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Jun 12, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

Over the last few weeks, people and organizations all over the world are coming to grips with the reality that the tree they should’ve planted is moving to truly eradicating systemic injustice and addressing white supremacy.

What do companies need to do in order to convince customers and employees that they are with them? They need to speak and act, according to the latest research from Edelman:

In the wake of the brutal killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, among countless other Black Americans, and the subsequent protests across the country, we have conducted an Edelman Trust Barometer flash poll over the June 5-7 weekend, surveying 2,000, diverse respondents across America. The results are unequivocal: Americans want brands to step up and play a central role in addressing systemic racism. This is a mandate for brands to act, because consumers will exercise brand democracy with their wallets. In the past, CEOs have spoken out on societal issues on behalf of corporate America; today, the CMO and CCO must join them as stewards of brand action.

The power of companies in U.S. culture is particularly dominant. Whatever you may think of that fact, that power also comes with a level of responsibility. As Barron’s covers in their article on big business’ role in fixing systemic racial injustice, this is a watershed moment and organizational leaders are going to be faced with criticism when they do the minimum.

“Writing a check is not going to be enough,” says Marvin Owens Jr., senior director of the NAACP Economic Department, who regards corporations and the markets as the next frontier for achieving racial, ethnic, and economic equality. “Companies need to show their commitment by tangible efforts and partnerships that are meaningful, and produce change.”

In the absence of leadership from Washington, D.C., companies have already been refocusing on so-called stakeholder capitalism—in which employees, suppliers, customers, and communities are given equal consideration to shareholders.

It’s easy to talk about stakeholder capitalism when the stakes are releasing a shiny statement from the comfort of a meeting of some of the richest people on the planet. It’s quite another thing when people come to cash the checks on these statements. Just like COVID-19, racial injustice gives companies little to hide behind. That’s good for everyone.

Quick hits

  • June is Pride Month for our friends in the LGBTQ+ community, yet it’s being overshadowed by both an international pandemic and civil rights protests. How can you still celebrate? [LA Times]
  • A surprising amount of employees want to return to their physical workplace. Even among those under 26, 30% say they prefer the office over a hybrid or remote work situation. [Perceptyx]
  • That conflicts with other research released last week that reported only 13% of people want to return to work. Unfortunately, less than half of managers surveyed had experience managing a remote workforce pre-COVID. [Best Practice Institute]
  • In spite of inexperience, employees overwhelmingly feel supported by managers (91%) and their companies (92%) during the pandemic. [Reflektive]
  • Employees are still having issues with the basics of remote work. Over half have avoided sharing a document because they couldn’t find it and 54% have had a meeting interrupted due to technical issues. [Igloo Software]
  • Sick leave still needs to be improved across the board. New data shows that 14% of deskless workers went to work sick due to COVID-19, likely due to just 13% of employees having paid sick leave. [Quinyx]
  • How about lying about sick days? Mental health issues, such as being stressed or depressed, beat out just wanting to have a day off as the most common reason people feel they lied to their employer. [Aetna International]
  • Less than half of employees surveyed were comfortable talking to their managers about mental health conditions. Mental health is health. [Maestro Health]
  • COVID-19 is also creating a class of new employees: Accidental night owls. As the world blurs between home and work, new research shows more late-night activity than pre-COVID. [Surfshark]

Unemployment number fudge: Mistake or manipulation?

The unemployment rate doesn’t really represent the true scope of employment woes. However, assuming consistent collection practices, it can serve as a useful barometer. For the last three months, an error in data collection has led to an unemployment rate that is substantially larger than originally reported:

The government agency that compiles the official U.S. unemployment rate — the Bureau of Labor Statistics — said it is still working to fix an unprecedented data-collection error that has badly skewed the rate, dismissing suggestions that data had been manipulated.

The May jobs report included an unusual note saying that the unemployment rate would have been 16.3 percent, not the official rate of 13.3 percent, if not for errors made during the data’s collection, a problem that also plagued monthly reports in March and April. Both the official and corrected May unemployment rates showed improvement compared with April figures. The errors have sowed doubt among some parts of the public about the integrity of the figures, as the economy has cratered during the pandemic.

While the BLS is headed by a presidential appointee, the rest of the department is staffed by mostly long-time employees. An investigation must determine whether there was any pressure by political appointees to soften the appearance of the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic on our economy.

Fudged figures or not, even the improvement in May didn’t help some segments of the workforce. Unemployment for African Americans hit its highest rate in a decade that month. It only goes to show that less statement and more action is needed.

The weekly wrap is where TLNT shares the stories that didn’t quite make it into a full post this week. We’ll also share links to some of our favorite things we read this week about HR, people development, the future of work, and more.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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