How did ECQ affect your industry?
We are in the retail industry so all mall are closed. So our entire operations is temporarily closed, and there’s no work, no pay for our company.
What kinds of challenges did ECQ bring in managing people?
According to Benjamin Franklin, “It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man.”
When a person is at home and has nothing productive to do, he will spend much time on unproductive things. He might chat with friends on Facebook. He will read the latest gossip on social media. He will see a lot negative sound bites and will be affected by it. Negative thoughts will enter his head such as:
- Does my company even care about me? Will there be any assistance or help extended to me, the employee?
- Can I support my family through this difficult time of no work, no pay?
- When will the lockdown end? How long will I be stuck at home?
The problem with being stuck home in quarantine is that it’s not that easy for management to call a townhall meeting to reassure everyone. You can’t just write them an email without any risk of being misunderstood. If there’s a chat room, employees may use the chat room to complain about the lot which is unhealthy for any environment.
The biggest challenges the ECQ brings is how to manage people if you can’t communicate with them face to face. When you talk to them, you can only chat with them via email or phone. If they get mad, they can always hang up the phone. There’s a risk that the message will be miscommunicated when you pass the message. So the hardest thing during the ECQ is that you can’t talk to them face to face.
The second most important thing is talking to people when you yourself lack information.
How can you talk to them if you’re not sure when we will get back to work? How much money the company will give? What sort of protection will a company give when they get sick? It is very hard to make decisions with limited information, and once you make declarations, you get caught in a rock and a hard place when such assumptions change.
For example, what if you gave the reassurance to your people that you won’t be laying anyone off. However, as customer orders dwindle to zero and there’s almost no work to be done, how difficult is it to go back to your employees and to tell them that things had changed and you may have to lay people off after all.
What was the most difficult information you had to convey to management or to employees?
- No work, no pay during the entire lockdown
- Uncertainty on how long the lock down will last.
- Lack of budget in supporting employees during lockdown.
- If they have work they can return to during the lockdown.
It’s hard to make announcements if you are unsure. The problem with this situation is we are operating with a lot of unknowns. But at these critical moments, you cannot show that you’re unsure, that the company is running out of money, and that you’re just reacting to the situation. Espeically during the times of crisis, you need to be confident, ready and reliable. The company must have some sort of plan, which you can communicate before any of your staff asks.
That they can’t just leave their staff for dead. That compassion is needed. And you can’t be compassionate if your staff is starving.
What are your strategies or best practice in communicating bad news?
- Be proactive and plan ahead: Already budget on how to take care of your people for every payroll before they ask. For us, we made an excel on how much help we will give per payroll. That way, we can plan for the entirety of the lockdown.
People’s concern are the money and job. Make a study early on to know if you can keep your people and pay them . Once you have the data, you can reassure them of the worst-case scenario, and that you’ve got them covered. And if you need to lay them off, put a plan in place already.
- Be straightforward. The message has to be clear. It’s an announcement, not a request. As much as possible, don’t leave questions unanswered.
- Communicate in words they can understand. Use Tagalog or Taglish. Wag pa English English para hindi ka maintindihan.
- Inject humor into the situation. We’re Filipino. There’s no better way to communicate than through humor.
- Know your rights as an employer. Research about Redundancy, Retrenchment and Floating 300. As much as possible, always be nice and courteous. But if the person becomes a bully and demanding and harassment, know how to proceed.
Are you prepared for an extension?
Yes, we’ve already planned till a lockdown of May 14, 2020.
Do you need sense or sensibilities in managing people now?
Yes, you need common sense. Make it very simple for people to understand.