JOIN US MAY 24: A consultant who’s worked with the US Army will explain how to prevent and recover from burnout

paula davis
Paula Davis is the founder and CEO of the Stress and Resilience Institute.

Paula Davis calls herself a “recovering people-pleasing perfectionist achieve-aholic.” As a commercial real estate lawyer, she tried to exceed expectations in her incredibly demanding job. One day she wound up in the hospital for stress-induced stomach aches.

Today Davis is the founder and CEO of the Stress & Resilience Institute, where she helps redesign work cultures at the likes of Walgreens and Coca-Cola. She studied positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and joined the university’s team that taught resilience skills to the US Army.

Davis’ new book, “Beating Burnout at Work,” arrives amid reports of burnout across industries, from consulting and law to finance, with a recent Microsoft survey finding that over half of workers worldwide said they felt overworked.

Join us Monday, May 24, at 11 a.m. EST/8 a.m. PST as Insider correspondent Shana Lebowitz interviews Davis live about tackling burnout head-on – both as a manager and as an employee.

We’ll discuss how the pandemic has made employers more willing to address burnout, the perils of having your identity wrapped up in your job, and why preventing burnout is about structural overhauls as well as microchanges, or tweaks to your workday that make it more fulfilling.

You can sign up here for our free event.

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The founder of $5 billion healthy snack company Kind on how to build a culture of empathy without losing your competitive edge

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Daniel Lubetzky.

  • Daniel Lubetzky is founder and executive chairman of Kind snacks and a “Shark Tank” guest judge.
  • He recommended leaders incorporate kindness into their cultures as it helped him find success.
  • To build an empathetic culture, define and implement your “how” and encourage honest feedback.
  • This article is part of a series called “Secrets of Success,” which examines specific leadership tips from prominent business leaders.

Daniel Lubetzky, founder and executive chairman of snack company Kind, guest judge on “Shark Tank,” and founder of multiple foundations and nonprofits, grew up with empathy in his blood.

The child of a Holocaust survivor and Jewish immigrant to Mexico, his parents taught him the importance of deeply caring about other people and finding common ground in order to avoid hatred and division.

While these types of childhood lessons don’t always translate into great business advice, Lubetzky has always been adamant about instilling empathy into the companies he builds.

His team culture emphasizes kindness over competition, and he believes this approach actually helps his companies outperform – and based on Kind’s recent $5 billion acquisition, this softer approach hasn’t stopped them from succeeding.

Here are a few of the ways Lubetzky recommends other leaders start to bring more kindness into their cultures – without needing to completely overhaul their approach or lose their competitive edge.

Focus on the ‘how’ as much as the ‘what’

Setting aggressive goals is a part of any competitive business strategy.

But Lubetzky thinks too many business leaders overlook an important aspect of this kind of planning – how you want to go about achieving those goals. “Where you’re heading is very important, but how you get there, how you’re approaching every day, is as important as anything,” Lubetzky told Insider.

In an end-of-year letter to employees, Lubetzky shared some examples of what this looks like day-to-day on his team: “The way we work – the way we welcome hearty debate and disagreement, because we know it makes our ideas better and stronger; the way we respectfully listen to one another, try to see one another’s points of view, and assume positive intent; the way we practice integrity across all of our decisions and refuse to cut corners or accept false compromises; the way we push ourselves to achieve excellence but not at the expense of practicing kindness in every small action; the way we take initiative and responsibility for what we do – is what fills me with pride.”

Defining and implementing the “how” of your business can take many approaches, but Lubetzky swears by a simple set of core values that can guide team behaviors and decision-making. Perhaps more importantly, this can also help ensure you’re hiring the right people to keep this empathetic culture strong.

For instance, two of Kind’s values are “kind yet hungry,” which helps them look for teammates who will balance a drive to achieve with integrity and respect.

They can also guide what behaviors you choose to incentivize and celebrate. “We have an annual tradition called ‘Kindos of the Year,’ when we recognize those team members who have gone above and beyond to live out the kind values and champion them within the organization,” Lubetzky said. “Kindos is just as high an honor, if not more so, than meeting an important sales goal or other business objective.”

Be kind, not just nice, and encourage honest feedback

Lubetzky said there’s an important distinction to keep in mind when building a more empathetic team culture: that true kindness is different than just being nice, and while one will create a more competitive team, the other may weaken it.

“You can be nice and not criticize and be polite,” he said. “I’ve seen it so many times with companies I admire where nobody will tell the CEO or founder something they need to hear because they don’t want to be the one to disagree. That’s the moment when mediocrity is going to start seeping into the consciousness of that company.”

Instead of just being passively nice, you should be aiming for an active empathy, where your teammates have plenty of opportunity to get to know each other and connect – which ultimately leads to an organization where people are comfortable giving hard but important feedback.

“Kindness requires honest feedback and honest feedback requires strength, and that strength is much better achieved when you have a culture where people trust each other and know that they mean well toward one another,” Lubetzky said.

This deep trust built off connection and empathy is why he and former Kind president John Leahy worked so well together, despite rarely seeing eye to eye. “Because we knew we shared a goal to strengthen Kind, we never tried to one-up one another or put the other person down,” he said. “We were able to have constructive back-and-forths knowing there never was a different agenda or underlying issue masked as something else.”

Start small and build empathy into the everyday

Lubetzky said an intent to improve is the best way to start integrating empathy into your workplace. “If you’re asking how to create a more empathetic workplace, you’re already way ahead of everybody else,” he said.

Then, think of small ways you can model the behaviors you want to see, such as taking a moment to ask a colleague how they’re doing, giving a more junior person the floor, or celebrating a small win a teammate had. “We all are a product of all those little interactions with every person, and that’s what counts the most,” he said.

Also look for ways to build more opportunities for empathetic connection. This doesn’t have to be anything revolutionary: Lubetzky suggests things like team events that give everyone a chance to meet or slightly less efficient meetings that allow time for casual connection. “All of our leadership team is encouraged to do 15-minute connects every month or so where they check in with everyone on the team on a personal level,” Lubetzky said.

Finally, as you’re going through this process, be empathetic and forgiving with yourself, understanding that it’s not easy to build this kind of culture and you’re sure to make mistakes along the way. “I don’t have all the answers and I don’t always behave the way I’d like to,” Lubetzky said. “But it’s the commitment to try to improve that really matters.”

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Businesses need to reassess their workplace culture and technology as workers prepare to return to the office

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There’s no question that 2020 turned the workplace on its head. The start of the pandemic led companies to reconsider everything from their office layout to how they can foster a sense of community when a majority of team members are working from home.

Tom Vecchione, Principal at architecture and interior design firm Vocon, believes the pandemic has only made the concept of the office and what it represents to employees more powerful. Of the executives he works with, Vecchione says, “What they miss the most is the level of ambition the office created for their teams and their staff. It’s very much part of the emotional, inspirational aspect of what an office gives us and your teams.”

To get back that missing spark, and to address the larger question of the office and its role overall, companies are starting to reassess their relationship with urban real estate.

What’s influencing them? “Everyone’s waiting for three factors,” Vecchione says. “What’s my peer doing, which is a very big influencer; what does science tell us we can do; and what do government agencies say we should do. This waiting game is creating uncertainty and volatility in the real estate market.”

The way Vecchione sees it, three tiers of employee engagement will emerge within the workforce: mission-critical onsite employees who must be onsite to do their jobs; hybrid employees who can split their time between onsite and offsite; and offsite workers who can effectively do their jobs without ever using the office as a permanent home. In order to gauge the demand for workspaces moving forward, Vocon is analyzing companies’ post-pandemic needs. “Executives aren’t sure why people really need to go back — if it’s for mentorship, culture, learning.” Vecchione adds that the purpose of the workspace isn’t just to facilitate the work itself, but to create knowledge, inspire culture, build a career path, and bring clients and talent “into the fold.”

There’s more to the workspace of the future than socially-distanced desks, sound barriers, and outdoor meeting rooms, and many employees find their job performance suffers when they lack access to a communal office. According to a 2020 survey conducted by enterprise platform Smartsheet in conjunction with 451 Research, 82% of workers feel less productive at work since going remote.

As companies start to consider the slow or staggered transition back to the office environment, they’re also thinking about something else: technology, and the key role it plays in the culture of collaboration.

“What I find fascinating is that we’ve all owned this technology and never really operated in this way,” says Anna Griffin, Chief Marketing Officer of Smartsheet. “(Companies) know that we’re going into a hybrid world, and they’re going into the new year in build mode.”

Smartsheet is seeing “a lot of enthusiasm for working this way,” along with signs of recovery and greater investments in technology, Griffin says. All of this signals that leaders are on board with modifying their business strategies.

Traditionally, changes like these have come straight from the top. Insider’s Human Impact of Business Transformation study, a project designed to gauge perspectives on business transformation as they relate to brand purpose, mental resilience, and more, shows that among 68% of respondents, it’s the leadership teams that drive such efforts.

But this model may not last. Employees are taking a larger role in the technology they use, and the workplace experience overall. Instead of the old approach, where management implements processes and expects teams to follow suit by using the tools they provide, Griffin is seeing employees driving these decisions. “The way you work, and the way people are able to participate more, is truly becoming democratized. And so there’s this shift in power. You’re doing something collectively together,” she says.

Ricardo Vargas, former Executive Director of Brightline Initiative, a coalition designed to help companies bridge the gap between strategy and execution, is seeing a similar trend as businesses prioritize employee satisfaction. The companies that succeed at transforming their business, Vargas says, also ensure their leaders are just as immersed in the company culture as their teams.

“In the more traditional organizations, the leadership lives in a castle on the top floor that nobody gets access to. You don’t talk to them.” Rather, Vargas says, leadership should be approachable and accessible, wherever they are.

Organizations now face an opportunity. The pandemic has highlighted weak spots in corporate culture, and leaders are starting to address those proactively. “We need to learn how to lead in permanent disruption because we are living in a permanent state of transformation,” Vargas says.

When it comes to designing the new workplace, Vecchione believes the physical work environment will never go away. Its purpose, however, may well be reinvented. Employees will one day find themselves in shared spaces again — and when they do, they’re likely to discover that a change was long overdue.

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‘Hybrid work’ is going to cleave America in yet another way

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Who gets to work from home?

  • Two new studies detail work-from-home trends during the pandemic and employees’ expectations for 2022.
  • As many as 1 in 3 college-educated Americans expect to work partially from home post-COVID.
  • But those with less education won’t get to work remotely in nearly the same numbers.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Since COVID-19 first sent vast swaths of US office workers home last spring, one of the biggest questions has been whether they’ll get to keep doing their jobs remotely after the crisis recedes. Two new studies by economists suggest that many will, mostly through a hybrid arrangement in which employees divide their weeks between the office and home. 

The findings are some of the strongest indications yet that the country’s newfound embrace of remote work will outlast the pandemic. Potentially tens of millions of professionals could benefit. But the studies also show that the new work-from-home perks will be largely limited to the most privileged in the workforce.

In one of these papers, Alexander Bick at Arizona State University, Adam Blandin at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Karel Mertens at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas started tracking the prevalence of remote work in May. In December, they asked respondents an additional question in their survey: In 2022 and later, how many days do you expect to commute to work? 

Bick, Blandin, and Mertens found that a striking number of people – almost half of college-educated Americans – were preparing to keep working from home in some capacity after the pandemic. If those expectations bear out, that would mark a sea change from pre-pandemic times, as the chart below shows. 

But respondents also expected to work from home with less intensity in the future than they are right now. Throughout the crisis, more college-educated workers have been working a fully remote schedule than a hybrid one. In 2022 and beyond, it will likely be far more common to adopt a hybrid workweek: 32% said they expected to be partially remote and 14% said they’ll be remote full time, per the data on workers with a Bachelor’s degree that Bick and his co-authors provided to Insider. 

The findings echo the growing popularity of the hybrid model especially within tech circles, with Salesforce announcing earlier this month that most of its staff will soon adopt a partial work-from-home schedule. Spotify, Zillow, and VMware have pledged to create a hybrid option, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai has hinted at such a change, too. 

By having employees divide their weeks between the home and office, these businesses are hoping to get the best of both worlds. They want their staff to have the flexibility and productivity that they have enjoyed in their remote setups, but they also don’t want to sacrifice too many opportunities for the kind of collaboration that happens more easily in person. 

A less rosy future for workers with low pay 

But only a certain subset of workers will have access to such an option. That unequal future featured prominently in Bick’s survey, which showed that people who are highly educated, highly paid, and white expect to work from home in 2022 far more than their low-paid, less educated and Hispanic counterparts. A separate study by economists from Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago released in January showed similar disparities. 

That paper – written by Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven Davis – was also based on surveys of workers’ schedules throughout the pandemic, as well as their expectations for the future (their college-educated respondents had post-COVID expectations that were broadly in line with those in Bick’s survey, although with slightly fewer expecting to work from home). Barrero and his co-authors added an extra twist by asking respondents not only how often they expected to work remotely in the future but also how often they would prefer to. 

Making that distinction revealed interesting results. For example, people of all income levels said they would like to work from home for about half the week after the pandemic. But only the most highly paid workers said their employers’ plans came close to what they hoped. As the chart below shows, the less people earned, the greater the gap between what they wanted and what they would get. 


The pandemic’s work-from-home disparities

Those disparities have already played out in the pandemic. 

Consider the different trajectories for respondents in Bick’s study with varying levels of education. In the early months of the crisis, college-educated Americans switched to remote work en masse (see the navy bar on the far right of the chart below). And even as many businesses across the country reopened in the summer and fall, many of those workers stayed remote through the end of 2020 (see the purple bar on the far right). 

In comparison, people with less schooling didn’t see nearly as much of an increase in remote work last spring. And even those small gains were nearly wiped out by December, as shown in the almost non-existent purple bar on the far left. Similar patterns held for white respondents compared with their Hispanic counterparts.

These big disparities are new: Working from home wasn’t nearly as segregated by class or race before the pandemic. Remote workers did tend to be white, have higher incomes, and more schooling in February 2020, but only slightly so, according to the paper by Bick, Blandin, and Mertens. In other words, the pandemic served to cleave the have- and have-nots in the US labor market in yet another way. And both studies suggest that those disparities will become permanent ones. 

As vaccination accelerates across the US, Bick says he looks forward to seeing if his respondents’ expectations bear out in reality. He and his co-authors are expecting to keep surveying Americans through at least March. 

Andy Kiersz contributed reporting. 

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The death of a 22-year-old Chinese tech employee shows the industry’s toxic ‘996’ work culture, championed by top execs like Jack Ma

SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 26: Pinduoduo users attend the company's listing ceremony at Shanghai Tower on July 26, 2018 in Shanghai, China. Chinese online group discounter Pinduoduo Inc. (PDD) was listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market on Thursday. (Photo by Yin Liqin/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images)
Pinduoduo users attend the company’s listing ceremony at the Shanghai Tower on July 26, 2018.

  • A 22-year-old employee of Pinduoduo, a Chinese e-commerce platform, collapsed and died after leaving work at 1:30 a.m. on December 29.
  • Pinduoduo gave no official cause of death, but the woman has been hailed as the latest victim of the “996” culture fuelling China’s tech industry.
  • “996” sees staffers work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week, and has been praised by top executives like Alibaba founder Jack Ma and CEO Richard Liu Qiangdong.
  • Chinese tech workers have long protested the rise of the trend, but authorities have taken few steps to counter it. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

At 1:30 a.m. on December 29, a 22-year-old woman was walking home from work on the outskirts of Urumqi, the capital city of China’s Xinjiang region, when colleagues saw her grab her stomach and fall to the sidewalk.

Paramedics spent six hours trying to revive her, but it was in vain. She died six hours later in the hospital, according to the South China Morning Post.

The woman, identified only by the last name Zhang, had been an employee of Pinduoduo, one of the largest e-commerce companies in China and the world. 

Zahng was six months into a job at Pinduoduo, and has been hailed as the latest victim of what is known as the “996” work culture plaguing China’s tech industry.

Under “996,” early-career tech employees are encouraged – and expected – to work gruelling shifts from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., plus overtime, for six days a week.

The regimen has been praised by top Chinese executives including Alibaba founder Jack Ma and founder Richard Liu Qiangdon, but has been slammed with equal vigor by activists and employees.

Ma, who came from nothing and became China’s richest man, said in April 2019 it was a “huge blessing” to work overtime and 72-hour weeks as a young employee.

Over the weekend, a hashtag used to mark Zhang’s death and identify her as a victim of “996” had garnered millions of views on Weibo, Bloomberg reported.

In its Monday statement, Pinduoduo did not give a cause of death for Zhang, the South China Morning Post reported.

Her death is widely believed to have been caused by overwork, and the woman’s family has reportedly declined the offer of a post-mortem examination.

FILE PHOTO: People are seen at their desks at the headquarters of Chinese online group discounter Pinduoduo in Shanghai, China July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
People are seen at their desks at Pinduoduo’s headquarters in Shanghai in 2018.

‘Sacrificing our health in exchange for a paycheck’

Pinduoduo is also in hot water for comments made by one of its official online accounts earlier this week under a post about Zhang’s death, according to Shine, an affiliate of the state-owned Shanghai Daily newspaper.

“All of us grassroots people are sacrificing our health in exchange for a paycheck,” the verified Pinduoduo account commented on the web forum Zhihu.

The post was deleted shortly after, but not before it had spread on social media. 

On Sunday, Pinduoduo apologized for the post, and blamed a contractor named Li who was working for the company.

“We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience to the public and we strongly object to the views expressed in the post. This does not reflect our official stance on this heartbreaking matter,” the statement said.

The rise of “996” has been met with little official resistance in China, with authorities dragging their feet in acknowledging the problem.

However, as a result of the backlash over Zhang’s death, the Shanghai Municipal Human Resources and Social Security Bureau said it would send an investigative team to Pinduoduo to examine the company’s work practices, the Post reported.

While Zhang died in Xinjiang, Pinduoduo is headquartered in Shanghai.

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Alibaba founder Jack Ma gestures during an event in Hong Kong in November 2017.

‘996’ has long plagued China’s tech workers

A number of other Chinese tech giants have been implicated in encouraging “996.”

“We spend most of our weekends in the office,” a employee of Tencent wrote to a senior executive at the company, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“Our bodies have been in overloaded conditions for an extended period of time.”

In early 2019, Chinese tech workers protested the “996” workweek on the code-hosting site GitHub, where they outed companies, like Alibaba, that had cultures of excessive overtime.

Marlon Mai, a Shanghai-based managing director at the recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley, told Bloomberg: “Chinese internet companies should think beyond reaching unicorn status and IPOs and a steady, healthy corporate culture is a must for long-term growth.” 

“Employee health is an issue that can’t be ignored.”

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