Need to Escape, Flights to Nowhere!

Need to Escape, Flights to Nowhere!

As I have discussed several times, we are struggling in the COVID world of working more hours, with more conference calls, little time to turn off and recharge. However, breaks are more critical as we need downtime from deadlines and stress and to recharge. Burnout is becoming a large factor and causing falling productivity among all of us. We work longer but are less effective. Thus while overall productivity may be ahead, the cost is enormous.

Furthermore, with Zoom, Skype, Teams, Hangout, etc., there is a belief that since you are at home, you are always available. One executive I know has been in the Azores for a couple of weeks with his wife as she is from there. A board he is on just rescheduled its board meeting, and he is facing a board meeting from 12 am to 3 am, which in my opinion, is ridiculous. We all need to understand that many of us are no longer where we were during regular times. Some are at vacation homes, some are with elderly parents, some are stuck in other countries, and some are homeschooling kindergarteners first thing in the morning. Thus, we need to adopt a much efficient approach and ask if times are convenient for all the call’s potential members.

The assumption that everyone is available at all times so we can put meetings on their schedule at any time is causing even more chaos and exhaustion. Further, while the new time might suit the most senior member of the call, if they need input from the others who cannot provide it due to the time, then the meeting is a waste of time, and burnout increases.

I took a week’s vacation about three weeks ago and failed miserably. The best I managed was one day with only one call and four hours of work. Looking at my falling productivity, burnout, and listlessness, my wife and I agreed on a do-over. This week we took another vacation, and I have done much better with little work and meetings. I can already feel my energy levels and thinking improve. We all need a break, and like on airplanes, when the oxygen mask comes down, take care of yourself first, so you can then take care of others.

Thus, finding time to create that quiet space where you can reflect and recharge your batteries is a battle that many of us now face.  Many executives say the most significant thing they miss in our new world is that time on aircraft when they were effectively out of reach and had that quiet time.

Naturally, markets responded, and some airlines, none in the U.S., are offering “Flights to Nowhere.” Thousands of people have booked flights in Brunei, Taiwan, Japan, and Australia that finish where they started and are called either “scenic flights” or “flights to nowhere.”

  • Royal Brunei, since mid-August, has flown five of these flights. As Brunei has had very few coronavirus cases, passengers are not required to wear masks, but staff members are.
  • EVA, the Taiwanese airline, sold all 309 seats on its Hello Kitty-themed A330 Dream jet for Father’s Day.
  • Japan’s All Nippon Airways had a Hawaiian-resort-themed, 90-minute-flight with 300 people on board.
  • Qantas sold out its flight to nowhere over Australia in 10 minutes last Thursday. Tickets ranged in price from $575 to $2,765. The flight will go around Australia, flying over the Northern Territory, Queensland, and New South Wales.
  • Qantas has also brought back its popular sightseeing flights to Antarctica that don’t land in Antarctica but allow passengers to walk around the aircraft and have different Antarctica views.
  • Starlux, the Taiwanese airline, is working to make the flight-to-nowhere experience a luxurious one by allowing people to buy packages for the flight and a hotel stay. Since August, the airline has run six flights to nowhere and has about a dozen more scheduled through October, and most of them have sold out within 10 minutes of being announced. The airline requires masks and social distancing on all fights.

For those that see flying more than as a method of getting from A to B, these flights provide either the exciting flying experience or the quiet time they have missed due to COVID. For those who need to escape being online always. I can appreciate the quiet time flying provided. I loved long-haul flights with no WiFi and considered them a great time to read and get “thought” work done. But the idea of a “flight to nowhere” has little appeal. I have my first cross country flight since March next month, and while I may change my view, I doubt it.

However, for those executives who cannot manage to find a quiet time without getting on a plane, I would suggest revisiting your priorities and finding that peaceful time once a week of at least two hours. Make sure that:

  • You have blocked out the time on your calendar, so you cannot be disturbed;
  • You have turned off your phone;
  • If using your computer, you have turned off your email; and
  • You are somewhere where you will not be disturbed by a spouse, partner, kids, or pets.

Furthermore, start considering all the others on your multitude of video calls to ensure that the times suit them and that they will be in a position to provide the most significant input. Otherwise, you are just increasing stress and burnout and doing nothing productive.

I believe quite times to be of great value, and if you can create that habit and space now, it should serve you well after COVID has ended without a need to fight your way through airports, security, and eat lousy food. I think we all would benefit from more of this time, especially as we are “busier” than ever but are questionably productive.

 

Copyright (c) 2020, Marc A. Borrelli

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Schools are reopening to various degrees across the county. However, these degrees are causing a multitude of issues, and the problem is more complex as the degree is not state by state but in many cases, county by county.

As the schools reopen, we are experiencing everything from virtual schooling to full in-person instruction and everything along the spectrum. Many of the schools with full in-person teaching face resource issues as many older teachers, who are at risk, are retiring rather than working, putting more pressure on the schools’ resources. Besides, while some child care programs are also beginning to reopen, for many, the crisis has taken its toll and will never reopen, aggravating an already strained child care system. To further compound the issue, even if child care and schools do fully reopen, some parents may not be confident in those environments’ safety and opt to keep their children home.

In 2018, over 41 million U.S. workers ages 18 to 64 were caring for at least one child under 18. Of these, nearly 34 million have at least one child under the age of 14 and are more likely to rely on school and child care than parents of high school-aged children. Besides, 70%, or 23.5 million working parents, do not have any potential caregivers at home, and their return to work will likely be dependent on the reopening of child care programs and schools.

However, these parents working from home face an impossible balancing act every day, keeping up with their work while caring for and teaching their children. Others have been laid off, left their jobs to care for their children, or been forced to cobble together temporary child care arrangements to report for work at essential jobs, such as nursing and grocery work. Ultimately, the status of schools and child care programs in the fall will largely dictate the speed and robustness of economic recovery.

Working parents who rely on child care and school also make up a significant share of employees in education, health care, social assistance, finance, insurance, public administration, management, and professional services. In these industries, at least one in five workers depends on child care and schools.

For those working parents, the uncertainty surrounding child care and in-person instruction for school-aged children is unprecedented. As a result, there is an unfolding series of consequences on family life, education, and earnings. The implications for corporate health also need consideration.  

Many tech companies have rushed to help their employees, extending new benefits, including extra time off for parents to help them care for their children. However, a backlash has started. Many nonparents of minor children are saying that they feel under-appreciated, as they shoulder a heavier workload, and all the policies are directed to parents of minor children.

Parents of minor children are frustrated that their childless co-workers don’t understand how hard it is to balance work and child care, especially when daycare centers are closed, and they are trying to help their children learn at home. Some say that they cannot get any real work done during the day as they help their children, so they have to work longer at night, resulting in burnout.

The schism has been at the major tech companies, e.g., Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Salesforce. However, it has been most vividly on display at Facebook. In March, Facebook offered up to 10 weeks of paid time off for employees if they had to care for a child whose school or daycare facility had closed or for an older relative whose nursing home was not open. Google and Microsoft extended similar paid leave to employees dealing with children at home or a sick relative. Also, Facebook announced that it would not be scoring employees on job performance for the first half of 2020 because there was “so much change in our lives and our work.” Every Facebook employee would receive bonus amounts, usually reserved for outstanding performance scores. This policy irked some childless employees who felt that those who worked more should receive more pay. Other childless employees felt they should also get the ten weeks paid leave just like parents, creating significant friction. Some parents at Facebook felt negatively judged and that a child care leave was hardly a mental or physical health break. One Facebook parent wrote, “Please don’t make me and other parents at Facebook the outlet for your understandable frustration, exhaustion, and anger in response to the hardships you’re experiencing due to Covid-19.”

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, was asked on several occasions what Facebook could do to support nonparents since its other policies had benefited parents. Ultimately she said Facebook has tried to design its leave policies to be “inclusive.” “I do believe parents have certain challenges,” she said. “But everyone has challenges, and those challenges are very, very real.”

As a result of the tension, Facebook has had to shut down some internal discussion boards. In August, Facebook announced that the leave policy would remain in place through June 2021 and that employees who had already taken some leave this year would receive another ten weeks next year. This extension further angered some nonparents who feel the company seemed less concerned about their needs.

However, even pre-pandemic resentment from employees without children about extra parental benefits existed. But like all things, COVID has amplified that tension. Parents who had usually been able to balance work and home struggle to help their children learn remotely while still doing their jobs.

Thus, how to deal with this friction? It requires:

  • Good corporate communication. Erin Kelly, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Business, who studies workplace policies and management practices, believes that this tension results from companies failing to do a good job explaining that what benefits parents can benefit the entire workforce. “A question that we might ask the employees who are feeling some frustration about their co-workers being on leave is what do you think is going to happen if that person quits?” she said. “You’re going to actually be stretched further.”
  • Empathy. A hard trait in our self-centered culture, and especially in many tech companies full of STEM students who have not had to learn compassion. One has to realize it is a difficult situation for everyone, but added Laszlo Bock, Google’s ex-head of HR, “for people to get upset enough to say that ‘I feel this is unfair’ demonstrates a lack of patience, a lack of empathy and a sense of entitlement.”
  • Core Values and Culture. How does your organization expect you to behave? If your values are only about money, then the friction will get worse. Core values and culture are essential and will be vital in binding the organization together through these times. At times like this, culture truly eats strategy for breakfast.

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While the data shows that overall productivity is up, what is becoming apparent is that few are taking vacations since COVID hit. According to a recent survey by the global online employment platform Monster, 59% of employees are taking less time off than usual, and 42% of those working from home are not planning to take any time off to decompress. SAP internal data shows employee vacation usage is 4% vs. 24% for the same period last year. For many employees, a combination of cancellation of events, summer camp closures, risks from travel, and minimal ability to travel internationally has led to a deferment of vacations. 

However, fewer vacation increases the risk of employee burnout. The recent Monster survey revealed that 69% of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home, an increase of 20% since a similar study in early May. In addition to the burnout, financial anxiety is also causing mental health issues.

The World Health Organization has updated its definition of burnout from a stress syndrome to “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Three symptoms characterize burnout:

  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  2. increased mental distance from one’s job or negative feelings toward one’s career; and
  3. reduced professional efficacy.

The damage employee burnout can do to an organization is very real. Individual employee burnout reduces productivity. Also, as employees begin to show symptoms of burnout, they transfer their stress (and workload) to others–and the burnout spreads. 

With so few employees taking a vacation, issues of what to do are arising.

  • Give employees more days off during the year, e.g., a Friday a month.
  • Make employees take staycations? 

The odd day off used to be a great break, but working from home, it is just the same as being at the office. So the rest and recharging that it used to offer are no longer there.

Encouraging employees to take staycations may sound good for their mental wellbeing. However, according to an HR Consultant, “The type of staycation where you don’t travel, but you stay home and forget all things work-related for a week feels different when you are working from home. [ The staycation ] is not by choice, and there is a lot of fear, trepidation, and isolation involved. If you don’t have enough space to have a completely separate work from home space, your staycation will feel like you just took a pillow and blanket into your office.”

Finally, some are taking vacations, but not turning off during that time. Since we can all work virtually, they are just continuing to work but at the vacation spot rather than at their home. This type of vacation defeats the purpose and results in the break being ineffective at reducing stress and burnout.

Another issue that is arising is what to do with all the unused vacation time. Many companies that have a use it or lose it policy may find that people lose it during these uncertain times, but that probably increases the risk of burnout. Another large set of companies are revisiting their employee policies to allow for unused vacations to roll over into 2021 so that when things allow for holidays, employees can use them. Right now though 2021 may not be long enough and rolled over vacation is a liability carried on the balance sheet.

Like many things during COVID, the situation is fluid, and flexibility is critical. First, though, find a way to reduce burnout and get your employees downtime. Then you can figure out what to do with vacations.

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