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  • Writer's picturegraeme


I am very concerned about how employers might treat their staff.

Last night, the UK announced that Lockdown there would be eased and those people who cannot work from home can go back to work as of today. But ideally they should avoid public transport. And schools and child care will not go back for some time still.

This means that some people simply cannot get to work. They might want to go to work, but cannot leave children unattended. They might not be able to safely get to work via public transport. They should therefore not go to work, even if they want to. The same will happen here in South Africa when we move to Level 3 and 2 and more people are allowed to go to work. It’s a scene taking place around the world. Opening the economy doesn’t mean everyone can immediately get back to work.

Of course, there are going to be very understanding employers. There may even be companies that work with critical staff to find a way to make coming to work possible. They will assist with transport and child care, especially. Good companies would do this.

But we all know that we are going to hear stories about companies that threaten their employees. We know we are going to hear about extraordinary pressure being put on people who are already near their capacity of stress and mental health.

Actually, we all already are hearing the stories of people working much, much longer hours than ever before. And of course the companies they work for have told them that this is essential because of the circumstances. But as it becomes increasingly clear that these circumstances will last at least the rest of this year and probably most of next as well, can we really keep up this relentless pace?

We can’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. We just can’t.

Employers need to accept a drop in productivity if that’s what will happen. Employers need to adjust expectations to this new reality, and not try and pretend that we are still living in pre-Covid times. Employers need to actively support their staff in making appropriate personal arrangements - that’s part of what must now be done to ensure their staff can work.

And if you work for yourself, then this is advice is doubly important for you. What’s the use of ensuring your business gets through Lockdown, while you lose your health, your family and your life by working too hard?

We are not “going back to normal”. We need to find the new normal as we “stay alert” and “stay apart” for 12-18 months. We need to adjust our expectations of what’s possible and what’s sustainable for our work lives. Most of us have not even begun to get this right yet.

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