10 Most Encouraging Workplace Developments of 2015

by Derek Loosvelt | December 16, 2015

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Of all the career and workplace-related news and developments I followed this year, here are the 10 I believe to be the most encouraging, to current and future members of the Great American Workforce.

10. Wall Street, Led by Goldman Sachs, Is Continuing to Address the All Too Often Punishing Lives of Investment Bankers
Not long after the apparent suicides of two young Wall Street bankers (one of whom worked for Goldman, the other for Moelis) whose brutal work schedules likely had more than a little to do with their deaths, Goldman unveiled a new policy that forbids its interns from working past midnight. The move, which perhaps surprised those who weren’t familiar with intern hours on the Street (yes, it is true that summer banking analysts have been known to routinely work well past midnight and even pull all-nighters), followed a separate Goldman policy enacted a couple years back that forbids full-time analysts from working on Saturdays. Although the new no-work-after-midnight policy still means that interns can conceivably work something like 80 hours a week on average, at least they're no longer working 100.

9. The H-B1 Visa Issue Gets Hotter In Wake of Disgraceful Disney Layoffs
When Walt Disney laid off 250 tech employees in order to replace them with cheaper labor in the form of H-1B visa holders, many, including this blogger, called it a downright disgraceful move. Disney subsequently reversed some of the layoffs, presumably due to all the bad press they caused (a New York Times story on the firings received more than 3,000 comments). Also in the wake of the layoffs, critics of U.S. companies that abuse the temporary work visas were reenergized, giving them fuel to fight those that use the visas as a way to replace their workers with lower-wage-earning immigrants.

8. Detroit Is Back On the Map As a Desirable City In Which to Live and Work
I couldn't help but feel extremely encouraged when Detroit, a city well known for its urban decay, record-setting bankruptcy, and white flight, was featured in National Geographic of all magazines, and much of what the words, images, and infographics in that feature pointed to was that Detroit has become a city of opportunity where young people are encouraged to build businesses, careers, and their post-college lives. And to do so affordably. Also encouraging was the news that Amazon and other firms were breaking ground on offices and hiring in Detroit, betting that the Motor City could become a new tech hub.

7. Netflix Is Trying Its Best to Improve the Working Lives of Its Working Mothers and Fathers
Not everybody cheered Netflix's seemingly very generous new policy of allowing new parents to take as much maternity or paternity leave as they wish (up to a year). Some argued (myself included) that rather than an unlimited leave policy, it might have been more generous to offer a fixed number of weeks of leave, say, 30 or 40. The reason being that the new policy could lead to Netflix employees undercutting their colleagues’ leaves in attempts to look like better employees. It might also stress out new parents (as if they need more stress) about how much leave they should take/what their managers might think of them if they went for the full amount of leave. Still, it was a move in the right direction, toward addressing the difficulty of working and thriving in the modern workplace while also attempting to raise a family. And it's a move that should influence many other companies in the coming years.

6. Big Tobacco Is Out, Big Legal Weed Is In
Studies show that a majority of Americans now support the legalization of medical marijuana. This means that, if it hasn’t already, legalization is coming to a state near you. It also means that there’ll be a lot of new jobs to be had and a lot of new money to made once medical marijuana is legal in your state. Alex Thiersch, a medical marijuana private equity investor, wrote in TechCrunch that “as stigmas fade and ideas change with regard to legal cannabis, the opportunities for dedicated, ambitious, innovative individuals are limitless.” Related, New York magazine published an enlightening cover story on the new industry, focusing on one of the men who plans to be one of legal weed's biggest players (and who is already one of its biggest customers): Willie Nelson.

5. A Lot of Light Is Shed Upon Silicon Valley's Misogynistic Side
In one of the most highly publicized court cases of the year, a Kleiner Perkins junior partner named Ellen Pao lost her gender-biased suit against her former employer. However, Pao's fight did shed a lot of light on the dark side of Silicon Valley—the misogynistic side. Many not-so-savory details about the inner workings of the formidable VC firm (which was an early investor in Google, Amazon, and AOL, among others) and the VC industry in general surfaced during the trial and are expected to further the conversation about how poorly women are treated in the Valley.

4. There Is a Big Employment Boom Happening in the Big Apple
Since the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, New York has added about 500,000 jobs. Many of those jobs have come outside of Wall Street, the sector that typically dominates the job market in New York. Instead, sectors such as technology and hospitality have been booming, picking up where Wall Street has left off since the crisis. According to the New York Times, "Despite Wall Street’s less-than-robust condition, the city is in the midst of what the budget office described in a recent forecast as 'a historically strong payroll employment expansion.' It projected that the hiring binge would continue for at least four years, adding 250,000 more positions by the end of 2018."

3. A Woman Is Extremely Close to Being On Top of Google's Org Chart
Although it was a big loss for Wall Street, it was a big gain for Silicon Valley when it was announced that Google had hired Ruth Porat away from Morgan Stanley to be the tech firm’s new CFO. Porat had held the CFO spot for Morgan Stanley for five years and was widely considered to be the most powerful woman on Wall Street. The move meant that another woman was now among the elite of Silicon Valley, which, like Wall Street, is still dominated by men.

2. Bigger Salaries for Employees Are Proven to Translate Into Bigger Profits for Employers
Although this sounds like a false piece of news hatched by some slacker employees, it is anything but unreal. In fact, here is what New Yorker financial columnist James Surowiecki wrote in one of his illuminating columns this year: "A substantial body of research suggests that it can make sense to pay above-market wages—economists call them 'efficiency wages.' If you pay people better, they are more likely to stay, which saves money. Better-paid employees tend to work harder, too." Makes sense to me. In the same column, Surowiecki cited Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini's recent announcement that he was increasing the wages of the firm's lowest paid employees by 33 percent. Bertolini, who presides over a company whose job turnover costs are $120 million a year, "doesn't buy the idea that paying people well means sacrificing short-term earnings." Agreed.

1. Nearly 200 Countries Sign One Document That Commits to Saving Humanity From Possible Ruin
It is very difficult not to be encouraged by the sole fact that 196 countries agreed on something. Sure, the historic climate change agreement signed two weeks ago is not legally binding and is reliant on the private sector to make it work, and there have already been numerous criticisms of it, many of which may turn out to be accurate. But still, the agreement signed by the world's most economically powerful (such as the U.S., China, and India that produce a vast percentage of the world's greenhouse gas emissions) as well as the not so powerful (like small Pacific island countries that are on the front lines of climate change, meaning things like rising sea levels affect them drastically) should have far reaching positive effects on several industries.

According to the New York Times, "The ambitious targets included in [the] deal for limiting the rise in global temperatures may help companies involved in renewable energy and energy efficiency by expanding their markets. Setting a high bar may also make the energy industry attractive for innovators and venture capitalists, increasing the chances of sweeping shifts in what has been a conservative business." In addition, "jobs could be created through the construction of a new energy infrastructure, the maintenance of solar fields and the development of new transportation systems that move away from dependence on the gas pump."

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal cited Philippe Desfossés, the CEO of a pension fund for French public-service workers, as saying, "An agreement like this might really be a game changer ... It's where we'll switch from moving millions to moving trillions of dollars.”

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Read More:
Disney's Disgraceful Tech Layoffs
4 Takeaways From Google Poaching Morgan Stanley's CFO
Where the Tech Jobs Are and Aren't
The Problem With Netflix's New Parental Leave Policy
Can Employers Save Money by Paying Their Employees More Money?

Filed Under: Finance | Workplace Issues

Tags: climate change | maternity leave | silicon valley | wall street | work/life balance

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