The current pandemic and institutions’ challenges

London, January 26, 2020. People wearing a face masks to protecting themself because of epidemic in China. Selective Focus. Concept of coronavirus quarantine. MERS-Cov, middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, Novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV.

May 12th, 2020.

Faced with a real threat, the world should be prepared. Effective preparedness depends on the credibility of the threat. Such preparation cannot be left alone to technological advancement and the hard sciences, we must rethink the ethics of the global economy and the values ​​that govern its relationships. This for its effects to become more inclusive and aiming for the human being to be more complete. As the technological advance is integrated into the economy, we must think about the impact on labor, social, and production relations, both between humans and between humans and non-humans.

Crises bring out the best and worst in people and the systems they constitute. Relations between people are formalized through institutions. The “worst” can be summed up in “save yourself who can”. The “best” is achieved by pressing and therefore expanding the frontier of what is possible. This tests our institutions. These have increasing returns and are intended to limit uncertainty. Thus, it is understood that the certainties that we have managed to develop to date are (at least to a certain extent) rigid to change. This is more evident the more vertical are the hierarchies of the institutions that formalize our systems.

Examples of challenges imposed by the health crisis are labor flexibility that facilitates teleworking, multidisciplinary and multisector collaboration, the practice of gratitude and its consequent reflection on the value of different activities, and the capacity for an immediate reaction that forces us to prioritize in a short time and the reflection that this imposes on the need to have done it before the crisis and not “on the wheel”, among others.

This crisis demonstrated that we can execute labor flexibility in terms of teleworking, that multidisciplinary and multisector collaboration is not only efficient but also essential as an immediate response, that practicing gratitude opens the space for important reflections, and that the prioritization of our values ​​is a topic and a conversation that our societies owe to themselves and that requires updating. So why, before the crisis, did reaching a consensus on these matters seem so difficult? Is this explained by a lack of will? Or is it rather an intrinsic rigidity of our institutions, that becomes more acute the more vertical they are? Exploring these types of questions and their possible answers can help us to advance, for example, in our labor relations and to reflect on our preferences as individuals and their respective costs and benefits.

We have also seen intergenerational behavior that leads me to believe that the measures taken so far are insufficient, at least in the long term if we want to try to be better prepared in the future for a new global threat. For example, adequate and sustained intergenerational integration, as well as multidisciplinarity within institutions and organizations could help us maintain long-term coherence and balance in terms of agreements within them.

Given that different generations differ in their scales of values ​​and preferences, the institutions that host them, such as labor, must differentiate their strategies according to their different age segments if they intend to be efficient in the agreements made within them. Human resources departments are key in this regard, it would be recommendable that they take the lead on topics of flexibility and work incentives, avoiding labor precarization, and promoting transparency in the applied criteria. These topics must consider the specific contexts of the life cycle stages of the different generations involved. This implies identifying influences, preferences, and ways of measuring success that define different generations and their effects on current and future stages of their life cycle.

The current crisis revealed that each age group acted according to their preferences and values. Beyond the judgment or reproach of this type of behavior that is not the subject of this column, undoubtedly an adequate feedback between generations would allow us to face new threats in a more participatory and therefore more equitable way. The invitation is to think about an intergenerational integration that promotes the joint work and reflection of the different age groups, and that allows us to generate consensual values codes based on the principles of transparency and sustainability that ensure equitable balances in the long term.