Ten months without breaking bread

There were three candy bowls on my office floor.

There were snacks in the kitchen and, occasionally, leftovers from a business lunch.

I often had lunch with colleagues in the cafeteria. Sometimes we went out to eat.

One Friday each month someone would bring breakfast treats for the whole floor. Once a year we had a holiday pot luck.

I’ve had meals at my boss’ home. I’ve had my team over for dinner at my house.

My best memories of business travels around the globe all have one thing in common: sharing some local fare with colleagues, everyone joking and laughing and smiling.

All this is gone now.

Food is a connector. It brings us together. It forces different conversations, revealing who we are and not simply what we do. We crave these connections. Breaking bread together is a tradition in all cultures. To be human is to eat together. From times immemorial.

We can’t fill this need with a Zoom meal. This craving will remain unfulfilled until the pandemic is over. It will affect the mental health of every employee to some degree.

Leaders must be mindful of this reality. They must find other ways to connect with their team. They must ask employees to follow social distancing rules, to wear a mask, to wash their hands and to get vaccinated.

May we all soon get back together and raise our glasses to good health.

Fair wages and generous tips

A waiter paid $2.13 an hour is as vulnerable as a salesperson who lives almost exclusively from commissions. Neither can earn a living without the tips or the commissions. In good times, that might not be a problem. In a downturn, that financial pressure will often lead them to engage in wrongdoing.

A recent study of “tipped service workers” show that many do not enforce COVID-19 safety measures at their bar or restaurant for fear of losing their tips (the study also shows in increase in harassment of such workers). In an economy where tip workers have lost half their income because fewer people go out to eat, workers cannot afford to lose their tips. Even if this means putting themselves and others at risk.

So when a patron gets up from their table to go to the bathroom and doesn’t wear their mask, the waiter reluctantly looks the other way. Or, worse, when a patron asks his server to take off her mask so he can decide how much to tip her (gasp!), she puts her health, and other people’s, at risk. According to the CDC, adults who had contracted COVID-19 were twice as likely as virus-free adults to have recently dined at a restaurant (source).

A big part of the solution is to pay employees a fair wage, so they don’t feel pressured to break the rules. A salesperson who can pay the rent is less likely to forge the signature of a customer on a fake contract to make his monthly commission. A waiter who can keep the heat on this winter is more likely to keep her mask on too.

And for goodness’ sake, let’s tip generously.

Don’t lose your patience

I wrote 140 posts so far this year.

Curious about what single post had the most views in this year of pandemic and social injustice, I was surprised when my stats showed a 2017 entry, which was viewed twice as often as my most popular post from 2020.

In this post on stoic patience, I quote Marcus Aurelius’ advice that we should live life truthfully and rightly, and be patient with those who don’t.

2020 has indeed been a year when many have suffered, and in some cases died, because of the lies and wrongdoings of a few. In the face of injustice, many lose patience. But losing patience comes at a cost. Suffering and injustice should strengthen our resolve, not diminish our patience. It should propel us into just action, not into other forms of injustice.

Marcus would remind himself every morning that he would meet, in the course of his day, people that are rude and selfish and lying. He knew that a world without jerks is impossible. And so he simply accepted this reality and prepared himself to respond with kindness.

And so must we.

Let’s end 2020, and start 2021, with more truth and kindness and patience.

Time to think about a mandatory vaccination at work

If you work for a company that has a Code of Ethics, chances are your employer promises to create a safe working environment for you.

This means clear paths (no tripping hazards), low-noise environment, safeguards on the machines (so you don’t lose fingers) and a no-alcohol/drug policy – among many, many other obligations.

Soon, your employer will also have to decide if this commitment includes mandating that all employees get vaccinated against COVID-19. To be clear, employers can legally impose such a mandate.

But will everyone in the c-suite agree on what the right thing to do is?

Insider creativity

We have a rule preventing company insiders from trading their stocks on non-public material information.

This rule is frustrating to some insiders who otherwise could make millions of dollars. But what if there was a way around this rule?

Well, there is. Another SEC rule, Rule 10b5-1, allows company insiders to set up a predetermined plan to sell company stocks. The price, amount, and sales dates must be specified in advance. The rule assumes that insiders can’t possibly match these future trading dates with the release of material information. That’s an obviously wrong assumption in my opinion. Insiders are the very people who are most likely to be in a position to control when material information will be shared with the public.

And so, today, NPR reports that the Pfizer CEO implemented his 10b5-1 plan last August 19 and, the next day, announced positive news related to Pfizer’s work on a COVID vaccine. Pfizer stock soared. Then, this Monday, Pfizer announced that its vaccine candidate was found to be 90% effective. The stock soared again. Oh, and Monday was also the day that the CEO sold $5.6M worth of stock, as detailed in the plan filed in August.

Purely coincidental, right?

Of course we can expect the SEC to change the rule to prevent this type of abuse. And then we can look forward to the creativity of another insider.

Masks and tone at the top

Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine wishes Trump “had a more happy relationship with masks.”

His state is suffering from its highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and DeWine understands how tone at the top works. When the President attends rallies in red states with tens of thousands of tightly-packed and unmasked supporters, what’s a Buckeye to do?

It reminds me of the day I walked into the office and my boss wasn’t wearing a tie. When I asked him why, he said his boss wasn’t wearing a tie the day before. His boss’ boss was the newly appointed CEO, who decided he wasn’t going to wear a tie to the office. By the end of that week, the entire corporate office was tie-less. No memos went out. We just followed the leader.

The fact is, we don’t need to be President or CEO to impact our corner of the world. We all have people looking up to us or depending on us. They watch our every move and will behave in ways they hope will gain our approval. It’s our responsibility to set the right tone.

Over 230,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the US. One thousand more just yesterday. Forty-seven percent more people were infected yesterday than 2 weeks ago (over 100,000 in one day).

Please wear your mask. It saves lives.

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.