing degree requirements is only the first step of moving to skills-based hiring. Many employers have championed skills-based hiring as a way to diversify workforces, but “even if you are to remove the degree requirement from your job descriptions, if you continue to source talent in the same way as you have previously, you will continue to get the same results,” said Beth Berwick, partner at DEI consultancy Grads of Life. Instead, she encouraged employers to follow through with community partnerships that actually diversify hiring pipelines. Consider offering apprenticeship programs that upskill workers and prepare them for a permanent position, or partnering with community colleges or other training programs to place new hires.

Optimism is a key skill associated with achieving workplace success and preventing extreme failure at work, argued Martin Segilman and Gabriella Rosen Kellerman, co-authors of Tomorrowmind. According to the pair’s research, optimism is one of five drivers of resilience, along with emotional regulation, cognitive agility, self-compassion, and self-efficacy. The good news is that “all of these drivers can be measured and taught,” said Segilman.

For individuals, Segilman recommended a mental exercise to deal with pessimism: When you find yourself catastrophizing, imagine that those negative thoughts are coming from a third party “whose mission in life is to make you miserable.” Then, construct your arguments against the anonymous hater. You can visualize this process when facing a difficult situation by drawing a line with “worst possible outcome,” “best possible outcome,” and “most likely outcomes” at either endpoint and the midpoint. Then brainstorm and plot potential outcomes beyond the most catastrophic one.

Use “power questions” to help employees chart career paths and boost retention. George Westerman, senior lecturer at MIT Sloan and founder of the Global Opportunity Initiative, cited a statistic from a 2022 McKinsey report that a lack of career development and advancement was the top reason employees said they were leaving jobs.

To keep employees engaged, build opportunities for career pathing into existing talent-management structures. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, for example, recently expanded the self-evaluation portion of its performance review process to include “power questions,” or questions that make employees think deeply about their own career trajectory:

  • Where do you want to go in your career, and what’s your target role at UPMC?
  • What tools and resources, knowledge, and skills do you need to get there?
  • How can your manager assist you?
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