A simple workplace solution: flexibility

Companies often discuss ideas like the four-day workweek or paid sabbaticals to keep employees happy. But they're skirting a simple concept that's more impactful: flexibility.

More than 80% of people want location flexibility, according to a Future Forum study from earlier this year. But what more workers — 93% of them — want is schedule flexibility. My colleague Tim Paradis and I chatted with experts about implementing workplace flexibility.

"It's about giving people more control over their workweeks so that they can balance the things that are important at work and personally," Ryan Anderson, the VP of Global Research and Insights at MillerKnoll, told me.

Flexibility can apply to many things: location, schedule, process, toolset, and other factors. However, employers seem more keen to adopt the latest workplace trends. In reality, those are bandages for a larger issue.

"The hardest part for leaders or managers to embrace is that it's going to look different for everyone to some degree because everyone's definition of balance is going to look different," Kristen Lipton, a managing director at Gallup, told me.

Lipton compared workplace trends to fad diets and gimmicks. At the end of the day, nothing can replace the results from a healthy foundation.

A woman straddling 2 fracturing planes each representing home vs. office.
Julie Tran/Insider

Most companies can likely be more flexible than they realize, but it starts with the manager.

"It can begin with policies — and even better, principles — to help convey what is permissible or not within an organization," Anderson told me, "and from there, it requires new ways of supporting these work practices."

famous Gallup study found the largest factor between an engaged team and a burnt-out one is the manager. If employees have one meaningful conversation with their leader or manager per week, it keeps them much more engaged.

"Through that one meaningful conversation, you could absolutely unpack these desires, these alignments to strengths: What does flexibility mean to you?" Lipton told me. Managers serve as the "translator" between company expectations and helping their direct reports thrive.

Managers should also take advantage of flexible work policies. Their actions show everyone that flexibility is part of the workplace culture.

Lipton and Anderson both told me that conversations around flexibility took place before the pandemic, but its onset accelerated things.

"The mechanism — the way that you deliver on these things — forever has changed," Lipton told me. "It's creating some sense of ownership and control and choices within the boundaries of the day."

3 things in travel

The Stratolaunch Roc is shown from below on a blue sky background. A vehicle is strapped to its underside.
Stratolaunch's Roc is shown carrying a Talon-A rocket. 
  1. The world's biggest plane just reached another milestone. The Stratolaunch Roc has wings longer than a football field that help it bring heavy payloads like planes and rockets into the air. The massive plane just flew with a fully-fueled hypersonic vehicle prototype for the first time.
  2. How to bid your way to business-class seats and save money doing it. The author details how she and her husband successfully bid for an upgrade. They saved $1,700 on the original cost of the upgrade and felt like they won the lottery.
  3. What it's like attending Finland's all-expense paid masterclass on happiness. The course flew foreigners to the country to teach them how to be happy like the Finns. One of the biggest takeaways was the importance of being grateful for what you have.

3 things in careers

Bottles of Coca-Cola
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  1. The 10 companies that give the biggest raises, best promotions, and have the strongest cultures. Out of 396 of the US's largest employers, companies like Coca-Cola and Bank of America made the top 10. Rankings were based on factors like hiring, pay, promotion, culture, and parity.
  2. The age of AI means finding new ways to impress your boss. Improving soft skills like collaboration and leadership to stay relevant will be key, and understanding why your work matters becomes even more important.
  3. Former Microsoft VP of HR shares what to do in the first 48 hours after being laid off. Chris Williams cautioned that you shouldn't sign a layoff package as soon as they offer it to you. Instead, consider negotiating different aspects of the severance package.

3 things in life

Taylor Swift fans and the Eras tour in Denver on July 14.
"Swifties" are seen at the Denver Eras tour concert on July 14. 
Grace Smith/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
  1. Next year's spending outlook: More concerts and more travel. Live events from artists like Taylor Swift and Beyonce brought in major money and reshaped the economy in 2023. Studies show spending on events is likely just getting started. People are putting in time and effort to attend concerts, including waiting for tickets and wearing the perfect outfit.
  2. The daily routines of three men who claim they've reversed their biological age. One is a tech entrepreneur, another is a doctor, and the third is a scientist. They each follow plant-based diets and exercise regularly, which are well-known longevity strategies.
  3. "My immigrant parents were scammed out of their entire life savings." The local police department and an FBI agent showed up at their parents' house. An account his dad had wired money to was suspected of fraud and scamming elderly people. They had lost everything.

The Biden presidency inherited a succession of unprecedented crises. These crises affected the entire world and produced much worse economic outcomes in peer countries: We had a once-in-a-century pandemic that killed millions of people and shut down entire industries. As president, you get credit for things when things are good, and you get blamed when things are bad, even when they are out of your control.

It is worth taking a look at what, exactly, Americans have been hearing about the economy over the past three years

We saw this in 2019 when Donald Trump had done nothing to help the American economy. In fact, he tried his best to hurt it, with massive tax cuts for the wealthy and a ridiculous trade war. But he still presided over an economy that was finally recovering after a financial crisis, and he got the credit.

We also saw it in 2020, to a certain extent, when Covid annihilated the U.S. economy — and Trump lost. Once Biden took over — basically from the very moment he was sworn in — we were inundated with negative messaging about the economy. Some of it was rooted in real crises that the administration had to tackle. Some of it was overhyped.

Now, this collective freakout about the economy happened across the media ecosystem, but it was most pronounced on Fox News. So it is worth taking a look at what, exactly, Americans have been hearing about the economy over the past three years, and comparing that with actual circumstances and how the Biden White House has responded. 

Let’s start with the labor issue: Biden took office amid an unprecedented global pandemic. Remember, there was not even a widely available vaccine when he was sworn in. As a result, the Biden administration continued the economic stimulus from the Trump pandemic response, including additional direct cash payments and an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits.

Fox News’ response to labor shortages amid a deadly global pandemic was endless coverage about how, suddenly, no one wanted to work anymore. 

To be fair, some businesses did have trouble finding workers. It was a real challenge for the White House, especially when the Delta variant hit that summer and more than a 100,000 people were still being hospitalized every week. But then what happened? Well, the Biden administration continued its vaccination campaign and the virus subsided to a level where people were comfortable going to work in person. Equally as importantly, his bold agenda of economic stimulus worked. Unemployment dropped massively, from 6.3 percent when Biden took office to 3.7 percent in the last jobs report. People definitely want to work.

Unemployment dropped massively, from 6.3 percent when Biden took office to 3.7 percent in the last jobs report.

Once the job numbers improved, Fox News mostly moved off the “nobody wants to work anymore” narrative. There was a new boogeyman in town: the supply chain. These issues were also very real, especially in the aftermath of Covid. But Fox took the opportunity, starting all the way back in October 2021, to spin the yarn that Biden was responsible for the supply chain issues and, apparently, doing it to ruin Christmas for America’s children. 

But months before Fox started its latest war on Christmas, Biden had put together a task force to combat supply chain issues. By the fall, he announced that the Port of Los Angeles would be working 24/7 to clear the backlog, as well as that additional investments from USPS and FedEx would make sure packages got moving. By November, the heads of a bunch of major retail companies were shouting from the rooftops that no supply chain issue was affecting holiday shopping. In fact, holiday spending in 2021 grew nearly 15 percent from the year before, shattering all kinds of records. Crisis averted: The presents were under the tree.

It wasn’t just Christmas presents, either. Early last year, the Biden administration was also dealing with a very real and very scary shortage of baby formula. They put together another plan to increase supply and fix allocation issues, which were caused by a shuttered factory and a product recall. The White House later declared that production had actually increased year-over-year under its watch. By October, shelf stock rates were back where they had been before the crisis started.

At this point, Biden had been president for two years, and the midterm elections were approaching. Republicans did not have much to run on, especially after the Dobbs decision struck down abortion rights. Their best hope was to run on the economy, specifically inflation, which had been spiking because of the hot labor market and lingering disruptions from the pandemic.

Fox News did its level best to act as the messaging arm of the Republican Party, spending day after day after day talking about “eggflation.” The price of eggs is an interesting case, in that it really wasn’t about inflation at all. In early 2022, an avian flu outbreak killed tens of millions of egg-laying chickens. This is yet another example of a supply crunch out of the president’s control. And guess what? The ship corrected course. Farmers raised new chickens, and egg prices came right back down. Your omelet was no longer in danger.

Fox saved the big guns for “the pain at the pump.” Amid a major land war in Europe and a mass blockade of Russian oil, gas was averaging more than $5 a gallon. Now, for better or for worse (in my opinion, for worse), domestic oil production is booming under Biden. We’re producing more oil than Saudi Arabia and Russia. Gas prices are down from their peak last year, with the national average hovering at about $3.22 a gallon, the lowest in nearly a year following a steady decline.

The story of the Biden presidency so far has been this series of metaphorical meteors hitting the Earth, unexpected and in many cases unprecedented.

These days, you don’t really hear Fox News talking too much about the price of gas. Or eggs. Or baby formula. Or Christmas presents.

So the story of the Biden presidency so far has been this series of metaphorical meteors hitting the Earth, unexpected and in many cases unprecedented crises that the White House had to attend to. Each one has caused huge cycles of enormous, around-the-clock panic across the media.

In every case, the Biden administration attempted to do something about the problem. In many cases, they saw real, tangible success. They quietly did their job, then moved on to the next crisis.

That is not the message getting through on Fox News. No, the message on Fox is that the entire economy is going to collapse any minute now, and a recession is imminent.

Except that according to a recent survey of business economists, the overwhelming majority of them — more than 75 percent! — do not believe a recession is likely. The fundamentals of the economy are much sounder than you might think: GDP is booming, and more importantly, real wages are rising. This means wages are rising faster than inflation, allowing working people more purchasing power. In fact, the largest wage gains have happened in the bottom 40% of workers. The recession that Fox News promised is now far from certain.

We are left in this weird environment where people genuinely feel very bad about the economy. The weird thing about the way that credit and blame work in the public consciousness is that presidents get blamed for the bad stuff and praised for the good. Even though the Fed, say, has more to do with cooling inflation than the White House does.

But Biden is not getting the praise he deserves. If you are evaluating presidential performance, you have to keep the rules consistent.  Donald Trump and his buddies on Fox News want to praise him for the great economy from 2017 through 2019 while ignoring the 2020 disaster that unfolded under his watch. They want you to believe Trump’s term only lasted three years, then he just disappeared before Biden took over, when a bunch of bad stuff happened under his watch.

The record, however, shows that Trump oversaw the biggest job loss in American history, along with mass death and abject disaster. You might argue that was not all Trump’s fault — true enough. But then inflation and the supply chain and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and spiking gas prices and shipping backlogs are not Biden’s fault, either. 

Biden got to work putting together an economic vision totally opposite to Trump's. As Biden likes to say, an economy from the middle up and from the bottom up. It’s produced tangible benefits, and it has been the best economic performance of a president, under very difficult conditions, that this nation has seen since FDR.

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