Workplace Tools for a Social Pandemic
By looking past the positions people take and looking at the interests behind their positions, we can find solutions peacefully and civilly to the crises that inevitably come our way
By Andrew Regnerus, Representative
By now, much of Canada is recovering from a final wave (we hope) of COVID-19. The pandemic has brought out the best in people. Fighting a common enemy has united us, elevated social goodwill, and helped us achieve much.
Pandemics can be divisive as well. We differ on how to deal with crises. Civil dialogue in challenging conversations helps us look for people’s interests.
In workplace disputes, CLAC stewards and representatives look past the positions people take and look to the interests behind those positions. Getting to what a people really want—their interests—takes more effort but is more rewarding as it brings longer term peace.
We find interests when we listen with humility and trust. Civil discourse about COVID, too, is more likely when we consider interests.
At a grievance meeting, we humbly acknowledge that we seldom have all the facts. Biases and blind spots mislead us. In listening, we find each other’s interests.
This applies to pandemic discussions, too. Who really has an interest in ruining the economy with shutdowns? Does anyone actually want the virus to harm others? Our common interest is for peace at work and for society to be well and to thrive.
Let’s trust instead of being fearful. Doubt is an exhausting barrier to productive debate. With a few exceptions, people act with goodwill toward each other.
Because of this common grace, we can trust that the primary interest of government or management is not to fool us. Like you, they seek the good of others, to provide social shalom.
Sometimes, people need correction. The earth is not flat. Leeches don’t heal. Bleach isn’t a vaccine. Democracy allows dissent when practice and policy ought to be challenged.
Informed dissent needs more than opinion. Informed, verifiable, reliable information—not theory—helps the discussion.
This is not a restraint on a civil liberty. Freedom of speech doesn’t allow me to yell “Fire! Fire!” in a crowded theatre. It doesn’t mean I can lie in bargaining.
Similarly, freedom of speech does not mean I can wield irresponsible dissent recklessly. Dissent ought to promote social wellness.
Work now; grieve later
Consider workplace rules. We trust management’s interest in running the enterprise well. Policies protect us and provide an orderly routine.
Similarly, pandemic protocols are similarly meant to keep us from harm. Vaccines protect against measles, rubella, polio, and COVID.
Despite some side effects, the greater good comes from vaccination. Immunization prevents emergence of variants and allocating healthcare resources to conditions that vaccines would have prevented.
Like at work, it isn’t enough that 80 percent of the staff obey the rules. Rejecting a social norm ought not to confer a privilege on the rule breakers.
We accept rules and social expectations at work, in our homes, and in society. We correct the rules that are bad and live with them in the meantime.
The labour relations principle work now; grieve later is helpful. It prevents chaos. Dissent must be managed well to effect change. Our kids can appeal their curfew but pending a change in the rule, we expect them to be home by 11:00.
Seek common interests, not special interests
We needn’t go along to get along. We do need to accept that in taking a stand, we ought to be civil, humble, and informed.
We must look to serve common interests to keep the peace. The greater good ought to be a high priority. If social welfare isn’t promoted by a workplace policy, a family rule, or an individual right, we change things so we can flourish.
After this pandemic is behind us, some new crisis will need resolution. Whether at home, work, or in society, we can use workplace tools to achieve harmony.
Polite, humble, honest, trusting, and responsible discourse will reveal worthy and shared interests. We are in this together, and together we are better than alone.