OPTION TO WORK – Putting People First

By | Ramesh Ranjan | Editor www.humanengineers.com

Extraordinary situations warrant extra-ordinary solutions. So far the response of the Business Community has been very ordinary.

What we learn from China and Italy is that if they had practiced social distancing early one, the spread could have been contained and damage limited. The same is true for Iran and US. But are we learning from it. The coming weeks are really testing times for India as it threatens to move from Stage2 to Stage3.

Here are the four stages of progression of COVID19:

  1. When cases are only imported from affected countries and therefore only those who have travelled abroad test positive. At this stage there is no spread of the disease locally.
  2. When there is local transmission from infected persons. This will usually be relatives or acquaintances of those who travelled abroad who test positive after close contact with the infected person. At this stage, fewer people are affected, the source of the virus is known and is therefore easier to perform contact tracing and contain the spread via self-quarantining. Countries like India are currently in Stage 2.
  3. This is the stage of community transmission. In this stage those who have not been exposed to an infected person or anyone who has a travel history to affected countries, still test positive. In other words, people are unable to identify where they might have picked up the virus from. Countries like Singapore, Italy and Spain are currently in Stage 3. 
  4. This is the worst stage of the infection where it takes on the form of an epidemic. Massive numbers are infected and it is very difficult to control and contain the spread. This is what China dealt with.

Source ( Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)

The best way to avoid mass spread of the disease in Stage 3 is through Self Quarantine & Social Distancing. More than a 100 million employees work in large Corporate Offices in crowded airconditioned offices, commuting in public transport and other mass transport vehicles, eat in crowded cafeterias and are in constant contact with colleagues within 1 meter distance.

Look at COVID-19 Strategies and Policies of the World’s Largest Companies compiled by Gallup

In general, their protocols and plans include:

  • developing succession contingencies for all major executives 
  • conducting business using virtual, video or audio capabilities
  • restricting travel
  • reducing to business-critical operations only
  • moving critical operations to unaffected regions
  • cross-training team members to perform critical functions in the event of an unexpected absence or quarantine of another team member
  • documenting business-critical functions, processes or procedures in the event of an unexpected absence or quarantine of a team member
  • distributing call center scripts and agent communications

If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, many companies have established protocols like these:

  • Require employees to report confirmed cases — either of self or family member — of COVID-19 to HR or management. The affected are typically required to stay home for 14 days and/or until cleared by a doctor to return to work with confirmation that there is no diagnosis of COVID-19.
  • Isolate employees diagnosed at work; immediately disinfect objects they’ve touched; trace their contact with other employees, customers, and clients; and notify those who may have been exposed without releasing the diagnosed employee’s name.
  • Ask employees to log all contact with other employees or visitors in case they become symptomatic so that others can be informed of potential exposure.

This is some progress and the first step in the right direction. But we are still not willing to accept & address the Elephant in the Room – mass congretation of employees at the work place.

It takes just 2 people in Italy to have started the spread of Corona Virus to 35,713 cases, 2978 deaths (including 475 deaths yesterday).

Why aren’t organisations willing to follow the example of Tata Steel, which has tweaked its leave policy to allow employees to stay at home and apply for leave if they cant work from home.

It has tweaked its leave policy to include a “special leave” provision for any employee who might need to self-quarantine or stay away from office due to perceived Corona virus exposure.

The “special leave” provision, which will be applicable for white as well as blue collared workers, will enable even a person who has not been diagnosed sick but has either been advised or has decided to self-quarantine.

They have truly demonstrated a philosophy of People Come First.

How many organisations have this option. The least we can do is not force employees to come for work. Give them an option to employees for COMING TO WORK. If they chose to come fine, if they are uncomfortable because of perceived risk, permit them to work from home and if its not possible to work from home, permit them to apply leave and stay at home – paid or upaid leave.

There are over 100+ millions working in crowded Offices in India. Most of them travel in crowded public / private transport, work in cramped airconditioned office space, dont maintain distance of 1 metre, eat in crowded cafeteria, come to work with cold and cough (untested or checked). Not only are they putting themselves at risk but also risking the health, safety and lives of other employees.

Well many are adopting a Wait and Watch policy. But will it be too late. Will we repent later that we had it in our control to stem the spread of the disease but failed to do so and we jeopardized the health, safety and lives of our employees because of narrow business interests. The future days will unfurl the fate and only time will tell…….

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