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Omicron is this year’s uninvited holiday party guest

December 15, 2021, 12:29 PM UTC

Good morning.

This is Katherine, filling in for Alan and David, coming to you from a grey morning in London—where the question of Christmas and holiday parties is all the rage. Specifically: in the age of Omicron, to have, or not to have—that is the highly infectious question.

I’m guessing many readers of CEO Daily will be confronting this decision themselves this week, weighing up the respective speed of boosters and the nearly-omnipresent Omicron variant with varying vaccine mandates and testing etiquette.

Once upon a time, holiday parties presented only questions of dance floor decorum and unofficial drinking limits. (I recall one year, at a former employer which shall go unnamed, the staff was taken into conference rooms and told strictly to “behave ourselves” after a speech at an early-season office Do went spectacularly off-the-rails.) Now, the balance is so much more delicate, and the prospect of sharing platters and canapés so much more foreboding, than they once were.

The question is all the more weighted because last year’s Christmas was, by all accounts, a total dud. In London, the day’s festivities were ceremoniously “cancelled” just days before the event, in a grim nationwide address by British prime minister Boris Johnson, who decreed no meetings between households. This year, the nation is in the grips not just of spiraling infection rates and a cancelling-Christmas “will-they-or-won’t-they”, but a tinsel-clad scandal over whether Boris and his staff ignored their own guidelines and held a rollicking holiday party for No. 10—and then tried to pass it off as a mundane “wine and cheese.”

Employers face a difficult dance this time around. The misery of 2020 required office parties to take place over Zoom, if at all. And after a 2021 in which at least the U.S. economy boomed, some employees are suddenly flush with other options, or, if not, quitting out of exhaustion. On Wall Street, that’s translating to bigger bonuses; in small towns, that’s translating to the end of breakfast service at local diners. Nowhere, it seems, is that translating to a better festive office quiz night.

Has your company come up with a better option? Write in and tell me what your plans are. And here’s one more thing I can’t help sharing—the story of an Italian priest who just couldn’t help but tell the truth about Santa.

Katherine Dunn
katherine.dunn@fortune.com

TOP NEWS

Pfizer pill 

A study on Tuesday confirmed that Pfizer's new treatment for COVID-19 is effective—if taken within three days of symptoms starting, the risk of hospitalization and death is reduced by 89%, the company said. The effectiveness also remains high if used several days later—and none of the patients in the study died. That breakthrough comes as the Omicron variant is raising case rates once again. Fortune

Fed Reserve

The Fed is expected to announce a sharp climbdown in stimulus on Wednesday, eclipsing the rate Chair Jerome Powell announced just weeks ago. That comes as inflation has outstripped expectations, reaching four-decade highs in the U.S., and the Fed has been forced to reassess their assumptions for where the economy is going—even if officials still expect inflation to soften next year. Fortune

Holiday spending 

Even with inflation pressures, there are signs that holiday season spending has had a strong start in the U.S., with seasonally adjusted spending up in November, and retail sales in October up 15%. And despite supply chain snarls, retail imports are on an absolute tear—due to finish the year at their largest volume and fastest growth, ever. Wall Street Journal 

Toyota EV push

The world's largest carmaker is going head-to-head with Tesla, after the company said it would pour $35 billion into its electric vehicle push—it aims to sell 3.5 million EVs by 2030, across 30 models. The company had previously been wary of going all-in on EVs, arguing that they would be just one option of many as the auto sector shifts. The Lexus brand would be the forefront of the push, the company said. Financial Times

AROUND THE WATER COOLER

SpaceX harassment 

Fortune's Emma Hinchliffe has this must-read about harassment at Elon Musk's SpaceX, where a young engineer says other employees repeatedly groped her, asked her out over Instagram, and called her in the middle of the night. Talking to HR had no effect, she said. “It’s a bros’ club... If you’re able to be part of the social atmosphere, it’s really helpful for your career. But if you’re a woman, you’re only seen as a potential dating option.” Fortune

Donations surge

Immediately after the Jan. 6 insurrection, major companies and trade associations quickly announced that they would cut political donations to any politicians who falsely claimed that Biden hadn't won the 2021 election—and some even said they would cut political donations altogether. But over the following months, PACs associated with major companies and trade groups quietly ramped up spending to members of Congress who continued to question the validity of Biden's win—and the total now stands at $6.8 million just this year, Fortune's Nicole Goodkind writes. Fortune

COVID's NFT

Yes, even COVID-19 now has an NFT. A data project has created an NFT music project based on the genetic sequence of the virus that is currently blasting the world for roughly the fourth time; altogether, there are now about 100,000 coronavirus songs that are now NFTs. The approach, "DNA Sonification" produces music that is surprisingly orchestral-strings-heavy. Fortune

Bumper bonuses

Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are turning to an age-old mechanism to keep their bankers happy: bigger bonuses. The bosses are facing pressure after cutting back in 2020—only to see returns take off this year, leaving plenty of employees who feel they're owed a raise, and a labor market where there are plenty of other options. “This year, the firms may well have to overpay to keep the people they most want,” said one veteran banker. Bloomberg

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Katherine Dunn.

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