When The Pandemic Forced Young Adults To Move Back Home, They Got a Financial Education

“When we face a stressor, we tend to think more about the future,” says Brad Koontz, a financial psychologist and professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. Young adults’ growing openness to discuss finances with their parents and peers, they say, reflects a kind of tribal response among people to the stress of the pandemic.

Here’s a look at what the adult children and parents of three families learned about money — and themselves — in their time of pandemic together. When the pandemic forced 23-year-old Hannah Froling to move into her parents’ townhouse in Southampton, NY in March 2020 to remotely finish her final semester of college, the financial clock began to tick.

Ms Frohling’s parents, Jennifer Schlueter and Matthew Froehling, set to move to their winter home in Florida during the fall of 2020, told her they would need to begin helping support the household in their absence. That means monthly payments of $500 for rent and $250 for family car use. They also set a deadline for Memorial Day 2022 for her to be out of the house. Ms Schlueter says she wanted to provide her daughter with a “soft landing” after the shocking experience of graduating in the middle of a pandemic. But she also wanted Ms Froling to transition to living independently, so the transfer deadline passed.

So, Ms. Froling got two waitress jobs and eventually began to rely on the savings lessons her parents took as they grew up. She has two income streams—cash tips and a regular paycheck that includes her hourly rate and credit card tips. She keeps the cash tips in a savings account and splits the paycheck between a checking account and an investment account linked to an S&P 500 index fund. She has saved about $10,000 since moving back home and started looking for apartments to rent on Long Island.

Saving and managing money doesn’t always come easily to Ms. Froling. While in college, he received an allowance from his parents at the beginning of each semester. “As a freshman, I’ll blow it in the first two months,” she says. So her parents, who both work in finance, seated her and helped her budget by outlining the necessities and luxuries in her spending habits.

But it’s been the past 18 months at home, and the closeness to her parents, which has allowed Ms Froling to be more proactive about her savings and investments, and to put all those lessons into practice. She says many of her money talks happen on family road trips. Her father helps her stay on top of the latest trends in investing and her mother shares strategies for how Ms. Froling can increase her savings and continue to build a foundation for moving out of the family home. Ms. Froling is taking it further by sharing these tips with her coworkers and encouraging some of them to open their own investment accounts.

“The lesson we want to teach her is that she can do this,” says Ms Schlueter, referencing the financial wisdom she is sharing with her daughter rather than just talking to her from being together during the pandemic. got the opportunity to do. via phone or text. That includes discussing expenses such as health and car insurance after Ms. Froling leaves home again.

Ms Froling says, while she often feels like her parents bother her about how much she’s saving, in the end she knows it’s best: “They don’t want me when I If I get out of here, it will fall flat on my face.”

breaking the money taboo

In November 2020, 27-year-old Rogelio Meza left his $1,500-a-month apartment in Austin, Texas, to move into his parents’ home in Laredo.

The move helped him work towards his goal of saving money and becoming a homeowner, says Mr. Meja, who works as a customer-experience manager for a solar-power company. It also allowed him to help his parents, who were battling the financial stress of the pandemic.

When the pandemic struck, her mother, Eudoxia Meja, who works as a cook, noticed that her hours had been cut in half. His father Juan Meja is handicapped and unable to work. Since living with his parents, little Mr. Majora has helped with grocery and utility bills, paying about $700 a month, which still allows him to take out money for a home down-payment. Is.

When he was growing up, Mr. Meja says, his family never talked about money. “Nobody really taught me how to save, nobody taught me about stock options or investment accounts, good versus bad debt.” He relied on friends who worked in finance to teach him about these things, and the conversation helped him understand where his money was going. Now, he says, he has passed on some of this knowledge to his parents.

One day, when an unusually large and overdue utility bill arrived in the mail, Mr. Majora turned it into an opportunity to start sharing his financial wisdom with his family.

“I was like, ‘Okay, let’s talk about it,’” he says, describing what led to several candid conversations about money with his parents. Indeed, after that initial exchange, he basically became the family financial advisor. Mr. Meja helped his parents calculate how much they were spending on groceries and how much they actually needed each month. He also discovered that he had $3,000 in credit-card debt and advised him to use his stimulus money to aggressively pay it off. Using a combination of direct payments from their mother’s wages, incentives and unemployment benefits, they were able to pay off their utility bills and credit-card debt in just a few weeks.

Thereafter, Mr. Meja set up a savings account for her mother and advised her to put forward 20% of her salary into the account. He also plans to help his parents open an investment account and teach them how to grow their money over time. He says being able to pay off his debt gave his parents a new starting point.

Mr. Meja has learned a few things during his stint at home as well. He says that the time he spent with his parents opened his eyes to how little he needed to be happy. For example, before reuniting with his mother and father, he often ordered takeout for lunch and dinner. But the home-cooked food he eats at home, he says, especially his mother’s enchiladas has inspired him to start cooking for himself.

As far as his parents are concerned, they say that talking about money is no longer a taboo in their family, and they will continue to seek financial advice from their son. He plans to move back to Austin in November and complete the purchase of an apartment in the city at that time.

a new perspective

Edgar Mendoza was living the high life in Chicago. The 41-year-old was paying about $3,000 a month for a downtown apartment. He often dined out and had courtside seats at basketball games.

But when the lockdown began, he began to re-evaluate his habits, limiting his activities and his spending. “What Covid taught me is no, I don’t need all that,” says Mr. Mendoza, who deals in sales and invests in startups. In January, he packed his belongings and moved to McAllister, Mont., to be with his mother and stepfather. And he doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon.

Living in Montana with his family, Mr. Mendoza says, he has reinforced the frugal lifestyle he grew up with. When he was young, he says, his mother, Maria Platt, used to tell him to “watch his money.” Now, he saves his money and invests it in places where it can grow.

Ms Platt says she is proud of the progress she has seen in her son and how she has embraced the lessons she has taught him. The family cooks together and they rarely eat out. Mr Mendoza says he is not being asked to pay the rent, but he buys all the groceries.

“He’s changed a lot,” Ms Pratt says of her son. “He used to spend money like crazy. I would talk to him and he’s like, ‘Mom, you’re right about this and you’re right about that.’ Now, in his view, he is motivated to support the family in the long run, and this has prompted him to refocus on his spending habits.

Mr. Mendoza says seeing his mother come home exhausted from work and budgeting his Social Security benefits has made him see his financial future in a new light. It has forced him to think more realistically about what retirement can be like. “When you see that you love someone… it hits you really hard,” he says. “I don’t want it to be me.”

Ms Pratt says her son still has to work on his financial habits. They sometimes forget to buy their groceries and eat food already in the family’s fridge, she says. She would also like to watch him learn to cook.

“I told him that if you make good money, save it,” she says. “I’m not going to live forever…….

By: Taylor Nakagawa

Taylor Nakagawa hails from Chicago, Illinois and earned a master’s degree from the Missouri School of Journalism in 2017. As part of the Audience Voice team, Taylor is focused on experimenting with new story formats to create a healthy environment for community engagement.

Source: When the Pandemic Forced Young Adults to Move Back Home, They Got a Financial Education – WSJ

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The Future Is Looking Up for Small Businesses But Hiring Struggles Continue

A shortage of workers remains a big concern for business owners, and there’s no clear evidence yet that the end of federal unemployment benefits is boosting the labor supply

A lot has changed since unemployment reached a record rate of 14.8 percent in April 2020. Job openings are at their highest number since 2000 — and businesses can’t seem to fill them fast enough.

After any number of pandemic-related setbacks, small businesses are once again optimistic about the near future. Nearly three-fourths expect to increase sales in the next six months — but hiring struggles are putting a damper on these prospects, according to a survey of 500 small-to-medium-size businesses conducted in August 2021 and released yesterday by PNC.

Labor availability is the most-cited concern, and of the those experiencing hiring difficulties, 58 percent point to enhanced federal unemployment benefits as the culprit. With expanded federal unemployment benefits having ended on Labor Day — reducing unemployment pay by $300 a week — businesses widely believed this cut-off would lead to a surge in job applicants.

But the expected surge hasn’t yet materialized. A study released in late August authored by economists Kyle Coombs of Columbia University, Arindrajit Dube of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and others, showed that in the 22 states that ended these federal employment benefits earlier in June, there was only a small rise in employment in subsequent months — 4.4 percent.

Small businesses are now addressing the labor shortage directly by improving pay and benefits. Of those businesses surveyed, more than four in 10 say they’ve increased compensation to help attract and retain talent, and 44 percent have started allowing more flexible work arrangements. Nearly half have also begun implementing improved health and safety measures.

These changes don’t come without a cost. More than half (54 percent) of business owners surveyed say they anticipate raising prices to compensate for increased labor costs and inflation. Once this cost is passed on to consumers, individuals who previously received federal unemployment benefits may, at last, feel increasing financial pressure to re-enter the job market.

By Rebecca Deczynski, Staff reporter, Inc.@rebecca_decz

Source: The Future Is Looking Up for Small Businesses — But Hiring Struggles Continue | Inc.com

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13 Ways to Invest in Yourself

When you hear the word “investing,” you probably think about stocks, bonds, maybe commodities. It’s far less likely that your reflex will be inward – but indeed, you can, and should, invest in yourself, too.

Investing is an enormous industry solely dedicated to the idea of using capital to create more capital. We highly suggest you do it. But in many instances, investing time and energy – which, just like money, are in finite supply – in yourself can lead to a meaningful payoff, too. And sometimes that payoff includes the accumulation of wealth.

It’s just a matter of application, and making a plan.

To that end, here’s a rundown of 13 different ways to invest in your career, your mind and your happiness that have nothing to do with buying low and selling high. Becoming a more marketable worker, earning a chance to be your own boss and simply broadening your horizons can yield rewards, too.

Find a Mentor

Spending time with a mentor is one of the best investments you can make. Mentors are plentiful. It doesn’t cost much to talk with them – just the price of a cup of coffee, or maybe an Uber trip if your mentor works elsewhere. And they can provide you with a wealth of benefits: They can improve your current job skills, help you network within your field and potentially become an employer in the future.

What workplace mentorship looks like will vary from one employer to the next. But in almost all cases, it could and should involve a senior employee acting as a guide for a newer worker with less company-specific experience. In some cases where management is willing to provide time off and funding, leadership “camps” and team-building experiences can also make employees more effective.

But what if your employer doesn’t facilitate such programs? Be the organizer of a formal, company-wide effort that pairs newer workers with veterans. It’s not a difficult sell. Your boss will benefit from a staff that at the very least better knows one another, and they’ll probably appreciate the subsequent synergies too. Meanwhile, you’ll make new intra-office contacts.

You can find mentors outside of your workplace, too. A simple way to start is by simply reaching out to leaders and other knowledgeable members of your field for “informational interviews” – nothing more than a cup of coffee or lunch to talk about the profession.

Depending on the topic, you might be able to find more plentiful outside resources. For instance, small-business entrepreneurs have a host of options at their fingers, such as Score.org, which pairs individuals up with local SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) chapters to pair them with one of more than 10,000 volunteer business experts.

More Education for a Career Change

Many young college graduates might be happy working in the field they just finished studying, but some individuals further into their careers might be mulling a change – perhaps a pivot toward one of these top jobs of the future.

In many cases, however, these individuals don’t feel they can because they lack a degree related to their new dream job. Or if they do “change things up,” they make a move within the industry rather than taking on a whole new category – even when that new job could prove more lucrative.

Knight Kiplinger points out the benefit of such an investment in his “Keys to Financial Security”: “A $30,000 pay hike can be viewed as an annual return on a capital investment, like earning a continuous yield of 6% on $500,000 of savings. You know how hard it is to save up $500,000. Maybe that $30,000 boost in salary is easier to achieve.”

There’s good news for the hesitant, however. More than 80% of people who changed careers after they turned 45 years old found success in their new field, according to the American Institute for Economic Research.

For some occupations, such as teachers and nurses – two of the most popular second careers for older rookies – might require a brand-new degree. But the advent of the internet has changed the way we learn. Traditional college classrooms are still an option, though career-changers with families who might need to work at the same time they’re going back to school have plenty of internet options. Roughly one-third of college-level studies are now done online, and many employers see this classwork as credible.

Professional Certifications

In some cases, a college degree might not be the right kind of continuing education for you. Some employers are more interested in specialized skills and credentials. Company hierarchies in the modern workplace are optimized by a diversity of detailed, focused knowledge that sometimes comes in the form of a professional-level certificate.

And at the least, there aren’t many industries that don’t encourage the attainment of specialized credentials.

Take the finance industry as an example. Most career-minded jobs in the sector require a minimum of a college degree. But some of the most successful financial planners are Certified Financial Planners, with a CFP designation. Chartered Financial Analysts (CFAs) also enjoy a high-level of credibility within the investment management arena. There’s even a professional designation for investment professionals that specialize in analyzing stock charts: Chartered Market Technicians.

The technology arena arguably offers the most, and most diverse, options for readily attainable certifications. Certificates aimed at demonstrating expertise in Cisco networking, Microsoft systems and coding languages such as Java and C++ can all be earned in just a few months.

In most cases, these certificates can be secured while you work a full-time job. Some employers will even pay the costs associated with them.

Join Toastmasters

Even when Toastmasters International was in its infancy nearly a century ago, the organization invoked the occasional eye roll. Some outsiders snickered as the seemingly silly gathering of like-minded people that just wanted to practice public speaking in front of other members wishing to do the same.

However, the clubs – all 16,800 of them that meet regularly in 143 different countries – are no joke. Aside from a judgment-free, supportive environment where individuals can get comfortable confronting the one thing they fear more than death itself, Toastmasters is a chance to network with other aspiring business-minded individuals in the area.

And the organization certainly has its share of high-profile success stories. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, comedian and actor Tim Allen, the late iconic Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy, and the late James Brady, former presidential press secretary, are all former Toastmasters members, along with a whole slew of other recognizable names that leveraged their Toastmasters experiences into successful careers.

Toastmasters charges $45 in semi-annual dues as well as a $20 new member fee. Meeting frequency varies by club but typically are held weekly or every other week, for one to two hours per meeting.

Move

It doesn’t sound like a way to invest in yourself. It sounds more like a chore, or even just a flat-out expense. But you might find that simply moving from one place to another can open all sorts of doors … and not just career-oriented ones. New locales bring new people into your life, new kinds of entertainment, lower expenses and new scenery that can make your life better in a myriad of ways.

The latest relocating-minded trend is an exodus from the nation’s biggest cities and the establishment of new roots in less urban areas. Bustling New York City lost 76,790 residents in 2019, and 143,000 in the year before that, mirroring a bigger trend evident across the entire northeaster portion of the country. Lousy weather is cited as one reason for the growing disinterest in the region, though the bigger concern is the sheer cost of living in places such as New York City and Washington, D.C.

Conversely, there are still good reasons to head toward the pricier parts of the country, particularly for people looking for jobs in the financial and tech arenas. Most Wall Street-type jobs require you to actually live somewhere near Wall Street, and Silicon Valley in northern California is the nation’s technological development hub. If you want to work there, you typically have to be there.

If you’re broadly looking for a place to start, consider these states with the fastest rates of job growth. And if you’re looking to figure out how much to budget, Moving.com says the average cost of a long-distance move (1,000 miles) is $4,890, based on a two- to three-bedroom move of about 7,500 pounds.

Start a Side Gig

The idea of a “job” has changed dramatically in just the past few years. Gone are the days when individuals clocked in at 9 a.m., worked for an employer that was trusted to remain in business, and then clocked out at 5 p.m.

The new normal is … well, there is no new normal, given the statistics.

Roughly one-third of U.S. workers claim they utilize “alternative work” arrangements as their primary source of income. That is, they don’t necessarily run their own businesses per se, but rather are contracted, self-employed people that rely on middlemen to connect with a stream of customers. Think driving for Uber, completing projects through Amazon Mechanical Turk, or picking up regular work at a website like Freelancer.com. In some cases, these workers might see more income by being self-employed. But certainly, some see less.

It doesn’t have to be an either/or matter for the entrepreneurial-minded, though. Side gigs can be managed without “giving up your day job” by doing work outside of regular work hours.

The effort is arguably worth it. A recent survey performed by The Hustle found that the average side-gig operator spent an average of 11 hours per week as their own boss, and earned $12,609 per year – an average of about $22 per hour. Real estate, management and money-related side gigs appeared to be the most lucrative, according to the survey.

The payoff can be more than in immediate income. You can use a side gig to hone new skills or test new ideas that can be used to fuel a career shift.

Set Up a (Real) Home Office

Whether you’re self-employed or just one of the lucky corporate employees who are allowed to work from home, there’s much to be said about a space that functions and feels more like an office and less like a bedroom or basement. Indeed, you might be more productive working at home, for yourself or for an employer.

Despite all the noise often made about the pros and cons of working from home, it’s not as widely available an option as you’d think. Only 7% of employers facilitate work-from-home options, according to Fundera, even though the option saves companies an estimated $44 billion per year. Fewer than 4% of employees (including freelance workers) are allowed to work from home for at least half the workweek, says Small Business Trends.

In other words, if you do have an employer that allows you to work from home, be sure to perform just as you would if in an office setting. Companies remain broadly suspicious of the practice.

The one area where it pays to spend more than you might like to on a home office is on a new computer. It is, for better or worse, the centerpiece of the modern work world. Not only are computers used to create and store documents, they’re also becoming the key means of communication with clients and customers. They’re even replacing phones with apps such as Skype. An unreliable or underpowered PC can quickly turn into a nuisance.

Get Healthy

The benefits of living a healthier lifestyle are clear: A longer life, feeling better and being able to physically do more are all good things.

However, there’s a financial upside to eating better and getting more exercise too. More than one, in fact. Chief among them is the sheer cost of being unhealthy, and as such, needing to see a doctor more often.

As part of efforts to make health insurance, and therefore health care, more affordable for everyone, deductibles have soared in recent years. In 2008, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average deductible for a single-person health plan was $735. It has since soared to $1,655. Premium prices are up, too, at $7,188 annually as of 2019, and the maximum out-of-pocket expense in 2019 for an ACA-compliant plan was $7,900 for individuals, and $15,800 for family plans.

Although health insurance is effectively a must-have, using it can prove expensive.

The other financial upside to healthier living: Feeling better, or not being distracted by fatigue, lets your mind stay sharp during sales calls, when meeting new people and when simply being sized up (literally and figuratively) by someone interested in your work. Every interaction or connection is in some way an effort to sell something. Being at your best makes it likelier you’ll perform well.

Get Organized

Most individuals who live disorganized lives, personally and professionally, would argue they don’t have time to organize. In reality, it takes more time, energy and money to not be organized.

Did you know the average American spends 2.5 days per year trying to track down lost items? That’s the case, according to a study by Pixie, a smart-location solution for missing objects. Did you also know that the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (yes, it’s a thing) reports that between 15% and 20% of the average household’s budget is wasted by buying items to replace ones that simply can’t be found? Here’s the kicker: NAPO also estimates that 40% of housework currently being done in the U.S. wouldn’t be necessary if we were willing to de-clutter.

It’s not just time and money. Your mental well-being is at stake, too. People who have successfully mastered the art of self-organization find they’re less stressed, sleep better and ultimately end up being more productive. In the workplace, a more organized desk, office, briefcase or vehicle makes a good impression on prospective clients, co-workers, even your boss.

Keep Your Brain Sharp

By many measures, it’s a cruel trick. Never before have people been expected to stay as focused as they are now, yet never before has it been so difficult to prevent your mind from being overwhelmed by a constant barrage of digital data.

Your smartphone has much to do with that. We check our phones for no particular reason about once every 12 minutes; some of us, more frequently.

But the challenge extends beyond just phones. On average, says productivity expert Chris Bailey, we’re distracted by something every 40 seconds. Bailey also says all the regular distractions we experience ultimately extend the time needed to complete a task by 50%. Plus, it can take several minutes just to resume the work being done before the distraction took place.

So, how do you keep your mind sharp in this kind of environment?

For one, try to put down the phone a little more often. Then, start following some of the other steps on this list.

Staying in shape isn’t just a good way to cut down on medical costs – it also helps brain health as you age. Art Kramer, professor of neuroscience and psychology at Northeastern University, tells Kiplinger that people who do more aerobic exercise tend to be better at solving problems, have better memory and show lower rates of dementia.

You want to “network,” too – but not just professionally. Being socially active has many positive effects on the brain, including areas that have to do with memory. So, as you can, try to interact with friends and family more often.

Build Your Own Website or Portfolio

The upside of building your own professional website or portfolio will vary from one person to the next, and with the intent. But if there’s any arguable reason not to invest in yourself in this way, cost isn’t it. The hosting price for a low-end (though still professional-looking) website can be less than $10 per month; for those willing to make a longer-term commitment, requesting and registering the domain name is often free.

What you can do with even the simplest of websites, however, is almost limitless.

Chief among those options for a job-seeker is the use of a website as a digital resume of sorts. But a website can provide a potential employer with work-related details that might otherwise be difficult to present with just one sheet of paper.

In that same vein, a website could serve as a repository of past work for individuals who offer services on a regular basis. Writers, artists and architects are just some of the people who benefit from being able to publicly showcase their work.

And naturally, any entrepreneur with e-commerce ambitions will want to develop a website, and spring for a few more of the bells and whistles required to do business online.

Hire a Career Coach

Sometimes it’s difficult to push yourself to the proverbial next level, whatever that might mean in your given field. Stagnation can sap creativity, and disappointment can quell drive. It’s all too easy to become complacent and resign yourself to doing the exact same thing until it’s time to retire.

A career coach might be just the kick in the pants you need.

But first, you need to understand what a career coach is, and what it isn’t. Career coaches aren’t headhunters. They also can’t tell you what sort of job you should be seeking. And they most certainly won’t be able to help if your impasses are personal rather than professional in nature.

A career coach can, however, help you identify your strengths and weakness as other people see them, assist you in formulating a career-advancement strategy and advise you on how to make a successful career change.

They’re not necessarily cheap. On a per-hour basis, they can charge anywhere between $75 and $250. Some ask for a longer-term, multimonth commitment that can cost a total of anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500.

But they can be worth the outlay. A promotion-related raise or a job offer with a new employer can easily fund such an investment within just a year.

Read Books

There’s a universe of great information floating around, ready to be gleaned. Much of it can’t be found at your workplace. Instead, it’s at a bookstore – or, for the more economically minded, a library.

The statistics on the matter are nothing short of amazing. Fast Company says the average CEO reads 60 books per year. Ben Eubanks, human resources analyst with Brandon Hall Group, believes “people who are successful are often crazy about reading. They make time for that because they understand how important it is, and it’s kind of like a secret weapon.” However, a person in the United States only reads between two and three books per year, most of those purely for pleasure.

A lot of that has to do with time available, but if you have recreational time you aren’t spending on reading, you might consider re-allocating it to hitting the books.

The upsides? Aside from the knowledge and perspective gained from teaching yourself about something new, reading also expands your vocabulary and opens up opportunities to discuss new ideas with your boss (current or prospective). There’s something powerful about being able to say, “That’s something I was just reading about the other day.”

One word of caution: Reading a work-related book just for the sake of being seen reading a work-related book can easily backfire. Most experienced managers can spot an effort get the wrong kind of attention. They might not like the tactic. Just read a book on faith that it will eventually matter, even if that means with a different employer.

By: James Brumley

Source: https://getpocket.com/

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Transforming Blue Food Systems is a Win-Win For People and Planet

Can blue foods help protect the planet and meet the looming crisis of how to feed a fast-growing population? The United Nations, which has made foods from the water one of the key pillars at its special summit on Food Systems this week, thinks it can. But with a third of our oceans overfished, we must act now to harness its potential for future generations.

With the global population set to reach 10 billion by 2050 and hundreds of millions of people already undernourished, food from our oceans offers huge potential to alleviate hunger. This potential can only be unlocked, however, if governments work together to create sustainable and well-managed food systems.

The Blue Food Assessment (BFA) published last week provides one of the most comprehensive overviews to date of how blue foods can play a vital role in addressing the combined challenges of climate change, sustainable development and malnutrition.

One of its key papers found that fish, shellfish and algae have more nutritional benefits and sustainability gains than terrestrial animal-source foods. For example, compared to chicken, oysters and mussels have 76 times more vitamins B-12 and five times more iron. Blue foods also provide opportunities to reduce the environmental footprint of animal protein compared with land-based production.

However, as our ocean is already under immense pressure, and with the growth in demand for blue foods set to roughly double by 2050, sustainable management of ocean resources is crucial if the benefits of these aquatic food sources are to be reaped.

The urgency of this issue is spelled out in another of the scientific papers published as part of the BFA. The study, by some of the world’s leading food systems researchers, doesn’t pull its punches. Without the help of better policy and governance, it argues, shocks to small-scale fisheries and aquaculture could threaten the food and nutrition security of millions worldwide. Those in regions currently most vulnerable to food insecurity and the impact of climate change face the highest risks.

But this problem isn’t an unsolvable equation. We already know what works. We know, for instance, that tackling overfishing is a win-win for the planet and people. Fish stocks can recover and replenish if they are managed carefully, providing more people with the nutrients they need to live healthily. In fact, it is estimated that 16 million tonnes more in catch could be generated every year if all wild-capture fisheries used sustainable practices. The MSC’s own analysis, where I serve as chief executive, suggests that this would meet the protein needs of 72 million more people around the world every year.

Patagonian toothfishIcelandic cod and Cantabrian anchovy have all seen stocks rebound in recent years and just this month the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that four commercial tuna species were recovering as a result of governments enforcing more sustainable fishing quotas and successfully combatting illegal fishing.

At a time when we need more success stories like this, many governments however are struggling to co-operate over fishery management measures that will ensure healthy fish stocks for future generations. Take the situation in the North East Atlantic, where some of the richest nations on the planet have consistently failed to find consensus on how to share quotas for herring, mackerel and blue whiting. As a result, catch quotas for these fisheries exceed the scientifically recommended limits needed to ensure their long-term sustainability, and these fisheries have consequently lost their certification to the MSC’s sustainability standard.

History shows us that taking more fish from the ocean than can be replenished, leads to stock collapse and, ultimately, impacts negatively on those fishing communities that rely on the sea for their livelihoods. Yet despite the mistakes of the past, this problem remains — the Mediterranean, for instance, remains the most overfished sea in the world. Despite the good news on some tuna species, many individual tuna stocks remain at risk and regional management authorities struggle to agree on international measures to manage those stocks sustainably for the long term.

Governments have a responsibility on behalf of the public to safeguard our oceans for current and future generations. As climate change, population growth and overfishing are converging to create a perfect storm that threatens the future health of our aquatic resources, and the billions of people that depend on them, it’s time for a revitalized global approach to the management of our oceans’ riches. The world is looking to the UN Food Systems Summit as an opportunity for decision-makers to decide on a meaningful, coordinated and cooperative change. Let’s hope they deliver.

By:

Source: Transforming blue food systems is a win-win for people and planet | TheHill

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The Best Thing for Back Pain is Actually More Movement

Roughly 80 percent of Americans have back pain at some point in their lives. Historically, many of those people were told that, barring a specific, treatable injury, there’s one prescription for back pain: rest. But research today tells us that the answer is actually just the opposite.

“The advice to rest and not stress your back runs counter to what we now understand to be the best course of action,” says Eric Robertson, a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association and an associate professor of clinical physical therapy at University of Utah and University of Southern California. One of the main issues that physical therapists and physicians alike have run into is that we don’t actually know what causes the pain.

Pain in any muscle can come from being too tight or stiff, but it could also be from a weakness or if it’s not moving in the right way, explains Robertson. Like a car, he says, if there’s one weak spot other parts of the vehicle are going to wear down more quickly—and that’s where you can get pain.

Strengthening your core and back muscles, then, can be incredibly helpful in treating and preventing back pain. And the good news is that you don’t need to do serious weight training to see benefits. The more you move generally, the less likely you are to have pain.

“Standing frequently throughout the day, walking or pacing whenever feasible, and stretching the hips, hamstrings, and hip flexors regularly are a good way to be proactive in preventing these issues,” says Lauren Shroyer, Senior Director of Product Development and a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) at the American Council on Exercise. Robertson agrees.

He says walking is one of the best exercises for back pain, since it’s non-load bearing and easy to do—but even just moving more overall is going to be helpful (and research backs him up). Back pain can often be the predictable result of a sedentary lifestyle that more and more Americans have, so it may not take much movement to increase strength in the core and back enough to relieve pain.

Still, lifting may be able to help even more. Studies suggest that even low-levels of strength training can improve back pain. Discomfort in the back can often be the result of weaknesses elsewhere, like the gluteal muscles and adductors, both of which are in your hips and legs. Strengthening those muscles with exercises like squats, leg presses, or any single leg movement, can help with the pain, Robertson says.

If you’re having pain right now, you should consult a physical therapist who can design a program specific to your body and your pain. But if you want a general exercise regimen to help prevent back issues, Shroyer has some recommendations.

For beginners, try these exercises:

Once you’ve mastered those, or if you’re already more experienced, try these:

You may also want to incorporate stretching in with your strength training. Shroyer recommends a basic program for staving off back issues. “In general, when you are not experiencing acute pain and want to be proactive in preventing it, a regular program of stretching the hips and strengthening the legs, abdominals and spine is best.” If you want specifics, check out Williams flexion exercises, the figure-4 piriformis stretch, the cat-cow stretch, and the spinal twist.

You can also determine from your lumbar (or lower) spine position which types of other exercises may be the most helpful, Shroyer says. If you look at yourself from the side in a full-length mirror, check out how much your lower back curves. If it’s fairly straight, hamstring stretches are going to give you the best benefit. If you have a deep curve, hip flexor stretches may be best.

If you’re experiencing minor pain or are simply trying to prevent back problems in the future, the recommendations so far may be all you need. But many people who have chronic back pain find that even doing basic stretches or exercises are overwhelming.

“All pain experiences are a combination of physical and emotional responses,” Robertson says. That might seem tangential to solving your back pain, but the truth is that a large part of overcoming that discomfort is about overcoming the fear of being in pain.

If you’re in pain every time you move, he explains, it’s normal to become afraid of moving—and it’s a physical therapist’s job to enable you to start moving enough that you can move past the fear. Lots of people are told that they simply have a bad back. But the truth is that about 90 percent of back pain isn’t serious, Robertson says, and that means most people can get on track to being pain-free with the right training.

Some folks will get flare-ups, but recurrences don’t mean that you have to live with a bad back for your whole life. (If you have changes in bowel or bladder like trouble peeing, tingling or numbness especially in the groin, or neurologic symptoms like weakness or numbness that may be a sign that you are in the 10 percent of people with a more serious issue—and you should go see a doctor!).

Robertson says that he’s personally experienced back pain intermittently throughout his life, and that it’s still a struggle for him. “Every time, I have this feeling that it’s going to be forever. It’s an okay thing to acknowledge—it’s scary and overwhelming,” he says. We all need to talk about back pain in a more positive light, he says, as something that might be awful now but can be overcome.

By: Sara Chodosh

Source: The Best Thing for Back Pain is Actually More Movement

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What the End of Pandemic Unemployment Benefits Means for Your Hiring Plans

The recent expiration of federal unemployment benefits likely won’t ease the hiring crunch. It could make it worse. In the past few months, many business owners have grown to begrudge federal pandemic unemployment assistance, which they viewed as providing a disincentive for people to work and thus contributing to a dearth of would-be workers.

With the expiration of that benefit on September 4, 2021, business owners may like what happens next even less. While the jury is still out on the effect of this latest lapse in enhanced unemployment benefits, which clocked in at $300 a week, above what states pay out, history shows that there is a tradeoff.

When unemployment benefits are cut, in general, there is a slight increase in people looking for work, says Ben Zipperer, in economist for the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, but that number tends to be small. The largest result by far, he says, has been a massive decrease in spending among those who’ve lost benefits, which also cuts into a company’s bottom line, making it potentially harder to justify bringing on new hires.

It may also cut into the funds businesses can pay for certain positions, which doesn’t inspire people to get back into the workforce, especially during a pandemic when people more aware of the costs of working at a particular job relative to all the other things that matter in their lives.

“Many low-wage employers are having trouble finding workers to work at [modest] because those jobs are much more dangerous now, and the working conditions are much worse than before the pandemic,” says Zipperer.

In April of last year, the government kicked off its federal assistance program for unemployed Americans, providing as many as 7.5 million access to an extra $600 per week, an amount that was later reduced to $300 per week under the Biden Administration. Unemployment benefits were also offered to contract workers and the self-employed, who under normal circumstances do not qualify for assistance. Payments were extended beyond the traditional 26 weeks offered by most states.

While there are currently no immediate plans in Congress to reauthorize this relief, typical state unemployment benefits will continue, thanks in part to the $350 billion in federal assistance provided to the states under the American Rescue Plan. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government has delivered more than $800 billion in unemployment benefits.

If you’re looking for workers, Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recommends staying local before all else, and putting the word out as much as possible that you’re hiring. For instance, he notes that a restaurant owner he’s been in contact with found employees by telling customers about job openings directly.

“I think from a small business perspective, all hiring is local, and to that extent, I see remarkable leadership by small businesses trying to capitalize on one of their biggest strengths, and that is their local reputation,” says Sullivan.

By Brit Morse, Assistant editor, Inc.@britnmorse

Source: What the End of Pandemic Unemployment Benefits Means for Your Hiring Plans | Inc.com

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Unemployment Funds in Switzerland

 

What The New Outlook For Social Security Means For You

Whew! The pandemic had a smaller impact on the Social Security trust funds — that is, Social Security’s solvency — than many feared during the depths of the pandemic downturn.

According to the new 2021 annual report from the Social Security Trustees, the depletion date for the combined trust funds —retirement and disability — is 2033 without any changes to program benefits. That would be when today’s 54-year-olds reach Social Security’s Full Retirement Age. Still, that’s one year earlier than last year’s 2034 estimate.

Depletion date or insolvency doesn’t mean bankruptcy — far from it. Funding from payroll tax receipts will be enough to pay 78% of promised benefits after the combined Social Security trust funds depletion date is reached.

“The trust fund report should be seen as a strength,” says Eric Kingson, professor of social work and public administration at Syracuse University and co-author with Nancy Altman of “Social Security Works for Everyone: Protecting and Expanding the Insurance Americans Love and Count On.”

What the Social Security Trustees Said

The report, Kingson said, “provides information for Congress and the public on what needs to be done to maintain benefits.”

And Altman, president of Social Security Works, chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition and a rumored possible Biden appointee to run the Social Security Administration, said this when the Trustees report came out on Wednesday: “Today’s report shows that Social Security remains strong and continues to work well, despite a once-in-a-century pandemic. That this year’s projections are so similar to last year’s proves once again that our Social Security system is built to withstand times of crisis, providing a source of certainty in uncertain times.”

But the Social Security Trustees are strikingly cautious about their estimates involving the impact of the pandemic on the Social Security trust fund and its sister trust fund for Medicare, the federal health insurance program primarily for people 65 and older.

Despite the dry language of actuaries, the uncertainty is apparent.

Employment, earnings, interest rates and gross domestic product (GDP) dropped substantially in the second quarter of 2020, the worst economic period of the pandemic. As a result, the decline in payroll-tax receipts which pay for Social Security benefits eroded the trust funds, though the drop in payroll taxes was offset somewhat by higher mortality rates.

“Given the unprecedented level of uncertainty, the Trustees currently assume that the pandemic will have no net effect on the individual long range ultimate assumptions,” they write.

The Pandemic and Social Security Solvency

But, they add, “At this time, there is no consensus on what the lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the long-term experience might be, if any.”

The Trustees say they “will continue to monitor developments and modify the projections in later reports.”

Translation: the status quo remains and the forecast for the pandemic’s effect on Social Security’s solvency is cloudy.

Odds are the coming Social Security financing shortfall won’t get sustained attention from either the Biden administration or Congress despite the need to take action before 2034.

The Trustees aren’t too happy about that.

Their report says: “The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way in order to phase in necessary changes gradually and give workers and beneficiaries time to adjust to them. Implementing changes sooner rather than later would allow more generations to share in the needed revenue increases or reductions in scheduled benefits… With informed discussion, creative thinking, and timely legislative action, Social Security can continue to protect future generations.”

The Political Outlook for Social Security Reforms

But the Biden administration and its Congressional allies are instead focused on threading the political needle for an ambitious $3.5 trillion infrastructure spending package, while also dealing with the fallout from the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Leading Republican legislators have called for so-called entitlement reform (think Social Security benefit cuts), but that’s a tough sell in the current Democratically controlled Congress.

“Does the report mean the timetable argues for real concrete action on [addressing solvency issues of] Social Security? Probably not. Will it revive the rhetoric that the sky is falling? Sure,” says Robert Blancato, national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition advocacy group, president of Matz Blancato and Associates and a 2016 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging.

The issue over how best to restore financial solvency to Social Security isn’t going away. That’s because the program is fundamental to the economic security of retired Americans. Social Security currently pays benefits to 49 million retired workers and dependents of retired workers (as well as survivor benefits to six million younger people and 10 million disabled people).

However, the tenor of the longer-term solvency discussion has significantly changed in recent years.

To be sure, a number of leading Republicans still want to cut Social Security retirement benefits to reduce the impending shortfall. Their latest maneuver is what’s known as The TRUST Act, sponsored by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.

It calls for closed-door meetings of congressionally appointed bipartisan committees to come up with legislation to restore solvency by June 1 of the following year. The TRUST act would also limit Congress to voting yes or no on the proposals. No amendments allowed.

What’s Different About Future Social Security Changes

AARP, responding to the Trustees report news, came out vehemently against The TRUST Act’s closed-door reform plan. “All members of Congress should be held accountable for any action on Social Security and Medicare,” AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said.

“The concern seems to be they would look to cuts first, versus a more comprehensive approach,” says Blancato. A more comprehensive approach could include tax increases for the wealthy and technical changes to the Social Security system.

Something else that’s different is that liberals are no longer trying to simply stave off benefit cuts and preserve the program exactly as it is — the main tactic since Republican Newt Gingrich was House Majority Leader in the mid-1990s. That have bigger and bolder ideas.

Most Democratic members of Congress have co-sponsored legislation to expand Social Security or voted in support of incremental increases in benefits, such as providing more for the oldest old and a new minimum Social Security benefit equal to at least 125% of the poverty level (that translates to $16,100 for a household of one).

Addressing Social Security’s shortfall and paying for the new benefits, with the Democrats’ plans, would come from tax hikes, ranging from gradually raising the 6.2% payroll tax rate to hiking or eliminating the $142,800 limit on annual earnings subject to Social Security taxes to some combination of these.

But Social Security benefit cuts are off the negotiating table for the Democrats.

“Biden has made a commitment not to cut and to make modest improvements in benefits,” says Kingson. “He won’t back off that.”

The President has pushed for raising the Social Security payroll tax cap so people earning incomes over $400,000 would owe taxes on that money, too. He has also backed raising the minimum Social Security benefit to 125% of the poverty level.

The Good News for Social Security Beneficiaries

One more piece of Social Security news to keep in mind: Social Security recipients are likely to get a sizable cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their benefits in 2022. The exact amount will be announced in October and estimates vary widely, from 3% to as high as 6%. A 6% increase would be the highest in 40 years.

But there’s a catch: Medicare Part B premiums for physician and outpatient services — a significant portion of Medicare’s funding —will also go up due to inflation. And those premium payments usually come right out of monthly Social Security checks.

The Trustees report says the estimated standard monthly Medicare Part B premium in 2022 will be $158.50, up about 7% from $148.50 in 2021 and a 9.6% total increase since 2020. (Monthly premiums are based on income, though, and can exceed $500 for high earners.)

The Trustees report says Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund (HITF) has enough funds to pay scheduled benefits until 2026, unchanged from last year. Medicare’s finances stayed stable during the pandemic, with people over 65 largely avoiding elective care. The pandemic “is not expected to have a large effect on the financial status of the [Medicare] trust funds after 2024,” the Trustees report noted.

Like Social Security, the trust fund behind Medicare Part A (which pays for hospitals, nursing facilities, home health and hospice care) is primarily funded by payroll taxes. There will be enough tax income coming in to cover an estimated 91% of total scheduled benefits once the trust fund is insolvent.

Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs, is mostly funded by federal income taxes, premiums and state payments.

But the political story about Medicare is less about its projected 2026 shortfall and more about momentum toward expanding the program. The Biden administration has proposed adding hearing, visual and dental care to Medicare benefits, something also being pushed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) At this time, it’s unclear how those new benefits would be paid for, though they wouldn’t affect the trust fund.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

Next Avenue is public media’s first and only national journalism service for America’s booming older population. Our daily content delivers vital ideas, context and perspectives on issues that matter most as we age.

Source: What The New Outlook For Social Security Means For You

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The Great Millennial Blood Pressure Problem

You know the guy. You work with him, or you’re friends with him, or maybe you even are him. He’s youngish. Fit-ish. Flirting with fasting and CBD. Always tracking his steps, his sleep, his heart rate, his meditation streaks. But these trackers overlook one metric: blood pressure. Those two numbers measure how well your blood vessels handle the 2,000 gallons of blood your heart pumps around your body in a day. And young guys’ vessels aren’t doing the job so well.

In 2019, Blue Cross Blue Shield released data from the claims of 55 million people in its Health of Millennials report. One of the most shocking stats: From 2014 to 2017, the prevalence of high blood pressure in people ages 21 to 36 jumped 16 percent, and compared with Gen Xers when they were the same age, high blood pressure among millennials was 10 percent more prevalent.

So what exactly do we mean by “high”? We mean blood pressure that measures above 130 systolic (the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts) or 80 diastolic (the pressure between beats). And when that happens, explains preventive cardiologist Michael Miedema, M.D., M.P.H., of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, your blood vessels stiffen up, forcing blood pressure even higher. That can create stress on vessel walls, leading to an ugly chain of inflammation, plaque buildup, and higher risk for heart attack and stroke.

For the longest time, most young people didn’t have to worry about this. “Youth has always been a relative Teflon coating,” says Eric Topol, M.D., founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California. Blood-pressure issues were strictly for older people, and the idea that this protection might be eroding is forcing doctors to examine what’s really going on. Here’s what they’re finding.

All That #Wellness Isn’t Making you Healthy

You’d think customized vitamins, kombucha, and cryotherapy would get you to #peakwellness, but when it comes to blood pressure, they’re not doing much. “With millennials, you hear a lot about wellness and not as much about health—and they’re different,” says Christopher Kelly, M.D., a cardiologist at North Carolina Heart and Vascular Hospital, and a millennial himself.

“Wellness trends promise great results with little effort, but few have any proven long-term benefits,” he says. “You won’t see ads on Instagram for the few things that we know promote health, including regular exercise, not smoking, being at a healthy weight, and screening for blood-pressure and cholesterol issues.”

Being Broke Can Break You

Millennials carry more than $1 trillion in debt. A large chunk of that is due to student loans—millennials owe more than four times what Gen Xers do. Add this weight to other pressures and it makes sense that millennials reported the highest average stress level of any generation, at 5.7 out of 10, in the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey. (Gen Xers came in at 5.1, Gen Zers at 5.3, and boomers at a relatively zen 4.1.)

“Most of us overlook that the medical word we use for high blood pressure, hypertension, is really hyper and tension,” says cardiologist Andrew M. Freeman, M.D., of National Jewish Health in Denver. Not only does chronic stress play a role in high blood pressure, but the responses we often have to what’s stressing us out—like binge eating and cutting sleep short—jack it up, too.

Blame Seamless and Postmates

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that people who ate home-cooked meals almost every day consumed nearly 1,000 fewer calories a week than those who went with home-cooked once a week or less. And that’s bad news for millennials: The average millennial eats out or buys takeout food five times per week, according to a Bankrate survey, which means they’re devouring all the pressure-boosting sodium and calories that come with it.

(Sodium is particularly sneaky: In one study, 90 percent of people thought their restaurant meal had about 1,000 milligrams—around half a day’s worth—less than it did.) And sodium ends up in your diet via some surprising foods, like bread (see the top sources here).

Then there’s the weight factor. Millennials are on track to be the heaviest generation in history, and extra weight on a young adult can ratchet up blood pressure and thicken the heart muscle early, inviting heart disease later on.

It’s Easy to Avoid Moving

“The heart requires the challenge of moving blood through the body to keep things supple and functioning normally,” says Aaron Baggish, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital. And between more screen time, longer commutes, and more labor-saving devices, Dr. Baggish explains, “many millennials are just not doing enough activity.” See the best exercises to get started with.But There’s Good News About Young Guys’ Blood Pressure

You can head off this whole saga with some pretty simple lifestyle changes. Start with the six basic steps at right, and keep on top of your blood-pressure rates with the three gizmos below. Even minor adjustments can bring down your BP, especially the ones below.

6 Small Changes That Take Blood Pressure Down

1.) Lose two pounds. For every two pounds or so you shed, you could see a one-point drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number).

2.) Get up every 45 minutes and walk around. This simple move was enough to significantly lower diastolic blood pressure in one study.

3.) Eat for your heart. “Following a heart-healthy diet can drop systolic blood pressure as much as a pill can,” says cardiologist Michael Miedema, M.D., M.P.H. That’s about three to five points.

4.) Fill up on potassium. This mineral can counteract the effects of sodium in your diet. Help it out and counter sodium yourself by nixing key sources like bread, cold cuts, and pizza.

5.) Say yes to pickup basketball. The adrenaline and cortisol that swirl around when you’re stressed can hike up blood pressure. In fact, one recent study found that male med students were 13 times as likely to have elevated numbers as their female counterparts. Friends help buffer stress. Bonus if you combine hanging out with a workout.

6.) Monitor pressure at home. Everyone should check their BP once a month at home, even if they’re healthy, says John Elefteriades, M.D., director of the Aortic Institute at Yale-New Haven Hospital. It can help you ID triggers so you can keep them from messing with your numbers and your life.

By: Cassie Shortsleeve

Cassie Shortsleeve is a skilled freelance writer and editor with almost a decade of experience reporting on all things health, fitness, and travel. A former Shape and Men’s Health editor, her work has also been published in Women’s Health, SELF, Runner’s World, Men’s Journal, CNTraveler.com, and other national print and digital publications. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her drinking coffee or running around her hometown of Boston.

Source: The Great Millennial Blood Pressure Problem

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The ٍٍEmpty Office: What We Lose When We Work From Home

For decades, anthropologists have been telling us that it’s often the informal, unplanned interactions and rituals that matter most in any work environment. So how much are we missing by giving them up?

n the summer of 2020, Daniel Beunza, a voluble Spanish social scientist who taught at Cass business school in London, organized a stream of video calls with a dozen senior bankers in the US and Europe. Beunza wanted to know how they had run a trading desk while working from home. Did finance require flesh-and-blood humans?

Beunza had studied bank trading floors for two decades, and had noticed a paradox. Digital technologies had entered finance in the late 20th century, pushing markets into cyberspace and enabling most financial work to be done outside the office – in theory. “For $1,400 a month you can have the [Bloomberg] machine at home.

You can have the best information, all the data at your disposal,” Beunza was told in 2000 by the head of one Wall Street trading desk, whom he called “Bob”. But the digital revolution had not caused banks’ offices and trading rooms to disappear. “The tendency is the reverse,” Bob said. “Banks are building bigger and bigger trading rooms.”

Why? Beunza had spent years watching financiers like Bob to find the answer. Now, during lockdown, many executives and HR departments found themselves dealing with the same issue: what is gained and what is lost when everyone is working from home? But while most finance companies focused on immediate questions such as whether employees working remotely would have still access to information, feel part of a team and be able to communicate with colleagues, Beunza thought more attention should be paid to different kinds of questions:

How do people act as groups? How do they use rituals and symbols to forge a common worldview? To address practical concerns about the costs and benefits of remote working, we first need to understand these deeper issues. Office workers make decisions not just by using models and manuals or rational, sequential logic – but by pulling in information, as groups, from multiple sources. That is why the rituals, symbols and space matter.

“What we do in offices is not usually what people think we do,” Beunza told me. “It is about how we navigate the world.” And these navigation practices are poorly understood by participants like financiers – especially in a digital age.The engineers who created the internet have always recognised that people and their rituals matter. Since it was founded in 1986, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has provided a place for people to meet and collectively design the architecture of the web.

Its members wanted to make design decisions using “rough consensus”, since they believed the internet should be an egalitarian community where anybody could participate, without hierarchies or coercion. “We reject: kings, presidents and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code” was, and still is, one of its key mantras.

To cultivate “rough consensus”, IETF members devised a distinctive ritual: humming. When they needed to make a crucial decision, the group asked everyone to hum to indicate “yay” or “nay” – and proceeded on the basis of which was loudest. The engineers considered this less divisive than voting.

Some of the biggest decisions about how the internet works have been made using this ritual. In March 2018, in a bland room of the Hilton Metropole on London’s Edgware Road, representatives from Google, Intel, Amazon, Qualcomm and others were gathered for an IETF meeting. They were debating a controversial issue: whether or not to adopt the “draft-rhrd-tls-tls13-visibility-01” protocol. To anybody outside the room, it might sound like gobbledegook, but this protocol was important.

Measures were being introduced to make it harder for hackers to attack crucial infrastructure such as utility networks, healthcare systems and retail groups. This was a mounting concern at the time – a year or so earlier, hackers seemingly from Russia had shut down the Ukrainian power system. The proposed “visibility” protocol would signal to internet users whether or not anti-hacking tools had been installed.

For an hour the engineers debated the protocol. Some opposed telling users the tools had been installed; others insisted on it. “There are privacy issues,” one said. “It’s about nation states,” another argued. “We cannot do this without consensus.” So a man named Sean Turner – who looked like a garden gnome, with a long, snowy-white beard, bald head, glasses and checked lumberjack shirt – invoked the IETF ritual.

“We are going to hum,” he said. “Please hum now if you support adoption.” A moan rose up, akin to a Tibetan chant, bouncing off the walls of the Metropole. “Thanks. Please hum now if you oppose.” There was a much louder collective hum. “So at this point there is no consensus to adopt this,” Turner declared. The protocol was put on ice.

Most people do not even know that the IETF exists, much less that computer engineers design the web by humming. That is not because the IETF hides its work. On the contrary, its meetings are open to anyone and posted online. But phrases like “draft-rhrd-tls-tls1.3” mean most people instinctively look away, just as they did with derivatives before the 2008 financial crisis. And, as with finance, this lack of external scrutiny – and understanding – is alarming, particularly given the accelerating effects of innovations such as AI.

Many of the engineers who build the technologies on which we rely are well-meaning. But they – like financiers – are prone to tunnel vision, and often fail to see that others may not share their mentality. “In a community of technological producers, the very process of designing, crafting, manufacturing and maintaining technology acts as a template and makes technology itself the lens through which the world is seen and defined,” observes Jan English-Lueck, an anthropologist who has studied Silicon Valley.

When the IETF members use humming, they are reflecting and reinforcing a distinctive worldview – their desperate hope that the internet should remain egalitarian and inclusive. That is their creation myth. But they are also signalling that human contact and context matter deeply, even in a world of computing. Humming enables them to collectively demonstrate the power of that idea. It also helps them navigate the currents of shifting opinion in their tribe and make decisions by reading a range of signals.

Humming does not sit easily with the way we imagine technology, but it highlights a crucial truth about how humans navigate the world of work, in offices, online or anywhere else: even if we think we are rational, logical creatures, we make decisions in social groups by absorbing a wide range of signals. And perhaps the best way to understand this is to employ an idea popularised by anthropologists working at companies such as Xerox during the late 20th century, and since used by Beunza and others on Wall Street: “Sense-making”.

One of the first thinkers to develop the concept of sense-making was a man named John Seely Brown. JSB, as he was usually known, was not trained as an anthropologist. He studied maths and physics in the early 60s, and finished a PhD in computer science in 1970, just as the idea of the internet was emerging, and then taught advanced computing science at the University of California, with a particular interest in AI. Around this time, after meeting some sociologists and anthropologists, he became fascinated by the question of how social patterns influence the development of digital tools, too.

He applied for a research post at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (Parc), a research arm that the Connecticut-based company set up in Silicon Valley in 1969. Xerox was famous for developing the photocopier, but it also produced many other digital innovations. The authors of Fumbling the Future, a book about the history of the company, credits it with inventing “the first computer ever designed and built for the dedicated use of a single person … the first graphics-oriented monitor, the first handheld ‘mouse’ simple enough for a child, the first word-processing programme for non-expert users, the first local area communications network … and the first laser printer.”

During his application process to Parc, JSB met Jack Goldman, its chief scientist. The two men discussed Xerox’s research and development work, and its pioneering experiments with AI. Then JSB pointed to Goldman’s desk. “Jack, why two phones?” he asked. The desk contained both a “simple” phone and a newer, more sophisticated model.

“Oh my God, who the hell can use this phone?” Goldman said, referring to the new phone. “I have it on my desk because everyone has to have one, but when real work gets done I’ve got to use a regular one.”

That was exactly the kind of thing, Seely Brown said, that scientists at Xerox should also be researching: how humans were (or were not) using the dazzling innovations that Silicon Valley companies kept creating. Having started steeped in “hard” computing science, JSB realised that it paid to be a “softie” when looking at social science, or – to employ the buzzwords that were later popularised in Silicon Valley by the writer Scott Hartley – to be a techie and a “fuzzy”.

JSB joined Parc and put his new theories to work. Although the research centre had initially been dominated by scientists, by the time JSB arrived, a collection of anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists were also there. One of these anthropologists was a man named Julian Orr, who was studying the “tribe” of technical repair teams at Xerox.

By the late 20th century, copy machines were ubiquitous in offices. Work could collapse if one of these machines broke down. Xerox employed numerous people whose only job was to travel between offices, servicing and fixing machines. These technicians were routinely ignored, partly because the managers assumed that they knew what they did. But Orr and JSB suspected this was a big mistake, and that the technicians did not always think or behave as their bosses thought they should.

JSB first noticed it early in his time at Xerox, when he met a repairman known as “Mr Troubleshooter”, who said to him: “Well, Mr PhD, suppose this photocopier sitting here had an intermittent image quality fault, how would you go about troubleshooting it?”

JSB knew there was an “official” answer in the office handbook: technicians were supposed to “print out 1,000 copies, sort through the output, find a few bad ones, and compare them to the diagnostic”. It sounded logical – to an engineer.

“Here is what I do,” Mr Troubleshooter told JSB, with a “disgusted” look on his face. “I walk to the trash can, tip it upside down, and look at all the copies that have been thrown away. The trash can is a filter – people keep the good copies and throw the bad ones away. So just go to the trash can … and from scanning all the bad ones, interpret what connects them all.” In short, the engineers were ignoring protocols and using a solution that worked – but one that was “invisible … and outside [the] cognitive modelling lens” of the people running the company, JSB ruefully concluded.

How common was this kind of subversive approach? Orr set off to find out. He first enrolled in technical training school. Then he shadowed the repair teams out on service calls, at the parts depot, eating lunch and just hanging out when there was not much work to do. The fact that Orr had once worked as a technician himself helped in some respects: the repair crews welcomed him in. But it also created a trap: he sometimes had the same blind spots as the people he was studying. “I had a tendency to regard certain phenomena as unremarkable which are not really so to outsiders,” he later wrote in a report. He had to perform mental gymnastics to make “familiar” seem “strange”.

So, like many other anthropologists before him, he tried to get that sense of distance by looking at the group rituals, symbols and spatial patterns that the technicians used in their everyday life. Or quickly realized that many of the most important interactions took place in diners. “I drive to meet the members of the customer support team for breakfast at a chain restaurant in a small city on the east side,” Orr observed in one of his field notes. “Alice has a problem: her machine reports a self-test error, but she suspects there is some other problem … [so] we are going to lunch at a restaurant where many of [Alice’s] colleagues eat, to try to persuade Fred, the most experienced [technician], to go to look at the machine with her …

Fred tells her there is another component that she needs to change, according to his interpretation of the logs.” The repair teams were doing collective problem solving over coffee in those diners, using a rich body of shared narrative about the Xerox machines, and almost every other part of their lives. Their “gossip” was weaving a wide tapestry of group knowledge, and tapping into the collective views of the group – like the IETF humming.

This knowledge mattered. The company protocols assumed that “the work of technicians was the rote repair of identical broken machines,” as Lucy Suchman, another anthropologist at Parc, noted. But that was a fallacy: even if the machines seemed identical when they emerged from the Xerox factory, by the time repairmen encountered the machines they had histories shaped by humans. What engineers shared at the diner was this history and context. “Diagnosis is a narrative process,” Orr said.

The Xerox scientists eventually listened to the anthropologists – to some degree. After Orr issued his report on the technicians, the company introduced systems to make it easier for repair people to talk to one another in the field and share knowledge – even outside diners. A two-way radio system allowed tech reps in different regions to call on each other’s expertise. Xerox later supplemented these radios with a rudimentary messaging platform on the internet known as Eureka, where technicians could share tips. JSB viewed this as “an early model for social media platforms”.

Other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs became increasingly fascinated by what Parc was doing, and tried to emulate its ideas. Steve Jobs, a co-founder of Apple, toured Parc in 1979, saw the group’s efforts to build a personal computer, and then developed something similar at Apple, hiring away a key Parc researcher. Other Parc ideas were echoed at Apple and other Silicon Valley companies. But Xerox’s managers were not nearly as adept as Jobs in terms of turning brilliant ideas into lucrative gadgets, and in subsequent decades Xerox’s fortunes ailed.

That was partly because the company culture was conservative and slow-moving, but also because Parc was based on the west coast, while the main headquarters and manufacturing centres were on the other side of the country. Good ideas often fell between the cracks, to the frustration of Parc staff.

Still, as the years passed, Parc’s ideas had a big impact on social science and Silicon Valley. Their work helped to spawn the development of the “user experience” (UX) movement, prodding companies such as Microsoft and Intel to create similar teams. Their ideas about “sense-making” spread into the consumer goods world, and from there to an unlikely sphere: Wall Street.

A social scientist named Patricia Ensworth was one of the first to use sense-making in finance. Starting in the 80s, she decided to use social science to help explain why IT issues tended to generate such angst in finance. Her research quickly showed that the issues were social and cultural as much as technical. In one early project she found that American software coders were completely baffled as to why their internally developed software programmes kept malfunctioning – until she explained that office customs in other locations were different.

In the early 90s, Ensworth joined Moody’s Investors Service, and eventually became director of quality assurance for its IT systems. It sounded like a technical job. However, her key role was pulling together different tribes – software coders, IT infrastructure technicians, analysts, salespeople and external customers. Then she formed a consultancy to advise on “project management, risk analysis, quality assurance and other business issues”, combining cultural awareness with engineering.

In 2005, Ensworth received an urgent message from a managing director at a major investment bank. “We need a consultant to help us get some projects back on track!” the manager said. Ensworth was used to such appeals: she had spent more than a decade using techniques pioneered by the likes of Orr and Seely Brown in order to study how finance and tech intersected with humans.

The investment bank project was typical. Like many of its rivals, this bank had been racing to move its operations online. But by 2005 it was facing a crisis. Before 2000 it had outsourced much of its trading IT platform to India, since it was cheaper than hiring IT experts in the US. But while the Indian coders and testers were skilled at handling traditional investment products, they struggled to cope with a new derivatives business that the bank was building, since the Indian coders had formal, bureaucratic engineering methods. So the bank started to use other suppliers in Ukraine and Canada who had a more flexible style and were used to collaborating with creative mathematicians. But this made the problems even worse: deadlines were missed, defects emerged and expensive disputes erupted.

“In the New York office, tensions were running high between the onsite employees of rival outsourcing vendors,” Ensworth later wrote. “The pivot point occurred when a fight broke out: a male Canadian tester insulted a female Indian tester with X-rated profanity and she threw hot coffee in his face. Since this legally constituted a workplace assault, the female tester was immediately fired and deported. Debates about the fairness of the punishment divided the office … [and] at the same time auditors uncovered some serious operational and security violations in the outsourced IT infrastructures and processes.”

Many employees blamed the issues on inter-ethnic clashes. But Ensworth suspected another, more subtle problem. Almost all the coders at the bank, whether they were in India, Manhattan, Kyiv or Toronto, had been trained to think in one-directional sequences, driven by sequential logic, without much lateral vision. The binary nature of the software they developed also meant that they tended to have an “I’m-right-you’re-wrong” mentality. Although the coders could produce algorithms to solve specific problems, they struggled to see the whole picture or collaborate to adapt as conditions changed. “The [coders] document their research in the form of use cases, flowcharts and system architecture designs,” Ensworth observed. “These documents work well enough for version 1.0, because the cyberspace model matches the user community’s lived experience. But over time, the model and the reality increasingly diverge.”

The coders often seemed unaware of the gap between their initial plan and subsequent reality. Ensworth persuaded the suppliers in India to provide training about American office rules and customs, and tried to teach the suppliers in Ukraine and Canada about the dangers of taking an excessively freewheeling approach to IT. She showed coders videos of the noisy and chaotic conditions on bank trading floors; that was a shock, since coders typically toiled in library-like silence and calm. She explained to managers at the bank that coders felt angry that they could not access important proprietary databases and tools. The goal was to teach all “sides” to copy the most basic precept of anthropology: seeing the world from another point of view.

 Ensworth did not harbour any illusions about changing the bank’s overall culture. When the financial crisis erupted in 2008, the project was wound down and she moved on. However, she was thrilled to see that during the 18 months that she worked at the bank, some of the anthropology lessons stuck. “Delivery schedules and error rates were occasionally troublesome, but no longer a constant, pervasive worry,” she later wrote. Better still, the workers stopped throwing coffee around the office.


But what would happen to the business of sense-making at work if humans were suddenly prevented from working face to face? As he hovered like a fly on the wall of trading rooms on Wall Street and in the City of London in the early 2000s, Beunza often asked himself that question. Then, in the spring of 2020, he was unexpectedly presented with a natural experiment. As Covid-19 spread, financial institutions suddenly did what Bob had said they never would – they sent traders home with their Bloomberg terminals. So, over the course of the summer, Beunza contacted his old Wall Street contacts to ask a key question: what happened?

It was not easy to do the research. Anthropology is a discipline that prizes first-hand observations. Conducting research via video calls seemed to fly in the face of that. “A lot of my work depends on speaking to people face to face, understanding how they live their lives on their own terms and in their own spaces,” said Chloe Evans, an anthropologist at Spotify, to a conference convened in 2020 to discuss the challenge. “Being in the same space is vital for us to understand how people use products and services for the companies we work for.”

However, ethnographers realized there were benefits to the new world, too: they could reach people around the world on a more equal footing, and sometimes with more intimacy. “We see people in contexts not available to us in lab situations,” observed an ethnographer named Stuart Henshall, who was doing research among poor communities in India. Before the pandemic, most of the Indian people he interviewed were so ashamed of their domestic spaces that they preferred to meet in a research office, he explained. But after lockdown, his interviewees started talking to him via video calls from their homes and rickshaws, which enabled him to gain insight into a whole new aspect of their lives. “Participants are simply more comfortable at home in their environment. They feel more in control,” he observed. It was a new of type of ethnography.

When Beunza interviewed bankers remotely, he found echoes of this pattern: respondents were more eager to engage with him from home than in the office, and it felt more intimate. The financiers told him that they had found it relatively simple to do some parts of their job remotely, at least in the short term: working from home was easy if you were writing computer code or scanning legal documents. Teams that had already been working together for a long time also could interact well through video links.

The really big problem was incidental information exchange. “The bit that’s very hard to replicate is the information you didn’t know you needed,” observed Charles Bristow, a senior trader at JP Morgan. “[It’s] where you hear some noise from a desk a corridor away, or you hear a word that triggers a thought. If you’re working from home, you don’t know that you need that information.” Working from home also made it hard to teach younger bankers how to think and behave; physical experiences were crucial for conveying the habits of finance or being an apprentice.

Beunza was not surprised to hear that the financiers were eager to get traders back to the office as soon as they could; nor that most had quietly kept some teams working in the office throughout the crisis. Nor was he surprised that when banks such as JPMorgan started to bring some people back in – initially at 50% capacity – they spent a huge amount of time devising systems to “rotate” people; the trick seemed not to be bringing in entire teams, but people from different groups. This was the best way to get that all-important incidental information exchange when the office was half-full.

But one of the most revealing details from Beunza’s interviews concerned performance. When he asked the financiers at the biggest American and European banks how they had fared during the wild market turmoil of spring 2020, “the bankers said that their trading teams in the office did much, much better than those at home,” Beunza told me in the autumn of 2020. “The Wall Street banks kept more teams in the office, so they seem to have done a lot better than Europeans.” That may have been due to malfunctions on home-based tech platforms. But Beunza attributed it to something else: in-person teams had more incidental information exchange and sense-making, and at times of stress this seemed doubly important.

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The bankers that Beunza observed were not the only ones to realize the value of being together in the same physical space. The same pattern was playing out at the IETF. When the pandemic hit, the IETF organizers decided to replace in-person conventions with virtual summits. A few months later they polled about 600 members to see how they felt about this switch. More than half said they considered online meetings less productive than in-person, and only 7% preferred meeting online. Again, they missed the peripheral vision and incidental information exchange that happened with in-person meetings. “[Online] doesn’t work. In person is NOT just about the meeting sessions – it is about meeting people outside the meetings, at social events,” complained one member. “The lack of serendipitous meetings and chats is a significant difference,” said another. Or as one of them put it: “We need to meet in person to get meaningful work done.”

They also missed their humming rituals. As the meetings moved online, two-thirds of the respondents said they wanted to explore new ways to create rough consensus. “We need to figure out how to ‘hum’ online,” said one member. So the IETF organizers experimented with holding online polls. But members complained that virtual polls were too crude and one-dimensional; they crave a more nuanced, three-dimensional way to judge the mood of their tribe. “The most important thing to me about a hum is some idea of how many people present hummed at all, or how loudly. Exact numbers don’t matter, proportionality does,” said one.

By

Source: The empty office: what we lose when we work from home | Anthropology | The Guardian

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The Unspoken Reasons Employees Don’t Want Remote Work To End

It’s no secret that employee-employer tensions about heading back to the workplace are growing. As more employers push to get employees back in-house, the workers themselves are taking a harder stand. An April 2021 survey by FlexJobs found that 60% of women and 52% of men would quit if they weren’t allowed to continue working remotely at least part of the time. Sixty-nine percent of men and 80% of women said that remote work options are among their top considerations when looking for a new job.

The “official” reasons that they don’t want to head back to the workplace are well-documented. They’re more productive. It’s easier to blend work and life when your commute is a walk down the hallway. But, for some, the reasons are more personal and difficult to share. Who will walk the dog they adopted during the pandemic? They gained weight and need to buy new work clothes. The thought of being trapped in a cubicle all day makes them want to cry.

We spoke with several people who shared their very personal reasons why they don’t want to return to work. (Because of the sensitive nature of some of the comments, Fast Company has allowed some of the individuals to use a pseudonym to protect their identities.)

‘I need to nap during the day’

Since 2013, when a backpacking incident caused a spine injury that required two surgeries, Lynn (not her real name) has been dealing with chronic pain and sleep issues. As a result, she’s often tired during the day and realized she wasn’t at her best, especially after lunch, when fatigue would often set in.

“When I’m in meetings, and people throw questions to me, I can’t really answer instantly [or I] say the wrong things,” she says. She didn’t feel comfortable talking to her boss or colleagues about the issues she was facing and was dealing with anxiety, depression, and hair loss in recent years as a result of her sleep issues. But, during the pandemic, she’s been able to adjust her schedule so she can take a nap during her lunch hour and rest periodically when she needs to do so. (Research tells us that naps are good for our brains.)

Since she’s been working from home, her productivity has soared—and her supervisor has noticed and begun complimenting her on her work. She feels sharper and healthier. Her biggest concern right now, she says, is that she will have to give up the balance she has finally found.

‘I’d give up my raise for remote work’

Melvin Gonzalez, a certified public accountant (CPA) for Inc and Go, an online business formation website, is facing a dilemma. “I love my career, love my job, and have amazing benefits which include a lifelong pension—something very rare in today’s labor force,” he says. “However, as with everything in life, there is a price to pay: my commute,” he says. Gonzalez travels two hours each way, which adds up to more than 20 hours per week just getting to and from work.

Gonzalez said he never really considered how much time he was spending on commuting until he worked from home during the pandemic, He used the extra time—the equivalent of a part-time job—to go to the gym, spend time with his wife and children, and still get his work done.

Now that he’s facing heading back to the office, he’s not ready to give up that time. He and his colleagues have shared their concerns with their employer, but he doesn’t think remote work will continue to be an option. He says he’s even willing to give up a raise to keep his flexibility. “This has certainly become my main concern about going back to the office,” he says. “I believe my mood for work will not be the same.”

‘I’m in recovery’

Until the pandemic hit, Frank (not his real name) worked at a high-end restaurant in Philadelphia. What his co-workers didn’t know at the time was that he was struggling with alcoholism. The environment, where he had ready access to alcohol and co-workers who loved to go out for drinks after work, made it difficult for him to quit.

But, while many saw their substance abuse issues increase during the pandemic’s isolation, Frank was able to get his addiction under control, he says. Now that the restaurant is resuming full service again and inviting him to return to his old job, he has concerns about whether that will put his recovery in jeopardy. “Most people don’t recover because they’re not willing to change their lifestyle,” he says. If he refuses to return to his old job, money will be tight, but he’s pretty sure he can make a go of it. “I also don’t want to admit to all of my co-workers that I’m a recovering alcoholic,” he says.

‘I don’t want to give up my side hustle

“My reluctance is really the opportunity cost of commuting,” says Shondra (not her real name), a public relations professional in New York City. Before she was laid off in April 2020, she would wake at 6 a.m. to have enough time to get ready, walk her dog, commute, and start work by 10 a.m. After she was laid off, she started picking up freelance work, which turned out to be lucrative—and which she could easily do from home.

Shondra has a new employer, but the plan about whether or not employees will be required to be back at the office full-time is “very unclear,” she says. For now, she has plenty of time to complete her responsibilities for her employer and work on her freelance projects. That won’t be the case if she goes back to her long commute. Plus, the thought of being on mass transit with so many other people gives her pause from a safety perspective, she says.

She’s waiting to see what happens but is reluctant to give up the freelance work that got her through her layoff. “It’s given me the opportunity to build a nice nest egg, in case—God forbid—something like that happens again,” she says. “I don’t want to lose this opportunity by having to return to the office full-time.”

Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites

Source: The unspoken reasons employees don’t want remote work to end

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