Productivity in Crisis

There is so much fear-mongering around the COVID-19 (a strain of severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS) pandemic. While the pandemic is real, the approach to quashing the virus is unrealistic and is damaging not only our economy, but our mental health, as well.

Simply stated, the disease statistics do not support the measures.

Of all those infected, 80 percent will experience mild symptoms and make a full recovery while 15 percent “might” need hospitalization. Of the 15 percent, some will die. The world death rate is 20 percent, but this is only for closed cases and does not account for active tested cases. Nor does it include all cases (i.e., those that have the virus but were never tested).

This is one time where I will invoke Trump’s infamous “fake news” claim. The percentages of overall deaths relating to COVID-19 are false. If the entire population is not tested for COVID-19, then the percentages are exaggerated, and the number of people reported to be infected is inaccurate.

Is the virus deadly? It can be, but so is the flu. So is heart disease. So is tuberculosis. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the flu kills 290,000 to 650,000 people per year. As of April 18, COVID-19 killed about 159,000 people worldwide. When was the last time we shut down the world economy during flu season? Right. Never.

You may say that vaccines exist for a lot of diseases, so COVID-19 is new in that regard. Maybe, but the entire world population does not get an annual flu vaccine or any other vaccine, either. This is a fact. However, not to worry – Big Pharma is working on that vaccine, just like they did on the others.

Disease or no disease, good hygiene is important and social distancing makes sense when dealing with someone with a contagious illness. However, where is the logic in shutting doctors’ offices, shutting stores, shutting private and government offices, and shutting other so-called non-essential services to protect, possibly, 15 percent of the population that is immunocompromised? And where is the logic in socially-distanced lines outside grocery stores and pharmacies? It is utter nonsense!

I may sound like I do not care, but that is not true. I care deeply about my family, friends, and community in which I live. I’m sure you also care for those you know and love. However, the extreme measures imposed on us by governments are not in our best interests. The measures may be in the best interests of the top one percent, but after this is over, most of the population will be decimated not because of the virus, but because of the inane shutdowns that led to economic devastation.

If the entire USA gets COVID-19—population of about 330 million people—based on current statistics of 15 percent hospitalizations, about 49.5 million people may need to be hospitalized. If Canada’s entire population of about 38 million contracts COVID-19, about 5.7 million may need hospitalization. These are big numbers. However, remember that these numbers assume that every person gets the virus. But this isn’t true, is it?

Not everyone will get sick. Not everyone EVER gets sick at the same time nor does everyone EVER get the same diseases that anyone else might get. Some people will NEVER get COVID-19, even if they are in direct contact with someone who has the virus. The same applies to other diseases.

Good hygiene and social distancing may help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The Centre for Disease Control recommends putting distance (at least six feet) between yourself and others, practicing frequent hand washing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces—especially when someone is ill. That seems like common sense when dealing with anyone with an infectious disease. However, all of this can still be done while keeping businesses open to maintain our economic productivity.

As I ponder our current situation, I ask myself if I’m missing some important information about the virus that might help justify the extreme actions imposed on our livelihoods. However, I do not see the logic. I cannot reconcile how shutting down the economy does any good for anyone – whether you are sick with COVID-19, heart disease, the flu, measles, or any other illness.

One thing is certain: We have become drones (perhaps terrified drones) of the government while those selling the “practice” of good hygiene and social distancing are raking in profits. This is occurring at the same time as millions of workers are laid off and businesses are closed (some likely forever). Yes, governments are providing support through wage subsidies and loans to those who have lost their jobs and businesses, but when this is all over, someone will need to pay back those subsidies and loans. Be prepared to expect higher taxes in your near future.

There is inequity even in the government stimulus. Not every family of four gets the same government benefit. Some families get the full benefit, while others receive nothing. Some people want to go back to work because they do not qualify for unemployment insurance and are running out of money; others want to seriously injure those who break the quarantine. For some, quarantine is optimal – a moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flipflops, with a cocktail or coffee. But for most, this is a desperate financial and family crisis.

Look at Sweden. Sweden stands apart. Sweden is not in complete lockdown, yet Sweden’s COVID-19 numbers are on par with similar populations. It is not any better or worse. But Sweden’s people are working and living normal lives – they gather in groups (less than 50), their restaurants are open, they are not forced to wait in lines outside grocery stores. They can shake hands if they wish.

Sweden has a mortality rate that’s about twice as high as that of Denmark (where full lockdown measures are employed)—0.01 percent of the population dead in Sweden versus about 0.005 percent of the population dead in Denmark—and only half that of France.

The bottom line is that this pandemic has created ill-conceived measures and these measures will ruin more lives than save.

We are all paying an extremely high price for COVID-19, indeed.

Putting People Back into the Quality Process

When we focus on business improvement, the easy part is fixing holes in systems and processes to gain quality and efficiency. But the key to making those fixes stick is the people. Enter: positive psychology.

Positive psychology is a psychological theory that looks at the positive side of human behaviour. Where psychopathology categorizes undesirable behaviour, positive psychology builds on character strengths to help optimize organizational productivity.  Positive psychology is especially well suited for use within culturally diverse workforces. Here’s how it works in an organizational setting.

  1. Goals – when a problem is identified, instead of blaming workers for poor performance, invite the workers to embrace the opportunity to participate in creating a new set of objectives and goals to solve the problem. In doing so, the workers improve their skills. For example, instead of pointing out that the workers’ “inefficiencies and lack of productivity are inhibiting workflow,” the leader says, “Let’s make records management a priority and skill for improvement.”
  2. Feedback – once the problem is identified and the worker is invited to participate in problem solving, the leader needs to provide specific and immediate feedback about the problem. Following from our example above, “inefficiencies in filing methodology are costing the organization $1 million in lost productivity annually” offers a measurable and definable goal for workers using positive psychology. Providing a measure in these terms ensures that workers really hear the message (criticism for poor work, on the other hand, may breed hostility and  more inefficiencies).
  3. Challenge – now that the workers understand why it is important to fix the problem (e.g., loss of $1 million due to inefficiencies), challenge the workers to discover the root cause of the problem. For this step, leaders need to take care to ensure that the strengths and talents of the workers invited to identify the root cause be matched to the level of the challenge. If the challenge outmatches the workers’ skill, then a heightened level of anxiety can occur which is counterproductive to the task at hand.
  4. Coaching – when the root cause is identified, invite the workers to brainstorm and pilot a solution to the problem. The leader does this through coaching and mentoring the workers. Coaching and mentoring are goal-oriented and collaborative processes that encourage building on strengths to implement solutions. Building on strengths can help enhance performance. In our workflow inefficiencies example, the brainstorm solutions provided should focus on the workers’ primary character strengths to increase their self-esteem and participation in solution implementation.
  5. Rewards – in order to ensure that the solutions devised are consistently and reliably implemented, rewards are essential. Rewards should include rituals that the workers develop to help them reduce their anxiety over the new performance levels. For example, teaching the workers to use enthused and compelling self-statements ensures continuing good performance. So instead of negative thinking such as “I can’t do this,” the workers’ self-talk includes: “What a great opportunity for me … I can expand my new learning to other areas … there’s a promotion in my future.”

Using positive psychology to include workers in solving organizational problems can help leaders solve vital productivity issues, improve the organization’s existing skills, and ultimately improve the organization’s bottom line over time. In addition, leaders will realize a happier workforce as a result. And who doesn’t want a happy work environment?


Happiness at Work and Play

In the upcoming issue of Extreme Profits, I write about how happy employees can help a company be successful. The flip side of course is how unhappy employees can drive customers away and create increased costs to the company in terms of employee turnover and hiring expenses.

While research has linked happiness to our genetic makeup, the “nature-nurture” theory certainly has a role here as well. Our culture and upbringing bear some responsibility for our happiness as does our socio-economic status, but if work continues to be a constant source of stress for you, you’re not scoring points with either yourself or your employer.

Leger Marketing surveyed 58 countries in 2011, ranking their happiness based on per capita income and hope about the nation’s economy. The Happiness Barometer for 2011 identifies Fiji as the happiest country overall. Canada comes in as #23 and Afghanistan fares better than the United States. Overall findings show that 53% of the world is happy compared with 13% who say they are unhappy.

So as this year comes to a close, it’s a good opportunity for all of us to take stock of our own happiness index in not only our work, but in our personal lives as well. If you’re unhappy, you need to get happy. Make 2012 your year to improve your happiness.