New employees and new risks

According to this article, most homebuyers are not warned about the new flood or wildfire risk caused by climate change. They know a lot about their new home: quality of schools, access to public transportation, and presence of lead paint. But they don’t know about the rising risks associated with climate change, mostly because the law doesn’t require disclosure.

Which got me thinking: are companies adapting their new employee training and onboarding process to account for the new risks associated with the pandemic and social justice?

Is yours?

Room for real voices

It turns out that cows react more positively to a live human voice than they do to a recording of that same voice. It might be a stretch to assume that humans react the same way but I’m willing to bet $1 that we do.

Personally, I derive a great sense of satisfaction when my wife an I host friends at our house for dinner around the fireplace. That sense is greatly diminished when those friends are on FaceTime (because of COVID). Same people, same conversation, same fireplace in the background. But what we hear and see is effectively a digital recording of the real thing, and we simply don’t react the same way.

If your company is planning its office space for the post-COVID era, consider that, 6 months from now, employees might have a stronger desire for in-person conversations than they have now. Make sure there is room for them.

Transparency or corruption

I have written before about the corruption risks related to major sporting events like The Olympic Games and The World Cup. Whenever billions of dollars converge on a single event, corruption risks are high.

There is an unusual event these days that is also attracting billions of dollars: the pandemic. Governments all over the world are spending billions every month trying to contain the virus and finding a vaccine. One way to mitigate related corruption risks is to clearly see how these billions are spent.

To that end, the US Congress passed a law earlier this year creating a database that was intended to track all COVID-related monies spent by the US government and to protect taxpayers. However, the current administration found a loophole and awarded $6B of vaccine contracts to a single company without taxpayer protections.

The US government is indicting more companies than ever under the “books and records” provisions of the FCPA (and for good reasons). So why is the same government not following its own advice and being transparent about how it is spending public funds?

On food insecurity

Food insecurity now exceeds 20% in the United States.

Here is what we can do as individuals:

  • Search the internet for our local food bank;
  • Find their wish list on the site, usually right on the landing page. Here’s what my local food bank needs this week:
  • Add a few items to our personal grocery list; and
  • Deliver those items to our food bank. Mine has a drop off lobby that’s open 24/7.

Here is what companies can do:

  • Talk about food insecurity at work and encourage employees to ask for help if they need it.
  • Organize a food drive (best for companies whose employees do not work from home).
  • Make a monthly cash donation to their local food bank (based on a few dollars per employee).

Companies often forget that the communities where they operate are key stakeholders. Hidden in these communities are those who go hungry and the food banks that support them. As ethical leaders, we must see the unseen and do what we can.

The stakeholder that takes care of the others

An article about how a soccer player is trying to save the job of his team’s mascot reminded me of the many job-related acts of generosity I’ve observed during this pandemic.

Many of my friends and colleagues continued to pay their hairdresser and housecleaner for weeks even though they could not get their hair cut or their house cleaned. Others bought gifts cards from their favorite restaurants with no intention of using them later. A friend of mine, whose business is effectively shut down, has continued to pay all of his employees and will continue to do so for another 6 months – when he’ll run out of money.

Companies have many stakeholders, each with their own needs. In good times, satisfying every stakeholder is a delicate balancing act. Providing customers with a generous warranty takes away from shareholders. Paying good dividends to shareholders takes away from charitable donations. No one is ever completely happy. And that’s in good times.

In bad times, the top priority for any company is to be around tomorrow. The next priority is to preserve as many jobs as possible.

Why the focus on employees?

Because employees are the only stakeholders that take care of all the others.

COVID discipline

There was Mary Mallon and typhoid. There was Thomas Guerra and HIV. There were many others, before and after, intentionally infecting others with potentially deadly diseases.

Today, some people with COVID-19 intentionally put others at risk. What discipline should we impose on an employee who shows up to work knowing that they are contagious?

When it comes to discipline, I usually ask the following questions:

  • Was it a breach of performance or a breach of trust?
  • What is the less severe discipline we can impose to ensure that a similar misconduct won’t happen again?

A breach of performance can often be remedied by teaching the employee a new skill. A breach of trust is often fatal, leading to termination.

If an employee enters the workplace knowing that they can spread COVID-19, they commit a breach of trust. Should they be terminated? In most cases, yes. Someone who is willing to do that is also willing to engage in many other types of misconduct, and we should not give them the chance. In many jurisdictions, it is a crime to intentionally spread an infectious disease (including COVID-19) and I am not keen on keeping criminals in the workplace.

A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today

The obstacle in the path becomes the path.

Ryan Holiday

Many individuals have made the most out of the pandemic. The time not spent commuting or working has made room for learning a new skill, a new language, or a new instrument. For starting a podcast, a YouTube channel, or writing a book.

Others have spent these first 6 months watching Netflix.

When the pace picks up again, will we look back at this time and wish we had spent it differently? Will we have more to say than “I was stuck at home” and “I spent a lot of time on Zoom”?

Even in good times companies die because they keep doing what they did last year. Imagine what fate awaits them if they hold on to the status quo in troubled times.

What I miss

I have been working from home since March 16.

I don’t miss the commute. I enjoy not having to shave on occasion. I’m saving money on gasoline and dry cleaners.

I do miss colleagues stopping by my office to discuss a project or just to say hello. Each occasion produce a small dopamine rush. Small, but still greater than the one I get with a Zoom invitation via email.

The longer this lasts, the more it will affect us. In many societies, we were taught to greet each other with handshakes, kisses, or embraces; to offer coffee, tea, and biscuits; to offer a seat or a cushion; and, more subtilely, to smile and speak warmly. All of these practices are diminished or lost when meeting online.

And we miss it.

The impact is real and it will get worse with each passing month. Let us be aware of it, acknowledge it, and vow to treat each other as well as possible.

Same words, different meaning

I read The Daily Stoic every morning.

I have been doing so for the last 4 years. The daily meditation I read this morning is the same one I read on August 20th the 3 previous years. It is familiar by now. But because I am not the same person I was one year ago, that meditation offers something new.

Your employees feel the same effect when they hear you speak of the company values. Do not assume that because they’ve heard you speak of their importance in the past that there is no point in repeating the exercise. Your employees are not the same people they were before the pandemic or before witnessing the murder of George Floyd. When you speak of safety and respect today, they don’t hear what they heard last year.

Election day

The current pandemic has demonstrated that most people do not have to be at the office to get the job done.

Which means that most employers could easily let their employees leave work for an hour or two to vote on election day.

In fact, a more perfect democracy would make election day a paid national holiday, a stand-down day for freedom and justice.

Until our “elected officials” choose to create a better election system, employers should do all they can to preserve their employees’ right to vote.