Leadership in the Coronavirus Era

The Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) truly defines uncertainty for every business and every person. No one can predict what’s going to happen, how long it’s going to last, or what the real impact will be.

What I know is right now the impact is significant and in many different ways. I’ve had hospitality clients lay off significant numbers of their employees. Many non-profits are closing down, and the ones that are open (because they’re an ‘essential business’ are navigating waters they’ve never navigated before.

Most families today are two-income families. With kids home, that means one parent has to take off work. And despite the increase in work from home, there’s not a lot a person can work on when they’re taking care of the kids.

The impact, of course, is not limited to business. We are all worried about our jobs, family, friends and associations.

This extraordinary time sees three related crises all at once. This isn’t just an economic crisis; it’s a health crisis, an economic crisis, and ultimately a crisis of the unknown: what will it look like when it’s over. And all three are of a scale never seen before.

As a leadership and workforce strategist, part of the strength I bring to the table is I’ve “been there/done that”.  I’ve either done it, witnessed it, or led it in my 30-year career. But nothing in our lifetimes compares to this.

There are extraordinary demands on leaders in every avenue.

So what is a leader to do? My guidance is – do what all leaders are supposed to do in normal times – and, do it on steroids.

My guidance is – do what all leaders are supposed to do in normal times – and, do it on steroids.

It’s all about communication

Even in the best of times, I’ve never seen an employee survey where the results said, “there’s too much communication.” Now is the time to over-communicate. Even if you don’t know the answer, communicate that. (Any response is better than no response at all.)

That means frequent one-to-group communication (e-mails, video conferencing, virtual coffees and happy hours).  It means saying “here’s what I know, and here’s when I’m going to get back to you”.

People are nervous. They need to hear from you.

And when there’s bad news, be upfront and immediate with it. Don’t hide bad news. I have a client with a very successful business in the hospitality industry. He realized early on that he was going to have to lay off employees (about half of his team). He realized that on the evening of Thursday, March 5 (well before the restaurants shutdowns and quarantines). He texted me early the next morning, I gave him my thoughts and potential strategies. By noon, he addressed all his employees, preparing them for bad news. On Monday, March 9, he gave the bad news to everyone. Nothing was sugarcoated or delayed. As soon as he knew, he made sure his employees knew.

You are always on stage.

Your people take their cues from you. If you are calm and thoughtful, you’ll put people more at ease. If you’re not, well, that’s an issue to.

Take a look at our leaders on a national stage. Who are we paying attention to? Which of them are making decisions, showing empathy, and are doing the right thing?

I’m not going to single any one politician out; I can do without the politically related comments at a time like this. But I would like to mention one person I’m listening to without fail: Dr. Anthony Fauci. We he speaks, I listen. He’s calm, cool, fact-based. He thinks before he acts and speaks. He’s tremendously knowledgeable and even though this pandemic is unprecedented, he acts like he’s been there. (And in a way he has: he’s advised every President since Ronald Reagan). In a nutshell: he’s acting the way a leader should act.

What You Do (and How You Do It) Is Critical

All you can do is your best. But make sure that – to the best of your ability, you create a sense of trust. Trust is a combination of communication and honesty. (That’s not so hard, but it’s hard to practice it every day). Trust also derives from your established values and ethics.

Always follow your values; your decisions will be much easier.

It’s all about Emotional Intelligence

What are your people thinking and feeling? What are their issues? Are you asking, do you understand (because you need to). This is even more important when employees are working remotely. People need to feel tethered to the organization they work for.

When you’re conducting video-based meetings, pay extra attention to non-verbal clues from your team. As much as possible, connect on an individual basis with those you work for and with you. Ask how they are (and mean it). Show compassion – but you can’t fake compassion if you don’t have it.

You Don’t Have the Luxury of Time

In these unchartered times, there’s nothing to fall back on. The adage that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert is still probably true, but we no longer have that much time.

So make sure to make decisions quickly – and be prepared to change your mind frequently. (This what we call leadership agility). You can second guess yourself all you want to in six months from now. But at this time – make change, enact change, but don’t get tied down to any decision you make.

And try and embrace everything and anything new! There has never been a better time to experiment – because we have to. I’d never participated in a Google hangout until 3 days ago. It can be done.

You Don’t Have All the Answers.

So make sure to ask your team what ideas they have to help during these turbulent times. It gives them a sense of ownership and helps them help you. And make sure to empower your leaders to lead – not everything need come to and through you. There will never be a better time to see who can step up than now. Adversity breeds success.

Be True to Yourself.

Remember who you are and don’t forget where you came from. You have established values, principles and ethics. If you haven’t done so already – write them down and review them every day. Intellectual curiosity – learn more, ask more questions, research and thus improve and become more valuable to those around you.

Brinker Announcement Tomorrow 10am PST

After 3 years, the highly anticipated Brinker decision will be announced tomorrow.

http://calchamber.typepad.com/hrwatchdog/2012/04/brinker-is-coming-brinker-is-coming.html

Workplace Litigation Trends Report

This is the 7th year that Fulbright & Jaworski has surveyed senior corporate counsel regarding litigation.  I’m focusing on the responses that affect businesses – and selecting those answers.  The results are illuminating!

In which area is there the most litigation pending in the U.S.?

Contacts: 53%
Labor & Employment: 49%
Personal Injury: 27%
(participants could pick more than one type)

In which area has there been the greatest increase in multi-plaintiff cases whether they be class, collective action, or significant multiple plaintiff action?
Wage & Hour: 46%
Labor Union: 13%
Age: 11%
ERISA: 10%


[What types of cases] will see the greatest increase in 2011?
Discrimination: 39%
Wage & Hour:35%
Labor Union: 17%

ERISA: 5%

FMLA Could Become More Complicated

The Department of Labor will be conducting a comprehensive survey on how employees in the United States use their Family and Medical Leaves.  The Obama administration has made a committment to improving work-life and work-family balance, and the results of this survey are likely to influence changes in FMLA.

For now, nothing to take action on – but keep your eyes/ears open.

Here’s an article from the Chicago law firm of Franczek and Radelet.

Quarterly Newsletter and a Sage Cartoonist

I hope you’ll checkout our HR & Management Newsletter by clicking here.

Also, I note with interest David Horsey’s editorial cartoon from July 21.  Mr. Horsey is a talented cartoonist who’s published through the Hearst Newspaper chain.  (You can see all his stuff here).  After I’ve been writing and speaking so much on this topic – that businesses are finding ways of doing more with fewer employers – a client saw this in the San Francisco Chronicle and gave it to me:

David Horsey – Hearst Newspapers

Overtime Gets A Little More Complicated in California

An employee makes a false claim for overtime. He says it’s a mistake, but you believe otherwise, so you fire him.

That’s OK, right?

Uh..not so fast. A new court decision, Barbosa v. Impco Technologies, makes that a wrongful termination.

Here’s the recap and implications from Christopher W. Olmsted of Barker Olmsted & Barnier.

Social Media and the Workplace

I will be writing extensively in the upcoming weeks about Social Media and the Workplace.  Actually, not so much about social media (there are experts in that area all over the place), but the impact it has on employers and businesses.

So let’s start off with an excellent article written by Maria Greco Danaher of Ogletree Deakins on the potential liability employers have when an employee uses social media.  Here’s an important excerpt:

“…an employee who uses electronic media, including e-mail, blogs, or social networking sites, to make comments about a product made by his or her employer, and who fails to disclose his or her relationship with that manufacturer may create legal liability under the FTC guidelines.  Further, should a consumers rely on a particular comment in that posting to his or her detriment, any ensuing damage could be attributed to the manufacturer/company.”

It’s pretty apparent that social media has a place in the workplace.  Most experts (including me) agree that it’s not practical to ban social media in the workplace.  So what do you do?

More to come…

California Alternative Workweek Schedules

One of the best ways of improving morale without costs is to consider Alternative Workweek schedules.  Up until January 1, it has been most difficult to implement.  However, California law regarding alternative workweek schedules have been eased somewhat as a result of AB 5.

Alternative workweek schedules allow non-exempt employees in a “work unit” to work in excess of 8 hours per day without incurring overtime. (California law includes a daily overtime requirement.) Generally, an employer may propose AWS work schedules of up to ten hours per day (12 for healthcare workers). Hours in excess of 10 per day, or 40 per week are overtime. Typically employers propose schedules consisting of four ten hour days or a “9/80” schedule. Special procedures describe advance disclosure and a secret ballot election prior to implementation of the AWS.

The AWS can apply to a “work unit” within a company, rather than to all employees. Previously, the Labor Code did not define “work unit,” although state regulations included a definition. The new law defines a work unit as “a division, a department, a job classification, a shift, a separate physical location, or a recognized subdivision thereof.” The amendment also clarifies that even a single employee may qualify as a work unit as long as his job function meets the definition.

In setting up an AWS, an employer may propose a single work schedule, or it may propose a menu of work schedule options for workers to select. Can the “menu” include a traditional 5 day week for those employees who do not want to work longer days? The amended law clarifies that the menu options may indeed include a regular schedule of five eight-hour days in a workweek. Consequently, employees who do not wish to work an AWS schedule may still vote in favor of the AWS by choosing to work the regular 8 hour day. This change greatly increases the odds of achieving the 2/3 employee supporting vote need to implement an AWS.

Additionally, the new law specifies how often employees may move from one schedule option to another on the menu. For example, if an employee opts to work four 10 hour days, how frequently can he opt to go back to regular 8 hour days? As amended, Labor Code § 511 allows employees to move from one schedule option to another on a weekly basis.

Independent Contractor or Employee? Better Be Sure, And Fast!

Many employers incorrectly classify an employee as an independent contractor.  Some employers do it intentionally (to avoid workers’ compensation and payroll taxes); but most are unaware of what the difference in classification actually is.

If you use Independent Contractors (also known as 1099’s), you better audit all of them at once.  The IRS is about to launch comprehensive audits of 6,000 businesses.  The focus is – you guessed it – properly classifying employees.

Please take a moment to review the criteria the IRS uses to determine whether a person should be classified as an employee or Independent Contractor.  It’s about control.  I’ve had clients insist a person is classified as a 1099 simply because that person requested classification that way! (That’s wrong as well, by the way).

Get a qualified consultant or employment attorney to audit your practices and procedures as soon as possible.

Courtesy Baker Hostetler

Small Business Planning for H1N1

The Small Business Administration recently published “Planning for 2009 H1N1 Influenza Season Preparedness Guide for Small Business.”
Here are seven H1N1 preparedness steps that the government recommends you review and apply as appropriate to your place of business:
  1. Identify a Workplace Coordinator -This person would be the single point of contact for all issues relating to H1N1 and be responsible for reaching out to community health providers and implementing protocols for dealing with ill employees – in advance of any outbreak or impact on the business.
  2. Examine Policies for Leave, Telework and Employee Compensation – Obviously this will vary by business, but the emphasis here is on refreshing yourself and your employees about what your company’s health care plans cover in the event of sick leave as a result of H1N1. You should also re-evaluate leave policies to ensure a flexible non-punitive plan that allows for impacted individuals to stay at home. Employees may also need to stay at home to care for sick children or telework in the event of school closures – so be prepared for this by implementing appropriate teleworking infrastructures in advance.
  3. Determine who will be Responsible for Assisting – Appoint an individual or individuals who will be on-hand to assist ill personnel at your workplace – essentially a “go-to” person, who may be the same as the person chosen as your workplace coordinator.
  4. Identify Essential Employees, Essential Business Functions, and Other Critical Inputs – Make plans to maintain communication and ensure clear work direction with critical personnel and vendors (and even customers) in the event that the supply chain is broken or other unpredictable disruptions occur.
  5. Share your Pandemic Plans with Employees and Clearly Communicate Expectations – Consider posting a bi-lingual version of your preparedness plan, leave information, health tips, and other H1N1 awareness resources across all your work locations and online if you operate an Intranet.
  6. Prepare Business Continuity Plans – Absenteeism or other work place changes need to be addressed early on so you can maintain business operations. Get tips on common sense measures your business can take from Business.gov here.
  7. Establish an Emergency Communication Plan – Hopefully your business already has some form of emergency communication plan. If not, document your key business contacts (with back-ups), the chain of communications (including suppliers and customers), and processes for tracking and communicating business and employee status.