When New Normal is Too Abnormal

Friday July 24, 2020 comments


It’s crazy out there. As communities and businesses reopen, partially open, reclose, and all the other variations of whatever “New Normal” is, there are a few things that are certain:

  • Communities, customers, employees… all of us need business viability. Hopefully, most will make it through this. Unfortunately some haven’t and some won’t.
  • People need jobs. Without vision, purpose, and income, people can become hopeless. The more desperate people become, the worse it is for our society.
  • Businesses need customers, clients, those they serve. We can’t make it so hard to do business that we kill businesses.
  • Government will try to keep people safe and in doing so, some will appreciate it and some will resent it. And we get further polarized and emotions run higher.
  • Businesses will be expected to “enforce” Executive and Public Health Orders, just as they have had to in the past. Think no shoes, no shirt, no service. Add no mask.
  • This is different.
  • Businesses have to keep their team members safe.

There are too many stories of obnoxious, threatening, and even violent behaviors when employees have just been trying to do their jobs - which in this season means becoming mask and social distancing monitors. There are way too many stories of destruction to innocent businesses in reaction to injustice.

As an employer, you have a responsibility under the OSHA General Duties Standard to provide a safe workplace. That’s harder to do when you’re dealing with unpredictable behaviors and frayed emotions on the part of people you can’t control.

That said, you can never create a 100% safe environment for your team, no matter how much you’d like to. Exposure to disease, accidents, random acts of violence, mother nature… so much is not under our control. There is much we can do though.

Setting expectations, communicating thoroughly about those expectations, and holding everyone accountable to them has to be a top priority - before anything happens. Think prevention!

If you leave gaps in the information you provide, people will fill in the blanks as they think best… and often that’s the worst! Without direction, your people could either be too passive - jeopardizing your business through lack of compliance, or too enforcive - endangering themselves or others.

There is no one-size-fits-all response to this. Laws, regulations, and orders can appear to be in conflict. Unintended consequences of some of these laws, regulations, and orders happen. That means you have to plot a path through confusing times with no GPS or roadmap and you can’t just imitate another organization’s solutions. For instance:

  • If you operate a bar, casino, or similar organization and you employ bouncers, dealing with an unruly customer who disregards safety and common decency may all be in a day’s work. If you try to make an exception to keep your bouncers safe as if this is unusual due to current circumstances, it won’t make any sense to those on your team who think it’s their duty to keep the place safe.
  • If you operate a Social Service agency like a Food Bank that employs Social Workers who are skilled in deescalation techniques, dealing with someone with frayed emotions may be common. If you try to prevent that in an effort to keep your people safe during these uncertain times, you will frustrate your people who are passionate about helping those who need an intervention.
  • If you operate a restaurant with a bar, your people may be used to dealing with the occasional person who has had one too many that they have to cut off and call a Uber. This may not seem like that big a deal to them. If you make it one they may think you don’t know what a day in their work life is actually like.
  • If you operate a retail store where your people have never had to think about enforcing Public Health Order, this could get confusing. Some might be fearful. Some might take this enforcement thing too far. You can’t let it stay confusing. And your people need to know how they should rely on those in law enforcement rather than trying to take the law into their own hands.

Talk through all this with your team. Set clear expectations and start a conversation about the role of your people, in your industry, in your organization, in your city, in these unusual times. Let people know that you value their safety and that you are open to discuss concerns related to this. Silence will be interpreted as either cluelessness, passivity, or a complete disregard for your people.

This is a time to show empathy. This is a time to communicate. This is a time to be visible. This is a time to lead. 


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