Employers Need To Tread Carefully On The Road Back To Office Working

Open plan office

In some ways the coming weeks and months are likely to be more difficult for organizations and employees than the past year or so has been. With governments increasingly intent on opening up economies effectively closed down by the pandemic, uncertainty is rife.

Employers and staff alike are caught between wanting to go back to something like normal and not wishing to take too many risks, especially since the Delta variant of the coronavirus is pushing spikes in new cases even in countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. where significant proportions of the population have been at least partially vaccinated.

One factor that could be behind the unease about rushing back to normal working habits is a feeling that, just as governments made mistakes in the handling of the crisis, so too did organizations. According to a survey just out from the finance comparison platform NerdWallet, a third of the U.K.’s business leaders are dissatisfied with the way that staff have been managed through the pandemic.

A similar proportion said that financial stability and business productivity was put ahead of staff safety. Unsurprisingly perhaps, more than half of the nearly 1,000 decision-makers questioned said they planned to carry out a review of how they had handled things. However, nearly half have already invested in new equipment designed to improve health and safety and to facilitate social distancing, while more than half have introduced greater flexibility to working hours.

Employers’ definitions of flexibility appear to be, well, flexible. An insight into the current situation is provided by the consultancy Mercer in its latest survey of working policies and practices among nearly 600 employers in the U.S.. The key findings were:

  • Hybrid working — a blend of in-person and remote working — was favoured by vast majority.
  • Predominantly office-based working was the preference of a fifth of employers.
  • Fully remote or virtual-first working was the choice of just 6% of employers
  • A distributed model making increased use of satellite campuses was likely to be adopted by just 4%.

Mercer’s research and analysis suggests that, across all industries, the proportion of the workforce working on-site full-time is likely to be about 40%. The hybrid category will probably be split, with about 29% of the workforce working remotely one or two days a week and approximately 17% doing so three or four days a week. About 14% of workers are expected to work remotely full-time.

The challenge for employers will be deciding how they can retain the employee experience and hang on to talent. Lauren Mason, principal in Mercer’s career business, and Ravin Jesuthasan, global leader of Mercer’s transformation business, suggest five principles to consider:

  1. Empower teams but set guidelines:  Nearly all employers plan to bring in changes to working policies as a result of the pandemic. Nearly half are already actively developing a strategy, while nearly a quarter of employers are in the process of implementing or have already implemented plans. Employers can and should empower teams to continue to work flexibly but they should also establish guidelines to maximize business outcomes and ensure a consistent employee experience.
  2. Keep a pulse on the market and your competition: Flexibility will likely have a high impact on an organization’s ability to retain talent. If employees are unhappy about employers’ flexible working plans, they will be likely to consider other workplaces that might better meet their needs.
  3. Don’t rush to get employees to the office: Employers should focus on returning employees in a way where co-working benefits can be maximized immediately. They should concentrate on making workers feel energized, empowered and engaged to be back together with their colleagues. This may entail phased transitions, where employees may only initially come in one or two days a week, planned team meetings or on-site social events and celebrations to make those early office days more purposeful.
  4. Stay agile: Workers do not want or need a standardized solution. Employers can demonstrate a continued trust and sense of partnership that was so valued during the pandemic by providing options that are appropriate for the work being performed. The key is to give employees some control and flexibility.
  5. Don’t limit flexibility to remote work: Flexible working is about more than remote working. Inclusive flexibility ensures that all jobs can be flexible when needed. Given the massive challenges employers are facing in attracting and retaining workers, options such as flexible schedules or compressed workweeks can be a huge differentiator. Progressive companies are not just challenging “when” and “where” work is done but also how the it is done, who does it and what the work is.
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I am a U.K.-based journalist with a longstanding interest in management. In a career dating back to the days before newsroom computers I have covered everything from popular music to local politics. I was for many years an editor and writer at the “Independent” and “Independent on Sunday” and have written three books, the most recent of which is “What you need to know about business.”

Source: Employers Need To Tread Carefully On The Road Back To Office Working

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More on Work & Jobs

Hedge Fund Launches Are Surging

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In the first quarter of 2021, 189 new hedge funds were launched, the highest number since the end of 2017, according to data from Hedge Fund Research.

In the fourth quarter of 2017, 190 hedge funds were started. Since then, the number of launches has been consistently lower, hitting its lowest in the first quarter of 2020 with a total of 84 launches and 304 liquidations.

“The only ones that did get launched [that quarter] were before March,” Kenneth Heinz, president of HFR, told Institutional Investor.

Heinz attributed the newfound surge in launches to three factors: performance, inflation, and risk aversion. According to a statement, the top decile of hedge funds tracked by HFR gained 126.8 percent in the 12-month period ending in the first quarter of 2021. In this quarter alone, the top decile gained 29.7 percent.

Institutional investors are also looking to hedge against inflation, Heinz said. “As the world emerges from the lockdown, inflation is present, and it will continue to build,” he said. “The different strategies provide great protection from inflation.”

These strategies include equity hedge funds and event-driven funds. As of the first quarter of 2021, the greatest portion of industry assets — 30.42 percent — were invested in equity hedge funds. Event-driven funds came in second with 27.53 percent of total industry assets.

Heinz said these particular strategies are appealing to investors because they provide exposure to some hot “meme” stocks. Plus, as the world emerges from a global quarantine, he said there is a large appetite for strategic activity in mergers and acquisitions — a strong point for event-driven funds.

Since the first quarter of 2020 and the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Heinz said investors have left their risk complacency in 2019. Heinz said 2019 was a “super beta year,” prompting inventors to worry less about risk and more about returns.

“I liken 2019 to the easiest year in the world to make money because everything went up,” Heinz said. “But then March reminded investors they had become complacent about risk.”

As they move into the new year and recover from the pandemic, investors have taken more defensive positioning against risks that were overlooked in 2019. As for the future of the hedge fund industry, Heinz said he believes the market has entered a period of expansion.

“Even though the markets have recovered and they’ve gone back to record highs, I think institutions that are allocating are still very much more cognizant of risk than they were prior to the first quarter of 2020,” he said. “I think that’s the reason that you’re seeing more capital inflows and more funds launching.”

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By: Jessica Hamlin

Source: Hedge Fund Launches Are Surging | Institutional Investor

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Critics:

A hedge fund is a pooled investment fund that trades in relatively liquid assets and is able to make extensive use of more complex trading, portfolio-construction and risk management techniques in an attempt to improve performance, such as short selling, leverage, and derivatives. Financial regulators generally restrict hedge fund marketing except to institutional investors, high net worth individuals and others who are considered sufficiently sophisticated.

Hedge funds are regarded as alternative investments. Their ability to make more extensive use of leverage and more complex investment techniques distinguishes them from regulated investment funds available to the retail market, such as mutual funds and ETFs. They are also considered distinct from private-equity funds and other similar closed-end funds.

As hedge funds generally invest in relatively liquid assets and are generally open-ended, meaning that they allow investors to invest and withdraw capital periodically based on the fund’s net asset value, whereas private-equity funds generally invest in illiquid assets and only return capital after a number of years. However, other than a fund’s regulatory status there are no formal or fixed definitions of fund types, and so there are different views of what can constitute a “hedge fund”.

How To Squeeze Yields Up To 6.9% From Blue-Chip Stocks

Closeup of blue poker chip on red felt card table surface with spot light on chip

Preferred stocks are the little-known answer to the dividend question: How do I juice meaningful 5% to 6% yields from my favorite blue-chip stocks? “Common” blue chips stocks usually don’t pay 5% to 6%. Heck, the S&P 500’s current yield, at just 1.3%, is its lowest in decades.

But we can consider the exact same 505 companies in the popular index—names like JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Broadcom (AVGO) and NextEra Energy (NEE)—and find yields from 4.2% to 6.9%. If we’re talking about a million dollar retirement portfolio, this is the difference between $13,000 in annual dividend income and $42,000. Or, better yet, $69,000 per year with my top recommendation.

Most investors don’t know about this easy-to-find “dividend loophole” because most only buy “common” stock. Type AVGO into your brokerage account, and the quote that your machine spits back will be the common variety.

But many companies have another class of shares. This “preferred payout tier” delivers dividends that are far more generous.

Companies sometimes issue preferred stock rather than issuing bonds to raise cash. And these preferred dividends have a few benefits:

  • They receive priority over dividends paid on common shares.
  • Sometimes, preferred dividends are “cumulative”—if any dividends are missed, those dividends still have to be paid out before dividends can be paid to any other shareholders.
  • They’re typically far juicier than the modest dividends paid out on common stock. A company whose commons yield 1% or 2% might still distribute 5% to 7% to preferred shareholders.

But it’s not all gravy.

You’ll sometimes hear investors call preferreds “hybrid” securities. That’s because they act like a part-stock, part-bond holding. The way they resemble bonds is how they trade around a par value over time, so while preferreds can deliver price upside, they don’t tend to deliver much.

No, the point of preferreds is income and safety.

Now, we could go out and buy individual preferreds, but there’s precious little research out there allowing us to make a truly informed decision about any one company’s preferreds. Instead, we’re usually going to be better off buying preferred funds.

But which preferred funds make the cut? Let’s look at some of the most popular options, delivering anywhere between 4.2% to 6.9% at the moment.

Wall Street’s Two Largest Preferred ETFs

I want to start with the iShares Preferred and Income Securities (PFF, 4.2% yield) and Invesco Preferred ETF (PGX, 4.5%). These are the two largest preferred-stock ETFs on the market, collectively accounting for some $27 billion in funds under management.

On the surface, they’re pretty similar in nature. Both invest in a few hundred preferred stocks. Both have a majority of their holdings in the financial sector (PFF 60%, PGX 67%). Both offer affordable fees given their specialty (PFF 0.46%, PGX 0.52%).

There are a few notable differences, however. PGX has a better credit profile, with 54% of its preferreds in BBB-rated (investment-grade debt) and another 38% in BB, the highest level of “junk.” PFF has just 48% in BBB-graded preferreds and 22% in BBs; nearly a quarter of its portfolio isn’t rated.

Also, the Invesco fund spreads around its non-financial allocation to more sectors: utilities, real estate, communication services, consumer discretionary, energy, industrials and materials. Meanwhile, iShares’ PFF only boasts industrial and utility preferreds in addition to its massive financial-sector base.

PGX might have the edge on PFF, but both funds are limited by their plain-vanilla, indexed nature. That’s why, when it comes to preferreds, I typically look to closed-end funds.

Closed-End Preferred Funds

CEFs offer a few perks that allow us to make the most out of this asset class.

For one, most preferred ETFs are indexed, but all preferred CEFs are actively managed. That’s a big advantage in preferred stocks, where skilled pickers can take advantage of deep values and quick changes in the preferred markets, while index funds must simply wait until their next rebalancing to jump in.

Closed-end funds also allow for the use of debt to amplify their investments, both in yield and performance. Should the manager want, CEFs can also use options or other tools to further juice returns.

And they often pay out their fatter dividends every month!

Take John Hancock Preferred Income Fund II (HPF, 6.9% yield), for example. It’s a tighter portfolio than PFF or PGX, at just under 120 holdings from the likes of CenterPoint Energy (CNP), U.S. Cellular (USM) and Wells Fargo (WFC).

Manager discretion means a lot here. That is, HPF doesn’t just invest in preferreds, which are 70% of assets. It also has 22% invested in corporate bonds, another 4% or so in common stock, and trace holdings of foreign stock, U.S. government agency debt and cash. And it has a whopping 32% debt leverage ratio that really helps prop up the yield and provide better returns (though at the cost of a bumpier ride).

You have a similar situation with Flaherty & Crumrine Preferred and Income Securities Fund (FFC, 6.7%).

Here, you’re wading deep into the financial sector at nearly 80% exposure, with decent-sized holdings in utilities (7%) and energy (7%). Credit quality is roughly in between PFF and PGX, with 44% BBB, 37% BB and 19% unrated.

Nonetheless, smart management selection (and a healthy 31% in debt leverage) has led to far better, albeit noisier, returns than its indexed competitors. The Cohen & Steers Select Preferred and Income Fund (PSF, 6.0%) is about as pure a play as you could want in preferreds.

And it’s also a pure performer.

PSF is 100% invested in preferred stock (well, more like 128% if you count debt leverage), and actually breaks out its preferreds into institutionals that trade over-the-counter (83%), retail preferreds that trade on an exchange (16%) and floating-rate preferreds that trade OTC or on exchanges (1%).

Like any other preferred fund, you’re heavily invested in the financial sector at nearly 73%. But you do get geographic diversification, as only a little more than half of PSF’s assets are invested in the U.S. Other well-represented countries include the U.K. (13%), Canada (7%) and France (6%).

What’s not to love?

Brett Owens is chief investment strategist for Contrarian Outlook. For more great income ideas, get your free copy his latest special report: Your Early Retirement Portfolio: 7% Dividends Every Month Forever.

I graduated from Cornell University and soon thereafter left Corporate America permanently at age 26 to co-found two successful SaaS (Software as a Service) companies. Today they serve more than 26,000 business users combined. I took my software profits and started investing in dividend-paying stocks. Today, it’s almost impossible to find good stocks that pay a quality yield. So I employ a contrarian approach to locate high payouts that are available thanks to some sort of broader misjudgment. Renowned billionaire investor Howard Marks called this “second-level thinking.” It’s looking past the consensus belief about an investment to map out a range of probabilities to locate value. It is possible to find secure yields of 6% or more in today’s market – it just requires a second-level mindset.

Source: How To Squeeze Yields Up To 6.9% From Blue-Chip Stocks

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Critics:

A blue chip is stock in a stock corporation (contrasted with non-stock one) with a national reputation for quality, reliability, and the ability to operate profitably in good and bad times. As befits the sometimes high-risk nature of stock picking, the term “blue chip” derives from poker. The simplest sets of poker chips include white, red, and blue chips, with tradition dictating that the blues are highest in value. If a white chip is worth $1, a red is usually worth $5, and a blue $25.

In 19th-century United States, there was enough of a tradition of using blue chips for higher values that “blue chip” in noun and adjective senses signaling high-value chips and high-value property are attested since 1873 and 1894, respectively. This established connotation was first extended to the sense of a blue-chip stock in the 1920s. According to Dow Jones company folklore, this sense extension was coined by Oliver Gingold (an early employee of the company that would become Dow Jones) sometime in the 1920s, when Gingold was standing by the stock ticker at the brokerage firm that later became Merrill Lynch.

Noticing several trades at $200 or $250 a share or more, he said to Lucien Hooper of stock brokerage W.E. Hutton & Co. that he intended to return to the office to “write about these blue-chip stocks”. It has been in use ever since, originally in reference to high-priced stocks, more commonly used today to refer to high-quality stocks.

References:

How Investing in Strategic Partnerships Can Help Grow Your Business

How Investing in Strategic Partnerships Can Help Grow Your Business

The best entrepreneurs understand the power of people. Whether thinking about accessible healthcare or, more broadly, startup success, collaboration and partnerships have always been vital, even before the pandemic strengthened the need for a collective approach.

Of course, for entrepreneurs looking to scale their business, cash is a critical piece of the puzzle. For obvious reasons, access to capital enables a business to grow, whether that’s investing in research and development (R&D), expanding overseas, or hiring top talent.

But capital shouldn’t be treated as a silver bullet. Instead, founders should turn their attention toward creating strong, strategic partnerships to drive business growth. Working with other established organisations builds credibility, allowing businesses to make further connections and expand their operations.

Entrepreneurs, though, should learn exactly how to unlock beneficial relationships that will ultimately set them up for long-term victory. Partnerships must be win-win and goals aligned so that everyone comes out as beneficiaries.

Why connections matter.

When executed wisely, strategic partnerships can foster business growth. With the potential to form a critical part of any growing business, these partnerships benefit startups and corporates alike. For large corporations, startups and scaleups can fuel innovation; for early-stage founders, big companies can enable fresh revenue, scaling possibilities and credibility.

With established partners come established networks. Existing knowledge, suppliers and customers can make selling products on a larger scale much easier to achieve. This empowers startups to scale quickly, with that revenue used to reinvest in operations and innovation, fuelling further growth and making it easier to establish new business relationships with a wider pool of organisations.

What’s also important, particularly if operating in a crowded space such as healthcare, is the potential for impact. Healthcare solutions – rightly or wrongly – are often judged by the number of patients using them. So, establishing key strategic partnerships – as we’ve done with Microsoft, Allianz and Portuguese healthcare provider Médis – provides an avenue to millions of patients.

Infermedica experimented with different business models, but eventually settled on a B2B strategy over B2C as we had the potential to reach more patients through a partnership network. This accelerated on our goal to bring more accessible healthcare to all. Strategic partnerships enable startups to quickly build credibility and cut through loud crowded markets.

Investor partnerships can play a role as well. Relationships don’t need to simply need to be between providers, but investors can bring knowledge, connections and consultancy which can help startups to overcome growing challenges and open doors that may otherwise remain closed until certain milestones around size, revenue and customers have been reached. What’s key is ensuring both sides remain committed to moving forward together.

How to unlock the opportunity.

But what’s the best way to go about creating these relationships? For founders, the first step to achieving this is to remember that although partnerships are sealed between companies, they’re created by people and that human connection has to be built first. Talk to the potential partner to understand what they are truly trying to achieve and how a partnership could help them solve it.

Similarly, founders must understand their own goals and what they need from any relationship to ensure they keep progressing towards it. When discussions are open and the people are looked after, great relationships are forged.

Developing a partner program at an early stage: creating a network of trusted resellers and innovative partners also allows entrepreneurs to explore opportunities in their immediate area and beyond. Indeed, European founders shouldn’t simply look within their own country or continent for partnerships, by looking further afield they open themselves up to new ways of thinking and opportunities.

Partner programs and ecosystems establish a feedback community, each organization provides feedback which improves each other’s offerings, leading to greater growth and credibility for all. This also drives thoughts around integration, how compatible one offering is with another to ensure it truly adds value in a real-world environment. Collaboration with partners enables entrepreneurs to see how their product fits into the bigger picture which fuels wider innovation.

For example, Infermedica’s partner program enables organizations from all aspects of healthcare to collaborate with us and access our AI technology, enhancing and diversifying services which offer better end-user outcomes. Of course, there is still some way to go and things will never stop evolving. The top SaaS companies have on average around 350 integrations as they understand all of the potential engagement points and are establishing ecosystems that reflect them. The key takeaway: when creating partner ecosystems, always keep in mind how an end-user could potentially interact with your offering.

Take your time.

As in life, building a long-last relationship takes a lot of time and effort. So, while it can be tempting to rush into an exciting partnership or program, it’s vital to take your time to build trust and establish clear boundaries. Drawing on our own experience, it took more than a year to establish partnerships with Microsoft and Allianz, and it’s an ongoing process of building mutual trust and finding new ways to collaborate.

Remember that there should be no A and B side in partnerships. Each party brings their own benefits to the table. Combining knowledge and resources makes the relationship greater than the sum of its parts, delivering greater value to customers, industry and economy.

At all times, specificity is key to success. Be sure that the partnership is truly feeding into your overall strategy and that you have all the necessary resources to support you on your journey. Plan it well and take your time. It’s a long-term strategy that requires patience, commitment and perseverance. Rome was not built in a day, but the foundations of a long lasting relationship could start tomorrow.

Keep your goals in mind and ensure you’re going into every conversation with completely open eyes because when you find those strategic connections that just work, the opportunity for growth is truly great.

By: Tomasz Domino / Chief Operating Officer, Infermedica

Source: How Investing in Strategic Partnerships Can Help Grow Your Business

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Critics:

A strategic partnership (also see strategic alliance) is a relationship between two commercial enterprises, usually formalized by one or more business contracts. A strategic partnership will usually fall short of a legal partnership entity, agency, or corporate affiliate relationship. Strategic partnerships can take on various forms from shake hand agreements, contractual cooperation’s all the way to equity alliances, either the formation of a joint venture or cross-holdings in each other.

Typically, two companies form a strategic partnership when each possesses one or more business assets or have expertise that will help the other by enhancing their businesses. This can also mean, that one firm is helping the other firm to expand their market to other marketplaces, by helping with some expertise.

According to Cohen and Levinthal a considerable in-house expertise which complements the technology activities of its partner is a necessary condition for a successful exploitation of knowledge and technological capabilities outside their boundaries. Strategic partnerships can develop in outsourcing relationships where the parties desire to achieve long-term “win-win” benefits and innovation based on mutually desired outcomes.

No matter if a business contract was signed, between the two parties, or not, a trust-based relationship between the partners is indispensable. One common strategic partnership involves one company providing engineering, manufacturing or product development services, partnering with a smaller, entrepreneurial firm or inventor to create a specialized new product. Typically, the larger firm supplies capital, and the necessary product development, marketing, manufacturing, and distribution capabilities, while the smaller firm supplies specialized technical or creative expertise.

References

Return to Office: Employees Are Quitting Instead of Giving Up Work From Home

A six-minute meeting drove Portia Twidt to quit her job. She’d taken the position as a research compliance specialist in February, enticed by promises of remote work. Then came the prodding to go into the office. Meeting invites piled up.

The final straw came a few weeks ago: the request for an in-person gathering, scheduled for all of 360 seconds. Twidt got dressed, dropped her two kids at daycare, drove to the office, had the brief chat and decided she was done.

“I had just had it,” said Twidt, 33, who lives in Marietta, Georgia.

With the coronavirus pandemic receding for every vaccine that reaches an arm, the push by some employers to get people back into offices is clashing with workers who’ve embraced remote work as the new normal.

While companies from Google to Ford Motor Co. and Citigroup Inc. have promised greater flexibility, many chief executives have publicly extolled the importance of being in offices. Some have lamented the perils of remote work, saying it diminishes collaboration and company culture. JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon said at a recent conference that it doesn’t work “for those who want to hustle.”

But legions of employees aren’t so sure. If anything, the past year has proved that lots of work can be done from anywhere, sans lengthy commutes on crowded trains or highways. Some people have moved. Others have lingering worries about the virus and vaccine-hesitant colleagues.

And for Twidt, there’s also the notion that some bosses, particularly those of a generation less familiar to remote work, are eager to regain tight control of their minions.

“They feel like we’re not working if they can’t see us,” she said. “It’s a boomer power-play.”

It’s still early to say how the post-pandemic work environment will look. Only about 28% of U.S. office workers are back at their buildings, according to an index of 10 metro areas compiled by security company Kastle Systems. Many employers are still being lenient with policies as the virus lingers, vaccinations continue to roll out and childcare situations remain erratic.

But as office returns accelerate, some employees may want different options. A May survey of 1,000 U.S. adults showed that 39% would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work. The generational difference is clear: Among millennials and Gen Z, that figure was 49%, according to the poll by Morning Consult on behalf of Bloomberg News.

“High-five to them,” said Sara Sutton, the CEO of FlexJobs, a job-service platform focused on flexible employment. “Remote work and hybrid are here to stay.”

The lack of commutes and cost savings are the top benefits of remote work, according to a FlexJobs survey of 2,100 people released in April. More than a third of the respondents said they save at least $5,000 per year by working remotely.

Jimme Hendrix, a 30-year-old software developer in the Netherlands, quit his job in December as the web-application company he worked for was gearing up to bring employees back to the office in February.

“During Covid I really started to see how much I enjoyed working from home,” Hendrix said.

Now he does freelance work and helps his girlfriend grow her art business. He used to spend two hours each day commuting; now the couple is considering selling their car and instead relying on bikes.

One of the main benefits, he says, is more control over his own time: “I can just do whatever I want around the house, like a quick chore didn’t have to wait until like 8 p.m. anymore, or I can go for a quick walk.”

Of course, not everyone has the flexibility to choose. For the millions of frontline workers who stock the shelves of grocery stores, care for patients in hospitals and nursing homes, or drop off packages at people’s doors, there are scant alternative options to showing up in person.

But among those who can, many are weighing their alternatives, said Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, who’s researched why people quit jobs. Bosses taking a hard stance should beware, particularly given labor shortages in the economy, he said.

“If you’re a company that thinks everything’s going back to normal, you may be right but it’s pretty risky to hope that’s the case,” he said.

At least some atop the corporate ladder seem to be paying attention. In a Jan. 12 PwC survey of 133 executives, fewer than one in five said they want to go back to pre-pandemic routines. But only 13% were prepared to let go of the office for good.

Alison Green, founder of workplace-advice website Ask a Manager, said she’s been contacted by many people with qualms about going back, citing concerns about unvaccinated colleagues and Covid precautions. Some have said they’re looking for jobs at companies they feel take the virus seriously, or will let them work from anywhere.

Some things are indeed lost with remote work, Green said, like opportunities for collaboration or learning for junior employees. But, she added: “I think we need to have a more nuanced discussion than: hustlers only do well in the office.”

For Sarah-Marie Martin, who lived in Manhattan and worked as a partner at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. when the pandemic struck, the months at home gave her time to redraw the blueprint of her life.

“When you have this existential experience, you have time to step back and think,” Martin said. “In my previous life, I didn’t have time to get super deep and philosophical.”

The mother of five moved her family to the New Jersey shore. And once the push to get back to offices picked up, the idea of commuting hardly seemed alluring. This spring, Martin accepted a fully remote position as chief financial officer of Yumi, a Los Angeles-based maker of baby food.

Gene Garland, 24, unknowingly opened the floodgates to people’s frustrations about office returns. After his employer, an IT company, in April told people they needed to start coming in, two of his close colleagues handed in their resignation letters. Garland, who lives in Hampton, Virginia, tapped out a tweet:

Hundreds of people responded, with many outlining plans, or at least hopes, to leave their own jobs. Garland says he himself has no plans to quit, but empathizes with those who do.

“Working inside of a building really does restrict time a lot more than you think,” he said. “A lot of people are afraid of the cycle where you work and work and work — and then you die.”

Twidt, the compliance specialist in Georgia, had already lined up a new job by the time she handed in her resignation letter: a role at a Washington-based company.

The recruiter that approached her, Twidt said, asked what it would take to get her on board. She replied that she would prefer something 100% remote. Some employees have enjoyed working from home so much that they’d rather quit their jobs than go back to the office full time, a new survey found.

Out of 1,000 US adults polled in May, 39% said they’d consider quitting if their bosses weren’t flexible about them working from home. The Morning Consult survey was first reported by Bloomberg. The survey showed that 49% of the respondents who said they’d consider quitting were millennials and Gen Z — i.e., adults born after 1980.

Many global companies are embracing a hybrid work model as staff start to return to offices post-pandemic. Finance giants, who were known for having a strict work culture, are now adopting more flexible work models. Some have decided to redesign the workplace for more collaboration, and keep solo tasks for remote working. Others plan to cut back on office space entirely.

But some firms, such as JPMorgan, are not won over by the idea of remote work and want to see the majority of their workforce in the office. Jamie Dimon, the company’s CEO, said on May 4 that remote work “does not work for young people” and “those who want to hustle.” Chris Biggs, a partner at the consultancy firm Theta Global Advisors, told Insider that employers need to be “tuned into people’s mental health” as staff return to the office.

“You could do a lot of damage to those who don’t want to go into the office,” he said, adding that employers shouldn’t force people to come into the office.

— With assistance by Sridhar Natarajan

By: and

Source: Return to Office: Employees Are Quitting Instead of Giving Up Work From Home – Bloomberg

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Critics:

Refusal of work is behavior in which a person refuses regular employment. As actual behavior, with or without a political or philosophical program, it has been practiced by various subcultures and individuals. Radical political positions have openly advocated refusal of work. From within Marxism it has been advocated by Paul Lafargue and the Italian workerist/autonomists (e.g. Antonio Negri, Mario Tronti), the French ultra-left (e.g. Échanges et Mouvement); and within anarchism (especially Bob Black and the post-left anarchy tendency).

In employment law, constructive dismissal, also called constructive discharge or constructive termination, occurs when an employee resigns as a result of the employer creating a hostile work environment. Since the resignation was not truly voluntary, it is, in effect, a termination. For example, when an employer places extraordinary and unreasonable work demands on an employee to obtain their resignation, this can constitute a constructive dismissal.

The exact legal consequences differ between different countries, but generally a constructive dismissal leads to the employee’s obligations ending and the employee acquiring the right to make claims against the employer. The employee may resign over a single serious incident or over a pattern of incidents. Generally, a party seeking relief must have resigned soon after one of the constructive acts.

Notes

The Cancer Custodians Hidden Truths

woman-with-headscarf-getting-chemo-treatment-article

Part of Dennis Plenker’s daily job is growing cancer. And a variety of different ones, too. Depending on the day and the project, different tumors may burgeon in the petri dishes stocked in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where Plenker works as a research investigator. They might be aggressive breast cancers.

They might be glioblastomas, one of the deadliest brain tumors that rob patients of their ability to speak or read as they crowd out normal cells. Or they might be pancreatic cancers, the fast and vicious slayers that can overtake a healthy person within weeks or even days.

These tiny tumor chunks are transparent and bland—they look like little droplets of hair gel that accidentally plopped into a plastic dish and took hold. But their unassuming appearance is deceptive. If they were still in the human bodies they came from, they would be sucking up nutrients, rapidly growing and dodging the immune system defenses.

But in Plenker’s hands—or rather in the CSHL’s unique facility—these notorious killers don’t kill anyone. Instead, scientists let them grow to devise the most potent ways to kill them. These tumor chunks are called organoids. They are three-dimensional assemblages of malignant growths used to study cancer behavior and vulnerability to chemotherapy and the so-called “targeted drugs”—the next generation therapies.

Scientists used to study tumors at a single-cell level, but because tumors grow as cell clusters in the body, it proved to be inefficient. The three-dimensional structures make a difference. For example, chemo might destroy the tumor’s outer cell layer, but the inner ones can develop resistance, so where single cells may die, a 3D mass will bounce back. Organoids can provide a window into these little-known mechanisms of drug resistance.

They can reveal how normal tissues turn malignant and where the cellular machinery goes off-track to allow that to happen. As their name suggests, organoids are scientists’ windows into organs, whether healthy or stricken with disease. You need to know your enemy to beat it, Plenker says, and cancer organoids offer that opportunity.

Taken from patients currently undergoing cancer treatments, these tumor chunks will reveal their weaknesses so scientists can find the cancers’ Achilles’ heel and devise personalized treatments. “Organoids are essentially patients in a dish,” Plenker says. Only unlike real patients, the organoids can be subjected to all sorts of harsh experiments to zero in on the precise chemo cocktails that destroy them in the best possible way.

And they will likely provide a more realistic scenario than drug tests in mice or rats, as animal models aren’t perfect proxies for humans.

These notorious killers don’t kill anyone. Instead, scientists devise the most potent ways to kill them.

The way that cancer proliferates in the body is hard to reproduce in the lab. Stem-cell research made it possible. After scientists spent a decade understanding how various cells multiply and differentiate into other cell types based on molecular cues and nourishment, they were able to make cells grow and fuse into tissues.

To stick together like bricks in a nicely laid wall, cells need a biological scaffold that scientists call an extracellular matrix or ECM, which in the body is made from collagen and other materials. Today, the same collagen scaffolds can be mimicked with a gooey substance called Matrigel—and then seeded with specific cells, which take root and begin to multiply.

Some tissue types were easy to grow—Columbia University scientists grew viable bones as early as 2010.1 Others, like kidney cells, were trickier. They would grow into immature tissues incapable of performing their job of cleaning and filtering blood. It took scientists time to realize that these cells wanted more than scaffolding and food—they needed to “feel at home,” or be in their natural habitat. Kidney cells needed the feeling of liquid being washed over them, the Harvard University group found, when they first managed to grow functioning kidney tissue in 2018.2

Cancers have their own growth requirements. In the body, they manage to co-opt the organism’s resources, but keeping them happy in a dish means catering to their dietary preferences. Different cancers need different types of molecular chow—growth factors, hormones, oxygen and pH levels, and other nutrients. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma thrives in low-oxygen conditions with poor nutrients.3 Glioblastomas feed on fatty acids.4 These nutrients are delivered to organoids via a specific solution called growth medium, which the lab personnel regularly doles out into the dishes.

Plenker is charged with keeping this murderous menagerie alive and well. He is the one who designs the cancers’ dietary menu, a specific protocol for each type. And while his official title is facility manager and research investigator who works closely with David Tuveson, director of the CSHL’s Cancer Center, he is essentially a cancer custodian, a curator of a unique collection that aims to change the paradigm of cancer treatment.

Plenker’s research area is pancreatic cancer—one of the most notorious killers known. Often diagnosed late and resistant to treatment, it is essentially a death sentence—only 8 to 10 percent of patients remain alive five years after diagnosis. The chemo drugs used to treat it haven’t changed in 40 years, Plenker says. In the past decade, physicians tried combining multiple drugs together with relative success. Identifying winning combos can save lives, or at least prolong them—and that’s what the organoids will help clinicians do better.

In a groundbreaking clinical trial called PASS-01 (for Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma Signature Stratification for Treatment), Plenker’s team collaborates with other American and Canadian colleagues to identify the most effective chemo cocktails and to understand the individual patients’ tumor behaviors, which would lead to more personalized treatments.5

Scientists know the same cancer types behave differently in different patients. Typically, all malignancies have the so-called “driver mutation”— the cancer’s main trigger caused by a mutated gene. But tumors also often have “passenger mutations” that happen in nearby genes. These additional mutated genes can generate various proteins, which may interfere with treatment.

Or not. Scientists call these mutated gene combinations tumor mutational signatures, which can vary from one patient to the next. With some cancers, doctors already know what mutations signatures they may have, but with pancreatic cancer they don’t have good tale-telling signs, or biomarkers. “There aren’t many biomarkers to help clinicians decide which chemo may be better for which patient,” explains oncologist Grainne O’Kane, who treats pancreatic cancer patients at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada.

That’s the reason O’Kane participates in the PASS-01 trial—it will give doctors a better view into the exact specifics of their patients’ malignancies. As they take their patients’ biopsies, they are sending little cancer snippets to the CSHL to be grown into organoids, which will be subjected to chemo cocktails of various combinations to design more personalized regiments for them.

The hospital treats all patients with the so-called standard of care chemotherapy, which is more of a one-size-fits-all approach. Some patients will respond to it but others won’t, so the goal is to define the second line of chemo defense in a more personalized fashion. “That’s where the biopsies we send to Tuveson’s lab might be useful,” O’Kane says. “They can help us find something to benefit patients after the first line of chemo stopped working.”

Organoids are patients in a dish. Unlike real patients, organoids can be subjected to experiments.

Scientists can try all kinds of combos on the tumorous organoids, which they can’t do in living people. “You can treat 100 organoids with 100 different compounds and see which one works, or which compound does a good job and which ones don’t work at all,” Plenker says. That would also allow scientists to define the precise amount of chemo, so doctors wouldn’t have to over-treat patients with harsh drugs that create sickening side effects. Ultimately, organoids should take a lot of guesswork out of the process.

With about 150 patients’ adenocarcinomas already collected, the team hopes to come up with some answers. O’Kane says her team already has three patients for which they were able to design the more personalized second line of defense chemo, based on what their organoids revealed. They haven’t yet tried it, because the trial has only started recently, but this would be the next step.

“Being able to piece all this information together in real time as patients are moving through their therapies can really improve the outcomes,” O’Kane says. And while they may not be able to save all of those who graciously donated their biopsy snippets to science, it will help build better treatments in the future. “Even if we won’t be able to help these specific patients we’re hoping to use this info in the future clinical trials,” O’Kane says.

Organoids can also help understand how cancer develops. This is particularly true for breast cancers, says Camilla dos Santos, associate professor and a member of the CSHL Cancer Center. She studies the inner life of human mammary glands, more commonly referred to as breasts, and is also part of the cancer custodian crew. The hormonal changes that women go through during pregnancy subsequently modify breast cancer risk, sometimes lowering it and sometimes increasing—a complex interplay of the body’s chemicals.

“We know that women who get pregnant for the first time before they turn 25 years old, have a 30 percent decrease in breast cancer incidents later in life,” dos Santos says. “When they turn 60 or 70, 30 percent of them will not develop cancer.” On the contrary, those who are pregnant past 38 have a 30 to 50 percent increase in developing aggressive breast cancer types. Clearly, some molecular switches are involved, but they are very hard to study within the body. That’s where organoids can provide a window into the surreptitious process.

Using breast organoids, scientists can model the complex life of mammary glands at various stages of a woman’s life. And while most women wouldn’t want their breasts poked and pierced when they are pregnant or breastfeeding, many donate their tissues after breast reduction surgery or prophylactic mastectomy due to high-risk mutations like the BRCA gene.

That’s where organoids shine because scientists can not only grow them, but also give them the pregnancy hormonal cues, which will make cells generate milk, stop lactating, or do it again—and study the complex cellular interactions that take place in real life.

There’s a lot to study. At birth, mammary glands are similar in both genders—just little patches of the mammary epithelium tissue. But when puberty hits, the female glands fill up with the so-called mammary tree—a system of ducts for future milk production, which fully “blooms” in pregnancy.

“When a woman becomes pregnant, the duct tree expands, growing two types of cells—luminal and myoepithelial ones,” explains Zuzana Koledova, assistant professor of Masaryk University in Czech Republic who also uses organoids in her work. When the baby is born, the luminal cells, which line the inside of the ducts, produce the proteins that comprise milk.

The myoepithelial cells reside outside the ducts and work as muscles that squeeze the ducts to push milk out. Dos Santos likens this pregnancy mammary gland growth to the changes of the seasons. The images of sprouting ducts look like blossoming trees in the spring while later they shrivel like plants do in the fall.

The body governs these processes via the molecular machinery of hormones, which stimulate breast cells growth during pregnancy, and later cause them to die out. The two pregnancy-related hormones, prolactin and oxytocin, are responsible for milk production. Prolactin induces the luminal cells to make milk while oxytocin makes the myoepithelial cells contract. Once the baby is weaned, the levels of these hormones drop, causing cells to shrink back to their non-pregnant state.

With organoids scientists can observe these cellular dynamics at work. Koledova’s team had watched breast organoids secrete milk based on biological cues. They even recorded movies of cells pumping tiny milk droplets in the dish they were growing in. Using tiny snippets of donated breast tissue, the team grew the organoids inside the Matrigel matrix in the growth media and then added the two pregnancy hormones into the mix, explains Jakub Sumbal, a mammary gland researcher in Koledova’s group.

As they began to secret proteins that compose milk, the organoids, which looked like little domes inside the dish, changed from translucent to opaque. “At first, you can see through them, but then as they produce these proteins, they kind of darken,” Sumbal says. “And you can see them pushing out these little droplets.”

Cancer patients would no longer have to undergo chemotherapy by trial and error.

Dos Santos’s team, who also did similar work, outlined molecular changes that follow such dish-based hormonal cues in their recent study.6 In response to hormonal messages, cells produce proteins, which they display on their surfaces, like status symbols. During pregnancy the burgeoning cells prepping for milk production display the “proteins flags” that make them look important, attracting nourishment. When it’s time to die, they commit a cellular suicide.

They signal to the bypassing macrophages—immune system cleanup crew—to devour them. “They essentially say ‘come eat me!’ to the macrophages,” dos Santos says. “Because I’m no longer needed.”

The ability to mimic these processes in a dish, allows scientists to study the molecular switches that trigger breast cancer development—or minimize it. Scientists know that cancerous cells can hide from the immune system and even co-opt it into protecting themselves. They do it by displaying their own “do not eat me” protein flags on the surface and avoid destruction.

“Sometimes cancer cells can recruit specific types of immune cells to protect them,” dos Santos says. “They can not only say ‘do not eat me,’ but say ‘come hang out with me’ to the macrophages, and the macrophages will send suppressive signals to the B-cells or T-cells, the body defenders.” It is as if the cancer requests protection—a crew of guardians around it to defend against other cells that would otherwise wipe it out.

Scientists can’t telescope into the body to peek at these interactions, but they now can watch these stealth battles unfolding in a dish. “Right now we are looking at the proteins that are secreted by the organoids—the proteins that go on the surface of the organoids’ cells and what they would communicate to the immune system,” dos Santos says.

“Even when there’s no immune system surrounding them, they would still be doing that.” There’s a way to mimic the immune system, too. Scientists can add B-cells, T-cells, macrophages, and other players into the growth medium and watch the full-blown cellular warfare in action. “That’s the next step in our research,” dos Santos says.

Understanding what hormonal fluxes trigger breast cancer, and how it recruits other cells for safekeeping, can give scientists ideas for pharmaceutical intervention. “We can find drugs that pharmacologically turn off the switches that trigger cancer or interrupt its signaling for protection,” dos Santos says. “That opens novel ways to treat people.”

Can organoid research lead to a new standard of care for cancer patients? That’s the ultimate goal, researchers say. That’s why Plenker works at keeping his collection of cancer glops alive and well and thriving—he calls it a living biobank. And he keeps a stash in the cryogenic freezer, too.

He is also developing protocols that would allow commercial companies to grow organoids the same way chemical industries make reagents or mice suppliers grow rodents for research. A benefit of organoid experiments is they don’t involve animals at all.

Hospitals may one day start growing organoids from their patients’ biopsies to design and test personalized chemo cocktails for them. Once science crosses over to that reality, the entire treatment paradigm will change. Cancer patients won’t have to undergo chemotherapy by trial and error.

Instead their cancer organoids will be subjected to this process—knocked out by a gamut of drug combinations to find the winning one to use in the actual treatment. Plenker notes that once enough data is gathered about the tumors’ mutational signatures, scientists may create a database of tumor “mugshots” matching them to the chemo cocktails that beat them best.

And then just sequencing a biopsy sample would immediately inform oncologists what drug combo the patient needs. “We may be about 10 years away from that,” Plenker says, but for now there’s a lot more research to do. And a lot more cancers to grow.

By: Lina Zeldovich

Lina Zeldovich grew up in a family of Russian scientists, listening to bedtime stories about volcanoes, black holes, and intrepid explorers. She has written for The New York Times, Scientific American, Reader’s Digest, and Audubon Magazine, among other publications, and won four awards for covering the science of poop. Her book, The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste into Wealth, will be released in October 2021 by Chicago University Press. You can find her at LinaZeldovich.com and @LinaZeldovich.

Source: The Cancer Custodians – Issue 102: Hidden Truths – Nautilus

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Critics:

Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. These contrast with benign tumors, which do not spread. Possible signs and symptoms include a lump, abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, unexplained weight loss, and a change in bowel movements. While these symptoms may indicate cancer, they can also have other causes. Over 100 types of cancers affect humans.

Tobacco use is the cause of about 22% of cancer deaths. Another 10% are due to obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity or excessive drinking of alcohol. Other factors include certain infections, exposure to ionizing radiation, and environmental pollutants. In the developing world, 15% of cancers are due to infections such as Helicobacter pylori, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, human papillomavirus infection, Epstein–Barr virus and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

These factors act, at least partly, by changing the genes of a cell. Typically, many genetic changes are required before cancer develops. Approximately 5–10% of cancers are due to inherited genetic defects. Cancer can be detected by certain signs and symptoms or screening tests. It is then typically further investigated by medical imaging and confirmed by biopsy.

Most cancers are initially recognized either because of the appearance of signs or symptoms or through screening. Neither of these leads to a definitive diagnosis, which requires the examination of a tissue sample by a pathologist. People with suspected cancer are investigated with medical tests. These commonly include blood tests, X-rays, (contrast) CT scans and endoscopy.

The tissue diagnosis from the biopsy indicates the type of cell that is proliferating, its histological grade, genetic abnormalities and other features. Together, this information is useful to evaluate the prognosis and to choose the best treatment.

Further reading

Richard Branson Plans To Get To Space Before Jeff Bezos

US-ECONOMY-NYSE-VIRGIN

The “billionaire space race” just got a bit more literal Thursday, as Virgin Galactic announced that it would be opening up the flight window for its first fully crewed mission to space on July 11, and that one of its first passengers would be Richard Branson. That’s 9 days prior to Jeff Bezos’ planned launch on July 20 on a capsule from his company Blue Origin.

If everything goes as planned, Branson wouldn’t be the first billionaire to go to space, but he would be the first to go on his own company’s spacecraft. Shares of Virgin Galactic stock soared in after-hours trading, up to over $51 at the time of publication. The stock had closed down at $43.19 on Thursday.

The “Unity 22” mission, as the company has dubbed it, is part of a series of test flights Virgin Galactic is conducting before it opens up its space tourism business to paying customers. The mission’s goal, the company says, is to accomplish several things: first, to evaluate the customer experience, including the periods of weightlessness and views of Earth. Second will be to test aspects of conducting research experiments, another revenue stream for the space. Third is to ensure that the company’s training program adequately prepares customers for the experience.

Joining Branson on the flight are Beth Moses, Virgin’s chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, the company’s lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, the company’s VP of researcher operations, who will be conducting a science experiment for the University of Florida.

Virgin Galactic was founded by Branson in 2005, and began publicly trading on the New York Stock Exchange in 2019. If July’s flight is successful, the company plans two more test flights evaluating other aspects of the experience before beginning commercial service in 2022.

“It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality,” Branson said in a statement. “As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I’m honoured to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.”

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website. Send me a secure tip.

I’m a senior editor at Forbes covering healthcare, science, and cutting edge technology.

Source: Richard Branson Plans To Get To Space Before Jeff Bezos

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Critics:

Virgin Galactic is not the only corporation pursuing suborbital spacecraft for tourism. Blue Origin is developing suborbital flights with its New Shepard spacecraft. Although initially more secretive about its plans, Jeff Bezos has said the company is developing a spacecraft that would take off and land vertically and carry three or more astronauts to the edge of space.

New Shepard has flown above the Karman line and landed in 2015 and the same vehicle was reflown to above the Karman line again in 2016. In April 2021, they completed their fifteenth test flight, with the next mission, NS 16, aiming to carry a crew as early as 20 July 2021.

On 16 September 2014, SpaceX and Boeing were awarded contracts as part of NASA’s CCtCap program to develop their Crew Dragon and CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, respectively. Both are capsule designs to bring crew to orbit, a different commercial market than that addressed by Virgin Galactic.

Now-defunct XCOR Aerospace had also worked on rocket-powered aircraft during many of the years that Virgin Galactic had; XCOR’s Lynx suborbital vehicle was under development for more than a decade, and its predecessor, the XCOR EZ-Rocket experimental rocket powered airplane did actually take flight, but the company closed its doors in 2017.

See also

 

Organic Based EV Battery Turns To Ethanol For a Boost In Energy Density

While on the face of it, the lithium-batteries that power electric vehicles play an important role in our ongoing shift to sustainable transport, they aren’t without environmental problems of their own. Batteries that use organic, readily available materials in place of rare metals are seen as a promising part of the solution to this dilemma, and new research led by University of Houston scientists demonstrates how the performance of these eco-friendly devices might be brought up to speed.

As demand for electronic devices and vehicles continues to grow, so does the reliance on lithium-ion batteries that rely on scarce metals. Front and center of this dilemma is cobalt, the mining of which is not only associated with environmental degradation and pollution of water supplies, but plagued by ethical issues such as the exploitation of child labor. The use of these metals also makes recycling the batteries difficult at the end of their lives.

However, we are seeing some exciting advances being made in the development of batteries that do away with these types of materials and use organic ones instead. These have included organic-based batteries that can break down in acid for recycling, a heavier reliance on cheaper and more environmentally friendly nickel, and even one from IBM that uses materials found in seawater.

The new device marries this organic architecture with another promising branch of battery research focusing on the use of solid-state electrolytes. Typical batteries move their electrical charge between two electrodes, a cathode and anode, in a liquid electrolyte solution, but scientists are making great inroads into alternative designs that use a solid electrolyte instead. This type of architecture could also allow batteries to work with a lithium metal anode, which could store as much as 10 times the energy of current devices.

The scientists behind the new battery have solved what they say is a key limitation of organic-based, solid-state lithium batteries. Where cobalt-based cathodes afford these batteries a high energy density, ones made from organic materials suffer from limited energy density, which the team found to be because of microscopic structures within the cathode. “Cobalt-based cathodes are often favored because the microstructure is naturally ideal but forming the ideal microstructure in an organic-based solid-state battery is more challenging,” says study author Jibo Zhang.

Working with a cathode made from an organic material called pyrene-4,5,9,10-tetraone (PTO), the scientists used ethanol as a solvent to alter its microstructure. This treatment resulted in a new arrangement that allowed for better transport of ions within the cathode and boosted its energy density to 302 Wh/kg, which the team says is 83 percent higher than current state-of-the-art solid-state batteries with organic cathodes.

“We are developing low-cost, earth-abundant, cobalt-free organic-based cathode materials for a solid-state battery that will no longer require scarce transition metals found in mines,” says Yao. “This research is a step forward in increasing EV battery energy density using this more sustainable alternative.”

Nick Lavars

 

By: Nick Lavars

 

Source: Organic-based EV battery turns to ethanol for a boost in energy density

More Contents:

 

 

3 Simple Habits That Can Protect Your Brain From Cognitive Decline

You might think that the impact of aging on the brain is something you can’t do much about. After all, isn’t it an inevitability? To an extent, as we may not be able to rewind the clock and change our levels of higher education or intelligence (both factors that delay the onset of symptoms of aging).

But adopting specific lifestyle behaviors–whether you’re in your thirties or late forties–can have a tangible effect on how well you age. Even in your fifties and beyond, activities like learning a new language or musical instrument, taking part in aerobic exercise, and developing meaningful social relationships can do wonders for your brain. There’s no question that when we compromise on looking after ourselves, our aging minds pick up the tab.

The Aging Process and Cognitive Decline

Over time, there is a build-up of toxins such as tau proteins and beta-amyloid plaques in the brain that correlate to the aging process and associated cognitive decline. Although this is a natural part of growing older, many factors can exacerbate it. Stress, neurotoxins such as alcohol and lack of (quality and quantity) sleep can speed up the process.

Neuroplasticity–the function that allows the brain to change and develop in our lifetime–has three mechanisms: synaptic connection, myelination, and neurogenesis. The key to resilient aging is improving neurogenesis, the birth of new neurons. Neurogenesis happens far more in babies and children than adults.

A 2018 study by researchers at Columbia University shows that in adults, this type of neuroplastic activity occurs in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that lays down memories. This makes sense as we respond to and store new experiences every day, and cement them during sleep. The more we can experience new things, activities, people, places, and emotions, the more likely we are to encourage neurogenesis.

With all this in mind, we can come up with a three-point plan to encourage “resilient aging” by activating neurogenesis in the brain:

1. Get your heart rate up

Aerobic exercise such as running or brisk walking has a potentially massive impact on neurogenesis. A 2016 rat study found that endurance exercise was most effective in increasing neurogenesis. It wins out over HIIT sessions and resistance training, although doing a variety of exercise also has its benefits.

Aim to do aerobic exercise for 150 minutes per week, and choose the gym, the park, or natural landscape over busy roads to avoid compromising brain-derived neurotrophic factor production (BDNF), a growth factor that encourages neurogenesis that aerobic exercise can boost. However, exercising in polluted areas decreases production.

If exercising alone isn’t your thing, consider taking up a team sport or one with a social element like table tennis. Exposure to social interaction can also increase the neurogenesis, and in many instances, doing so lets you practice your hand-eye coordination, which research has suggested leads to structural changes in the brain that may relate to a range of cognitive benefit. This combination of coordination and socializing has been shown to increase brain thickness in the parts of the cortex related to social/emotional welfare, which is crucial as we age.

2. Change your eating patterns

Evidence shows that calorie restriction, intermittent fasting, and time-restricted eating encourage neurogenesis in humans. In rodent studies, intermittent fasting has been found to improve cognitive function and brain structure, and reduce symptoms of metabolic disorders such as diabetes.

Reducing refined sugar will help reduce oxidative damage to brain cells, too, and we know that increased oxidative damage has been linked with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Twenty-four hour water-only fasts have also been proven to increase longevity and encourage neurogenesis.

Try any of the following, after checking with your doctor:

  • 24-hour water-only fast once a month
  •  Reducing your calorie intake by 50%-60% on two non-consecutive days of the week for two to three months or on an ongoing basis
  • Reducing calories by 20% every day for two weeks. You can do this three to four times a year
  • Eating only between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., or 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. as a general rule

3. Prioritize sleep

Sleep helps promote the brain’s neural “cleaning” glymphatic system, which flushes out the build-up of age-related toxins in the brain (the tau proteins and beta amyloid plaques mentioned above). When people are sleep-deprived, we see evidence of memory deficits, and if you miss a whole night of sleep, research proves that it impacts IQ. Aim for seven to nine hours, and nap if it suits you. Our need to sleep decreases as we age.

Of course, there are individual exceptions, but having consistent sleep times and making sure you’re getting sufficient quality and length of sleep supports brain resilience over time. So how do you know if you’re getting enough? If you naturally wake up at the same time on weekends that you have to during the week, you probably are.

If you need to lie-in or take long naps, you’re probably not. Try practicing mindfulness or yoga nidra before bed at night, a guided breath-based meditation that has been shown in studies to improve sleep quality. There are plenty of recordings online if you want to experience it.

Pick any of the above that work for you and build it up until it becomes a habit, then move onto the next one and so on. You might find that by the end of the year, you’ll feel even healthier, more energized, and motivated than you do now, even as you turn another year older.

By: Fast Company / Tara Swart

Dr. Tara Swart is a neuroscientist, leadership coach, author, and medical doctor. Follow her on Twitter at @TaraSwart.

Source: Open-Your-Mind-Change

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Critics:

Cognitive deficit is an inclusive term to describe any characteristic that acts as a barrier to the cognition process.

The term may describe

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a neurocognitive disorder which involves cognitive impairments beyond those expected based on an individual’s age and education but which are not significant enough to interfere with instrumental activities of daily living. MCI may occur as a transitional stage between normal aging and dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease. It includes both memory and non-memory impairments.Mild cognitive impairment has been relisted as mild neurocognitive disorder in DSM-5, and in ICD-11.

The cause of the disorder remains unclear, as well as its prevention and treatment. MCI can present with a variety of symptoms, but is divided generally into two types.

Amnestic MCI (aMCI) is mild cognitive impairment with memory loss as the predominant symptom; aMCI is frequently seen as a prodromal stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Studies suggest that these individuals tend to progress to probable Alzheimer’s disease at a rate of approximately 10% to 15% per year.[needs update]It is possible that being diagnosed with cognitive decline may serve as an indicator of aMCI.

Nonamnestic MCI (naMCI) is mild cognitive impairment in which impairments in domains other than memory (for example, language, visuospatial, executive) are more prominent. It may be further divided as nonamnestic single- or multiple-domain MCI, and these individuals are believed to be more likely to convert to other dementias (for example, dementia with Lewy bodies).

See also

Long Working Hours Killing 745,000 People a Year, Study Finds

 

The first global study of its kind showed 745,000 people died in 2016 from stroke and heart disease due to long hours.The report found that people living in South East Asia and the Western Pacific region were the most affected.

The WHO also said the trend may worsen due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The research found that working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with a working week of 35 to 40 hours.

The study, conducted with the International Labour Organization (ILO), also showed almost three quarters of those that died as a result of working long hours were middle-aged or older men.

Often, the deaths occurred much later in life, sometimes decades later, than the long hours were worked.Five weeks ago, a post on LinkedIn from 45-year-old Jonathan Frostick gained widespread publicity as he described how he’d had a wake-up call over long working hours.

The regulatory program manager working for HSBC had just sat down on a Sunday afternoon to prepare for the working week ahead when he felt a tightness in his chest, a throbbing in his throat, jawline and arm, and difficulty breathing.

“I got to the bedroom so I could lie down, and got the attention of my wife who phoned 999,” he said.While recovering from his heart-attack, Mr Frostick decided to restructure his approach to work. “I’m not spending all day on Zoom anymore,” he said.

His post struck a chord with hundreds of readers, who shared their experiences of overwork and the impact on their health.Mr Frostick doesn’t blame his employer for the long hours he was putting in, but one respondent said: “Companies continue to push people to their limits without concern for your personal well-being.”

HSBC said everyone at the bank wished Mr Frostick a full and speedy recovery.”We also recognise the importance of personal health and wellbeing and a good work-life balance. Over the last year we have redoubled our efforts on health and wellbeing.

“The response to this topic shows how much this is on people’s minds and we are encouraging everyone to make their health and wellbeing a top priority.”

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While the WHO study did not cover the period of the pandemic, WHO officials said the recent jump in remote working and the economic slowdown may have increased the risks associated with long working hours.

“We have some evidence that shows that when countries go into national lockdown, the number of hours worked increase by about 10%,” WHO technical officer Frank Pega said.

The report said working long hours was estimated to be responsible for about a third of all work-related disease, making it the largest occupational disease burden.

The researchers said that there were two ways longer working hours led to poor health outcomes: firstly through direct physiological responses to stress, and secondly because longer hours meant workers were more likely to adopt health-harming behaviours such as tobacco and alcohol use, less sleep and exercise, and an unhealthy diet.

Andrew Falls, 32, a service engineer based in Leeds, says the long hours at his previous employer took a toll on his mental and physical health.”Fifty to 55 hour weeks were the norm. I was also away from home for weeks on end.”

“Stress, depression, anxiety, it was a cauldron of bad feedback loops,” he says. “I was in a constant state of being run down.”After five years he left the job to retrain as a software engineer. The number of people working long hours was increasing before the pandemic struck, according to the WHO, and was around 9% of the total global population.

In the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that people working from home during the pandemic were putting in an average of six hours of unpaid overtime a week. People who did not work from home put in an average of 3.6 hours a week overtime, the ONS said.

The WHO suggests that employers should now take this into account when assessing the occupational health risks of their workers. Capping hours would be beneficial for employers as that had been shown to increase productivity, Mr Pega said. “It’s really a smart choice to not increase long working hours in an economic crisis.”

Source: Long working hours killing 745,000 people a year, study finds – BBC News

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References

“Spain introduces new working hours law requiring employees to clock in and out”. Idealista. Retrieved 30 April 2020.

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