Based on Principles
François Chollet | Slack Rage | Starbucks | Uninsurability
After nearly three years Covid-free, I tested positive over two weeks ago, and only shook the bug late week. I wasn’t deathly ill, but it was the sickest I’ve felt in at least a decade. A long ten days. The only good news is that I had little appetite, so I lost around ten pounds.
This sidelined our plans for family and friends for Xmas and New Year’s, although we plan a get-together in a few weeks.
At any rate, I am slowly getting back into the groove. Bear with me.
Quote of the Moment
The faster things move and the more unpredictable the future gets, the more helpful it is to make decisions based on principles rather than on attempts to predict specific outcomes.
| François Chollet
Emma Goldberg chronicles the era of Slack Rage:
Conditions have been ripe for workplace disaster this year. Many teammates haven’t seen each other in person much since 2020. Their working relationships have frayed, but the slog of tasks continues. At the same time, they’re reading headlines about constant crises — layoffs, inflation, company collapses.
So things get messy. People blow up at colleagues they’ve never met in person, and find it’s easier to demonize a disembodied Slack account than it may be to lose it at someone in person. Whole battles can be waged between Catwoman and squirrel avatars. Workers receive irate messages, and instead of talking it over they respond with a half-baked retort.
We’re living in the age of Slack rage.
She spoke with my old friend, Anil Dash, who thinks part of the problem is that Slack emulates the communication patterns of social media:
Anil Dash, a blogger and executive who is the head of the collaboration platform Glitch, has noticed that across companies whose Slack channels he has been in, people disagree with one another more freely than they might have in the office. They have broad-ranging debates on serious issues like politics and tech ethics, or light subjects like snacks. Much of it gets heated.
“It can feel like, ‘Well I’m on my phone, or I’m on my laptop, that’s the place I go to fight with people,” he said. “You have this tool that mimics public social media, and so people’s behaviors mimic public social media, even though it’s sold and used as a collaboration tool.”
Some parts of Slack’s design can be invigorating for workers: It tilts the power dynamics of professional conflict, letting people share their views on public channels, with support from teammates, instead of behind closed doors.
“Slack is very different from most tools used in the workplace,” Mr. Dash said.
“It is intentionally very flat,” he said, meaning that anyone can easily message anyone else and express their views. Hierarchies at least appear less significant than they might in a physical meeting room, which can lead workers to feel more comfortable raising critiques.
But also can run aground on real hierarchies that just seem smaller online, but aren’t.
Starbucks refuses to bargain with Unions
Renata Geraldo boils it down:
Starbucks broke the law by refusing to negotiate with newly unionized workers at 21 stores across the Pacific Northwest, according to a complaint filed Tuesday by National Labor Relations Board prosecutors.
The stores — in Seattle, Olympia, Tumwater, Portland and Eugene, Oregon — are among 261 nationally that have unionized in the past year. The union, Starbucks Workers United, [claims Starbucks is not bargaining in “good faith”](https://www.seattletimes.com/business/starbucks/at-1st-anniversary-starbucks-union-workers-face-reality-check/) by delaying scheduling sessions and leaving negotiations soon after they began because of workers joining virtually.
Unionized workers say having a contract would give them extended benefits and pay. In Seattle, [the union claims Starbucks is offering more benefits and pay to nonunion workers](https://www.seattletimes.com/business/starbucks/starbucks-expanded-benefits-to-nonunion-workers-contested-in-seattle-hearing/) in an effort to quash union campaigns. Wins at the bargaining table could help union organizers persuade more workers to unionize.
The NLRB’s lawsuit supports the union’s claim that the company is breaking the law by refusing to negotiate with stores in the Pacific Northwest.
What I don’t get is why public opinion doesn’t swing against Starbucks, when they are so clearly denying the wishes of their workers to collectively bargain.
One of the highly negative characteristics of our post-normal world is the near-impossibility of assessing risks accurately.
Consider climate change. How can insurance companies (and the reinsurance companies that sit behind them, offloading their risks in the financial markets) assign a price on insuring homes and businesses in regions threatened by climate devastation? The Wall Street Journal reported in December that property insurance in Florida is growing unaffordable at best, and unavailable at worst:
Many of the state’s smaller, private-sector insurers have been losing money for years, beset by rising reinsurance costs, litigation expenses and hurricanes including Ian, which struck Florida’s southwest coast in September. Risk modelers estimate Ian will cost insurers $40 billion to $70 billion.
The state is heavily dependent on relatively small, Florida-focused carriers, in the wake of retreats by national carriers many years ago. Six of these have been declared insolvent since February, as well as a Louisiana-based carrier that wrote policies in Florida, according to a Dec. 8 report by A.M. Best, which rates insurers.
Reinsurers say they have been increasing prices because of growing catastrophe losses worldwide and worries about more-intense natural disasters. In Florida, they say they also are concerned about litigation costs. Some have reduced their business in the state.
This past summer, Florida-focused home insurers went through their annual reinsurance renewals with prices going up 25% to 30% in many instances, according to ratings firm Demotech Inc. Some carriers were unable to get as much reinsurance as they wanted.
And despite the efforts of financial services firms, it’s likely impossible to actually assess the actual risks of catastrophic damage in a local like Florida. The possible result is that residents will find themselves priced out of insurance.
To riff on the quote by François Chollet, when you can’t predict outcomes, you need to make decisions based on general principles. In this case, the mounting risks of climate-driven housing damage mean that buildings in Florida cannot be insured at any reasonable price, and people will have to retreat. And Florida is only a glaring example of worldwide trends, which we have witnessed in recent years like the flooding in Pakistan, the wildfires and floods of the Western U.S., and the drought in Europe this past year.
A similar problem is cropping up in the realm of cybersecurity [emphasis mine]:
Mario Greco, chief executive at insurer Zurich, told the Financial Times that cyber was the risk to watch.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Work Futures to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.