Are we ready for the ‘New Normal’ workforce?

Vaibhav Jain | Updated on May 06, 2020

It’s time now for companies to have a Chief Wellness Officer in the executive committee

The business world is engaged with all its predictive might in modelling the new normal for its respective industries. Each business house is dealing with the situation differently, quite representative of the unclaimed poetic piece doing the rounds of the social media titled “ We are not in the same boat”.

Some have seen this as an opportunity to rethink their model, others are coping with salvaging what they can, some are waiting out the period before they take decisive action. One big issue that everyone seems to be actively trying to “handle” is the People Piece. From unsavoury retrenchments to showing solidarity, the spectrum is large and a difficult one to decipher.

My observation and question at large is: are we looking at this wholly? Or, are we being reactive only?

People — or talent — undoubtedly remain a huge cost on the P&L of most organisations. Efficiency of numbers and productivity harnessed can be questioned even for the best guys in town. However, all said and done, talent will remain a key input into any business for times to come. Unfortunately, most of the industry is currently deeply focused only on the cost part of this key resource. Some have “rationalised their numbers”, some have ”rationalised the numbers those numbers were making”, some will let go of the frills including office spaces — but the overall focus remains cost. The readiness for re-opening rests and remains on affordability.

In the above scenario, my attention is drawn to what happens when we reopen with what we are “left with” ? Here are some questions we need to ask:

1. Are we left with the “Right” talent?

While most organisations have put some yardstick or the other on who goes and who stays, often it has been projects that could be shelved, “support staff” that the function could do without, or people not up to the performance curve before the pandemic struck. In either case, there is a very valid reason for the cost to be rationalised. Mostly, it was a matter of survival of the business and the few left with it.

My simple question is towards the uni-dimensional decision-making guide of payroll cost. Was that person limited to contributing only to their stated job descriptions? What about contributions to the organisation’s culture, situational leadership, innovative ideas, future growth, for which they needed to be incubated now? What about their own unique network that each one brought to work? What about that soft-spoken but firm, executive assistant who toiled to keep the maverick CEO on track and in line? Will our business retain its purpose if some of these parts go missing, and if so, were we wrong in some measure before?

2. How healthy are the ones left behind?

Don’t get me wrong — Outward physical health and Covid–19 will still be relatively easier to assess, it’s the other part that may become a challenge. Depression, Insecurity, constant uncertainty, fear (which has been a bigger pandemic), aversion to human proximity — all will show up in the coming months. Each person has dealt with it differently until now but has had little outlet for these to manifest.

We have already seen the challenges frontliners have faced in the health industry. How many organisations have mechanisms to cope with this, and leaders trained to manage survival and sow growth with these challenges? How will productivity be optimised from someone who is qualified and skilled but is “not with it” at the moment?

If I may suggest, it's time now for a Chief Wellness Officer in the executive committee. Everything, from world-class sanitisation to assistance with mental health work to cafeterias, which focus on immunity and wellness, will be the new “Perks” that may make you valuable as an employer, in times to come.

3. Are you still the “One” ?

Well beyond the apparent question of whether you are still the employer of choice, the larger question is: are you still the one occupying the lion’s share of mindspace? One would like to believe that economic considerations would quickly bring the errant mind back to focus, but this quarantine has lasted longer than an occasional holiday. It has crossed the habit-forming threshold.

People have discovered talents which they enjoy and may be able to monetise. They have discovered self and would demand more Me time. The entire “YOLO” slogan will be almost cacophonous in the coming months. People have figured how much family time they were missing, and perspectives have changed on what really matters. People have figured “Less is more if you have what you need with you”. This will be a difficult weaning off and we may need to change how businesses think to be able to pull on with the converted tribe.

It may well be the time to become immersive, inclusive and one with your community in the truest form, if you want to survive and flourish in the AC (After Corona) period of Mankind.

No easy answers above, but it’s time we start asking the real questions.

Vaibhav Jain


Vaibhav Jain is an alumnus of IIHM Aurangabad and XLRI, Jamshedpur with 22 years of hospitality experience

Published on May 06, 2020

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