Unavoidable travels

You might have read, heard, or experienced the hustle and bustle of travelling abroad during this period of the pandemic. If you had an annual leave last summer, you probably checked every day where to go, which destinations were on the green and amber lists. In addition to being fully vaccinated, there were travel restrictions and sanitary “must do” things. 

We were in England for a week for a family reason. From July 19, France has placed the UK on its amber list; the UK has ended its quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated travellers from amber countries, like France. However, there was more to comply with.  We had to present our EU or French COVID certificate.  Additionally, we had to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken a maximum of 72 hours before our departure. Then, we must complete a passenger locator form, which could only be done after purchasing a 1 x COVID-19 travel test that cost about 50 euros (PCR Test is free in France). Those from red countries and not fully vaccinated must book and pay for 2 x COVID-19 travel tests before arrival; once in the UK, they must quarantine for ten days and take a COVID-19 test on or before day two and on or after day eight.

The few days before our departure was a race towards getting COVID-tested and filling in the required locator forms (had to be completed individually).  The locator form asks for information on where you will stay in the UK.  In our case, it included five hotels in Ashford, Oxford, and London.  Typing the names, addresses, postcodes, etc., took time.  Then, deciding where to buy the post-arrival test was another challenge (the order reference number was needed to complete the locator form). There were more than one hundred providers on the UK Government website.  We ordered our Day 2 tests on August 18, but they were delivered to our nominated address on the 28th (two days after we had left). 

Today, at 6:07 AM, the global COVID statistics are 217, 632, 545 confirmed cases and 4, 518, 377 deaths (Source: CDC, WHO, ECDC, The New York Times, Wikipedia – Microsoft/COVID-19 Widget). Even if vaccinated, we must continue wearing masks, hand sanitising, and social distancing.

Was the travel worth the time, energy and expense? Not if it were just for the hotel pool, steam room and gym; breakfasts were substandard. I’m for “prevention is better than cure” and won’t argue against packed or home-delivered breakfast. However, my jaw dropped when four-star hotels handed us industrial (commercially processed) pastries and artificially flavoured juice. An apple, banana or any fruit would have lessened the financial blow.

It was worth it when it came to family in-person interaction. There are ample online articles on the importance of face-to-face socialisation. Research “shows that young people who have strong family connections are far more likely to be well adjusted and make a better success of their lives in terms of getting better education and jobs” (https://www.finglobal.com/2019/06/20/importance-of-family-gatherings/). Although we Skype with our sons every Monday evening, being with them physically was more superior. Their stories and reactions to our jokes were more nudging. It was fun playing the “guess the bill” during restaurant outings.  The loser (the one whose guess was the farthest from the actual bill) had to pay. Since I always forgot to add the 15% service fee/surcharge that we don’t have in France, my wallet was almost cleaned up.

When a family gets together, memories are made, especially when we live far from each other and in situations like the COVId-19 pandemic.  Many years later, we will be reminiscing about these times we had with our parents, children, and relatives. We will soon forget the logistical and financial hurdles. However, the beautiful moments are preserved in our brains, iPhones, computers, or albums, which can gift our grandchildren and future generations.

Vanity or career necessity?

Last month, during my Skype lesson, I noticed my student looked prettier than previously.

“You have got sparkling eyes; what’s the good news?”

She giggled and lowered her voice. “I don’t know the word in English; in French, it’s ‘rehaussement de cils’. With this, I don’t need a mascara; when I do, it takes only a second, unlike before”.

After researching on this “rehaussement de cils” (eyelash enhancement), I wanted to do mine too. The eyes are a focal point of anyone’s face. Women with long eyelashes and large eyes are often considered to be beautiful. Was I vane to wish for full and long lashes that would give me a youthful and healthy look without mascara or eyelash extensions?

I was only a few steps away from our local beautician to make an appointment when I turned around. Walking back home, I bumped into my Irish friend. I told her that I had intended to have an eyelash enhancement but didn’t have the guts to do it. Smiling, almost laughing, she said: “You don’t need it; you look much younger than your age.” *

Whether my Irish pal was being nice to me or telling the truth was not the point. Has the rampant use of online platforms for work meetings and seminars since the pandemic led to an increase in cosmetic procedures? Is this vanity or a way to improve self-esteem, confidence and image?

“I had Botox injection because I had enough of seeing my Zoom-fatigue face”, an acquaintance confided in me.  Could she have done something else aside from resorting to this minor cosmetic procedure?

Minor cosmetic operators can be registered and unregistered providers and their costs can be more than one thousand euros per session. The procedure must be repeated, ending up as a permanent feature of one’s budget. How many people can afford this? Those who have money to do it should choose someone or a company registered with their local health or professional regulatory agency.

As well, they should discuss it with their doctor, who might be able to recommend a cosmetic practitioner. Even though they are only thinking of a minor cosmetic procedure (e.g. fillers, neurotoxins and the use of laser and energy devices), there are still possible side effects, such as infection, pain, bruising, dryness and stiffness.

The most popular forms of cosmetic surgery for men are rhinoplasty (nose) and blepharoplasty (eyelid); women’s top three are breast augmentation, liposuction and eyelift.

There are abundant online reports on poorly or incorrectly administered cosmetic procedures that resulted in lifetime scaring and long-term rashes.  So, when you look at your wrinkled or drooping eyelids in the mirror or on Zoom, Teams or Webex, weigh the pros and cons.

The skills, attitudes and behaviours of any teacher, supervisor, colleague, or service provider are more important than physical attributes; therefore, these should be harnessed first. Looking professional and presentable is a sign of respect for your students, colleagues, and collaborators. However, isn’t it a mistake to have a cosmetic procedure only to please others or attain career success?

 “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” ― Coco Chanel (1883-1971, French fashion designer, businesswoman and founder of the Chanel brand).

*Why do we want to appear younger than our biological age? Age is only a number, and it is the quality of our daily experience that matters.

It could have been you

Football mania, here we go again.  My, my, how can I resist it?

Indeed, I can’t resist watching and talking about the 51 games of 24 national teams vying for the 2021 European Football Championship trophy (simply known as the UEFA Euro, scheduled initially in July last year but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

However, it is not the focus of this article. On 12 June 2021, Christian Eriksen collapsed during his Danish team’s match against Finland. According to media reports, the referee acted quickly by alerting medical staff, who administered promptly cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) treatment and took him to the nearest hospital in Copenhagen.

A CPR involves uninterrupted chest compressions of 100 to 120 a minute until paramedics arrive. It is a lifesaving technique necessary in emergencies, such as a heart attack or near-drowning experience. Although it can be done by untrained bystanders and first responders, I’m unsure of being able to do it.

Last September, on my way from work, I saw a man lying on a cemented ground. When I asked him what was wrong, I got no response. He didn’t move and kept his eyes shut.  It was one of those “Law of Murphy” days; my phone had run out of battery. I ran across the road and stopped a jogger, urging him to call the Service d’aide médicale urgente (SAMU – 15). “The man there isn’t breathing, and my phone is dead”.

He did not call emergency, but he came with me, dashing to the seemingly lifeless creature. He, too, did not apply CPR. However, he checked if the man was conscious or unconscious by tapping him on his shoulder and asked him loudly, “Are you OK?”

He fumbled in his pocket then dialled a number. It probably was less than 15 minutes since he had called the SAMU, but it felt like ages.  When I heard the loud siren coming from the eastern part of the city, I decided to leave, as I was late for my appointment with the City Hall to renew my French identity card.

Should I have applied CPR on him? The difference between doing something and nothing could be someone’s life, and I wish CPR was included in all school curricula in all nations. As well, all companies should have this in their staff workshop, training or development programme.

When the heart stops, our bodies do not get oxygen-rich blood, which causes brain damage in a few minutes; thus, time is the essence. The CPR can keep oxygen-rich blood flowing to the brain and other organs until emergency medical staff arrive and treatment is applied to restore a normal heart rhythm.

For untrained people, like me, it is primordial to remember the emergency number: 112 for Australia, all EU countries and some parts of Asia; 911 for North America and many US territories; and 999 for the UK and British overseas territories. It’s also useful to remember the Police’s (e.g. France – 17) and Fire Department’s (France – 18) phone numbers, as their dispatchers can instruct you in the proper procedures until help arrives.

Then, of course, there are many emergency apps that you can install on your cell/ mobile phone. (Cell – US. Mobile – Europe. In Australia, it’s “mobile”; but for my family and friends, it’s only “phone” because landlines have become a rare household commodity).  Phone apps are valuable when the unexpected happens, such as saving a life or surviving a disaster, and some of them are free.

(You could have been me, the man approached to help out, or the person lying on the ground)!

What’s behind a name?

I facilitate an English roundtable in Luxembourg every Friday, and we discuss professional, social and personal-interest topics. Last month, it was about names; one of the participants mentioned a girl initially called Nutella, a popular hazelnut chocolate spread. I checked it out and came across a Guardian’s article about a couple from Valenciennes in northern France who registered their daughter Nutella ( https://www.theguardian .com/world/2015/jan/26/french-couple-name-girl-nutella seen on 04/052021). The registrar alerted the local prosecutor, who referred the case to a family court judge. The court ruled that Nutella is a commercial brand and such a name was against the girl’s interests as it would cause “mockery or disobliging remarks”. The couple had to rename her Ella, which means a pleasant young woman.

According to Ms Catharine Smith (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/baby-named-facebook-egypt_n_825934 seen 04/05/21), an Egyptian father, Jamal Ibrahim, named his daughter “Facebook” to honour the social media site’s role in Egypt’s revolution. Ms Smith quoted this from TechCrunch newspaper: “A young man in his twenties wanted to express his gratitude about the victories the youth of 25th of January have achieved and chose to express it in the form of naming his firstborn girl “Facebook”. 

In Marcio’s Italian family, all the children’s names start with the letter M.  According to Marie-Pierre, her name’s male version is Pierre-Marie. The Arabic name Shadi means happiness. Do names reflect an individual’s personality? There are studies that show names make a difference in professional, social and financial standing.

My late uncle was Silverio Carangan, Sr. My cousins’ legal names are Silverio Carangan 1st, Silverio Carangan 2nd, and Silverio Caranagan 3rd; to everyone, they’re Ono, Dos, Tres.  I was already eight months pregnant, and my hubby and I couldn’t agree on a name for our firstborn. We decided to play chess; I won two out of three games and had the privilege of naming him Sidney, which is easy to pronounce in almost all languages.

My late parents, Roberto and Adela, named their first daughter Rodela; from this, they came up with four other names by rearranging the letters, and mine was one of them. If you know of another person with the same name as mine, please notify me. So far, the closest is Rolande and Rolanda, which are both of Latin origin and mean “known in the land”. My French acquaintances call me “Rolad” (/ruːˈlɑːd), as the last vowel is not pronounced in the French language. They also have a dish roulade (/ruːˈlɑːd) de boeuf“, which is a filled rolled meat.

S.J. Velasquez’s 2018 write-up spoke about nominative determinism, a theory that people are drawn to jobs matching their names, e.g. Baker for a pastry chef and Dennis or Denise for dentists (https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20180404-do-our-names-push-us-toward-certain-jobs). Two weeks ago, I grinned watching the French television station TF1’s interview of a restaurateur Didier Desert (“Desert” is pronounced by English speakers as ‘dɪˈzəːt’ (dessert – a sweet course eaten at the end of the main meal, e.g. cheesecake or chocolate mousse).

If you had a funny, weird or embarrassing name, would you change it? If your family name was Head, would you keep your first name Dick knowing that dickhead means a stupid or ridiculous man? You are probably one of those who would go through all the legal fuss to do so.  Many people, however, never change their names. Are there names that employers find, either subconsciously or sentimentally, attractive or ugly?

Ms Stéphanie Thomson’s article revealed the Canadian Ryerson University and University of Toronto’s finding that people with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani-sounding names were 28% less likely to get job interviews than the fictitious candidates with English-sounding names, even when they had the same qualifications (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/05/job-applications-resume-cv-name-descrimination/). Ms Thomson also mentioned a French government’s conclusion that employers were less likely to interview candidates with North African-sounding names. Likewise, in the UK, “an all-parliamentary group study from 2012 found that women who ‘whitened’ their names or made them sound more British had to send only half as many applications before being invited to interview as those who sounded foreign”, she wrote. 

Has our society progressed in terms of addressing bias and discrimination associated with names? Have you had a good or bad experience because of your name? What’s behind your name?

Training and Learning at Home

“The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.” – B.B. King (1925-2015, American singer, songwriter, guitarist, and record producer).

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented teleworking, including banks that used to disallow this for security reasons. In-person staff development training programme came to a halt for a while, then picked up virtually.

Staff development training is still arguably necessary in today’s world because competitiveness and changes are our society’s norms. Therefore, employers should continue providing this even during a lockdown or when their employees work from home. Governments in developed nations subsidise and consider such expense tax-deductible, which is an additional enticement. Though online training may not be cheaper as companies expect and more manageable as learners or participants like it to be, it is worthwhile.

Online training requires at least as much effort and time, and sometimes even more. Trainers need to buy or update their equipment, adjust their practices and style, and deal with disturbances from students’ family situations and technological hiccups. I have heard stories of participants cooking, texting, and feeding cats while on language training. It’s not the moment to multitask! I must admit that I cut my nails and did aerobics during boring webinars that did not allow participants to ask questions (guilty as charged!).

Virtual training can mirror only some face-to-face interactions (i.e. trainers going around the classroom and having water cooler conversation during breaks are impossible to reproduce).

How can teleworkers make the most of their online staff development training? My answer is WALPAH:

W –     Working technology – A (hu) “man is only as good as his tools” is especially true when you are training online: high-speed internet connection, a computer or modern laptop, camera, microphone headset, mouse, etc. (Do you say “I’ve two mouses or two mice? I.T. specialists seem to prefer the former, but the latter is correct, even if this sounds like you’ve pets instead of handheld devices on a flat surface in front of your computer).

A –      Avoid absences and late attendance (However, better late than never).

L –      Learning space should be quiet and tidy.

P –      Participate – ask questions and make comments to the trainer and other participants.

A –      Adapt your learning style – take notes, listen to everyone, read shared messages, and discuss personal views.

H –     Have fun – smile, share appropriate jokes and anecdotes.

How about trainers’ best practice? (I couldn’t come up with an acronym; perhaps you can help me with this).

1. Know and prepare your technology – Ensure a stable Internet connection, clean monitor, working camera and microphone, and mobile and laptop ready on the side in case the main computer fails.

2. Conduct the training in a quiet, disturbance-free and professional-looking environment.

3. Choose a platform that allows for interactivity – Use whiteboard annotations, chat and breakout groups (dividing learners into small groups of two or three).

4. Start the training by welcoming the participants, then providing them with a clear understanding of the session’s scope and content.

5. Meaningful experience – Call participants by their names. When the training is finished, encourage them to share contact information and continue improving their knowledge and skills.

Involve everyone throughout the training by prompting them to ask questions and share anecdotes and knowledge related to the activity.

6. Stick to the schedule – Your participants are professionals who have work and family commitments; therefore, start and end the session on time.

“For the best return on your money, pour your purse into your head.” Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790, stateman – helped draft the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution)

My FB account was hacked; Not Linkedin

A fortnight ago, I received a message from an acquaintance saying he believed my Facebook account was hacked.  There’s no compromising information in it, but I had to react quickly to make sure that this wouldn’t have consequences on my contacts.  I changed my password right away and posted a warning.

It was one of the “why me” moments. I should have paid attention to the red flags. Last February, I tried to open the message sent via Messenger by an American writing pal. It looked encrypted/coded, similar to the one sent by someone pretending to be me. I did tell him that I couldn’t open it, but he didn’t reply. I should have changed my password right away.

I had the same password for many years – too lazy to change it and thought I was a small, non-attention grabbing fish.

If you notice that a message has been sent that you didn’t write, you have been hacked. I’ve heard stories of hackers changing people’s email addresses, passwords, or birthdays.

How is this unethical and illegal behaviour carried out? 1. Using stored password on FB making life easier in the short-term but a security issue in the long term. 2. The hackers “fish” for your information by creating a Facebook main page’s look-alike and asking you to log in. When you enter your email and password, this information is automatically recorded for future use.  3. A software or virus that records and steals information has been installed in your device, without your knowledge.

Don’t leave your device – cell phone, laptop, etc. – unattended, don’t trust public networks, and always log out after using Facebook.  These have been my social media principles; yet, I was hacked, which gave me a headache and sleepless night. I felt like someone had stolen something personal and of value from me.

How about Linkedin accounts? Yes, they can be hacked too. Dean Seddon’s 13th January 2020’s article “How to protect your Linkedin account from being hacked” advises us to:

  1. Link our phone to our Linkedin account and turn on two-step verification, as this “will limit the use of the account and a hacker’s ability to change or access your account from unfamiliar locations. When you log in from a new device or unfamiliar location, Linkedin will send you an SMS with a verification code, limiting the potential use of the hacked account”. You can use this link https://www.linkedin.com/help/linkedin/answer/544/turn-two-step-verification-on-and-off?lang=en
  2. Not open any PDF project proposal. Session cookies allow hackers to access your account using your current Linkedin session. “That unexpected Google Drive doc, Dropbox link or PDF which is sent to you from a connection. You’ll get a message like ‘Hi Dean, I would love you to take a look at this project proposal and give me some costs’”. If you do open this, “you’ll lose your access and find that your Linkedin account will start messaging people ‘confidential project proposals’ too”.
  3. Have a password that is complicated and not easily guessed.

Better be careful and secure than sorry later.

Succeeding in a multidisciplinary workplace

My Aussie relative, a business and marketing professional by training and experience, asked recently my significant other how he could succeed in his new job working with engineers. As an engineer, he answered: “Those who have chosen technical studies/professions are more project/object-oriented than those who work in the arts/humanities/social/business fields. Often, but not always, technical people are not at ease communicating, are more or less introverted, and do not like human interaction too much. But, one should not generalise”. He advised him to “get quickly to speed on technical knowledge because “E/engineers” do not like to waste their time with those who are unfamiliar with what they do.

Is it true that engineers are experts in their field of interest, and that’s it? Articles on this subject agree with my significant other. They are good critical thinkers but often lack communication and interpersonal skills, which are generally possessed by those in the social sciences. It’s not their fault; it can be attributed to the lack of importance given to these soft skills during their engineering education. So, what will you do if you belong to the humanities/social science domain and have to work with those in the other group or vice versa?

Does the stereotyping of professions help?

Stereotyping is a cognitive process that involves associating a character trait with a group of individuals. It is about making sense of the insufficient knowledge we have about people based on what we have read, heard or seen.  For instance, artists are free-spirited, intelligent, passionate, and un-pragmatic. Bankers are super rich and do not like paying taxes. Businesspeople are charismatic but ruthless when it comes to sales and profit. Public servants are cool because of their job security. Programmers and IT personnel wear eyeglasses and are poorly dressed.  Scientists are like Albert Einstein; they are brilliant but lack social and practical skills.

Personality experts and psychologists tell us that we use stereotypes to deal with situations without much thinking and to fit our social world, such as when we meet or work with a new person. Not all stereotypes are harmful, but they are always an incomplete picture of reality. Therefore, it should be taken with a grain of salt. (The same as “a pinch of salt” – accepting it with scepticism about its truth).

When you regard colleagues solely by the stereotype attached to their professions, you defraud them of other aspects of their individuality. Whatever profession you have and that of your workmates, what is needed is to supplant stereotype with a sense of conscientiousness. Psychology Today has this to say about conscientiousness: “comprises self-control, industriousness, responsibility, and reliability. A conscientious person is good at self-regulation and impulse control. This trait influences whether you will set and keep long-range goals, deliberate over choices, behave cautiously or impulsively, and take obligations to others seriously”. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/conscientiousness seen on 28/02/21). The article further says that consciousness is not only an essential ingredient for success in the workplace, but it is also a significant predictor of health, well-being, and longevity.

Conscientiousness, however, is just one part of our overall personality. Irrespective of our occupation, we should have a positive attitude, self-confidence, humility, and self-awareness (knowing our strengths and weaknesses). 

Masks Mia, Here We Go Again – Worse Before Better

In March 2020, I thought the pandemic would be less threatening by August; it wasn’t so, and we had to cancel our summer holiday. In November, I was sure we could spend Christmas with our sons in England; it did not happen. In December, I thought 2021 would be pandemic-free due to the rolling out of vaccines in Europe and some countries; wrong! Then, came the British, South African and Brazilian variants. Here in France, the 6 PM – 6 AM curfew was not adequate to stop the infection figures from climbing; so, the Government decided to close its borders for non-EU travellers. It’s impossible for my Aussie friends to visit me, and it’s unlikely that I’ll be Down Under for my sister’s 60th birthday.

I used to associate relaxation with watching TV and movies, reading and browsing online. Currently, these are not enough to chill me out.  With limited human interaction, I have incorporated routines that make me jump and sweat in front of my screen (either TV or computer) alone. These passive and active activities disconnect me from my teaching (which has shrunk significantly since March 2020) and house chores, which is known as psychological detachment. 

Ms Sabine Sonnentag has published an article on “Psychological Detachment From Work During Leisure Time: The Benefits of Mentally Disengaging From Work”. According to her, “psychological detachment from work during leisure time refers to a state in which people mentally disconnect from work and do not think about job-related issues when they are away from their job” (sagepub.com). Her research demonstrates that “employees who experience more detachment from work during off-hours are more satisfied with their lives and experience fewer symptoms of psychological strain, without being less engaged while at work”. 

In other words, high involvement in one’s job during off-working hours means no psychological detachment that has ill-being consequences. You add poor working conditions to this equation, and you know what to expect — lousy mood, stress…

When we are psychologically detached from work, we do not have pressure to meet expectations, respect deadline, and face judgements regarding success or failure.  There is a sense of calmness – i.e. state of being devoid of agitation and negative excitement.

What are your psychological detachment strategies? If you have not thought of these yet, it is never too late.  Based on recent data regarding the new COVID-19 variants and the slow pace of worldwide jabbing, fighting this pandemic is a long haul. It can still get worse before it gets better. As such, there will be teleworking, homeschooling, social distancing, testing, quarantining, and job losing and seeking for a while. Stay safe.

Giving and receiving

How was your holiday? Ours what unusual and unexpected. We planned to spend Christmas in London, where our first son lives. In mid-December, London was on tier/level 4 lockdown (residents were strictly housebound); therefore, we thought of taking the train or bus to Oxford where it was level 2 (restaurants and shops were opened). We would then meet up with our second son, who lives in Canley in the southwest of Coventry near Warwick University. It was a blessing in disguise that our flight was cancelled the night before our scheduled departure because the next day the British Government included Oxford on its tier 4 list. We would have been stuck in London quarantined in a low-budget hotel without the certainty of returning to France by the first week of January 2021. Instead, we had a virtual family Christmas party on the 25th with carols and quizzes.

We’re still in the period of giving and receiving gifts. So far, what have you given and/or received?

My husband is a football enthusiast and enjoys watching the English Premier and European League; a ticket to one of their matches would have been an easy choice. As sports were televised only due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was more realistic to accompany him in our attic and watch from our bedroom’s skylight the pigeons compete over grains and worms.

What’s the perfect gift for me from him? I wanted to see purple (my favourite colour) candles on the hallway leading up to our bedroom and find our bed covered with red roses and heart-shaped white chocolates. After all, red and white were the colour motifs during our church wedding. Everyone was in red and white apparel, including the pastor. There was a five-layer white cake with red cupcakes as giveaways.

I appreciate any gift from friends. If I don’t fancy it, I’ll pass this on to my family who wants it or to my favourite charity. Such action is good for my pockets and planet. Unwanted gifts that are not regifted or do not end up in charity shops find a home in landfills and tips that contributes to environmental problems. In developing countries, regifting is a welcomed necessity; of course, it has nay-sayers. Some people think that those who regift are stingy and disrespectful. Charities sell donated items, and the money is used to help the needy.

Gift-giving during the December-January period is cultural. It can be a way of showing affection, fondness or gratefulness. It does not need to involve a big amount. Research studies and surveys show that expensive gifts are not always appreciated; for instance, many receivers associate handmade items with kindness and positivism.

There is a social pressure to reciprocate; when we receive a gift, we give one in return. Does this equate with happiness? What is the best present? Isn’t it time that family and friends spend with us (talking on the phone or online when it is impossible to do so physically)?

In 2020, we lurched from pandemic and insecurity to division and isolation. In 2021, let us take stock of our lives and find the gift of wonder and joy in our personal, social and professional relationships safely. Happy New Year!

Inaction is aiding and abetting society’s ills

It’s the second lockdown in some places.  In my city in the north of France that shares borders with Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg, the streets are almost empty. Although the authorities allowed shops to reopen three days ago, local businesses find customers hard to come by.  Residents who go out for work reasons are at home before dusk. Hence, I was not surprised when I read that the number of reported street crimes has declined.

Meanwhile, we know that every crisis provides an opportunity for people to be resourceful; as well, not all crimes happen in the streets. Since the first lockdown in March, there have been reports on the rise in domestic violence, sale of fake medicine and treatment, consumption of exorbitant coronavirus-recommended cleaning and health products, and solicitation of donations for charities that either do not exist or do not deliver what they promise.

Recently, I heard about the UK’s COVID Fraud Hotline (0800 587 5030) encouraging people to phone anonymously and free of charge any suspected fraudulent activity. If you knew someone who has been claiming support illegally or abusing government schemes, would you call the hotline? It takes a long time for fraud to be discovered, and governments need a helping hand. Should we extend this to them?

Fraud against the public purse, wherever you are, limits or even denies access to vital funds that benefit society as a whole. This money should be used to help the poorest: contract workers, market stallholders, casual service providers and carers, struggling small businesses and independent earners, and those who are ineligible for unemployment benefit and do not have the means to feed and shelter themselves and their families; not double-dippers.

Will you tell the authorities about your colleague who is on paid parental leave but still continues freelancing? Will you refuse your employer’s directive to deal with clients’ queries or respond to work emails when you are on furlough? How about companies that get subsidy or funding to keep employees but do the opposite and pocket the money?

Fraud, whether big or small, affects all of us. The article “Most Common Workplace Frauds That Employer Should Know About” (https://www.bizeducator.com/most-common-workplace-frauds-that-employer-should-know-about) mentions, among other things, “Bogus supply of goods and services” and “Manipulation of bank reconciliations and cash books”. Those found guilty of these crimes are punished by fines, restitution, dismissal from work, or imprisonment.

Some common frauds in the workplace are hidden and unlikely to come to the attention of the authority. These include claiming for unworked hours, malingering, stealing office supplies, staging accidents, and faking injuries. It will be interesting to research on fraud in the workplace pre, during and post-pandemic.

“I’m not an informer”, “I hate workplace spies”, “I can’t be a whistleblower”, “I don’t want to be responsible for someone’s scuppered life”, so forth. Inaction is aiding and abetting our society’s ills, and it’s the elephant in the room.