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As masks become optional, businesses find themselves stuck in the middle

(BUSINESS NEWS) One liquor store’s decision on mask policy following changes in local laws has become a recurring story throughout the nation.

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Woman in front of small business with two children, all wearing face masks

The American mask debate has comprised a whirlwind of clashing political ideologies, legal dilemmas, and personal agendas, with businesses placed directly in the middle of the storm. As the pandemic continues to run its course, a disparity in state mandates and legislation is only serving to increase the strain on these establishments.

With increased access to vaccines and several states rolling back their COVID guidance, the option to wear—or not wear—masks is becoming more discretionary, with businesses often having the final say in whether or not they expect masks to be used on their premises. One such business, a liquor store, posted a notice regarding their staff’s decision to continue wearing masks:

“In accordance with Johnson County mandates: Masks are now optional. Please do not berate, verbally assault, or otherwise attack the staff over their choice to continue wearing masks.”

The notice went on to say, “It is painfully depressing we have to make this request.”

That last line epitomizes many business owners’ stances. Places across the country have started allowing customers to discard their masks with proof of vaccination, but if employees choose to keep their masks for the time being, it’s difficult for clients not to view it as a kind of political statement—despite their decisions often being corroborated by local laws.

And, as long as businesses continue to operate within the confines of those laws, their decisions should be free from public scrutiny.

Sadly, that’s not what’s happening as evidenced by the notice posted by the liquor store in Johnson County. The same disparity that allows for some freedom despite COVID still being present in many Americans’ lives often leaves those who choose not to wear masks to conclude that those who do wear them are being judgmental or unnecessarily cautious.

Those judgements work in reverse as well, with businesses who allow their employees to work maskless facing criticism from masked clients. It seems that the freedom to choose—something for which people strongly advocated throughout the pandemic—continues to cause separation.

As businesses change or adapt their regulations to fit state mandates and employee (and customer) concerns, everyone would do well to remember that the decisions these establishments make are usually meant to affect some kind of positive work environment—not to welcome harassment and abuse.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

Business News

Everyone should have an interview escape plan

(BUSINESS NEWS) A job interview should be a place to ask about qualifications but sometimes things can go south – here’s how to escape when they do.

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interview from hell

“So, why did you move from Utah to Austin?” the interviewer asked over the phone.

The question felt a little out of place in the job interview, but I gave my standard answer about wanting a fresh scene. I’d just graduated college and was looking to break into the Austin market. But the interviewer wasn’t done.

“But why Austin?” he insisted, “There can’t be that many Mormons here.”

My stomach curled. This was a job interview – I’d expected to discuss my qualifications for the position and express my interest in the company. Instead, I began to answer more and more invasive questions about my personal life and religion. The whole ordeal left me very uncomfortable, but because I was young and desperate, I put up with it. In fact, I even went back for a second interview!

At the time, I thought I had to put up with that sort of treatment. Only recently have I realized that the interview was extremely unprofessional and it wasn’t something I should have felt obligated to endure.

And I’m not the only one with a bad interview story. Slate ran an article sharing others’ terrible experiences, which ranged from having their purse inspected to being trapped in a 45 minute presentation! No doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mistreatment by potential employers.

So, why do we put up with it?

Well, sometimes people just don’t know better. Maybe, like I was, they’re young or inexperienced. In these cases, these sorts of situations seem like they could just be the norm. There’s also the obvious power dynamic: you might need a job, but the potential employers probably don’t need you.

While there might be times you have to grit your teeth and bear it, it’s also worth remembering that a bad interview scenario often means bad working conditions later on down the line. After all, if your employers don’t respect you during the interview stage, it’s likely the disrespect will continue when you’re hired.

Once you’ve identified an interview is bad news, though, how do you walk out? Politely. As tempting as it is to make a scene, you probably don’t want to go burning bridges. Instead, excuse yourself by thanking your interviewers, wishing them well and asserting that you have realized the business wouldn’t be a good fit.

Your time, as well as your comfort, are important! If your gut is telling you something is wrong, it probably is. It isn’t easy, but if a job interview is crossing the line, you’re well within your rights to leave. Better to cut your losses early.

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Business News

How to keep Pride month going year-round (without rainbow washing)

(BUSINESS NEWS) Pride month is over and companies have deleted their rainbow website adornments. Without much effort, your company can easily keep the commitment to kindness going – here’s how.

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pride month

Pride month in the US is behind us now and already the rainbows have faded from mega-corporate logos and branding. Making a constant commitment to inclusivity and anti-discrimination isn’t always easy and marketing has minefields aplenty.

So how does a small business navigate this? We’re starting from a deficit of trust and there are a few reasons why.

The large scale, mega-corporate marketing and PR targeted at the LGBTQIA+ community that goes on in June for Pride month, collectively referred to as “rainbow washing” (or sometimes even less flattering pandering accusations), has come under fire for being largely lip service and sometimes downright harmful by community advocates.

For example, one independent journalist just penned an editorial, putting AT&T on blast for publicly supporting LGBTQIA+ causes while funding political initiatives that negatively impact the community. I’d consider this a prime example of what not to do.

Businesses who want to be genuine in their commitment to pride have plenty of options that don’t require vast marketing or PR budgets.

Pride is ultimately about celebrating progress and obstacles surmounted by the community and highlighting the work needed to promote equality for everyone, regardless of identity or orientation.

The first thing any business can do is reflect internally. Address any dirty laundry that might be kicked behind the couch in the corner.

Try asking these questions:

  • Are our policies gender neutral?
  • Do any job titles involve gendered terms?
  • Is the language in morality clauses modern?
  • How do your benefits packages handle LGBTQIA+ health issues?

The other thing businesses can do, even if you are a business of just one person, is be an active member of your community.

Below are a few accessible, actionable suggestions on how to promote a welcoming and inclusive world:

  • Listen – Be informed about what goes on in your locale. Sometimes just being aware is more than half the battle.
  • Speak – if there is something going on in your community that you have a strong opinion on, speak up. Twitter is popular these days. Few things are more impactful than a call to city hall or the commerce department from a local business owner. You have more power than you probably realize. And yes, it IS good for business because it builds trust and loyalty within your customer base. Good things happen to those who make an effort to do the right thing.
  • Ask Questions – Nothing beats good old honesty and accountability. Colleagues, customers, and the community at large will respect you more if you are willing to open a dialog. This can be individual conversations, or a short survey in a newsletter or social media post. This builds trust and gives you an opportunity to serve as a role model for others.
  • Back Local Events – Get your name and logo out there. I know this one feels inaccessible to smaller businesses, but hear me out. Obviously, organisations running events like financial or in-kind contributions. If you can do that, great! A lot of organisations struggle with finding safe meeting spaces- can you unlock the office for 2 hours one evening after work one night a month? Something as simple as volunteering your parking lot for some extra space or putting a banner on your webpage for a week makes a big difference too. Push their events on your socials. Can I borrow your printer?

At the end of the day, every day, everyone just wants to be treated equally, with kindness and compassion.

Last I checked, those are two things we haven’t put a commercial price tag on yet. So, above all else, be kind. It’s amazing how far that can get you.

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Business News

How a study on a 35-hour workweek will impact post-pandemic life

(NEWS) With a successful study regarding a shortened workweek, conscious and proactive companies should be looking at making adjustments.

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shorter workweek

As we approach an “after” phase of pandemic life, many companies are asking for science on how to envision a new normal for the workforce. As experts warn of a silent mental health pandemic in the aftermath of COVID, employee wellbeing is top of mind for proactive companies, especially for those already losing employees to “The Great Resignation.”

One multi-year study conducted from 2015-2019 (notably pre-pandemic) coming out of Iceland, sheds some light on one method to improve wellbeing with no impact to productivity – give your employees 5 hours of their week back without docking their pay.

The study involved more than 2,500 workers, representing about 1% of Iceland’s workforce. Trials included maintaining the take home pay of the participating workers while requiring 4 or 5 less hours a week for traditional office and shift workers across a number of industries.

The results were positive for employees and employers across the board. The report analyzed employee retention, stress levels, burnout, health, and other quantitative and qualitative data.

People overall reported feeling more respected and rewarded with having extra time and flexibility. For some that was time for hobbies, travel, exercise, or simply the freedom to pick up their kids from school in the afternoons leading to more engaged, meaningful family time.

The results in Iceland have widely been codified into practice by unions. The Icelandic Committee on Labour Market Statistics reports approximately 170,200 union workers are now participating in a shortened workweek. The following is from the official report jointly published in June 2021 by Iceland’s non-profit Association for Democracy and Sustainability (Alda) and Autonomy (think tank based out of the UK), summarizing the information as such:

“This means that 86% of Iceland’s entire working population has now either moved to working shorter hours or have had new mechanisms made available to them through which they can negotiate shorter hours in their workplace.”

The BBC reports that after the overwhelming success in Iceland, similar studies are currently underway in New Zealand and Spain.

Kickstarter has announced their own testing of reduced schedules slated to begin in 2022. A report out of Platform London suggested that the carbon footprint of the entire UK could possibly be lowered by shortening work weeks as well.

Takeaways:

  • Employee well-being and burnout prevention are big items to address in pandemic aftermath.
  • A shorter workweek has been shown to maintain or increase productivity while providing benefits for employees and employers both, on the condition net pay is unchanged.
  • Now more than ever before there is opportunity, evidence, and momentum to transition away from the old definition of traditional work schedules and pioneer a new normal.

What would you do if you could have 5 hours of your week back? Carpe Diem.

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