COVID- 19 provides us with a moral leadership question

I’m genuinely loathed to write anything that might be seen to be riding on a sensationalist wave. At the same time, it is almost impossible to pass a day without stories relating to the spread of COVID-19 and the impact that is already having, and could have further on society and the workforce. Wherever we are in the world, whatever continent or time zone, this is a dominating event.

I was dismayed and a little flabbergasted  last week to hear a number of organisations suggesting they didn’t have an obligation to pay sick pay to people who were self isolating, to the point that the Government has stepped in to change the UK rules on statutory sick pay to ensure people who feel ill can stay off work. I know, from talking to others from around the world, the same debate is playing out in other countries too.

I’m not going to comment on the legalities, there are people better placed to do that, but I do want to talk about moral compass. Particularly those of the people who will choose to hide behind legislation rather than face into a moral obligation. In fact, the whole unfortunate situation shines a very firm light on the way in which organisations perceive their employees and their responsibility towards them. This isn’t so much about statute, it is about leadership.

If we believe that given the chance our colleagues will use this as an opportunity to get one over on the company, that they will be slackers, malingerers and wastrels then that says more about us than it does them. If our employees see this as a chance to not come into work, to avoid the workplace, then it says more about our culture and organisation, than it does about them.

Most of us will not have experienced an event of this kind before, this is unchartered water. We have a choice about how we look at the impact it will have on our workforces and that choice will pretty much define how we are as an organisation. We can see it as our responsibility to protect, to reassure and to look after our workforces, to work together to see this through. Or we can look at our ability to protect ourselves from the impact this will have on our workforce, to minimise their risk to our organisations and to only do what we are legally obliged to do.

Whilst we are in the eye of the storm, it will feel as if this will go on forever. But it won’t, time will move on and we will come out the other side, one way or another. And when we do, people will look at their employer, their organisation and they will judge them on how they behaved. We talk so much about social responsibility and doing the right thing and here and now we have an opportunity to demonstrate this is more than words. Good organisations with strong leaders will do so, those that view their employees simply as disposable resource will not.

Which side do you want to be on?