General Motors revises return-to-office rules after employee pushback, Virgin Atlantic updates gender identity guidelines

Plus, how working from home drives inflation.

General Motors delayed its return-to-office plan after harsh feedback

Greetings, comms pros! Let’s explore some stories from the past week and see what lessons we can glean from them.

1. General Motors delays return-to-office mandate after employee backlash

General Motors has decided not to require their employees to come back to the office right away after initial plans received significant pushback. This came after sending out a message on Friday that corporate employees would need to come into the office three times a week later this year. On Tuesday, the message was revised to leave the option of in-office work up to employees.

CNBC reports:

“Our plan was always, and still is, collaboratively design the solution that best balances the needs of the enterprise with the needs of each of you,” read the memo, which was signed by CEO Mary Barra and other executives, a copy of which was viewed by CNBC.

The follow-up message says no workers will be required to return to offices sooner than the first quarter of next year.

Even large organizations GM are now expected to listen to their employees and find a workplace configuration that everyone is happy with. Although General Motors said this will be their goal going forward, the company takes a reputational hit for this not having been its message from the start.

This incident is also a reminder that contact between employer and employee should be open and honest from the outset to eliminate the possibility of confusion and mixed messages.

2. Virgin Atlantic updates gender identity policy

British airline Virgin Atlantic has made some significant changes to its gender identity policy, with an eye toward acknowledging employee individuality. The new policy gives employees the freedom to choose the uniform they feel best represents them. It’s part of a larger initiative by the company to recognize individuality and comes with the option for employees to wear name badges with their chosen pronouns.

According to a Virgin Atlantic press release:

Virgin Atlantic has launched its updated gender identity policy, giving its crew, pilots, and ground team the option to choose which of the iconic uniforms, designed by Vivienne Westwood, best represents them – no matter their gender, gender identity, or gender expression.

Reflecting the diversity of the workforce and in a move that cements its position as the most inclusive airline in the skies, Virgin Atlantic will offer its people a fluid approach to its red and burgundy uniforms, meaning LGBTQ+ colleagues will be able to choose either the red or the burgundy uniform, depending on which best reflects themselves.

Michelle Visage, Tanya Compas, Talulah-Eve and Tyreece Nye have teamed up with Virgin Atlantic to showcase the new policy in a stylised fashion shoot that has been released today.

Michelle Visage commented: “As the mother of a non-binary child, and as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, these efforts by Virgin Atlantic to further inclusivity for its people are extremely important and personal to me. People feel empowered when they are wearing what best represents them, and this gender identity policy allows people to embrace who they are and bring their full selves to work.”

In today’s world, employees want to work for an organization that sees them for who they are, rather than just a person on the payroll. In allowing Virgin Atlantic’s employees to communicate their true selves to the outside world through their uniforms, the company is showing a commitment to diversity and inclusion that stands to go along with employees and the public alike. In addition, this speaks to the power our words have in communication. With the elimination of gendered descriptions for its uniforms, Virgin Atlantic sets a precedent that can be followed by others when looking to demonstrate diversity and inclusion in action. Our words matter.

3. The impact of inflation on employees

Inflation continues to be of the biggest stories across the country lately. However, what hasn’t been discussed is how it’s affecting work-life balance. According to one report, increasing inflation is leading most American employees to find supplemental sources of income.

CNBC reports:

Nearly 70% of Americans are looking for extra work to combat inflation, according to more than 1,000 full-time workers, part-time workers and unemployed workers surveyed by Bluecrew, a workforce-as-a-service platform, in September.

Already, 85% of Americans said they’ve changed their spending habits due to inflation, 72% say it’s impacted the way they view their job and 57% have sought out new or additional roles in the past year, according to the survey.

“Rapid inflation is forcing people to look at not only how they’re spending their money, but also how they’re earning their money,” says Matt Laurinas, chief customer officer at Bluecrew.

In many cases, those looking for work already log 40 hours during the week and are picking up extra shifts or gig work on nights and weekends, Laurinas says.

In a related story, one study has shown that work-from-home situations might be driving inflation trends.

Marketplace reports:

Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco said Monday the work-from-home shift brought on by the pandemic may account for more than half of overall home price increases in the United States. That goes for rents too.

According to surveys, 30% of work was still being done at home as of last month. And for a lot of people, that’s not expected to change.

There’s no doubting that these are dire figures. However, communications can help to ease this stress by partnering with HR to remind employees of the benefits they provide, such as a home office stipend, or provide financial education to help employees manage their money. This is a time of struggle for many across the nation, and businesses can improve their employer brand if they are willing to offer employees education or subsidies that can help alleviate some financial stress.

4. How about some good news?

Have a great weekend, communications all-stars!

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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