Working It: Welcome to the new world of work

Written by: Isabel Berwick, Sophia Smith
Published on: 16 Aug 2022

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Hello, and welcome to the new Working It newsletter. I’m Isabel Berwick, the London-based FT Work & Careers editor and host of the Working It podcast. We are launching this new weekly email as a response to the extraordinary changes to our working lives. We are in an unprecedented moment: re-examining not just where, but also when and even why we do our jobs. The Great Resignation is proof that work is not working for millions of people.

There’s never been a more uncertain, nor more exciting, time to be thinking and talking about workplaces. With my colleague Sophia Smith in New York, I’ll bring you the best of the FT’s coverage of workplaces, career development, management, leadership, diversity and inclusion news and more — including some Working It reporting of our own to keep you ahead of the curve. Working It will be, we hope, your weekly insight into the future of work.

This week, Sophia takes a look at the secret — and thriving — world of alumni networks, where former co-workers offer each other support, job offers — and a safe space to vent about ex-employers.

In our own recent team meetings we’ve been struck by how hard it’s proving to get back “to normal” after two years. Everyone is out of practice at being social beings. I’ve been coming into the FT’s headquarters throughout the pandemic, but it’s been a quiet and lonely place at times. Now it’s buzzing, which is great, but that’s not easy for everyone — even me, and I’m an extrovert.

Below, we also have some tips on managing the challenges of office re-entry. Mine is to hide in an empty (and lightless) bit of the office to decompress.

As we kick off the Working It newsletter, let us know what you’d like to read about, and share your workplace dilemmas. In future editions I’ll take on your questions, and you can keep it anonymous if you’d like. I’d love to know what you think — email me at isabel.berwick@ft.com.

Until next week.


Leaving a job doesn’t mean you have to leave your co-workers

working it
© FT montage / Unsplash 

Hello to you, reader. I’m Sophia Smith, the latest addition to the FT’s Work & Careers desk. I’ve arrived here after three years as an editor at Medium, where I was surrounded by very kind, very smart people. So after I left, I was thrilled to receive an invite to a Slack group of my former co-workers.

It wasn’t the first alumni network of its kind that I had joined — it turns out these groups are incredibly common. Some corporations sponsor their own alumni groups on platforms like LinkedIn, but countless other groups exist in near secrecy, founded and run by ex-employees themselves in industries from media and tech, to research and development, and even retail.

An alumni group can operate as a trustworthy job board, a place to chat with fellow industry insiders, and sometimes as a resource for emotional support after traumatic work experiences such as lay-offs. Airbnb’s alumni Slack channel even helped guide its members through the vacation rental company’s IPO, which can be a financially significant yet confusing process for anyone who still holds stock options from an old job. In all these ways, alumni networks can play a valuable part in a career, especially during the Great Reshuffle. Co-workers can be the best part of a job. Why leave them behind just because you’re on to new opportunities? (Sophia Smith)

Do you belong to an employee alumni network? Take our poll.


Listen in: Are we anti-work or just pro-leisure?

This week on the Working It podcast, we asked (a bit provocatively) “Is this the end of work?” Millions of people have walked away from jobs they don’t like. Has our relationship with work really shifted forever? I wanted to make this episode because FT readers can’t get enough of stories about people challenging the need to stick to a stable job for years, or even the very idea of a work ethic. Every time we write about this theme, the numbers are massive — and our readers love to comment.

Well, spoiler alert, my colleague Taylor Nicole Rogers — who has written about the Reddit r/antiwork forum — says that it is “the end of work as we know it and the end of workers being able to tolerate almost anything at work to get a pay cheque”. That’s huge. Listen to the whole episode, featuring a discussion between Taylor and FT employment columnist Sarah O’ Connor, wherever you get your podcasts.

Next week’s podcast will be about disability at work and whether we should be more open about the visible — and often invisible — differences we have. (Isabel Berwick)


Elsewhere in the world of work

1. Remote work: The Financial Times is officially back in-person at our London and New York offices, but outside the big city, some rural destinations are quietly attracting a growing number of remote workers. Seeking a slower, more pastoral backdrop, many young people are making the move to the countryside thanks to relocation grants and incentive programmes.

2. Reverse mentors: How much advice can junior employees really impart to an organisation’s senior leaders? Lots, it turns out. In addition to teaching veteran staff new technical knowhow, so-called “reverse mentors” can offer fresh perspectives — and gain confidence and leadership skills along the way. Read more in the FT report: Women at the Start.

3. Retention interviews: If you’re hoping to minimise turnover, don’t wait for an exit interview to talk to your employees. A “stay” interview can head off an employee’s desire to leave, crystallise what they want from their jobs and encourage managers to understand the worker, their values and career aspirations. These interviews are a great resource to have in your toolkit — just make sure you approach it as a manager, not as a therapist.

4. Biz goes from page to screen: Tales of business triumph — and disaster — have burst out of print into audio, video and movie form, writes Andrew Hill. From binge-worthy scripted series like Succession and Billions to dramatised adaptations like The Dropout, which tells the story of Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes, and WeCrashed, following WeWork’s Adam Neumann, narratives about the rise and fall of enterprise have found a growing audience.

5. Weekly tip: Working less can boost productivity because downtime combats burnout and promotes creativity. But if your team decides to try out a four-day week, you’ll want to have a solid plan to head off priority overload.


Words from the Working It community

In a recent story, our columnist Pilita Clark questioned why it’s become so common to write emails without a greeting. These are fine to send to co-workers you chat with frequently, but can feel jarring or even just plain rude when they come from a stranger, she wrote. The topic proved to be pretty polarising for FT readers in the comments section.

Reader Jack reminded us that manners matter:

“You can bet your bottom dollar that salutation-phobes would use one when emailing a CEO. It should be no different when emailing down a chain of command.”

Reader ‘Money has no owners — only spenders’ thinks it’s simply a sign of the times:

“Everybody receives hundreds of emails per day. Email has become more like chat, where people add their comments to long email chains and give short replies to issues. This leads to less formality and quicker responses.”

Reader Callaw brought up a fascinating cultural observation:

“It’s less a generational thing than a transatlantic difference thing. Europeans view email as a proxy for letter writing. Americans view email as a proxy for spoken conversations.”

And let us know ...

Whew. I’m halfway through my third week with the FT. After a whirlwind of trainings, onboardings, new names and faces, and the inevitable technical difficulty here and there, I *think* I can confidently say now that, as my boss Isabel would put it, my “feet are under the desk”. Starting a new job is always an adjustment — I’ve gone from writing in American English to British English, and from a couple hundred co-workers to a couple thousand. Joining a new organisation has got me thinking about professional culture shock. Have you experienced this? What helped you acclimatise? What’s the most surprising source of professional culture shock you’ve encountered?

You can write to me at sophia.smith@ft.com or tweet us at @FTWorkCareers and we’ll feature the best responses in next week’s edition.

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