After the President’s Expanded Community Lockdown last March 17, everybody is asked to stay at home and self-quarantine. In our condominium, our building’s board of trustees made the critical decision to ask our frontliners to stay in the condo. These frontliners include the building admin (1), security guards (8), maintenance (3), janitor (2), gardener (1) and sewage maintenance system (1), overall 18 people in total.
In exchange for their commitment, all of our frontliners were given a generous hazard pay, free accommodation at the function room, and free three meals per day. They can also use the building’s internet to talk to their family members on off duty hours. All of them were well taken care of during the stay at the condo. And since everyone was still working, their families are safe and sound at home.
Despite many people not working and not receiving any pay during the ECQ, our guards are receiving a good salary, more than usual, for their sacrifice.
Of course, everyone wanted to stay.
They liked the extra hazard pay, free accommodation and free meals. They make almost double their pay during the ECQ.
However, reports came in that many had been stealing away and going home to overnight during the first two weeks. Some say they miss their families. Others bring home the relief packages that was given for their use as a group to give to their families. So in a way, they were stealing from the group’s package to send home, justifying that their families need it more.
I was incensed when I heard of what they were doing. By going home, they were putting their fellow colleagues at risk!
The building is not big and does not have many rooms.
Given this arrangement, every single one of the frontliners sleeps in the same function room. They also have to eat, live and work together. To get home, they would have to walk, take public transportation, go home to various communities, sleep there and have a high chance of getting infected.
And while there is some social distancing practiced, if one of them gets sick with COVID-19, the risk of infection amongst each other is high too. We need to ask them to stay put so they don’t bring the infection in.
So the Board decided to ask people to make a commitment:
The choice is theirs — If they stay, they should stay. But they can’t go home until after the ECQ is over. However, if they want to leave, they can. Then they would be placed with unpaid leave. But they cannot come back until after the ECQ is over.
The logic for asking them to stay in is this — If all of the building’s frontliners can still go back to their homes, every time they go home and overnight, they place the entire team at risk if one of them tests positive for COVID-19. Just imagine, 18 people traveling back and forth every day and going back to different community clusters. Even if the building goes on quarantine, if anybody brings the disease back to the building, everyone gets infected.
The guards were bothered by the announcement. They wanted the hazard pay, free accommodation and free food but did not want to sacrifice their weekly rest day. They wanted their cake and eat it too.
To make matters worse, the security guard OIC (Officer in Charge) was the first to leave immediately after the announcement was given. OIC was new and only started this year, and despite his short tenure, was placed in charge of the guards. In a sign of bad leadership, he was the first to go on a rest day, putting the board’s announcement aside.
Most of the guards in our building have been with us for years. Some of them have been there for more than 10 years. Now, here comes this hotshot OIC who doesn’t know any better, who becomes first to defy orders. What’s worse, the OIC gave the Board a problem on what to do now as others want to follow his example. Soon after the OIC left, another security guard followed, now leaving the number of building guards to 6.
I was incensed.
The OIC defied a direct order and immediately did what he wanted after the announcement. If he made a firm decision of going home and staying home, this would have been okay with me. Work is not slavery so everyone can make a decision that’s good for them. However, this OIC has been texting the admin several times a day to ask for permission to come back!
Apparently, the OIC was okay in being first to abandon his team and to leave for a rest day, fully thinking that his position as OIC makes him indispensable. In short, nagbabakasakali siya in making the decision to go home. He believed that given his position, he would be allowed to come back.
However, by going home and insisting to be reassigned back, the OIC showed inconsideration for his subordinates because he risks infecting them if he comes back being COVID-19 positive.
The OIC has also created a separate problem for the board because now, the other security guards are following his example and had started to ask to go home for rest days due to “homesickness.”
Instead of being a capable leader and being a partner of the Board in keeping the rest of the frontliner team in check, this OIC was first to abandon his post and after he’s had his fill, selfishly asked to be reinstated, thus putting other guards at risk.
I stepped in.
I talked to the guards and explained to them the logic on why they are not allowed to come back if they went home for a rest day. “Either you decide to stay, or you decide to go home. That’s your choice. But you can’t go back until after the ECQ is lifted if you leave. You might infect the others.”
“As a tenant, I’m not really afraid that you will infect me,” I said. “If I go out, I go to the elevator and have limited interactions with you. But you guys live, eat, sleep and work with each other. If one of you get infected, you will also infect others. And everyone must be put to quarantine.”
After talking to the staff, they relented. They now realized that the rules were put in place not only for the tenants’ protection but most importantly, for their protection as well. The building was not just stopping them from seeing their families, but rather this sacrifice is important so as to protect their cluster — the frontliners — from being infected.
Covid-19 is very contagious.
The more they go home, the higher the chance that they will get infected. If only one of them get infected, how can he take responsibility for the health, safety, well being and lives of the rest of the team?
“Anyway, they are your family,” I explained. “Before the ECQ, they are your family. After the ECQ, they will still be your family. Being away from them during the ECQ will not destroy your family. If the ECQ will cause discontent and arguments in your family, the family was already the problem even before the ECQ. Not the ECQ itself.”
After talking to them face to face, the guards relented.
To be honest, the guards did not want to infect other people. I think they just found it unfair that their OIC went home and the Board was considering to let him come back. They just didn’t want to be left behind from the benefits. After talking to them, they relented and decided that they would do their job, protect the building, and see their families after the ECQ.
LESSONS FROM THE EXERCISE
There are many lessons to be taken from this exercise that I want to share with you.
1) If you want to give bad news, do it face to face.
Initially, the Board only gave out the memo as a text and an order to the admin. When the admin communicated the memo to the guards, she did not really explain the order properly causing mistrust and miscommunication among the group. The most crucial information — that they can’t go home to protect each other — was lost in translation.
For news like this, it’s better to do it face to face so that you can explain the order properly, and answer any questions they might have on the spot. This will prevent the problem from brewing, and allow everyone to cooperate better.
2) Don’t just give an instruction. Also explain the logic behind the instruction so they’ll have a big picture understanding on the issue.
You have to give effort to explain the big picture logic behind a decision. Sometimes, they think it’s the tenants just wanting to protect themselves from COVID-19. They didn’t think that stopping them from going on a rest day is also for their protection.
What’s more, the admin is sickly and is nearing 60 years old. If someone contracts COVID-19, she would be most at risk. Coronavirus might be lethal for her. Putting that perspective in mind, the group decided to cooperate and not harm each other. They are doing it not just for the tenant or their employers, but also for themselves.
3) Give reasonable concessions.
The hazard pay, free accommodation and free food were reasonable incentives for our frontliners. However, I also asked the admin to allow them to use up their unused rest days for a longer vacation after the ECQ to make up for their time lost with their families.
4) If you issue an order, be firm on the order and the consequences.
The OIC went home because he mistakenly thought there was room for negotiation of him coming back. He thought that given his position, he was allowed to go back to work after his rest day. Hence, he tried his luck. If the order and the consequences were explained properly, would he still follow the same decision?
The guards tried to ask to also be allowed to go on a rest day because at that time, there was still a question on whether the OIC would be allowed to come back. Once that notion was squashed, people were free to make up their minds and all of them decided to stay put.
5) Be nice to your frontliners even before you make a request.
I said a little prayer before talking to the guards. I knew that if they did not acquiesce, they might stage a walk out and leave our building unprotected, an issue especially now when social unrest is possible.
The great thing about our security team is that many of them have been working in the building for a long time. The guard who requested to go home had been working with us since 2008, even before I moved it. Hence, there’s a lot of time that we’ve spent together and improving good will.
Our guards are actually terrific people. Even before ECQ, they have been very nice, polite and have always done great work. Because of this, most of the tenants have treated them with respect. Every Christmas, I give them a nice gift and a red envelope as a token of appreciation for a job well done.
It is with this background that I was able to talk to them nicely and get them to agree. The building frontliners are people too. They have to be shown with respect at all times. I knew that if I went in, ordered them around and commanded them to stay, they wouldn’t, especially since the lockdown was extended. However, by talking to them properly, explaining to them the logic of the decision and topping it with the goodwill I’ve built all these years, these factors enabled me to convince the guards to stay and help protect the building and each other.
Just remember, you get more things done with honey than with vinegar.