Many of us have totally lost sight of that basic concept of a job being a relationship. Relationships, whether with partners or friends, are all based on give and take. Where there’s an imbalance there’s a problem. If one side gives only for the other side to take and not reciprocate, that’s when divorce becomes the only option. Many employees though seem stuck in take mode. It’s understandable, given the total disruption that we experienced over two years of lockdown.
South African companies, by and large, did right by their staff. They focused on their greatest asset, their human capital. There was a great uptake in employee wellness programmes and a raft of initiatives to facilitate remote working, sending IT technicians to homes to ensure that Wi-Fi routers were properly installed and giving staff laptops to use at home.
I know of companies who brought in specialist wellness staff, from life coaches to actual psychologists to help staff cope with the transition and empower them to be able to speak up in safe spaces when they felt it was all getting too much.
There have been directors who have sacrificed parts of their own salaries to ensure staff didn’t get theirs cut. Other companies who did implement salary reductions, did their utmost to ensure they applied for their staff to get Covid 19 relief through Ters and other government funds and then, as soon as they could, repaid them what they had cut as well as giving them bonuses, once the restrictions began to lift.
A lot of companies have done a lot of good things – often when they couldn’t actually afford to.
The problem though comes in when the circumstances that created the need for everyone to go the extra mile, changed. Now it’s time for employees not to go the extra mile, but to just do what they’re paid to do. In most cases, this just means coming back to work because there are no longer the widespread restrictions and the need for social distancing. Even the much-publicised requirement for staff to be double or triple vaxxed is quietly slipping away at some companies, as the threat of Covid 19 recedes.
But many staff aren’t prepared to go back to work. They’ve become used to working from home. It’s become a real pleasure to be able to be hands on parent and fetch children from school or take them to extra murals, so much so that some employees are resisting even going back to work on a hybrid basis for a couple of days a week.
It’s not an immediate problem if the employees are continuing to perform at the levels expected of them, the crisis occurs when employees are under-performing yet still expecting the same kind of one-sided compassion that they experienced over the last two years. It’s a self-defeating attitude because employees who keep finding excuses to delay going back to the office and aren’t performing could very well soon find themselves either facing a disciplinary hearing for refusing a reasonable request – or be dismissed for operational requirements, because employers will just restructure that person out, if needs be.
The saddest part is that it doesn’t have to be that way, going back to the office is the best way to access the kind of support you need if you are to get back on top of your game, with instant access to managers and mentors in real life and real time, not disembodied over Zoom. Sadly, too many of us have developed a toxic culture of expectancy and entitlement: Many people lost loved ones during the pandemic. One company I know would give staff two weeks’ compassionate leave to attend to the funerals of relatives and to grieve. Management then had to deal with a staffer coming to them to say that a fortnight wasn’t enough, they wanted an entire month’s paid compassionate leave.
None of us dare ever forget that employment is a relationship between the employer and the employee. I am hearing far too many stories across the board of staff who are not just taking everything they can, but demanding rights and perks that aren’t justifiable in this new era as we emerge from lockdown. It’s particularly frustrating when you think that these are people who have jobs, in a country where the unemployment rate skyrocketed to an all-time high of 35.3% in the final quarter last year. But this phenomenon is not limited to junior and younger staff, it’s a phenomenon that goes right up all the way to candidates aspiring to be appointed to the highest echelons of a company – the C-suite itself.
This might be the era of individual rights first and the Great Resignation, but if you’re trying to land a job at a salary level that is far in excess of the national average, don’t come with blue collar demands. The C-suite is paid more because it does more: works more hours, has far more responsibilities and even carries more risks. This is not a panel interview that you go to asking if you can work from home or get time off to miss meetings so that you can pick up your children or watch them at the ballet. At senior management level, you’re expected to be able to manage and that starts with managing your own life – and prioritising your very high paid job!
We need to start recalibrating ourselves. It was tough enough going into lockdown, but we never realised it would be even tougher coming out of it. The truth of the matter is stark, if some of us don’t adjust our attitudes, tone down our expectations and, most importantly, start performing that awful unemployment figure is going to get a whole lot worse by the time the figures are released at the end of the quarter.
And this time, we won’t have global public health crisis to blame, only the virus of entitlement and selfishness that has infected us.
Lucia Mabasa is managing director of pinpoint one human resources, a Johannesburg-based executive search firm. Visit www.pinpointone.co.za for more information.