This is odd: When you scroll down LinkedIn these days, about half the posts look like there’s nothing wrong. You definitely can’t tell there’s a pandemic going on. No reference at all to the genuinely weird context that we’re all working from home, and that many of us are in danger of catching a terrible disease if we go out—or, in the case of New Yorkers, even if we don’t.
The other half of the posts do acknowledge the pandemic, but in an anodyne, feckless way that suggests that if we just wait, everything will go back to normal. “We’re all in this together.” “Together, even though we’re apart.” “In these uncertain times.” “Stay safe, stay home, stay positive.” You know what I’m talking about.
In my view, neither half really gets it.
The denial crowd is hoping the tiger in the room will walk away if they just whistle and ignore it. Meanwhile, the meaningless platitude crowd thinks it will turn into a friendly pet, if they just speak nice words to it and maybe feed it a tiny bite of their burger.
Either way, I wouldn’t bet against the tiger.
This can all be explained by the class time lag. Blue collar workers like drivers, servers, and bartenders, who make up the quasi-invisible service economy, were laid off long before white collar managerial and creative professionals. Now the pandemic is starting to hit us too, but it still doesn’t feel quite real yet, even to those who’ve lost their jobs.
The only real solution, which no one wants to hear because it would involve some effort and adjustment, is a completely different approach to work and business, as well as, I believe, the role of government—both federal and state/local.
Some of these pieces are tied to each other, but some can be done by forward-thinking businesses independent of any government action, and I hope they will be:
- Separate health insurance from employment and make it a human right for every American citizen
- Add non-citizens too, since contagious germs don’t care who they infect
- Ban quarterly reports, which force all business decisions to be made for pure short-term gain, and make reports annual, or even biannual
- Require sustainability, health, and safety experts, as well as frontline essential workers, to be present at shareholder meetings and allow them to speak
- Heavily penalize any company that violates worker health rights—the viewpoint of Amazon’s whistleblowing ex-Vice President Tim Bray, who just quit because he didn’t want to be a party to actual murder
- Provide generous paid sick leave, childcare, and (when needed) protective gear for all employees
- Raise the minimum wage so that one person can live on one job, including a one-bedroom apartment, and—as most developed nations have done—cap C-level pay ratios to make up the difference (right now the ratio of top exec pay to average worker pay must be disclosed, but there are no penalties for it being high)
- Finally, and this is the overall rule that informs all the others, realize that if one worker suffers, we all do—regardless of status or pay grade—and that this isn’t some meaningless lofty platitude, but simply the way germs think
If Tom Hanks or the CEO of Morgan Stanley can be infected with COVID-19, anyone can. Next time, let’s make sure no one does.