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Edition 222 – Attitudinal Change

Over the past 9 weeks, the world has changed like it has never changed before in my lifetime. Who would have thought that a virus could create more havoc in the lives of people and businesses across the globe than any war or natural disaster?

Yet, it has and right now, countries across the globe are grappling with unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression of the early 1930’s. In fact, in some ways, the economic shocks are more dramatic than the depression – with unemployment creeping to huge levels in mere weeks, not years.

In Australia, it looks like unemployment will climb to 10%. It was 5% earlier in the year, doubling in less than 4 months. The Federal Government is keen to re-open the country and last week, the Prime Minister announced a staged approach to returning to normal, all whilst allowing the states to determine their own timetables. The Treasurer’s comments last week that for every week the country is in lockdown, $4 billion of economic activity is lost in Australia, are a sobering reminder of the financial damage that has been inflicted through this pandemic.

The speed and impact of what we are experiencing is, in some businesses, leading to some interesting attitudinal changes. I’ve long argued that the Trade Union movement’s 2007 “Your Rights at Work” campaign was the most effective political exercise in my lifetime. It galvanised the union movement against the Howard Government’s Workchoices legislation – and in the process, unfortunately, created a focus on “rights”, but not necessarily “responsibilities”.

Since that time, I’ve worked with many family business owners who have done everything right in terms of career path development, remuneration packaging and an increased focus on training in order to invest in their workforce. Yet, some of the employee attitudes that I’ve not only heard about, but experienced first hand, have been disrespectful to those family business owners and detrimental to a number of family businesses.

However, times are very quickly changing. When the pandemic broke out, I could see economic disruption was coming faster than a bushfire on a hot summer’s day. At that point, I made the prediction to a number of my family business clients that we’re going to see an attitudinal shift from employees. They are going to be more engaged in their roles and more willing to co-operate with the reasonable requests of their employers. Now, 9 weeks on, I’m hearing stories exactly as I had predicted.

This week, I’ve spoken with one family business client who has said that requests made to his staff, whether it is to work overtime, to change location or to amend start times have all been met with universal agreement. None of his requests are unreasonable, and never were in the past. However, at the moment, consent is forthcoming and opinion, if any, is muted.

Last month, another family business client requested a number of its staff relocate from interstate to work. The company’s work in Victoria dried up almost overnight as a result of the closure of many of its clients. However, opportunity opened up in New South Wales to take on additional work with a different client. An offer was made to the interstate based staff to work, temporarily, in New South Wales to ensure their jobs were preserved. With only some clarification, and without any opposition, the interstate employees embraced the offer. Before long, when things open back up, they will be able to return to Victoria and revert back to the work they were doing previously. Without them agreeing to work interstate, their jobs would surely have been lost and their livelihoods changed forever.

People are genuinely concerned about their employment at the moment. Maybe that’s why some of the attitude has changed. From the employer’s perspective, remember:

  1. Show leadership, always.
  2. Communicate clearly.
  3. Engage your team – by letting them know that the business’ success is dependent on their contribution, now more than ever.
  4. Be fair with your requests for changed hours, overtime or working from a different location.
  5. Thank them often. It costs nothing, but is worth whole lot more.

Now is the time to re-set the relationship with your employees. You’re a key part of their lives and they are looking to you, right now, to give them certainty in an uncertain world.