Issue #49
#49 - Work? It's about power
January 13, 2023

“Baba, isn’t that what we use for soap in the shower?”

That was my confused daughter the other day, watching me slather my legs -- starved of Singapore’s moisture by LA’s desert air-- with a huge dollop of what I thought was Dove moisturizer on the bathroom counter -- that was actually Dove body wash.

I mean, it did feel...funky, the first two times I covered myself in soap after my shower. 🙄

Look, folks, the past few weeks in the US with family and friends were fantastic. But they were also hectic: long flights, jet lag, holiday airports, quirky beds, packing-and-repacking suitcases. Toss in two kids, and navigating the dynamics of in-laws, uncles, aunts and cousins, and you appreciate why these trips can be…less-than-refreshing, let us say. 🙃

But they are also necessary and amazing. We are grateful we get to take them, and lucky that our family and friends so generously make the time and space for us that they do, when we’re back. So to the extent you might feel less refreshed, you absolutely feel reconnected. 🙏

We’ve got some exciting plans for TalentStories in 2023, and hope that in the new year, you, too, are feeling some mix of excited, reconnected, and grateful. If much less parched. :)

Our stories this week are about power, because, well, work is all about power: the ever-present dynamics between employees, managers, teams and organizations. So understanding work and how it changes means understanding power, and the way it is shifting:

  • First up, a company in India uses its leverage to mandate that employees don’t contact any colleague on vacation -- lest they are down to pay a hefty fine.
  • Next, a Canadian e-commerce firm unilaterally nukes 💣 all meetings with more than 2 attendees from its teams’ calendars.
  • Last, a U.S. regulatory body, the Federal Trade Commission, flexes its power to mandate the end of non-compete agreements.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week! 🙏🏻

Aki + Usman

Story #1

#Power #ForcedRecharge #Boundaries

Daaaang, that’s one way to keep your teammate’s inbox clean during her break! Crazy to think that it takes a fine -- a really meaty one, btw -- to enforce this boundary. On the one hand, if the mandated week off happens across the company, and the firm gets the compounded effect of every employee recharging itself each year, we say: good on you. 👏🏻

On the other, we wonder what would happen if the incentive was a positive one -- employees were rewarded for respecting one another’s boundaries. Particularly managers, whose teams will closely follow the behavior of their bosses. 🤔

Story #2

#Power #Subtraction #MoreMeetings

A few angles of this story deserve our attention. The obvious one is Shopify dictating the schedules of its team. Driven, it seems, by the remote work-fueled “meeting creep” that has manifested in so many organizations. Still, it’s an interesting -- and paternalistic -- move, especially given the ferocity with which employees are now demanding flexibility and control over their calendars.

But there is also the idea of “subtraction” here. Of the notion -- much discussed in corporate circles right now -- that doing less is more; that focus is good for your business in a bad economy, and good for your teams that are battling off-the-chart levels of of burnout.

And then, in the final line of our quote ⬆️, Shopify is “encouraging” folks to drop out of large group chats. But if you click through to the article, “[Shopify] will only use Slack as an instant messenger from now on, with “large, unwieldy” chat groups used only for announcements…”.

Now, any employees who’s spent time in a mass group chat knows that there is real downside to the quantity and quality of messages there. Are they any more fun for HR and leadership to need to manage? Not very. But Slack and forums like it often function as channels for organizational accountability and employee feedback. Making Slack effectively one-way -- leaders able to communicate en masse to employees, only -- strikes us as, well, quite a power play.

Story #3

#Power #RestoringBalance #

This 👆🏻entire post about the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s proposal to make non-compete agreements illegal is worth your time. But our quote here summarizes nicely how harmful a non-compete agreement can be, and how much economic lift -- $300 billion a year, or $2,000 per U.S. worker (!) -- might result by making them a relic of the past.

Non-competes aside, the story reminds us just how imbalanced the power dynamic between employee and employer is, broadly, at the outset of employment. Senior, savvy and bold executives (perhaps) excepted, once that offer letter comes through, most of us have very little ability to push back on the complex language and terms of employment. Making the agency’s attempt to balance out that dynamic a welcome one. 🙌🏻

Thanks for reading. 🙏🏻

Work moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
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