How COVID-19 Changed Leadership
Fear of a disease, a desire to “return to normal,” and the inability to resolve the friction between “management by actual work production” and “management by seeing a human being work” that work-from-home created in organizations, has pushed leaders of organizations.
We are now seeing a trend toward the mandating of the COVID-19 vaccine (or shot, or “poke” if you will) as a requirement for employment in organizations, as the United States Department of Justice, last week declared that such a move was legally advisable.
“Two new reports show a surge in the number of job postings in the U.S. and Canada requiring potential employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. New data from Ladders, a job site, reveals a surge of more than 5,000% since January 2021 in job posts listing vaccination requirements. Ladder researchers reviewed 3.8 million high-paying career job postings in the U.S. and Canada over the past two years. Prior to November 2020, when COVID vaccines became available, only 54 high-paying job postings required a vaccination in a typical month—all of which referenced influenza. This year, all of the high-paying job openings that require vaccination referenced COVID-19.”
With such a move, employers are now entering a phase, not of leadership—which requires bucking trends even if the consequences may be “dire”—but instead are entering a phase of reinforcing genuine inequity of opportunity in a vain hope to “get back to ‘normal’ ” in the workplace.
This move won’t work in the way that executive leaders are hoping for due to a number of reasons.
Why Mandating Equals Following
Executive leaders in organizations enjoy working from the office. They enjoy the stress, the feeling of importance, and the social benefits that accrue to them from being able to sit in an office setting and talk with colleagues face-to-face.
Managers and supervisory leaders enjoy the feeling of authority and “management” they get from visually seeing people do work, setting meetings, and micro-managing employees’ days in a face-to-face environment.
Employees don’t enjoy, appreciate, or benefit from many of the “perks” face-to-face, on-site, work traditionally brings.
They know that executive leadership doesn’t know them, doesn’t really know their work, and that management many times is there to interrupt their work constantly.
Thus, we have several, global dynamics meeting all at once, along with a perceived labor shortage by management and executives at middle and large-sized organizations, which is leading to a failure of leadership.
“…employers are trying to hire a lot of people to backfill their earlier layoffs, and they struggle to hire the people with the skills and experience they want fast enough at the wages they want to pay. That is not a labor shortage. If you laid off your skilled and competent workforce during the pandemic, what did you think was going to happen when the shutdown was lifted? Where were you going to get a replacement workforce that meets all those criteria and do it quickly at the same time everyone else wants to do the same thing? Please don’t say there was no choice but to lay off because the shutdown lasted so long. Most of the layoffs happened early on, when we expected the shutdown to end within a month or so. It cost very little, if anything, to keep those workers engaged on furlough.”
Mandating always equals following the herd mentality.
Executive leadership in individual companies should be looking at COVID-19 vaccine mandates, along with the needs of their organization around talent, the hype around the “Great Resignation,” and the management handwringing about hybrid workforces, with a skeptical eye.
But this is not what we are seeing on the leadership landscape today.
Instead of Mandating, How About Leading?
Josh Bersin, the HR author who works in the space of leadership development, recommends four steps for human resources to consider to prepare for a work world of hybrid and remote, where entry-level labor is no longer “entry-level.”
- Prepare for wages to go up.
- Invest in employment brand, sourcing, and job advertising.
- Accelerate your internal talent marketplace.
- Fire up your engagement and people analytics teams.
All of these are important points and HR should advocate to the C-Suite and middle management in all organizations for their implementation. And probably the most important one that was missed is for executive leaders to avoid the temptation to jump at mandating language for COVID-19, and to avoid the temptation to succumb to pressure from their middle manager leaders around being unable, or unwilling, to explore the benefits, opportunities, and challenges that a hybrid or fully remote workforce offers.