In The Workplace

I work for a medium-sized retailer. Our department’s vice-president promised my long-delayed promotion as a reward for my consistent excellent work performance over four years. My appointment papers confirming my managerial status was sent to the CEO for approval in the first week of March, just before the lockdown was imposed by the government to contain the spread of COVID-19. With a possible extension of the lockdown, it appears that my promotion might be further delayed, if not lost in the frenzy caused by this global pandemic. What would you advise me to do? — Disgruntled Anew

An old train was chugging slowly through the countryside when it suddenly came to a stop. There was only one passenger in a car, a traveling pharmaceutical salesman riding the line for the first time. He asked the conductor why they had stopped the train. The conductor said: “There’s nothing to worry about Sir. There’s a carabao sitting on the track and the engineer is prodding it with a stick.”

After about 10 minutes, the train got underway again, but after chugging along for about five kilometers, it again came to a complete stop. “There’s a temporary delay,” the conductor reassured the salesman. “We’ll continue shortly.” The frustrated salesman asked: “What’s the problem this time? Did we catch up with that carabao again?”

Like the traveling salesman, you’re disappointed because your long overdue promotion has been delayed again. This time, however, it’s not the fault of management but of the pandemic that has disrupted almost all business operations around the world. At the outset, I should tell you, we can’t do much against the pandemic except to mitigate its adverse effects to you and your organization.

After all, you don’t have a choice but to wait further until the situation enters the “new normal,” which might then pave the way for your eventual promotion. You can’t ignore the reality of the situation. You may be an excellent worker but if you continue to sulk in the corner pretending to work, that could spell big trouble for you.

Top management may continue to have you for a while because of your proven competence, but it may change its mind to get rid of you and other workers when the business becomes untenable in the near future. Therefore, my advice for you is to stay put and do what you can do best to help your organization overcome the situation as if you don’t have a problem waiting for your long-delayed promotion.

Even if you are well-positioned to achieve that promotion in due time, external events like the pandemic could be everyone’s downfall as well as that of your organization. It’s not easy. Many individuals like you who are in the same situation may simply assume their future is secure because you’ve done a good job. It’s easy to assume that eventually hard work will be rewarded. Unfortunately, that’s not true all the time.

If you’re not alert to what’s going on around you, it’s easy to become an unwilling victim. So, what can you do under the circumstances? In good and in bad times, it’s always an excellent idea to initiate, if not restart a change management program, which may include any or all of the following two techniques that are applicable in retail operations:

Reduce the number of your contractual workers. This may include cashiers and baggers. It may be anti-social and anti-job security, but that might be the only way your retail operations survive. When I say “reduce,” it means maintaining only the minimum number of temps that are critical to your store operations. And if possible, transfer them to other work areas where they could be of better use.

Chances are, you may discover gems among these people, who are equally interested to preserve their jobs. But that’s only if you’re open to assigning them tasks like data encoding, simple bookkeeping, inventory keeping, or doing 5S good housekeeping to organize files and stocks in the warehouse.

Encourage, if not require the workers to acquire new skills. This can be done by enrolling in free online courses appropriate to their interests, like those being offered by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). Be upfront with temporary employees that their job security is dependent on their skills, much more if they can’t afford college education. Inspire them to study during their free time, so their minds are kept away from playing those addicting online games.

A positive attitude toward such changes will help you convince other workers to sell to their peers. Remember, your workers are not likely to accept your ideas unless you are convinced that even you can benefit from new training.

Whatever you do, don’t give off any hint of false hope to these people. Perhaps more important than all other challenges in implementing this program is the need to understand there are no shortcuts to success. Solutions may appear to be easy on the surface, but actually doing it may pose some unforeseen difficulties.

Therefore, whenever you plan to make changes, ranging from the way a single task is performed or acquiring new skills, it’s necessary to think about whether you and your management will agree to it. Doing this will help generate both worker and management acceptance of all the changes, which will go a long way toward successful implementation, in good or bad times.

ELBONOMICS: It’s not what you’ve achieved, but what you’ve overcome.


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