The Cost of Unrest

It is undeniable that our region is going through a period of not previously witnessed unrest. In as much as this could be a micro demonstration of what is happening in the World at large, we should not turn a blind eye to the question of how much are our Businesses immune to this level of uncertainty. Above all, political and economic unrest are both triggers for social unrest, and in turn, social unrest is a key driver for Human Capital unrest. Anticipation, confusion, questioning, discouragement, demotivation, and rumors are but few of the emotions and events that surround such an atmosphere. Unrest is the energy drainer of Business, and it could turn into a critically dangerous situation if Businesses fail to pay attention to it.

Two pressing questions need to be answered here:
1. How much is unrest impacting our Businesses?
2. How should our businesses deal with this dangerous source of energy drain?

On the first question, I see that unrest is influencing our business by primarily acting on the creation of a negative atmosphere and injecting this negativity into the bloodstream of our organizations. Initially, negativity is created in the mind of employees through almost constant exposure to negative news from the media. With a ferocious race among media channels to convey how bad the situation out there is and the extent of political and economic instability, people get programmed and switch their antennas to the negative channel. The rest is left to daily human interaction whether at home or in the workplace!

The state of unrest is actually eating up our organizations from the inside and if we do not pay attention to this socio-organizational dynamic early enough, it might, as well, bring the whole house down. Unrest that is triggered by the overall atmosphere in our region demonstrates itself at three levels in our companies:

• At the individual employee level, where employees can easily become distracted and overly worried about what will come out of the current situation, asking themselves questions like: will we continue to be employed? What if they start laying off staff? How can I continue to support my family? Should I consider moving out early on? These questions are what will drain the mental and even the physical energy of employees, make them less productive, increase absenteeism, and potentially lead to absentmindedness that results in invariable types of errors when using machines, equipment, or dealing with clients.

• At the team level, unrest is the glue that brings argumentation circles together. Discussing politics and arguing about right and wrong, good and bad for long and short periods is, as well, a drain for organizational energy. Apart from being a main cause for trouble among team members, political and economic arguments seem to be an endless goal-less discussion that can only lead to less productivity, more rumors, sustained negativity, bad service quality, and higher risk on business continuity.

• At the Leadership level Unrest creates a high sense of uncertainty and sustains the feel of urgency. Business leaders fall under significant pressure, accompanied with worry, about making the best and quickest decisions amidst an environment that is pretty much controlled by the dynamics of the Game Theory! This can be a main source of haphazard or overly-analyzed decisions that are very costly and possibly life-threatening

On the second question, and although I have my doubts that the majority of Businesses in our part of the World have contingency plans to act upon in case such times of Unrest came by, many actions can still be exploited to deal with the costs of unrest. The classic actions that our companies can take to start encountering Unrest are:

• Forbid staff from discussing politics and economics during work hours and if possible even during their breaks. Although this might not be completely effective, it can send a strong message to all and cut down time spent on discussing unrest by at least 50%.

• Encourage staff to minimize their exposure to news media at home. News media utilizes neuro-linguistic programming to influence their viewers and the more you watch these channels the more you want to keep watching and the more negatively polarized you become. If you manage to influence this side of your employees’ behavior then another brick would be laid on the wall.

• Create distractions, because no matter how much you try to ban political discussions in the workplace, it is inevitable that staff will find a way to pass it on. In this case, it is a good strategy to distract staff by organizing lengthy competitions among teams, installing a non-news TV in the cafeteria, organizing focus groups to discuss positive topics that can reverse the negative polarization process.

• Communicate and reassure your staff that the company is aware of the situation and will spare no efforts to sustain business continuity and the continuity of all its workforce. It is always better for your staff to hear the good and bad news straight from you, so leave no space for rumors, uncertainty, and anticipation. Bottom line, unrest is a dangerous disease; you may not be noticing its impact on your Business in concrete terms, yet, I assure you that it is there and is surely affecting your productivity, quality, cost, and income very drastically. Time to take action?