Though the COVID-19 pandemic has led to disruptions for organizations, such crises can also present opportunities. Researchers in this article (Rudolph et al., 2020) point out that, for example, the 1918 flu pandemic catalyzed employer-sponsored health insurance and improved worker health and safety protection. The authors identified a number of ways that organizations can improve in response to the pandemic; key points are summarized below.
LEARNING FROM THE PANDEMIC
The pandemic has made it even more challenging for people to balance their work and family lives. Now, more people are working from home while also having their children at home instead of school. This impacts productivity and creates an increased psychological burden.
The authors suggest that organizations foster family-friendly cultural norms and attitudes, and that supervisors advocate for resources for their staff. The authors also say that, “Supervisor support is most effective when employees perceive their organization fosters a family-friendly culture.”
Working from home (or telecommuting) is now the norm for some business sectors. The authors cite research that suggests that there are minimal differences between telecommuters and standard workers; furthermore, any differences between groups tended to be favorable for the telecommuters, including higher job satisfaction, lower stress, and lower turnover.
The pandemic has demonstrated that many “brick and mortar” jobs can be done via telecommuting. With the added possibility of higher job satisfaction and lower turnover, organizations may consider permanently allowing certain jobs to be done via telecommuting – even after the pandemic. Note that the authors strongly encourage employees to not use telecommuting as a form of childcare.
Job and Financial Insecurity
Many organizations have been forced to lay off or furlough employees in response to short-term economic impacts. However, it may be possible for organizations to reduce costs while also helping employees manage financial insecurity. The authors report that many employers have expanded their sick leave policies during the pandemic – some have continued to pay employees despite closures, and others have continued to pay furloughed employees’ health insurance. This approach can also help older workers whose retirement plans have been negatively impacted by the crisis.
The authors recommend that companies seek leaders who have the specific skillset needed to navigate during times of crisis. They also emphasize the importance of including crisis management in future leadership training. Additionally, the authors state that organizations should encourage their leaders to take care of their own health as well that of their staff; there is some research to suggest that leader behavior, such as coming to work when sick, can spill over to staff behavior and lead to higher employee sick leave.
Occupational Health and Safety
The pandemic has created and intensified job stressors for front-line workers who deal with patients infected with the virus. Those working in healthcare have been dealing with extremely high workloads and hazardous work environments.
The authors cite research gathered during the SARS crisis to support the recommendations that organizations (1) provide adequate infection control training, (2) prepare for negative experiences, (3) build team cohesion and social support and (4) enhance communication and coping strategies.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While a pandemic may pose severe challenges to organizations, it can also illuminate hidden opportunities. Organizations that invest in caring for employees and strengthening work environments are likely to improve their brands, become better-prepared for future crises, and reap numerous other rewards in the post-pandemic world.
Rudolph, C. W., Allan, B., Clark, M., Hertel, G., Hirschi, A., Kunze, F., Shockley, K., Shoss, M., Sonnentag, S., & Zacher, H. (2020). Pandemics: Implications for Research and Practice in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice.