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Survey Shows People Want To Discuss Social, Political Issues At Work And Call For Companies To Support Their Views – Forbes

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Not too long ago, when we were actually in the office, lighthearted arguments centered around sports. On Monday morning the person who had the winning football team would brag and tease her coworker whose team lost. Over the last few years, things have quickly changed. Politics and social issues have eclipsed good-natured kidding around over sports. Traditionally, heated discussions concerning politics took place over the dinner table or at the local bar. Now, it’s become commonplace to talk about serious social issues at work.

Exploring this trend, Gartner, Inc., a leading research and advisory company offering business insights, conducted a survey of 3,000 employees “regarding social issues in the workplace.” 

The results showed that “three-quarters of employees expect their employer to take a stance on current societal or cultural issues, even if those issues have nothing to do with their employer,” and  “demands have only become more urgent during recent protests demanding social equity and justice.”

Gartner found that “68% of employees would consider quitting their current job and working with an organization with a stronger viewpoint on the social issues that matter most to them.” It turns out that “employees whose employer has taken a strong stance on current societal and cultural issues are twice as likely to report high job satisfaction.”

Brian Kropp, chief of research in the Gartner HR practice said about the study “Times of social and political change and uncertainty affect individuals across their lives, and introduce distraction, disruption and division into the workplace,” and “The recent events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, the U.S. presidential election, Black Lives Matter movement and Brexit, have created numerous opportunities for increased tension among employees.”

The same passion, anger and friction found on social media has permeated into the office. Gartner points out that “In November 2020, more than one-third of U.S. employees (36%) reported that the U.S. presidential election had led them to argue about politics with co-workers,” and “Forty-four percent of employees said the election had led them to avoid talking to, or working with, a co-worker.” Nearly 70-percent of workers said that they “were very satisfied when their organizations took action in response to the protests and demonstrations against racial injustice.” 

Brian Armstrong, the CEO of Silicon Valley-based cryptocurrency exchange and broker Coinbase, which plans to go public at a valuation of about $100 million, has a different take compared to the study. Armstrong explicitly told his employees that he won’t stand for political-oriented debates at the office. He took one step further by offering severance packages to employees who aren’t comfortable with the new corporate policy of “political neutrality” in the office. 

In a corporate blog, Armstrong wrote “Everyone is asking the question about how companies should engage in broader societal issues during these difficult times, while keeping their teams united and focused on the mission. Coinbase has had its own challenges here, including employee walkouts. I decided to share publicly how I’m addressing this in case it helps others navigate a path through these challenging times.” He added, “I want Coinbase to be laser focused on achieving its mission, because I believe that this is the way that we can have the biggest impact on the world.” Armstrong told his staff “Life is too short to work at a company that you aren’t excited about,” and if you are not happy, “Hopefully, this package helps create a win-win outcome for those who choose to opt out.”  

His stance runs counter to the narrative at many other prominent tech companies. A large percentage of Silicon Valley-based corporations tend to lean left, allow and encourage their employees to get involved with social, racial and political causes. 

Sometimes the views are very forceful. In a tweet that has been deleted, Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo wrote “Me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business are going to be the first people lined up against the wall and shot in the revolution. I’ll happily provide video commentary.” 

Facebook and Google both had to enact policies and procedures to deal with heated conversations on their respective internal message boards. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company will update policies to prevent clashes over potentially divisive hot topics, such as politics, racial justice and the Covid-19 pandemic on the company’s message board.

Ashok Chandwaney, a software engineer at Facebook, was so incensed over his perception of the platform’s part in fanning the flames of hate that he tendered his resignation after 5 ½ years at the company. In an open letter posted on Facebook’s internal employee network, Chandwaney said “I’m quitting because I can no longer stomach contributing to an organization that is profiting off hate in the U.S. and globally.

Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said “What we’ve heard from our employees is that they want the option to join debates on social and political issues,” and “We’re updating our employee policies and work tools to ensure our culture remains respectful and inclusive. Facebook is strengthening its harassment policy so that employees from under-represented communities don’t face hostile work environments.”

Similar activities are taking place at Google too. The company requested employees to moderate internal message boards, as there’s been an increase of posts flagged for racism or abuse. In response to this matter, the online search giant is enhancing its content moderation program. This will entail owners of discussion groups to step up their moderation and oversight, take mandatory moderation training and create a charter to clarify the group’s purpose.   

Google rules state, “While sharing information and ideas with colleagues helps build community, disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story does not.” The company’s guidelines also indicate, “Our primary responsibility is to do the work we’ve each been hired to do, not to spend working time on debates about non-work topics.”

Both tech titans are trying to walk the fine line of allowing employees to speak their minds, while also ensuring that comments aren’t offensive nor distract people from their jobs. It seems, according to the companies, that the heightened level of hostility grew during the work-from- home time period.

Recently, a small group of Google employees felt that the company did not do enough for social causes. They decided to form the Alphabet (the parent company of Google) Workers Union. Whereas traditional unions utilize their collective bargaining strength to negotiate higher salaries, better health benefits and pensions, this new union is focused on social issues. It calls for workers to join the union and “fight the systems of oppression that persist to this day.”  The union envisions, “All aspects of our work must be transparent, and we must have the freedom to choose which projects benefit from our labor.” The union contends, “Alphabet can make money without doing evil. We must prioritize the well-being of society and the environment over maximizing profits.”

Back in July 2019 online home goods and furniture retailer, Wayfair, had hundreds of employees complain to management for selling about $200k of bedroom furniture to a government contractor that operates immigration detention centers on the U.S. and Mexico border. When Wayfair’s CEO Niraj Shah refused to comply with the workers’ demand to cancel the sales, employees protested by staging a walkout. The anger and frustration was highlighted by employee Madeline Howard’s statement “We don’t want our company to profit off of children being in concentration camps.” 

This trend is only growing stronger. Companies are going to have to make tough choices. Do they go the route of Coinbase and say that they won’t tolerate political and social causes in the offices or will they promote the values that their employees stand behind? Corporate management may follow the lead of Facebook and Google by walking the fine line of promoting robust conversations but ensuring it doesn’t exclude or marginalize groups who disagree with the prevailing viewpoints.

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Biden offers tax credits for COVID-19 vaccination and paid time off

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By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) –President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced tax credits for certain businesses that pay employees who take time off to get COVID-19 shots, a new effort to involve corporate America in his vaccination campaign.

“I’m calling on every employer, large and small, in every state to give employees the time off they need with pay to get vaccinated,” the Democratic president said.

The tax credits will apply to businesses with fewer than 500 employees, he said.

In a speech, Biden also said he expects the United States to reach his 100-day goal of getting 200 million coronavirus vaccine shots in arms by the end of the day, even as the nation faces an increase in infections.

“Today we hit 200 million shots,” Biden said. “It’s an incredible achievement for the nation.”

Biden said the vaccine effort is entering a new phase with everyone over age 16 becoming eligible to be vaccinated. Biden said 80% of all seniors have received at least one shot, leading to a dramatic decline in the deaths of elderly Americans.

“If you’ve been waiting for your turn, wait no longer,” Biden said.

Biden administration officials said the government plans to reimburse businesses for the cost of giving workers as many as 80 hours in paid time off to get their shots or recover from any side effects.

The tax credit is for up to $511 per day for each worker, through September. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees employ roughly half of U.S. private-sector workers. The tax credits were authorized under Democratic-backed COVID-19 pandemic relief legislation passed by Congress and signed by Biden over Republican opposition.

The administration’s chief problem in its response to the pandemic is now shifting from securing enough vaccine supply to persuading enough Americans to seek out the available shots.

More than half of American adults have had at least one vaccine dose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A third of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, as well as 26% of the population overall.

The U.S. COVID-19 death toll of more than 568,000 leads the world. The coronavirus is still killing hundreds of Americans daily and many Americans have shown a reluctance to get vaccinated.

Countries around the world with less successful vaccination campaigns than the United States are dealing with a spike in infections.

Biden, who has loaned some unused vaccines to Canada and Mexico and donated funds to a multilateral vaccination effort for poor countries, said the White House is still looking at its options for eventually sending vaccines to Canada, Central America and elsewhere. Biden told reporters after his speech that he spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier on Wednesday.

“We don’t have enough to be confident to send it abroad now, but I expect we’re going to be able to do that,” Biden said.

“We’re looking at what is going to be done with some of the vaccines that we are not using. We’ve got to make sure they are safe to be sent.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland; Editing by Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis)

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The Liberal Government rolls out post-pandemic spending plan ahead of likely election

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By Julie Gordon

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government on Monday lined up billions in new spending to provide emergency support during a virulent third wave of COVID-19 and to help launch an economic recovery ahead of an election expected later this year.

The budget, the Liberal government’s first in two years because of the pandemic, is aimed squarely at boosting near-term growth and includes a long-promised national daycare plan.

It also follows through on stimulus promised late last year, outlining a C$101.4 billion ($81 billion) “growth plan” over three years, with nearly half of that spending coming in the first year.

“We have to finish the fight against COVID – and that costs a lot of money,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters, adding that hundreds of thousands of Canadians remain out of work because of the pandemic.

Liberal insiders expect Trudeau to seek an election later this year to try to secure a majority in parliament. The Liberals currently need the support of at least one other party to pass legislation, including the budget.

Opposition lawmakers were unimpressed with the budget. But the leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party said he was not prepared to bring down the government over it.

“It is clearly irresponsible to have an election or in any way to trigger an election while we are in the midst of this third wave,” Jagmeet Singh told reporters. “The impact on people would be devastating and we are not going to do that.”

Erin O’Toole, who heads the official opposition Conservatives, said: “This is an election budget and a poor one at that.” His party trailed the Liberals by 37% to 29% in an Abacus Data poll published last week.

Business groups were pleased with the added certainty of finally having a full budget, but remained unsold on the need for a massive stimulus plan with the economy already set to surge later this year as pent-up demand is unleashed.

“There’s a lot of spending in a lot of programs. But the effects of all of those combined together for me is just a bit unsure,” said Robert Asselin, senior vice president of policy at the Business Council of Canada.

The deficit for the fiscal year that started on April 1 will be the second largest in recent decades, with the closely watched debt-to-GDP ratio hitting 51.2%, although Freeland promised a return to restraint as the economy gets back to normal.

“I think the key here is the debt-to-GDP (ratio) is expected to peak this year … and it’s expected to come down in the years ahead,” said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets. “I think that’s a credible plan if they can stick to it.”

THIRD COVID WAVE

Trudeau’s Liberal government has been buoyed in opinion polls by its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But a third wave of infections is pounding the country’s largest city, Toronto, and its suburbs – a key Ontario region for securing an electoral majority – and the coronavirus vaccine rollout has trailed other wealthy countries like the United States and Britain.

Of the nearly C$50 billion in new spending this year, C$27 billion is set aside to extend pandemic recovery measures like wage and rent subsidies for businesses and for a new program to help transition companies back to hiring.

The budget also aims to create a national childcare program and to make a more aggressive effort to reduce carbon emissions, both measures that polls show are important to Liberal voters.

While Freeland said historically low interest rates allowed significant investment, she also pledged to unwind deficits and reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio over the medium term. A senior government official said, however, that a fiscal anchor should not be seen as a “straitjacket.”

The official also said that the government had run stress tests on the accumulating debt and was confident of its abilities to service that debt even as interest rates rise in the future.

“It’s hard for us to draw a conclusion that we’re out over our skis. We don’t believe we are. We think we’re in very solid terrain,” the official told reporters.

Surging growth should also increase revenues, with 5.8% growth forecast for this year, after a 5.4% contraction in 2020.

The deficit in the current year is projected to hit C$154.7 billion, less than half that of the previous fiscal year, with total national debt soaring to C$1.23 trillion this year, up from C$1.08 trillion in the previous year.

The Canadian dollar steadied at about 1.2530 to the greenback, or 79.81 U.S. cents, after the budget was released. Canada‘s 30-year yield extended its rise, up 7.5 basis points at 2.060%.

($1 = 1.2526 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Julie Gordon; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren, Steve Scherer, Fergal Smith and Moira Warburton; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Beijing huddles with friends, seeks to fracture U.S.-led ‘clique’

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By Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is shoring up ties with autocratic partners like Russia and Iran, as well as economically dependent regional countries, while using sanctions and threats to try to fracture the alliances the United States is building against it.

Worryingly for Beijing, diplomats and analysts say, the Biden administration has got other democracies to toughen up to a rising, more globally assertive China on human rights and regional security issues like the disputed South China Sea.

“China has always resolutely opposed the U.S. side engaging in bloc politics along ideological lines, and ganging up to form anti-China cliques,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

“We hope relevant countries see clearly their own interests…and are not reduced to being anti-China tools of the U.S.”

After last month’s stormy talks between top U.S. and Chinese diplomats in Anchorage, Beijing also appeared to engage more urgently with countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea, which are also on the wrong end of U.S.-led sanctions.

COLD COMFORT

“China is very worried about U.S. alliance diplomacy,” said Li Mingjiang, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, pointing to what he calls attempts to “huddle for warmth” with governments shunned by the West.

Days after the Alaska meeting, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, received Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who called for Moscow and Beijing to push back against what he called the West’s ideological agenda.

A week later, Wang flew to Iran and signed a 25-year economic pact, which Renmin University professor Shi Yinhong said “effectively exposes every Chinese company participating to direct or indirect U.S. sanctions.”

President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, exchanged messages with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, calling for a deeper partnership with another country whose ambitions for nuclear arms has drawn sanctions.

China is also wooing its economically dependent neighbours. Wang hosted foreign ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea in China’s southeastern Fujian province in recent weeks.

Li said Beijing will be holding out promises to help these countries revive their economies after the COVID-19 pandemic, making them think twice about siding with the United States.

After Philippines diplomats and generals accused China of sending militia-manned vessels into their waters, President Rodrigo Duterte said he was not going to let territorial disputes in the South China Sea get in the way of working with China on vaccines and economic recovery.

BUILDING BLOCS

Biden has continued to pressure Beijing on many of the same issues the Trump administration did, but with a more alliance-focused strategy.

At a meeting between Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday, the two countries presented a united front against China’s assertiveness, on issues ranging from the disputed East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, to rights issues in China’s Hong Kong and Xinjiang region.

Last month, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada imposed coordinated sanctions over reports of forced labour in China’s western Xinjiang region, while over a dozen countries jointly accused China of withholding information from an investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and France all recently joined the United States in sending warships through the disputed South China Sea, or announced plans to do so.

Washington also said it wants a “coordinated approach” with allies on whether to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, amid concerns over human rights violations, particularly related to the treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

BREAKING THE ‘CLIQUE’

China has responded angrily to shows of unity by Washington’s allies, with its diplomats dubbing Japan a “vassal” and Canada‘s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “running dog” of the United States.

China’s strategy to weaken this unity revolves around encouraging U.S. allies to engage independently with Beijing, and put the economic benefits first, while punishing them if they engage in joint-action against China.

Beijing responded to the EU’s sanctions of Chinese officials over Xinjiang with disproportionately harsh counter-sanctions, analysts said, potentially torpedoing a long-awaited investment agreement.

Janka Oertel, director of the Asia Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, believes Beijing is prepared to sacrifice economic benefits for core interests if they are threatened by the U.S.-EU alliance.

Xi drove home the message in a recent phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, telling her that he hoped “the EU will make a correct judgment on its independence”.

But China still needs European technology and investment, said Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China.

“They still talk to us, despite the sanctions, business keeps going, and that’s very reassuring.”

Beijing has not given up persuading Washington that cooperation is better than competition, as demonstrated last week when it assured U.S. climate envoy John Kerry of support for Biden’s virtual climate summit this week.

“China hopes Washington can appreciate that it is in U.S. interests to have China as a friend rather than as a foe,” said Wang Wen, a professor at the Chongyang Institute of the Renmin University of China.

 

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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