The Uneven Odds for Promotions With Hybrid Work
Those who prefer—or need—to work from home may find co-workers in the office benefiting more.
Those who prefer—or need—to work from home may find co-workers in the office benefiting more.
The playing field at work is shifting.
For more than a year, remote employees at many firms were in good company: Everyone was at home. Now, some colleagues are returning to the office five days a week. Others are testing out a hybrid schedule, or opting not to go back at all. If you’re the one leaning into flexibility, how do you make sure you’re not unintentionally leaning out of your career? And what happens if certain subsets of the workforce, like mothers, are less likely to return to the office?
“During the pandemic it was, ‘You’re forced to work from home,’ ” says Brian Kropp, who leads human-resources research at Gartner. “Now you’re choosing to work from home. You’re choosing not to be here.”
Many of us have been dutifully plugging away from home, trading time in transit for longer work hours, office coffee breaks for boosted productivity.
But the boss might not see it that way. Managers consistently label in-office workers higher performers and give them bigger raises and promotions, Mr. Kropp says, even though data shows there’s really no difference between the two groups. If anything, remote workers perform slightly better and are more engaged, he says.
A January Gartner survey of 4,258 employees found that 43% of remote workers and 49% of hybrid workers were highly engaged, compared with 35% of on-site workers. Still, many bosses assume off-site employees are doing less.
“There’s still this belief that a lot of senior leaders have which is, ‘I want them in person,’ ” Mr. Kropp says. “It’s not founded in science or data. It’s all founded in personal belief and personal experience.”
Nearly 60% of 581 professionals surveyed by search firm Korn Ferry in April said that it would hurt their career advancement if they admitted to the boss they’d rather keep working remotely.
But given the choice, many employees still want to—especially parents. A McKinsey & Co. survey, conducted in December and January with 5,043 employees, found that employees without children under 18 were nearly three times as likely to prefer on-site work. A January survey from Gartner found some differences by gender, too: 26% of female caretakers preferred to be fully remote, compared with 18% of male caretakers.
Bosses favoring office workers could stall career growth for parents, especially mothers.
“Without intervention, what’s likely to happen is those gender wage gaps are likely to get worse, not better,” Mr. Kropp says. A missed promotion and raise now can snowball in a few years. Companies should start analyzing compensation of home workers and office workers the same way many now examine pay by gender, Mr. Kropp says, to ensure disparities don’t emerge or widen.
Lisa Ervin initially thought increased flexibility sparked by the pandemic would be good for young working mothers, who might be less likely to drop out of the workforce if they could be home when their kids got off the bus or throw in a load of laundry during their lunch break. (Women tend to carry more of the household burden than men.) But now Ms. Ervin, the senior manager of total rewards for an animal-nutrition company in the St. Louis area, worries women might find themselves unable to climb in organizations if everyone else is heading back to the office.
“Are they collaborating without her?” she wonders about her daughter-in-law and other young moms working remotely. “Are they really going to have a video call every time they need to meet and discuss things?”
Some working parents of both genders told me they know going remote is a risk—and they’re OK with that. Jessamyn Edwards, a product designer with a tech company, described moving from a cramped two-bedroom apartment in Mountain View, Calif., last March to a house in rural Spring Grove, Va., as a revelation. She can easily breast-feed her youngest daughter during the day, and is close to her parents and nature. She took our call outside, noting when a snake slithered past.
“I know the remote part isn’t going to help me, but I’m willing to sacrifice it right now,” she says.
The 43-year-old has adjusted her work style to try to make up for the fact that she’s now across the country. She likens herself to a court transcriptionist, recording every scrap of feedback and stray action item during meetings. A meticulous labelling and filing system ensures nothing falls through the cracks.
“I want them to feel that reassurance that I’m not just off doing whatever,” she says. “I’m somebody you can count on.”
Joy Lin, a career coach based in Los Angeles, says remote workers must be more direct about their career goals and accomplishments, since bosses aren’t just going to pick up on those things by osmosis from the next desk over. Don’t gloat, but don’t be shy about mentioning the obstacles you overcame to persevere with a project.
“You become known as a problem-solver,” she says.
Some companies are testing out initiatives aimed at keeping everyone equal. Citrix, which makes software for remote work, has long offered some employees location flexibility. But being remote came with disadvantages, says Traci Palmer, the company’s vice president of people and organization capability.
“Those individuals who were remote, they’d be left out of sidebar conversations,” she says. “Meeting’s over and by the way, they keep talking, and decisions are made.”
She would know. After moving to Reno, Nev., to help care for her mother a few years ago, Ms. Palmer found herself unable to get a word in during a virtual meeting with staffers at the firm’s Fort Lauderdale, Fla., headquarters. She also noticed that remote employees were often skipped over when it came time to assign big new projects.
“The thought is, ‘Oh, they’re remote. I’m not sure they’re going to be able to do that, since they can’t be in person,’ ” she says.
As Citrix transitions to a hybrid model this summer, it’s rolling out an internal application that teams will use to set rules around things like decision-making and meeting etiquette. The hope is that workers will build team contracts—everyone has to sign off on the agreements—that put remote and in-person workers on equal footing.
For example, the company’s Costa Rica-based customer-service team, which piloted the app this spring, opted to always begin meetings by calling on remote participants first to ensure they have a chance to speak. Other groups might require all employees to turn on their own camera for meetings, even if some folks are in a conference room together.
The goal is to avoid regressing to pre-pandemic norms, Ms. Palmer says.
“How are we going to make sure everyone has a voice?” she asks. “For once in our life we were all equal.”
How remote employees can make sure they’re not forgotten—and how bosses can keep things equal, according to career and human resources experts.
Tips for remote workers
* Establish an in-office ally on your team, someone who will remind the group to dial you in when impromptu decisions start being made.
* Stay in the flow. Catch up with colleagues and keep your boss abreast of your agenda and accomplishments.
* If you’re interviewing for a new job and want to work remotely, ask which senior leaders work from home. That will give you a sense of whether the company really values flexible work, and what career paths are possible without coming into the office.
Tips for managers
* Test out hybrid work yourself. You’ll build empathy for remote workers.
* Analyze pay and promotions in your department to ensure you don’t have a gap between remote and in-office workers.
* Let tech help you. Some companies are experimenting with covering meeting room walls with 36-inch screens, so everyone dialling in appears life-size.
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Food prices continue to rise at a rapid pace, surprising central banks and pressuring debt-laden governments
LONDON—Fresh out of an energy crisis, Europeans are facing a food-price explosion that is changing diets and forcing consumers across the region to tighten their belts—literally.
This is happening even though inflation as a whole is falling thanks to lower energy prices, presenting a new policy challenge for governments that deployed billions in aid last year to keep businesses and households afloat through the worst energy crisis in decades.
New data on Wednesday showed inflation in the U.K. fell sharply in April as energy prices cooled, following a similar pattern around Europe and in the U.S. But food prices were 19.3% higher than a year earlier.
The continued surge in food prices has caught central bankers off guard and pressured governments that are still reeling from the cost of last year’s emergency support to come to the rescue. And it is pressuring household budgets that are also under strain from rising borrowing costs.
In France, households have cut their food purchases by more than 10% since the invasion of Ukraine, while their purchases of energy have fallen by 4.8%.
In Germany, sales of food fell 1.1% in March from the previous month, and were down 10.3% from a year earlier, the largest drop since records began in 1994. According to the Federal Information Centre for Agriculture, meat consumption was lower in 2022 than at any time since records began in 1989, although it said that might partly reflect a continuing shift toward more plant-based diets.
Food retailers’ profit margins have contracted because they can’t pass on the entire price increases from their suppliers to their customers. Markus Mosa, chief executive of the Edeka supermarket chain, told German media that the company had stopped ordering products from several large suppliers because of rocketing prices.
A survey by the U.K.’s statistics agency earlier this month found that almost three-fifths of the poorest 20% of households were cutting back on food purchases.
“This is an access problem,” said Ludovic Subran, chief economist at insurer Allianz, who previously worked at the United Nations World Food Program. “Total food production has not plummeted. This is an entitlement crisis.”
Food accounts for a much larger share of consumer spending than energy, so a smaller rise in prices has a greater impact on budgets. The U.K.’s Resolution Foundation estimates that by the summer, the cumulative rise in food bills since 2020 will have amounted to 28 billion pounds, equivalent to $34.76 billion, outstripping the rise in energy bills, estimated at £25 billion.
“The cost of living crisis isn’t ending, it is just entering a new phase,” Torsten Bell, the research group’s chief executive, wrote in a recent report.
Food isn’t the only driver of inflation. In the U.K., the core rate of inflation—which excludes food and energy—rose to 6.8% in April from 6.2% in March, its highest level since 1992. Core inflation was close to its record high in the eurozone during the same month.
Still, Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey told lawmakers Tuesday that food prices now constitute a “fourth shock” to inflation after the bottlenecks that jammed supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise in energy prices that accompanied Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and surprisingly tight labor markets.
Europe’s governments spent heavily on supporting households as energy prices soared. Now they have less room to borrow given the surge in debt since the pandemic struck in 2020.
Some governments—including those of Italy, Spain and Portugal—have cut sales taxes on food products to ease the burden on consumers. Others are leaning on food retailers to keep their prices in check. In March, the French government negotiated an agreement with leading retailers to refrain from price rises if it is possible to do so.
Retailers have also come under scrutiny in Ireland and a number of other European countries. In the U.K., lawmakers have launched an investigation into the entire food supply chain “from farm to fork.”
“Yesterday I had the food producers into Downing Street, and we’ve also been talking to the supermarkets, to the farmers, looking at every element of the supply chain and what we can do to pass on some of the reduction in costs that are coming through to consumers as fast as possible,” U.K. Treasury Chief Jeremy Hunt said during The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit in London.
The government’s Competition and Markets Authority last week said it would take a closer look at retailers.
“Given ongoing concerns about high prices, we are stepping up our work in the grocery sector to help ensure competition is working well,” said Sarah Cardell, who heads the CMA.
Some economists expect that added scrutiny to yield concrete results, assuming retailers won’t want to tarnish their image and will lean on their suppliers to keep prices down.
“With supermarkets now more heavily under the political spotlight, we think it more likely that price momentum in the food basket slows,” said Sanjay Raja, an economist at Deutsche Bank.
It isn’t entirely clear why food prices have risen so fast for so long. In world commodity markets, which set the prices received by farmers, food prices have been falling since April 2022. But raw commodity costs are just one part of the final price. Consumers are also paying for processing, packaging, transport and distribution, and the size of the gap between the farm and the dining table is unusually wide.
The BOE’s Bailey thinks one reason for the bank having misjudged food prices is that food producers entered into longer-term but relatively expensive contracts with fertilizer, energy and other suppliers around the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in their eagerness to guarantee availability at a time of uncertainty.
But as the pressures being placed on retailers suggest, some policy makers suspect that an increase in profit margins may also have played a role. Speaking to lawmakers, Bailey was wary of placing any blame on food suppliers.
“It’s a story about rebuilding margins that were squeezed in the early part of last year,” he said.
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Sales volumes and median prices on the rise in the N.T