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24th January 2023
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Blizzard manager departs after refusing to give employee lower evaluation
A manager at Irvine, Calif., headquartered video game developer Blizzard Entertainment said he was ousted after refusing to give a low evaluation to an employee who he felt didn't deserve it in order to fill a quota. Brian Birmingham, the former co-lead of World of Warcraft Classic, sent an email to staff last week in which he detailed his frustration with Blizzard and the way in which he was forced to lower an employee from the average “successful” rating to “developing” in order to achieve the quota mandated by the company. “When team leads asked why we had to do this, World of Warcraft directors explained that while they did not agree, the reasons given by executive leadership were that it was important to squeeze the bottom-most performers as a way to make sure everybody continues to grow,” Birmingham wrote in the email. “This sort of policy encourages competition between employees, sabotages one another’s work, a desire for people to find low-performing teams that they can be the best-performing worker on, and ultimately erodes trust and destroys creativity.” A Blizzard spokesperson said the company's employee evaluation process was designed to facilitate "excellence in performance" and "ensure employees who don't meet performance expectations receive more honest feedback, differentiated compensation, and a plan on how best to improve their own performance." The spokesperson added that the evaluation process involves conversations with multiple managers "and sometimes ratings move up or down based on those discussions."
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Judge dismisses Whole Foods workers' lawsuit over 'Black Lives Matter' masks
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by three former Whole Foods Market employees, who said they had been illegally fired for opposing the upscale grocery chain's alleged discriminatory discipline of workers who wore "Black Lives Matter" masks. U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston found little evidence to refute Whole Foods' "legitimate business explanations" for strictly enforcing the dress code, and no significant evidence it had targeted the plaintiffs by firing them in the summer of 2020. Whole Foods has long maintained that it adopted its dress code, which also covers visible slogans, logos and ads, to foster a welcoming, safe and inclusive shopping environment. Burroughs said the former employees Haley Evans, Savannah Kinzer and Christopher Michno could not claim protection from retaliation under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Remote work saves global commuters 72 minutes a day, study finds
Remote work saves commuters around the world 72 minutes a day, according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Working from home is saving the most time in China, freeing up 102 minutes a day. Workers in Serbia saw the smallest savings of 51 minutes; those in the U.S. had a comparatively low 55 minutes spared. U.K. workers saved 73 minutes; workers in Germany saved 65 minutes. The study nevertheless shows that businesses are the biggest beneficiaries of the travel time savings, with workers devoting 40% of their saved time toward primary and secondary jobs. About a third of saved time was directed toward leisure activities and 11% went to caregiving, the study found.
What to do if you hate your job
Grace Lordan, an associate professor at the London School of Economics, examines proactive ways to identify the source of dissatisfaction at work – and then how to do something about it.
Redundancies often leave companies worse off
Writing for Bloomberg, Sarah Green Carmichael considers how job cuts often leave companies worse off, alienating customers and sapping the morale of those employees who are left to pick up the slack. An organization which finds that it is slightly overstaffed should consider what to do with that capacity rather than letting go people they have worked hard to hire, say management experts. “The research has been incredibly consistent that layoffs are not good,” warns Angie Kamath, dean of the New York University School of Professional Studies.
Railroads offer paid sick days to retain employees
Railroads including Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern and CSX are considering offering paid sick days, or are already doing so, as well as schedule changes and other steps to improve employees’ work-life balance and advance worker relations in an industry that has struggled to hire and retain employees. “We don’t consider our front-line workers as simply costs to the company’s bottom line,” Joe Hinrichs, chief executive officer of CSX, explained. “Instead, they are the primary driver of our profitability.” Bloomberg notes the words of train engineer Travis Dye, who has worked for Union Pacific almost half his life, and who nearly quit because of the challenging conditions. “You have no off days. It’s just work, work, work,” said Dye, a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. “It wears on you.”
Microsoft to invest billions in ChatGPT maker OpenAI
Microsoft has announced a multibillion dollar investment in artificial intelligence (AI) as it extends its partnership with OpenAI, the creator of popular image generation tool Dall-E and the chatbot ChatGPT. In 2019, Microsoft invested $1bn in the company. “We formed our partnership with OpenAI around a shared ambition to responsibly advance cutting-edge AI research,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote in a blog post. “In this next phase of our partnership, developers and organizations across industries will have access to the best AI infrastructure, models and toolchain with Azure to build and run their applications,” he added. OpenAI works closely with Microsoft’s cloud service Azure. Microsoft’s 2019 investment made it the “exclusive” provider of cloud computing services to OpenAI. Microsoft said Azure will continue to serve as OpenAI’s exclusive provider.
Leadership teams fatigued by climate, diversity
A new survey by search firm Russell Reynolds Associates reveals that the chief executives of global corporations are losing confidence in the ability of their leadership teams to tackle issues including digital technology, climate change and diversity. The research also shows other C-suite executives are losing trust in those who report to them. Tom Handcock, managing director of Russell Reynolds’ Center for Leadership Insights, attributed the declining confidence in leadership to fatigue, economic challenges, and increased complexity in managing a diverse set of stakeholders. “The gap between talk and real impact on issues like digital, ESG, DE&I and succession planning is becoming increasingly clear for many organizations,” the survey said, referring to environment, social and governance (ESG) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).
Less than half of Americans are satisfied with healthcare quality
For the first time in two decades, less than half of Americans are satisfied with U.S. healthcare quality, according to a new Gallup poll. According to the poll, released on January 19th, around 48% of Americans think healthcare is either “excellent” or “good,” while 31% say it’s “only fair.” The remaining 21% of the population says the system is “poor.” Compared to 2021, the “excellent” and “good” percentages dropped by 2%. In the early 2010s, the percentage was as high as 62%. The poll questioned Americans about their own and national healthcare coverage. The disparity in ratings were even greater: while 66% of Americans rate their own coverage as “excellent” or “good,” only 32% of Americans consider healthcare coverage nationwide to be “excellent” or “good.”
Spotify cuts 6% of its workforce
Swedish music-streaming giant Spotify is to cut 6% of its about 10,000 employees, citing a need to improve efficiency.  “Like many other leaders, I hoped to sustain the strong tailwinds from the pandemic and believed that our broad global business and lower risk to the impact of a slowdown in ads would insulate us,” Spotify CEO Daniel Ek wrote on the company's blog, adding “In hindsight, I was too ambitious in investing ahead of our revenue growth. And for this reason . . .  we are reducing our employee base by about 6% across the company.” Ek said in the note to employees that he takes “full accountability for the moves that got us here today.” The company also said its chief content and advertising business officer, Dawn Ostroff, would depart as part of a broader reorganization. Spotify has never posted a full-year net profit, despite its popularity in the online music market.
Ford plans to axe jobs in Europe, says union
Germany's largest labor union has revealed that Ford intends to cut thousands of jobs in Europe and move more product development roles to the U.S. IG Metall claims Ford intends to slash up to 3,200 jobs in Germany alone and suggests sites in Belgium and the U.K. could also be affected. 
Australian Treasury threatens to stop briefing tax multinationals after leak
Australian Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones has threatened to end confidential briefings with the country's largest consulting firms after a former PwC partner was banned by the Tax Practitioners Board for leaking confidential government tax plans - including new rules to stop multinationals avoiding tax - to other staff and partners at the firm. “The tax advice profession is now on notice,” Jones said, adding “When the integrity of that process is breached, we may need to rethink our approach.” Peter-John Collins, the former head of international tax at PwC Australia, was deregistered by the Tax Practitioners Board for leaking confidential government information and banned from the profession for two years. The Treasury had briefed Mr Collins in confidence on measures to prevent multinationals avoiding tax by shifting profits from Australia to tax and secrecy havens. But a probe found Mr Collins leaked the confidential information to PwC partners and staff.
Brexit pushes up number of E.U. bankers earning above €1m
The number of bankers and investment professionals in the EU earning more than €1m  ($1 = 0.9245 euros) hit a record high in 2021 after Brexit propelled more top earners to the continent. The European Banking Authority (EBA) said Brexit-related relocations increased the number of bankers in the EU earning seven figures or more by two fifths in 2021. The EBA said the increase in millionaires was “linked to the overall good performance of institutions, in particular in the area of investment banking and trading and sales, continuing relocations of staff from the U.K. to the E.U. and a general increase in salaries.” Italy, France and Spain took the lion’s share of the increase, with 70%, but Germany remains the member state with the largest population of high-earning bank employees, with 589.
Employment website finds places for French hijab-wearers
JobHijab is a new website that is designed to help hijab-wearing women in France find employment. Yasmine Derrouaz, co-founder of JobHijab, said it is not always clear which companies allow prospective Muslim employees to continue wearing their headscarves. Companies in France are not required to state their policy on religious neutrality in job adverts and are “free to inform staff of this at their convenience,” Valérie Duez-Ruff, an expert in French employment law, said. The website lists only companies that are known to be open to workers wearing religious symbols. The information is obtained by the website through word of mouth or from the companies’ human resources departments.
Nigeria’s finance minister slams OECD global tax deal
Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, Nigeria’s minister of finance, has told an audience at Davos that her country could not sign up to the OECD’s planned global tax deal as it would result in “net tax losses,” observing “If we sign up to this, it means we're excluded from getting taxes from medium-sized companies that we now actually, by our own laws, have an opportunity to collect taxes from.” Speaking on the same panel, OECD Secretary General Mathias Cormann said the organization estimates that the West African nation could get substantially more revenue if it joins the deal, which has been signed by around 135 countries. Bloomberg notes that Nigeria's continued hold-out casts a shadow over the initiative, which aims to set a minimum corporate tax rate at 15% and share out rights to tax the world's biggest companies more fairly.

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