Are you doing it tough right now? Stressed by your new COVID-19 work regime?
I know this is a time of ‘reaching out in a meaningful fashion to check-in’.
But also, for many people, it’s time to step back and curb your got-a-job privilege.
We’re in danger of society settling into a two-level, haves-and-have-nots situation. Which is based on pure luck, I might add.
One level that has real challenges, but their cash is still flowing. And an underclass of people who used to work in whole industries that have died.
The end of ‘over by Christmas’
We had an all-staff meeting in our largest office and our employees are in a dark, mental place.
They dealt with the phase one COVID-19 shutdown like champions, while trying to support themselves and their families on a lowered virus wage.
They were OK because they felt we could bunker down for six months, then a gradual return to work later in the year.
Now it’s clear that the work we do — events — is largely off for the foreseeable future. We could be talking years.
Our people are taking this seriously. They wear masks in the office. They created strict safety protocols. Well beyond what we as managers would have suggested. It’s their initiative.
Because they know the only way they can get back to work is to be strict.
For everyone to be strict.
And what’s really pissing them off is that everyone else isn’t.
People, in general, think it’s over
I had a responsibly-spaced pub beer on the weekend. And I’m aware that if you’re in house-prison in Melbourne, that’s an unimaginable luxury.
Every other table, groups of 10-15. Everyone greeted each new arrival with massive hugs and kisses.
Sure, you probably won’t get the virus from that. But what their actions say is: ‘I’m comfortable doing less than everyone else to help sort this problem out.’
Outside lockdown cities, there’s a general vibe that we’re through this thing now. I notice this in my own catch-ups.
People in unaffected industries say: ‘You guys must be getting back to work by now right? Or have some cool pivot?’
And I say: ‘No, events are still illegal.’
Then there’s the pivot thing…
Pivots are a media illusion
We have set up virtual event studios in our idle warehouses. If they were operating every day — which they aren’t — it would give us 30% of our normal revenue.
The problem with pivots is they make a good media story.* You read about the drive-in music festival and think: ‘What a great idea to save their industry! I’m so glad they’re going to be OK.’
It isn’t saving anything. They are not OK.
That’s a game where it’s hard to make money even when you’re allowed a full house.
The reality of almost all pivots is that they keep your staff occupied. And bring in just enough cash to pay your utility bills.
If you ask someone in tourism if they can pivot, they will be polite. But also seeth at your bone-headed insensitivity.
Unease in business class
I read a Harvard Business Review story that was good advice for business people right now. Yet it also embodied the whole have/have-not situation (and triggered this story).
The opening line reads: “’Our business is coming back faster than I had ever imagined. That’s really good news, so I should be thrilled. But why am I not feeling relieved?’ a senior leader asked me recently.”
I’m sorry you have feelings, senior leader, and I’m sure they’re genuine.
But also: harden the fuck up.
If you’re in a business that’s already coming back, may I suggest keeping your sympathy needs out of the public eye?
Then this: “Avoid the actions of a highly charged leader in the financial sector who, fed up with discussing when their coffee and juice bar would reopen, burst out: ‘Who cares about coffee and juice now?'”
In fact, the free haven that the bar represents had never been so important.
People need places and spaces and opportunities to reconnect, share experiences, and have all those little conversations that rekindle social life at work.
This is where you ask your colleagues what they are going to do in their vacation and how their spouses or children are coping? Who has children graduating from school? Who has sick relatives?
Coffee bar owner.
Nobody’s asking them if they’re coping.
Please, consider how your all-about-you executive problems feel to a shut-business person.
What can you do?
If you’re still on your regular salary, a nice thing to do would be thinking about the businesses you use. The ones that are now in deep trouble. And will be for years as they try to pay off their losses.
Do something small for them.
The cafe near your ghost-town CBD office? Take your fully-stamped frequent coffee card and say: ‘Hey thanks for the offer but I’ll pay for that free eleventh coffee, I know you’re doing it tough.’
It’s a tiny gesture that shows you see their problems.
Compared to dropping the change in the tip jar, which can come across as ‘I don’t need the money‘.
Read this story about an anonymous donor sending flowers and gifts to businesses smashed by lockdowns.
Look at the reactions of those suffering business owners. Because someone cares.
Be one of the people who cares.
When friends drop off the radar
If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where you can go out, think about your friends.
How does that social post affect your locked-down, traumatised friends in Melbourne?
But it runs deeper than that.
One of the self-selecting things about friend groups is you’re all willing to pay about the same amount of money to go out.
Now you’ll have friends that won’t be going out. Because they’re barely earning enough to cover rent. It hurts and it’s embarrassing for them.
Right at a time when they need the support of friends more than they’ve ever needed it in their lives.
Look out for them.
Wear your goddamn mask
I’m sickened by salaried media clowns debating whether the science is in on masks.
Forget the science.
Shop in a mask to show you give a fuck about others who are out of a job, whose industries might never exist again.
It could have been your industry. If it wasn’t, the least you can do is mask up to show you appreciate your remarkable luck.
This article was first published on Motivation for Sceptics.