When it became apparent that the proposed way of dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak was to crash the economy, my thoughts turned immediately to our younger generation, who are likely to be the most negatively affected group in the long term. Already the younger generation (our future leaders) finds it hard to get on the housing ladder, pay off student loans and obtain secure and financially rewarding employment.
There is so much about this virus that we still don’t know, but one thing that has been clear from the start is the financial impact of Coronavirus on everyone’s livelihoods. Having experienced two recessions so far in my career, this third one is on course to be the worst. Each recession has left everyone who is still working worse off, and the commentary is consistent in that we will all be poorer as a result of this pandemic. Since I originally wrote this blog in April (updated 11.5.20), a piece of research by PWC indicates that more than 78% of those who have been laid off since the crisis began are women and two-thirds are aged between 18 and 34. This supports earlier findings which indicated that of those who have been furloughed so far, a higher proportion were likely to be younger employees. This is certainly true within our own client base, so again the prospects of the younger generation are put at risk. Businesses have a duty of care to their staff and it has made me think particularly about our duty of care to our future leaders and talent in these difficult times. Does our duty of care extend to investing in them and keeping them engaged during furlough to safeguard their futures? The Government has not only said that people on furlough can undertake training but it is encouraging it in its guidance.
The evidence from the recession of the 1990s proved that those organisations that invested in their staff while there was not much work were the fastest to return to profit and pick up market share, leaving their competitors trailing in their wake. Should we therefore be taking advantage of learning opportunities that are available to staff, especially our younger generation, even while on furlough?
When I was at Boots and starting out on my career, investment in staff was truly valued by the Company. It knew it would get that back in commitment from the individual, with efficiency and productivity gains and improved employee relations. It generated employee engagement, before that was even a recognised term, because you felt valued and supported by your employer. Since that time, especially following the last recession, many organisations have lost the ability to see the value in investing in our younger people (including junior managers and team leaders) and as a result many businesses are generally much less effective in terms of performance than they could be. That grieves me. I think about how rewarding it has been for me to see my three proteges at CHaRM all go on to achieve much greater things than I could offer them as a small business, but I know that, because of my interventions, they are all set up for life with good career opportunities ahead of them. Larger SMEs than mine can both train, and retain, their staff, particularly with a planned talent retention programme, and although money will be tight after this lockdown, developing talent really should be a priority for every business.
So many younger people suffer from anxiety and many lack resilience but they are going to need resilience for the future, more so now than ever before. When I think of how raw I was around the edges before I went to Boots, I am eternally grateful for the development that I had there, which not only gave me strong self-awareness, but it also enabled me to influence others, think strategically and encourage and motivate those around me. Those skills need to be learnt; they don’t come naturally to everyone, especially to those whose preferred way of communicating is on-line. We need the younger generation to drive innovation for the future within our organisations and therefore we owe it to them to give them the skills, courage and self-awareness to do that positively and effectively, starting now, while they are furloughed.
To quote President Bolsonaro of Brazil: "Fighting the virus shouldn't do more damage than the virus itself". Not investing in our leaders of tomorrow will do just that.