Sep 29, 2020

Axios @Work

By Erica Pandey
Erica Pandey

Welcome back to @Work. Send your thoughts on today's edition to erica@axios.com.

  • You're invited: Join chief technology correspondent Ina Fried tomorrow at 12:30pm ET for an Axios virtual event on trust and transparency online. Register here

Today I've got 1,483 words, which should take about 5½ minutes to read. Let's start with...

1 big thing: United States of burnout

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Postponed vacations, holidays in isolation and back-to-back virtual meetings are taking a toll on millions of American workers.

Why it matters: As we head into the fall, workers are feeling the burnout. Such a collective fraying of mental health at work could dampen productivity and hinder economic growth across the country.

  • "If your team enters 2021 exhausted and end-of-rope from 2020, they won’t have the urgency, creativity and resilience you need to have a strong year," says Deidre Paknad, CEO and co-founder of the software company Workboard.

What's happening: The typical American worker has always underused vacation days. In 2019, U.S. workers earned 23.7 days of paid time off, but used only 17.2, per U.S. Travel Association data.

That trend appears to be even worse this year, as people delay taking time off either because they're waiting until they feel safe traveling and seeing friends and family or because they're worried about job security.

  • 37% of surveyed workers are postponing PTO until they can safely travel, while 14% say they have too much work to log off, per a study conducted by the human resources consulting firm Robert Half; 22% say they would take a vacation but are trying to save money because of the pandemic's uncertainty.

On top of no vacations, workdays themselves can be more stressful during the pandemic.

  • With every employee stationed in front of a computer, managers and colleagues can schedule hourlong meetings without any breaks in between.
  • "What we heard most about burnout is that every single second is scheduled," Paknad tells Axios. "There's no time to think."
  • To fix that problem, several companies — including Paknad's — are blocking off certain hours as meeting-free to give employees time to exercise or spend time with their kids or just catch up on their own work.

Companies are picking up on the burnout and begging employees to take a break.

  • Nearly 40% of workers said their bosses have urged them to take time off, according to August survey data from Robert Half. That's up from 25% in May.
  • "One of the simplest things for leaders to do is practice what you preach," Paknad says. "Take vacations."

What to watch: The most immediate economic effect of delayed vacations is already apparent in America's travel industry, which is set to lose around $500 billion this year and $1.3 trillion by 2023, says Tori Barnes of the U.S. Travel Association. There are also millions of hotel, airline and other jobs at stake.

  • Sign of the times: Hilton is closing its 478-room Times Square behemoth for good on Thursday.
2. Spiking Asian American unemployment

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Young Asian American men and women, who typically show low unemployment numbers, are experiencing some of the worst rates of unemployment during the pandemic.

Staggering stat: Since the pandemic began, unemployment among young Asian American workers — those between the ages of 16 and 24 — has jumped around 300%, according to data compiled by USAFacts.org as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • The current unemployment rate among young Asian women is 22.1% and 20.3% among men. Compare that with February's numbers, which were 5.6% and 5.5%, respectively.
  • The only group with worse rates than young Asians is young Black Americans, with 25.6% unemployment for women and 23.7% for men.

For young Asian workers, "it's a perfect storm of a lot of factors," says Marlene Kim, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

  • Geography: Asian Americans are concentrated in some of the hardest-hit parts of the country, such as California and Hawaii.
  • Industry: Although Asians Americans are overrepresented in some of the sectors that have shed the fewest jobs during the pandemic, like tech and health care, they are also overrepresented in the sectors that have seen the most upheaval, like travel, service and hospitality.
    • Jobs disproportionately held by young Asians that have been hurt by the pandemic include taxi drivers, nail technicians, travel agents and restaurant workers, Kim tells Axios.
    • And Asian Americans have been at the center of the pandemic's annihilation of small businesses, as they own 26% of restaurants and 17% of retail stores, per McKinsey.
  • Racial bias: Early on, Asian-owned businesses were also hit by pandemic-era racism and xenophobia. "You heard stories that people were not going to Chinatowns anymore," Kim says.

Go deeper: The stark income inequality among Asian immigrants

3. What CEOs say about remote work

Only 35% of people have returned to work so far, but 75% will do so by mid-2021 and 88% by the end of 2021, according to a new Bank of America survey.

As we start to get back to normal, the Wall Street Journal compiled a list of what top CEOs have said about the grand telework experiment. Here are some of the most illuminating quotes:

“I don’t see any positives. Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative.”
— Reed Hastings, co-CEO of Netflix
"I had a philosophy that I want to hire the best and the brightest even if they work from a different location, and now, ironically, we’re all working from another location. We’ve learned that we can work remote, and we can now hire and manage a company remotely.”
— Heyward Donigan, CEO of Rite Aid
“I think we’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale, for sure, but we’re going to do this in a way that is measured, and thoughtful and responsible, and in phases over time.”
— Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook
“In all candor, it’s not like being together physically. And so I can’t wait for everybody to be able to come back into the office. I don’t believe that we’ll return to the way we were because we’ve found that there are some things that actually work really well virtually.”
— Time Cook, CEO of Apple
4. Telework around the world

Bhawani Singh, an engineer, works from his home in Delhi. Photo: Amarjeet Kumar Singh/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

The prolonging of remote work is hurting economies in India, Mexico, Turkey, Peru and beyond.

The big picture: These emerging nations have a smaller share of jobs that can be done remotely than the U.S. or Europe.

  • Around 37% of all jobs in America can be done from home. That jumps to 45% or more when looking just at megacities like New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
  • In Sweden and the United Kingdom, it's 40%, reports the BBC.
  • But in Mexico and Turkey, it's fewer than 25%

What's happening: Less than half of the world's population has a computer at home, and only around 60% has access to the internet. That means the same jobs that can be done from home in New York or London might not be telework-friendly in other cities.

  • Case in point: "An accountant in the U.S. is going to use technology very easily, and she has no problem whatsoever working from home,” Era Dabla-Norris, an economist at the International Monetary Fund, tells the BBC. “An accountant in a smaller city in India may be using a pen and paper, and have a ledger instead of a computer.”

Go deeper with this map of where the remote jobs are in the U.S.

5. Worthy of your time
Expand chart
Reproduced from The Leuthold Group; Chart: Axios Visuals

Big Tech's ballooning share of the S&P 500 (Axios)

  • The concentration of wealth in a few massive U.S. tech companies has reached a scale significantly greater than it was before the dot-com bubble burst. In August, five companies — Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet — held a share of the S&P 500 that was 9% greater by market cap than the index's 300 smallest companies. This was a record amount.

Stop waiting for capitalism to cure inequality (Bloomberg)

  • Business has been waiting for market forces to fix its diversity problem, but that's not cutting it: White men make up around 35% of entry-level workers, but close to 70% of C-suite executives. Bloomberg's Rebecca Greenfield dives into the modern diversity and inclusion movement, and what's worked and what hasn't.

Generation work-from-home may never recover (The Atlantic)

  • Young people are especially suffering from the extension of remote work policies because it's difficult to move the workplace online if you're just starting to figure out what the workplace is. "How you begin your working life tends to shape your professional and financial prospects for decades to come," writes the Atlantic's Amanda Mull.

A new era for libraries (New York Times)

  • America's libraries, which have been fighting off obsolescence at the hands of technology for years, were surprisingly well-prepared for the pandemic. Now, many libraries are anticipating a totally virtual future — and they're trying to figure out new uses for their physical locations.
6. 1 dispatch from a college campus

On Cross Campus, outside Yale's Sterling Memorial Library. Photo: Erica Pandey/Axios

I spent some time on Yale's campus over the weekend and got a closer look at how one university is successfully navigating the pandemic.

Catch up quick: Yale invited all graduate students and almost all undergraduate students back to school. They only left out the poor, poor sophomores.

  • Through regular testing, travel restrictions and mostly remote classes, Yale has kept infections low. The university is currently at a “low to moderate” risk for coronavirus transmission and hasn't seen more than seven new cases in one day since reopening.

Life seemed closer to normal than I had imagined.

  • Students are still visiting the local shops and coffee joints.
  • Reservations are still hard to snag for New Haven's fall restaurant week.
  • Freshmen are still congregating in awkward-looking groups on the quads — all masked and/or distanced of course.

The bottom line: Workplaces looking to reopen can take cues from colleges — such as Yale and others — that have pulled it off.

Erica Pandey

Thanks for reading!