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Flexibility: Britain’s Brexit survival strategy

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Flexibility: Britain’s Brexit survival strategy

Contributed by Erik Fjellborg, CEO & Founder, Quinyx 

Britain’s exit from the European Union marks the biggest geopolitical shakeup for generations.

With just a few weeks to go until the Brexit deal deadline, the decisions that are due to be made over the next month will shape the course of the UK and its businesses for decades to come. And with the country already suffering from lagging productivity, Brexit casts further shadows of doubt over how Britain will continue to compete on the global stage.

With many of the UK’s vital industries heavily reliant on skilled international workers to fill vacancies, employers are, justifiably, getting increasingly concerned about restricted access to talent. Recent research by City & Guilds Group found that nine in 10 UK employers are already struggling to find and retain the skilled professionals they need, with two thirds thinking Brexit will exacerbate the problem.

So, to ensure the British workforce is fighting fit and can weather the storm heading its way, business leaders need to find more creative ways of attracting, retaining and motivating the best possible staff members. And that means putting employee happiness back to the top of the agenda.

Flexibility is key for employee happiness 

From my experience, the most effective way of boosting happiness and team morale is through flexibility.

By giving employees the flexibility to create their desired work life balance and choose the schedule that is right for them, employers will find themselves with staff members who enjoy their jobs and become brand ambassadors for the companies they work for. The result? A happier office atmosphere, with motivated, productive employees who are more willing to stick around and ride out the turbulent times ahead. 

In fact, it has been proven that flexibility holds the keys to solving Britain’s productivity crisis. The 2018 HSBC Productivity Study found that nine in 10 workers (89%) think flexible working motivates them to be more productive at work. Particularly in light of the fallout from Brexit, addressing the UK’s productivity problem should be high up on the government’s priority list, if the country is going to continue to compete with other world leading nations.

A viable solution for our multi-generational workforce 

Attention on flexibility tends to be synonymous with the newer entrants to the workforce. And it’s true that it’s important for Gen Z and millennial workers, who will make up more than half of the workforce by 2020.

But it’s important that business leaders bear in mind that in Britain’s multi-generational workforce, flexibility is just as important for the other generations and booming demographics, such as the returners and older workers, who need to ensure their job fits around family life, caring responsibilities or other interests. Our own research this year revealed that a third of the working population say the ability to work flexibly or fit work around family life is the most important thing when looking for a new job.

 Breaking the inflexible impasse

If flexible working can not only make the UK workforce happier and more productive but will also work the every demographic of Britain’s working population, why hasn’t it been suggested and implemented as a Brexit business strategy?

The problem is that it still has a bad reputation. We’re stuck in an impasse in which employers associate flexible working with spiralling costs and scheduling nightmares – they see a trade-off between flexibility and financial performance.

But this is far from the truth. With the right tools and technologies in place, flexible working can be easy. By cutting down admin and allowing business leaders and employees to collaborate on a schedule that works for everyone, solutions like smart workforce technology can improve productivity, save time, reduce costs and boost employee happiness.

 A stronger and more flexible future 

What we need moving forward is a change in mindset amongst UK businesses. The time has come to recognise that flexibility is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ for UK employers – but a vital differentiator in a rapidly changing and challenging labour market.

Yes, it’s true that the UK is navigating an increasingly difficult period due to the threats of Brexit – but leaving the European Union doesn’t have to be the disaster that everyone seems to be preparing for.

There’s an answer to retaining top talent during Brexit’s uncertainty and optimising an unproductive workforce – and that’s flexibility. A simple but effective measure employers can take to boost their employees’ happiness and stay on top of whatever storm is about to head our way.

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Climate extremes seen harming unborn babies in Brazil’s Amazon

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Climate extremes seen harming unborn babies in Brazil's Amazon 1

By Jack Graham

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A new study that links extreme rains with lower birth weights in Brazil’s Amazon region underscores the long-term health impacts of weather extremes connected to climate change, researchers said on Monday.

Exceptionally heavy rain and floods during pregnancy were linked to lower birth weight and premature births in Brazil’s northern Amazonas state, according to the researchers from Britain’s Lancaster University and the FIOCRUZ health research institute.

They compared nearly 300,000 births over 11 years with local weather data and found babies born after extreme rainfall were more likely to have low birth weights, which is linked to worse educational, health and even income attainment as adults.

Even non-extreme intense rainfall was linked to a 40% higher chance of a child being low birth-weight, according to the study, published on Monday in the Nature Sustainability journal.

Co-author Luke Parry said heavy rains and flooding could cause increases in infectious diseases like malaria, shortages of food and mental health issues in pregnant women, leading to lower birth weights.

“It’s an example of climate injustice, because these mothers and these communities are very, very far from deforestation frontiers in the Amazon,” Parry told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“They’ve contributed very little to climate change but are being hit first and worst,” he added, saying he had been “surprised by just how severe these impacts are”.

Severe flooding on the Amazon river is five times more common than just a few decades ago, according to a 2018 paper in the journal Science Advances.

Last week, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro visited the neighbouring state of Acre in the Brazilian rainforest, which is under a state of emergency after heavy flooding.

Parry said local people had adapted their lifestyles to deal with climate change, but that “the extent of the extreme river levels and rainfalls has basically exceeded people’s adaptive capacities”.

The negative impacts were even worse for adolescent and indigenous mothers.

The study said the “long-term political neglect of provincial Amazonia” and “uneven development in Brazil” needed to be addressed to tackle the “double burden” of climate change and health inequalities.

It said policy interventions should include antenatal health coverage and transport for rural teenagers to finish high school, as well as improved early warning systems for floods.

(Reporting by Jack Graham; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

 

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Energy leaders grapple with climate targets at virtual CERAWeek

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Energy leaders grapple with climate targets at virtual CERAWeek 2

By Ron Bousso and Jessica Resnick-Ault

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Global energy leaders and other luminaries like incoming Amazon Chief Executive Andy Jassy focused on the tough road to transforming world economies to a lower-carbon future at the kickoff of the world’s largest energy conference on Monday.

Numerous speakers at CERAWeek were prepared to talk about the energy transition and the need for future investment in renewables. But many oil and gas executives were vocal about the need for more fossil-fuel investment in coming years, even as a way of leading the world to a lower-carbon future.

“One of the most urgent things we can do to combat global warming is to back carbon-emitting companies that are committed to get to net zero,” said Bernard Looney, CEO of BP Plc, one of several European oil majors to have committed to ambitious targets of cutting emissions to reach net zero carbon by 2050.

CERAWeek was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, which stopped billions of people from traveling and wiped out one-fifth of worldwide demand for fuel.

The U.S. fossil fuel industry is still reeling after tens of thousands of jobs were lost. The pandemic has instead accelerated the transition to renewable fuels and electrification of key elements of energy use. Global majors have been playing catch-up, responding to demands from investors to lower production of fuels that contribute to global warming.

The primary message on Monday, however, was that achieving net zero – where polluting emissions are offset by technologies that absorb carbon dioxide for the atmosphere – is going to be difficult.

“There just isn’t yet enough renewable energy to fuel all of the energy that people need. That’s in developed countries,” said Andy Jassy, head of Amazon.com Inc’s cloud division who will succeed Jeff Bezos as CEO this summer.

He said the company had announced its goal for net zero emissions at a time when it had not entirely figured out how to get there.

Since the 2019 conference, many of the world’s major oil companies have set ambitious goals to shift new investments to technologies that will reduce carbon emissions to slow global warming. BP has largely jettisoned its oil exploration team; U.S. auto giant General Motors Co announced plans to stop making gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles in 15 years.

Oil companies have come under increasing pressure from shareholders, governments and activists to show how they are changing their businesses from fossil fuels toward renewables, and to accelerate that transition. However, numerous speakers warned that the viability of certain technologies, such as hydrogen, remains far in the future.

Hydrogen “is a very small business at this point in time, it will scale up, and it will take a long time before it is a business that is large enough to start making a real difference on sort of planetary scale,” said Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden.

Other speakers expected to appear include several representatives from national oil companies along with CEOs of Exxon Mobil, Total, Chevron and Occidental Petroleum, though many are participating in panels focusing on the energy transition.

Mohammed Barkindo, secretary general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, was scheduled to appear, but backed out, citing a conflict.

Some CEOs said more oil and gas investment was necessary.

“We don’t think peak oil is around the corner – we see oil demand growing for the next 10 years,” said John Hess, CEO of Hess Corp. “We’re not investing enough to grow oil and gas in the future,” he said, explaining that prices would need to rise to support that investment.

(Reporting By Ron Bousso, Jessica Resnick-Ault and Marianna Parraga; additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici, Stephanie Kelly, Jeffrey Dastin and Gary McWilliams; writing by David Gaffen; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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AstraZeneca sells stake in vaccine maker Moderna for nearly $1 billion

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AstraZeneca sells stake in vaccine maker Moderna for nearly $1 billion 3

(Reuters) – AstraZeneca sold its stake in rival COVID-19 vaccine maker Moderna for roughly $1 billion over the course of last year as the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker cashed in on the meteoric rise in the U.S. company’s shares.

London-listed AstraZeneca recorded $1.38 billion in equity portfolio sales last year, with “a large proportion” of it coming from the Moderna sale, according its latest annual report.

Shares in Moderna, which went public in 2018 at $23 per share, surged more than five times last year after it began working on a COVID-19 vaccine based on a new mRNA technology that won U.S. approval in December.

Its shot relies on synthetic genes to send a message to the body’s immune system to build immunity and can be produced at a scale more rapidly than conventional vaccines like AstraZeneca’s.

Last week, Moderna said it was expecting $18.4 billion in sales from the vaccine this year, putting it on track for its first profit since its founding in 2010.

AstraZeneca began investing in Moderna in 2013, paying $240 million upfront and by the end of 2019 had built up its stake to 7.65%.

That would be worth about $3.2 billion based on Moderna’s 2020 closing stock price of $104.47, Reuters calculation showed.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine being developed with Oxford University has not been authorized in the United States and uses a weakened version of a chimpanzee common cold virus to deliver immunity-building proteins to the body.

In December, U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co said it had sold its equity investment in Moderna, but did not disclose the details of the sale proceeds.

Asset manager Baillie Gifford on Monday disclosed in a separate filing it now held 11% passive stake in Moderna as of Feb. 26.

Moderna shares were down 5% at $146.62 in afternoon trading.

(Reporting by Ankur Banerjee, Pushkala Aripaka, Kanishka Singh and Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Jason Neely, David Evans and Arun Koyyur)

 

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