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Contagious and infectious…watch out, there’s an epidemic heading your way.


What do you think of if I say the word ‘epidemic’? Do you immediately hold your breath, run for your bottle of multi vitamins and have flashbacks of scenes from the 1995 movie Outbreak? The blockbuster movie starring Dustin Hoffman was about a fictional deadly virus called Motaba. In the movie, the disease, based on the actual deadly virulent virus named Ebola, started in Zaire, and was brought over to the USA by an infected monkey, stowed away on a ship heading for California. The initial symptoms were flu-like, but the condition rapidly deteriorated, killing those infected within 48 hours.

Not all epidemics however, are life threatening or based on deadly airborne viruses. The term ‘epidemic’ can also be used to describe rapid, extensive development, without a festering lesion or haemorrhagic rash in sight. So, surely then in business, an epidemic could be a hugely positive thing.  As a manager, wouldn’t you want to be part of an epidemic of employee motivation for example?  Imagine a contagion of productivity, cost control and trust within your workforce? An epidemic created with a positive slant can have an amazing impact on your business. With the right kind of framework, it can bring about a constructive and optimistic way forward.

Be aware though, in the same way an epidemic can be beneficially contagious and infectious when established in a constructive vein, it can be just as ineffective and destructive if mismanaged and left to run amok. As a manager, the onus is on you to ensure that what may appear to be a little hiccup in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t deteriorate to the point it can’t be managed or contained. Time keeping is a classic example of a situation that starts of as a minor issue, but that has the potential to get out of hand very quickly.

Simon often strolls into the office 10 minutes after the rest of the team in the morning. At least once a week he takes an extended lunch hour without prior agreement, and is generally the first to leave the office before 5pm. His manager John, hasn’t tackled him on this, as he knows that Simon works hard when at work and doesn’t really see it as that much of a problem. However, other members of the team have started to feel frustrated by Simons’ blatant abuse of time keeping, and Johns’ apparent inability to tackle Simon over this. It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to work out what’s going to happen next. In the blink of an eye, the other team members too, start to turn up late in the morning, extend their lunch hours and generally start to take advantage of the system. In Johns’ eyes, what he saw as a relatively harmless case of one mans’ occasional lack of commitment to his working hours has turned into a full scale problem, with the entire office following suit.

So, if there was a moral to the blog what would it be? Am I suggesting that as a manager with a potential time keeping epidemic on your hands you rush out and buy everyone in the office a watch? No, the point of the piece is that as a manager, you need to nip unacceptable behaviour in the bud before it creeps out and infects your entire office population. If not, you’d better start hunting through the depths of your wardrobe for your anti-virus protective clothing, you may need it. 

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