“I can’t go in today because I have a fever”. The fourth wave seems to be subsiding, but the beginnings of the fifth wave are already being felt. The combined waves of the flu and Omicron, the “flurona”, is on the attack. Phrases like this are now an almost daily occurrence in our lives. As a businessperson, as a responsible manager, we often do not know how we should react, not to mention how it is appropriate to react to these statements. Proactive managers are fed up with the constant fearmongering, even if the underlying reasons are real. They are increasingly of the opinion that this is a virus that humanity must learn to live with, as we have done so many times throughout history. The expectation is understandable, but what does this mean for business?
It is now almost two years since the first serious austerity measures were introduced under COVID-19, and a whole new era of the economy began. It hasn’t taken long for everyone to realise that this crisis is very different from any other crisis in the lives of current generations. There was nothing wrong with that, and in most places, the response was quite mature and professional. But you can also see, looking back on what happened, that although many people claimed to see, know, and understand the differences, they expect that life will return to normal and that it will all be a bad nightmare for everyone. At the same time, businesspeople have proudly proclaimed that they are fully aware that business is never the same after a crisis. The markets will naturally reorganise, and a new economic era will begin. So far, in fact, everyone has been absolutely sure that private life will be back on track, because, in ten out of ten crises, this has been the outcome. Yes, but the virus crisis has given us a completely different scenario. From the outset, the best experts warned that this crisis was different from the last Great Recession, which began its “conquest” of the US in 2007, because it was an attack on our private lives. It did not affect a particular sector of the economy and then spread from there to other sectors, but it attacked people’s families and loved ones, threatening their lives in a concrete way, and the consequence was a downturn in the economy. So it was the opposite of what we are now used to as managers. As a result, the effects, the mechanism and, of course, the possible solutions are on a completely different scale. Many people have obviously considered the possibility that if we can eliminate the pandemic in their private lives, then automatically or with a little management, the economy will come to its senses sooner or later. Yes, but we can now see that, as a result of a number of factors, COVID-19 just does not want to disappear from our lives, and this is a very long time for a crisis that has caused a complete economic block. If we just compare it with 2008, there were economies and governments that, within about six months, had taken various measures to restore the situation, if not perfectly, but still to correct course. Of course, everything did not return to normal there either, but the restructured markets were able to start functioning. What we are now seeing is that, just when we are about to poke our heads above the water to catch our breath, another wave hits, and the mechanism of the hard-won economic recovery sinks again. And so it becomes harder and harder to plan, and harder and harder to keep the spirit within ourselves and, as managers, in the people around us, to believe that things will return to normal.
The new norms
In other words, we have to face the fact that new norms are emerging, not just business norms, but expectations and rules that affect our whole lives. Over the past decades, managers have become accustomed to the growing convergence between business and the private sector, and even the merging of the two for some of the most successful. COVID-19 is now a very real mirror of this, showing where we are in this process. As leaders, we can no longer separate who we are and what we think in business and in our personal lives. One has a direct impact on the other, and success can only be achieved by navigating the two as one. What does this mean in terms of economic recovery? We need to develop a clear view of ourselves and start standing up for it now. We need to be able to decide, horrors here, horrendous facts and figures there, what we think about all this and how we want to live our lives in the light of it! We have to build; we have to develop new norms where our business development and our private lives are mentioned under the same hat. It is not an easy task, because in 2022, we will be deciding on the quality of our lives, how we manage them in the long term, and the choices we make this year will determine our destiny in the decade to come. The new standard will have to reflect what is credible and what is not, in the face of the vast media noise. Who we listen to and what we listen to, and which data and claims we reject. We need to recognise that we set our own standards, and that society, government, employers and other outside influences have no more say than a certain permissible degree. Because if they do, then we are not in control of our lives, we are controlled by them, and as managers, we will certainly not get anywhere. It is important to agree on our standards with our closest confidants. By this, of course, I am also saying that we need to re-evaluate the concept of family and the people who really live and work for us, people who are important to us and for whom we really feel responsible for their future. Nor should we forget that the “circle of trust” has become more valuable. We can see exactly how the media and the public will turn from one moment to the next. It is also striking that politics and economic powers are also spinning like a top, and we must also be aware that the many terrible things caused by the virus are being exploited by more and more people and turned to their own advantage. We need to be aware that we humans are prone to this. But the norms set in the trust circle are ours, we create them, and we are responsible for the consequences. We also need to recognise that just because we build a set of standards, they will not automatically be accepted in the workplace by colleagues and the economy as a whole. If we think that we have had enough of the crisis and we set our daily lives as normal as possible – travelling as a manager, going into the office and not wearing a mask -– that is our choice, and if it does not go against the current external regulations, then we can live with those rules. But that does not mean that everyone will do so. It doesn’t mean that everyone in the company we run, in the teams we run, will think like that, and we have to respect their opinions, too.