leadership

workplace-bullying-and-sick-leave-during-covid-19

Workplace bullying and sick leave during COVID-19

USB News

Workplace bullying and sick leave during COVID-19

workplace-bullying-and-sick-leave-during-covid-19

  • August 05
  • Tags Press release, Leadership, COVID-19

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If your workplace has turned rather hostile due to COVID-19 panic, you’re not alone. Although sickness in the workplace is not uncommon, the strict guidelines in place to reduce transmission of COVID-19 and constant news updates on the spread of the disease, can make people hyper-aware and even suspicious of their co-workers’ health.

Gawie Cillié, employment relations expert and lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), says the alarming rate of infections could potentially provoke social stigma against anyone perceived to have been in contact with the virus or who shows some of the symptoms even if they are not infected.

“Stigma is associated with a lack of knowledge about how COVID-19 spreads, a need to blame others, fears about disease and death, increased tension amongst teams and gossip that spreads rumours and myths. This very stigma can result in people hiding their illness to avoid discrimination and prevent people from seeking health care immediately.”

Bullying can be described as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards an employee or a group of employees that creates a risk to their health and safety.

In addition, Cillié says employees who have contracted the virus might experience bullying when they return to work.  “Bullying can be described as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards an employee or a group of employees that creates a risk to their health and safety.”

“The constant exposure to news updates about COVID-19 increases anxiety and can result in hostile working environments. Even if teams are working remotely, if someone has been in isolation due to contracting the virus, their colleagues could very well treat them differently even on virtual platforms.”

“If people are stifling coughs to avoid harassment from colleagues, or being avoided unnecessarily in the office environment, even with the 1.5 metre safety guidelines in place, hand-sanitising and masks, then management needs to intervene.”

He says labour legislation is there to protect employees and the most relevant are the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS) and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCOE).

“Provisions of the OHS Act state that the general duties of employers to their employees are to provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of employees (section 8). With reference to the general duties of employees at work, the OHS Act states that every employee at work shall take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and other persons who may be affected by their acts or omissions (section 14).”

Cillié says that if an individual employee contracts the virus and is unable to work, the employer can require the employee to submit a medical certificate and grant the employee paid sick leave in accordance with the BCOE Act.

“However, if the employee must be quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19, they will naturally not be permitted to work at the business premises as a preventative measure. In this scenario the employer should grant the employee ‘quarantine leave’. The employer is not allowed to force the employee to take sick leave, as the employee will not be able to obtain a medical certificate while under quarantine to submit to his employer.”

…the employer can assist the employee to apply for Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Illness Benefits…

“Any payment by the employer for quarantine leave is discretionary. However, the employer can assist the employee to apply for Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Illness Benefits, which is limited to the usual UIF benefit structure. Normal UIF benefits accrue at a rate of one day for every four days worked (maximum credit provisions may apply).”

He says whether employees are stigmatised on returning to work after being in quarantine or are being exposed to senseless fearmongering, employers can manage bullying in the workplace by focussing on the psychological safety climate and taking the following actions:

  • Amplify the voices and stories of people who have experienced COVID-19 and have recovered, emphasising the high recovery rate.
  • Establish a “people first” language that respects and empowers people in all communication channels. Examples of how to use inclusive language and less stigmatising terminology, include:
  • Talk about people who have COVID-19 in human terms; don’t refer to people with the disease as “COVID-19 cases” or “victims”.
  • Speak accurately about the risks of COVID-19, based on scientific data and the latest official health advice. Do not repeat or share unconfirmed rumours.
  • Do talk positively and emphasise the effectiveness of prevention and treatment measures. Do not dwell on the negative, or messages that convey threat.  We need to walk together to help keep those who are most vulnerable safe.
  • Actively encourage engagement with employees by:
  • Regularly checking-in with employees, including those working remotely, as to their well-being.
  • Discuss with on-site employees whether they feel safe with the protocols that have been implemented in the workplace.
  • Develop clear organisational procedures, management practices and communication systems relating to bullying behaviour and reassure employees that they can discuss such matters freely with the organisation if they are being bullied.
  • Establish policies and procedures to manage interpersonal conflict.
  • Provide information on employees’ roles, responsibilities, and rights, as well as the organisation’s role in dealing with any workplace bullying related to COVID-19.

Cillié says the many workplace challenges posed by COVID-19, requires “collaboration between employers and employees, and a mind-set of wanting to understand each other’s’ interests and concerns in an effort in finding common ground.”

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Not all leaders are equally well during COVID-19

USB News

Not all leaders are equally well during COVID-19

  • APR 30
  • Tags COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic, lockdown, leadership, mental health, coaching

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USB’s Dr Nicky Terblanche explores the underlying truth of leadership during a pandemic.

Not all business leaders are handling the workplace crises of COVID-19 as well as they should, with those who combine a war-like approach tempered with humanity and compassion proving the most effective, say their executive coaches in a recent study.

Dr Nicky Terblanche, Senior Lecturer in Management Coaching at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) interviewed 26 executive coaches across South Africa, the UK, USA and Australia to uncover the underlying truth of leadership in a real-time crisis.

“In times of crisis, leaders are severely tested. What is evident is that not everyone coping.”

“The saying ‘when the tide goes out, you see who’s been swimming naked’ appears to be true from a leadership perspective during this pandemic. In times of crisis, leaders are severely tested. What is evident is that not everyone coping,” observes Dr Terblanche.

He says a common theme emerged of a notable increase in weak leaders being exposed by this pandemic.

“Some senior leaders who were able to ‘hide’ before, have already been demoted or pushed aside because they are not up to the job. This of course places enormous pressure on the people who have to take over their roles.”

Dr Terblanche said he was surprised to learn that a number of middle managers in large South African organisations were not receiving the expected guidance, communication and support from their superiors – with management coaches filling the gap instead.

“Their leaders were ‘missing in action’, leaving it up to managers to figure things out. Many coaches in the USA found themselves fulfilling the role of a manager in having to assist their clients in thinking through and finding answers to operational problems due to leaders’ inability to think through options and alternatives available.”

“In a crisis, followers want a reassuring leader who can point the way. However, war-like directiveness must not be confused with control.”

Dr Terblanche found a ‘war-time’ leadership stance during this catastrophic time seems to be effective.

 

“By communicating frequently and clearly, leaders are able to be directive and provide focus to the team. In a crisis, followers want a reassuring leader who can point the way. However, war-like directiveness must not be confused with control. A war commander cannot control all aspects of a war, but instead, after communicating uniform direction, setting clear values and expectation of how we’re going to function, leaders must know when to step aside and trust that their followers will execute.

“This is certainly not a comfortable space for those who have a micro-management style. With remote working, anxiety can build up if leaders are used to relying on ‘looking over their staff’s shoulders’ in order to stay in control.”

Dr Terblanche uncovered that a war-like directive leadership should not come at the price of showing a humane, compassionate side.

“People may forget what you said, but they will remember how it made them feel. If the leader has always showed compassion for staff long before the pandemic, their caring stance should pay off during this uncertain time and reduce levels of anxiety.”

Leaders who show their vulnerable side in confessing that even though they don’t have all the answers, yet are working collectively with the entire team on solutions and coping strategies, will instil a sense of focus and reassurance amongst staff.

“In such instances it is important though for leaders to be mindful of not sub-consciously projecting their fear onto the situation. Make sure you understand your own fear and anxieties before you communicate with your team,” says Dr Terblanche.

The research uncovered that by being authentic and honest, and putting oneself in the shoes of employees, leaders can help staff to, in some ways, normalise the situation.

“Each person’s reality at home is different and as a leader you are now invited into your employees’ home through virtual meetings. Put your staff at ease about working from home by acknowledging for example the additional stressors of having to care for children whilst attending to deadlines, or that disruptions of family members or pets walking in during a meeting is a given.”

“Good leaders in this time are the ones who can sift through the piles of information and use holistic and systems thinking to try and see the bigger picture.”

Dr Terblanche says the research clearly warns against information overload versus radio silence.

“Good leaders in this time are the ones who can sift through the piles of information and use holistic and systems thinking to try and see the bigger picture. This is not the time to be overwhelmed, become insular as a result whilst trying to frantically plan without communicating to the team, leaving staff in a state of limbo.”

During this time of crises coaches are observing the levels at which leaders are struggling with their own identity. In some instances, leaders are confronted to act in a way that may violate their own value system.  Dr Terblanche says one USA coach’s client was questioning herself after having to fire 200 staff over Zoom, asking herself “Who am I? Is this what I signed up for?’

“On a very pragmatic level, leaders are struggling with their identity due to the physical change in their work environment. Some identify strongly with their corner office or the respect shown by staff when they enter the building, but now they are at home, in cases having to share domestic duties and schooling children from home. No more jetting off, business class, all over the world. It’s about moving off one’s pedestal towards ‘we are all in the same boat – or at least, trying to weather the same storm’.

“The coaches interviewed observed that leaders who know themselves, have a sense of centeredness and calm and are able to take a step back and look at the bigger picture are coping far better than those who are traditionally mostly task focused.”

The study showed that resilience is most probably the deciding factor in whether leaders will be able to weather the storm or not.

“Resilient leaders are those able to consider the bigger picture, are able to look beyond the doom and gloom and seek opportunities. Leaders who have studied and understand systems thinking and complexity theory seem to manage better and are able to see opportunities.  Also, those who draw on their experience from challenges faced such as civil wars or the 2008 financial crisis, are far better placed. ‘Never waste a good crisis’ is how one USA coach’s client is relating to the pandemic, actively looking for new opportunities for his organisation.”

Dr Terblanche says part of maintaining resilience is looking after one self. “Coaches from all four countries shared how the leaders they are coaching and who are coping well with this pandemic, are making a concrete effort to maintain their personal well-being. Strategies include exercise, eating healthy, and finding the right balance between working from home and family responsibilities.”

“Coaching has always been a powerful space to reflect – guided by a professional who can use theories and frameworks from psychology and adult learning.”

The major benefit of coaching in this time has been the ability to assist leaders to stop and reflect, in a way ‘moving from the dance floor to the balcony’ as one of the interviewed coaches aptly described.

“Coaches guide leaders to not only think and make plans but first to make as much sense as possible of what is happening on multiple levels. Coaching has always been a powerful space to reflect – guided by a professional who can use theories and frameworks from psychology and adult learning – to sift through information, offer different perspectives and challenge assumptions. By assisting leaders to be self-aware, coaching can help to identify stressors, shape responses and leadership styles. Only once a situation is properly understood can effective plans be made.”

The following recommendations, in summary, from the research, provide practical advice to leaders:

  • Communicate often with your team and personally with each individual that reports to you
  • Provide direction and reassurance based on what you know and be candid about what is unknown, without projecting your own personal anxieties
  • Harness the collective wisdom and knowledge of your team
  • Acknowledge what is in and out of your control and trust your team to execute the vision and direction you have set
  • Show compassion and understanding on an individual level towards your team
  • Re-evaluate who you are as a leader. What is your identity now and what is expected of you?
  • Take a holistic view on this pandemic. Use Systems Thinking and Complexity Theory tools
  • Actively seek opportunities
  • Draw on previous experience in similar crisis situations
  • Look after your own emotional wellbeing and health.
  • Employ the services of a professional coach to help you with the above and more.

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Gender-based violence increases during lockdown

USB News

Alarming increase in gender-based violence during COVID-19 lockdown

(Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-white-black-and-white-depressed-depression-568025/ | Kat Jayne)

  • APR 15
  • Tags COVID19, coronavirus, gender-based violence, GBV, safety, domestic violence

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USB’s Dr Nthabiseng Moleko addresses the alarming increase of gender-based violence (GBV) during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Last week Police Minister Bheki Cele said that more than 2 000 cases of domestic violence have been reported in the first week of the lockdown. Dr Nthabiseng Moleko, who lectures Managerial Economics and Statistics at USB, says reports globally show a link between pandemics, disasters and gender-based violence. Dr Moleko is also a Commissioner on the Commission for Gender Equality.

“During times of national disasters the vulnerable are even more so in a vulnerable situation. Measures must be put in place to support such individuals,” she says.

“The unintended consequence of lockdown, which is basically restricted movement, is that individuals are confined within their homes and for many that home is a place of abuse, whether psychological, emotional or physical abuse.

“There are shelters that people ordinarily would make use of but because they are afraid to leave their homes in fear of contracting the virus, they rather choose to stay in violent situations,” she adds.

Dr Moleko says there is a need for a clear public awareness campaign “to let people know law and order are still at play”. “The law has not been suspended. Any criminal act during this time and acts of criminality must be dealt with as such.”

She says it is important to work together as a united body because the state cannot resolve this alone. “You need the private sector, you need the communities to adhere to the measures that are put in place for their own safety. It is critical that people go to shelters where they are safe and must not stay in situations where their lives are at risk,” she says.

*A GBV Command Centre will operate 24 hours during lockdown and community members are using the line to report any abuse. The number is 0800 428 428.

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Coronavirus responsible leadership USB

Responsible leadership in the time of Corona

USB News

Responsible leadership in the time of Corona

Coronavirus responsible leadership USB
Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/couple-of-hands-2838506/ | Fotografierende

  • APR 03
  • Tags Responsible leadership, Lockdown, Compassion, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Hope

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USB’s Prof Mias de Klerk provides practical guidelines for responsible leadership during the time of COVID-19.

The world is in a crisis as the Coronavirus is creating havoc in all spheres of our existence. There is no one who can escape this disruption and we all have to deal with it in various aspects of our lives. This unexpected pandemic does not only test our physical strength health, but also our mental strength as individuals and leaders. In the time of COVID-19 we are challenged how we choose to take up our leadership role and the extent to which respond to it with responsibility.

…everyone is a leader and everyone is a follower. In dealing with this emergency, we must follow the leadership of others on many aspects.

Leadership does not only refer to someone in a formally appointed position. Rather, everyone is a leader and everyone is a follower. In dealing with this emergency, we must follow the leadership of others on many aspects. Yet, on many other aspects, everyone must provide exemplary leadership to others, perhaps at home, at work, or even when we are at the grocery shop. We all have leadership roles that we all can fulfil or neglect, take up or deny. The word ‘responsible’ originated from Latin, meaning to be answerable to another and to be accountable for one’s actions. With responsibility comes a liability, a liability to be held responsible and accountable for what we do, how we do it and to honour an obligation to be reliable and trustworthy. This is a huge and demanding task, even in the best of circumstances.

With responsibility comes a liability, a liability to be held responsible and accountable for what we do, how we do it and to honour an obligation to be reliable and trustworthy.

Without repeating the detailed context of the COVID-19 crisis, which is well articulated and explicated in formal and social media, it is necessary to reflect on some of its psychological consequences. The outbreak of COVID-19 renders projected disaster to economic for many economies, organisations and communities as countries and industries lockdown. It demands self and social isolation as a result of the high risks of contagion and health problems, even death. These dynamics transmute into panic, fear and apprehension as business and individuals face potential illness and mortality, a loss of income and even bankruptcy. Panic and fear augment individuals’ anxiety, stirring anger and fears about the virus and certain populations. Uncertainty blossoms as the crisis escalate without a clear solution in the foreseeable future. A vicious circle of fear, anxiety and uncertainty develops that must be broken. Although there is no magic solution to COVID-19, responsible leadership and acting responsibly can go a long way in breaking the vicious circle and helping individuals to deal with it.

Although there is no magic solution to COVID-19, responsible leadership and acting responsibly can go a long way in breaking the vicious circle and helping individuals to deal with it.

A few practical guidelines for responsible leadership that apply to all of us during the time of Corona:

Serve and unite

During the crisis of Corona, everyone needs to realise that this is not to a time for selfish benefit. Rather, it is a time of selflessness, to put one’s own desires and aspirations on the back burner, to serve, and to be useful to others. Find others who are in need and help them deal with their respective difficulties. It is now the time to unite with people across the divides of organisations, communities and countries. Blaming others and projection of one’s anger or anxiety to others who became infected elsewhere and are placing you now at risk are of no use. We are all in this together, and only together will we conquer it and move beyond this emergency to better times.

Which leads to the next point:

Accept and go forth

There is no use to sulk about the situation that we are in or projecting blame for its happening. It happened and it is what it is. We cannot change the lockdown, but we can change how we act and behave in it. Although the virus and its nature are not in our control, it is in our control how we react to it. As Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist who was incarcerated in the Nazi concentration camps realised: “Everything can be taken from a person but one thing – the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any give set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” We cannot wish away the virus or the disruption that ensues, but we have a choice of action and reaction to it. However, we always have a choice of how we act and react to the situation and its challenges. Trying to circumvent the lockdown restrictions with rationalisation or intellectualisation, trying to find and exploit loopholes in the governments instructions are serving nobody. It’s been a long time since the serenity prayer was as applicable as it is now: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Stop denying your responsibility to live and act safely and accept the proscribed guidelines provided by leadership.

Act decisively, but with wisdom

Apart from accepting what one cannot change, there are things that one can change. In these cases, COVID-19 require us to act decisively, but with wisdom. Do not waste time in making the right decision to change what you can for your organisation, team, or community. All of us will have to make difficult decisions, whether it is about ourselves or others. This is even more important for those in formal positions of authority. Responsible leaders act decisively in doing what is right to guide people and prevent further infections, but with wisdom. One of my students always quote H.L. Mencken: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” The situation we are facing are too complex for simple solutions; think carefully and act wisely in all you do.

Demonstrate compassion

Now is the time to demonstrate compassion for others, acknowledging and deeply feeling individuals’ fears, anxieties and dire realities, with a desire to alleviate their suffering. Compassion goes beyond cognitive knowledge about the economic impact of the lockdown and its realities. As important it is to inform people how to avoid contagion and to provide appropriate sanitisers and protective equipment, we have to go beyond this to provide emotional support. Compassion is about connecting with another person, knowing the person is suffering and identifying with the suffering. People are scared about the impact of the health risks of the virus, anxious about being able to pay the bills, uncertain as to what the future holds in for them. This is not time for platitudes, clichés of superficial messages of hope. When individuals realise their leaders and others who they hold in high regard understand and have empathy for their suffering, they are much more likely to respond constructively in how they deal with the situation.

Have the courage and strength to be vulnerable

Vulnerability stands opposed to fantasies of being the strong leader who is in absolute control and has all the answers. Responsibility requires leaders to have to courage to be vulnerable in dealing with the many dilemmas that Corona and the lockdown are demanding. We have seen enough evidence in the last month to know that we don’t know, and things can change daily. We can react to this situation by panicking, or being a beacon of strength and calmness. One has to acknowledge one’s own uncertainties and anxieties, yet provide and create hope rather than promoting despair. The courage to be vulnerable assist one to accept accountability for one’s actions and failures, to accept the fate of one’s communities and institutions, and to assist them through the crisis. It is only when we have the courage to be vulnerable that we have to inner strength to lead with calmness to reduce and contain panic.

Provide hope, but realistically

Napoleon has been credited to have said, “Leaders are dealers in hope.” We all look up to our leadership figures as symbols of hope and comfort. Indeed, we even project messianic expectations onto them to rescue us from the suffering that we face. Providing hope does not come from superficial statements of hope, for instance, “Everything will be OK”, or “There are many opportunities to gain from this crisis”. Hope comes from acknowledging and facing the problems head-on. This does not require one to become a superhuman being, but rather to become person who Frankl calls “homo patiens” – the suffering person who knows how to mould his or her sufferings and those of others into an achievement. Responsible people in the time of Corona are beacons of hope, individuals who inspire others in the way they walk their talk as role models.

A period of difficulty that challenges our mental and physical strengths is a challenge of character. Crisis does not build character but exposes it. The only question is, “What kind of character will each of us demonstrate during this time of crisis?”

The sort of leader and person one will become during this crisis is the result of an inner decision, not the result of the situation. Let this crisis be the epiphany of being responsible and demonstrating responsible leadership. When next generations reflect back on the time of Corona and those involved, let the words of Winston Churchill come to mind: “Never was so much owed, by so many,  for being such responsible individuals” (revised by the author).

Prof Mias de Klerk is Head of Research at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

 

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USB News caring for covid-19 caregivers

Caring for caregivers

USB News

Caring for the caregivers

USB News caring for covid-19 caregivers
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels (Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/blue-medicine-pills-on-heart-shape-3683046/)

  • APR 02
  • Tags COVID-19, Coronavirus, Medical personnel, Healthcare, Leadership, MBA, Medicine, Pandemic

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Prof Renata Schoeman, Head of the MBA Health Care Leadership programme at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), reminds us not to overlook the care that medical staff need during COVID-19.

 As the Coronavirus pandemic ripples throughout the world, the pressure on medical personnel is mounting. To date, between 8% and 30% (depending on the country) of health care professionals have tested positive for COVID-19.

To date, between 8% and 30% (depending on the country) of health care professionals have tested positive for COVID-19.

Professor Renata Schoeman, Head of the MBA Health Care Leadership Programme at USB, says that the rapid spread of the virus has an enormous impact on medical professionals. She urged health care sector leaders to be aware and take measures to protect their staff, while health care workers need to be vigilant and take care of their own health while also taking care of patients.

“In an already stretched, under resourced environment, medical professionals are finding themselves powerless. They are suffering from fatigue, longer shift hours, guilt as they are not able to assist everyone, fear of running out of supplies and ventilators, and fear for their own health as well as putting their own families at risk. They are torn between ethical professional duty and the instinct to protect their own.”

In an already stretched, under-resourced environment, medical professionals are finding themselves powerless… They are torn between ethical professional duty and the instinct to protect their own.

A recent study in the COVID-19 epicentre in China, the first on the psychological impact of COVID-19 on health care professionals,1 found that 70% of the 1257 medical workers interviewed had experienced psychological distress, while 50% developed depression, 45% anxiety disorders and 35% battled with insomnia. Nurses at the frontline were at highest risk of developing these symptoms (60% of the sample across 34 hospitals were nurses and 40% doctors, while 70% were female and 30% male.)

“These symptoms may linger on long after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed,” says Prof Schoeman. “In addition, the current lockdown can further add to the psychological distress people are experiencing across the community at large, including mental health care users, and healthcare professionals.”

She says that in addition to their stressful experiences at work, health care professionals have to care for their own families.

“After a long day, they still need to take care of their children, family or elderly parents, with the fear of potentially exposing their loved ones to the virus. The public usually views health care professionals as resilient and not needing support.

The public usually views health care professionals as resilient and not needing support.

“There is also a stigma during times like this, where people avoid you, not just physical distancing, but out of not knowing what to say during this time, especially if the professional works at the frontline in high risk areas.”

Prof Schoeman says the solution lies in professionals taking care of themselves during this time, and in health care managers being aware of the stress staff are facing, and providing support.

“Acknowledge and accept feelings of anxiety and fatigue and allow yourself to normalise these feelings. Reach out to colleagues facing the same battle and provide mutual support. It’s now more than ever important for medical professionals to ensure a healthy diet, get enough rest, to exercise, and to connect with others via online virtual platforms.”

It’s now more than ever important for medical professionals to ensure a healthy diet, get enough rest, to exercise, and to connect with others via online virtual platforms.

She said leaders in the health care sector should be providing both the necessary practical support for staff to fulfil their duties in terms of equipment and medication, as well as emotional support through debriefing and counselling sessions.

Medical staff can be rotated between higher and lower pressure areas to give some sense of relief and flexibility.

“Communication is crucial. Uncertainty causes anxiety. Leaders need to communicate daily with their teams and provide accurate updates and strategies to cope with the crisis. The pandemic will not be over in a fortnight nor will it last forever and leaders need to think long term. And they need their medical personnel for the long haul – supporting and protecting them now is fundamental,” Prof Schoeman said.

The pandemic will not be over in a fortnight nor will it last forever and leaders need to think long term. And they need their medical personnel for the long haul.

Across social media, the message to the public from medical professionals has been clear: “We stay at work for you and your family, please stay home for us and our families”.

Prof Schoeman says that it’s vital for the community to support and encourage, not stigmatise, medical professionals during this time.

“Don’t avoid your friends who are out in the field! Connect with them on online platforms and never underestimate kind gestures such as ‘thinking of you’ and ‘thank you’. Buy them groceries and leave it at their door or do a virtual homework session with their children.

“Please don’t make their work even harder by spreading and sharing fake news. It can really break the spirit for someone that tries to help patients based on sound scientific principles. Rather share hopeful and positive stories of recoveries and post inspirational messages instead of doom and gloom.”

RESEARCH

  1. (Lai et al (2020) https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2763229)

 

Prof Renata Schoeman | Head: Health Care Leadership MBA, USB

Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist since 2008. As a psychiatrist, she has special interests in cognition and has been particularly active in raising awareness for ADHD in adults and children. She also holds appointments as associate professor in Leadership (USB), as head of the Health Care Leadership MBA specialisation stream, and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme.

She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation.

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Why the nonchalance?

USB News

Why do people continue to be nonchalant about COVID-19?

  • MAR 30
  • Tags COVID-19, Coronavirus, Pandemic, Nochalance, Citizens, New York Times, Fabacademic, Marketing, MBA, Futures Studies

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Owen Mbundu, Head of Marketing at USB, provides possible explanations as to why citizens are not reacting to the Coronavirus pandemic with the necessary seriousness.

At the time of writing this, the death rate caused by SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has raced past the astonishing figure of 21000 with no immediate slowdown on the horizon. A third of the world’s population is currently under some degree of government-enforced lockdown, and more world leaders are contemplating similar action. On Monday 23 March, President Ramaphosa too announced South Africa would go into lockdown, and that the military would patrol our streets.

If the Chinese, Spanish and South Koreans forewarned the world about the ravages of COVID-19, why did more citizens globally not listen to the warnings from experts, and opted for voluntary measures like social distancing to avoid getting infected? Why are governments compelled to implement far-reaching measures like lockdowns to save lives?

A third of the world’s population is currently under some degree of government-enforced lockdown, and more world leaders are contemplating similar action.

For example, on the very day that the French President almost begged his citizens to stay home, thousands spent the day shopping in crowded areas and going about their daily lives as if nothing had happened. Four days later, he announced a lockdown.

The New York Times reports that even after the rapid increase of infected people in the US, drone images showed amusement parks and beaches bustling with people.

In South Africa, many continue to display risky behaviour like socialising at home or at restaurants and congregating in groups – this in a country where the infection rate has ballooned from 62 to over 1000 in a matter of days.

Why are people so nonchalant when the news, social media and the internet are awash with warnings about the deadliness of COVID-19?

One plausible explanation for this seemingly irrational behaviour is the biases and heuristics that influence our perception of risk. The availability heuristic made famous by behavioural scientists Richard Thaler and Cass Sustein comes to mind. According to the availability heuristic, people assess risks based on how readily they come to mind. In the words of the authors, “If people can easily think of relevant examples, they are far more likely to be frightened than if they cannot”. Salience is closely associated with the availability heuristic, meaning if one has personally experienced an event, you are likely to believe it exists than if you had only read about it. The fact that COVID-19 was initially positioned as a far-flung Chinese problem that may or may not one day reach South African shores arguably influenced our collective assessment of the risks involved.

…this is a time for our personal freedoms to take a backseat if we are to turn the tide on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Syon Bhanot provides a second explanation that ascribes our nonchalance to COVID-19 to psychological reactance. Jack Brehm, who pioneered the concept, argues that when people believe their freedoms are at stake, they are motivated to regain it. We observe this phenomenon in people who, when instructed to do one thing, feel compelled to do the opposite. This human oddity is even present in children. Parents would know: When you tell a child “Don’t jump into the pool”, that is what they will end up doing. Psychological reactance is mainly present in societies that place a high value to individual freedoms. Western nations like the US, UK and Western Europe are therefore prime candidates for people who ignore warnings or sage advice from experts. In Bhanot’s words, “Our desire to push back against sound advice is driving us toward behaviours that will strengthen the public health tsunami that is just around the corner”. Autocratic countries like China, where compliance takes precedence over individual freedoms, are the opposite.

In the current time, psychological reactance further aggravates the growing antipathy towards intellectuals, the ‘elites’ who think they know what is best for the masses. Here, Brexit comes to mind.

What can governments do to counter the pernicious effects of the availability heuristic and reactance?

First, to counter the availability heuristic, not only is frequent information sharing necessary; governments may have to communicate more regularly the adverse consequences of non-compliance by drawing parallels with countries where adherence is low. Unfortunately, soon there will be many such examples to draw from. Also, South Africa must do more to ensure relevant information reaches all its citizens by communicating through the correct channels and in all 11 official languages, including none verbal languages. Proper communication will go a long way to counter a plethora of dangerous misinformation making the rounds.

Unfortunately, there is no magic wand; we all have to act responsibly. An excellent place to start is to listen to warnings from experts and practise social distancing.

Second, individuals should reflect on their attitudes and responses to directives from the government: Are these logic or reactance based?

Third, eminent people in society should model desired behaviours and encourage others to do the same. Fortunately, some prominent people have responded in this regard, as evidenced by many social media platforms, such as FabAcademic on Twitter. Famous people may also play an essential role in countering the risk of stigmatisation following infection by sharing their status should they test positive. The British royal family clearly understood the autokinetic effect on society that the royal establishment has by announcing the positive COVID-19 result of a family member. In South Africa, where HIV positive people are continuously stigmatised, this could save lives.

Fourth, this is a time for our personal freedoms to take a backseat if we are to turn the tide on the COVID-19 pandemic. It is time for everyone to heed the warnings from the government; not doing so could cost many lives.

New York Times reporter Donald G. McNiel Jr recently argued that if we had a magic wand, and could freeze everyone in the situation (at least at a safe distance), we could stop the transmission of the virus immediately. Many would still be sick, but COVID-19 would disappear overnight. Unfortunately, there is no magic wand; we all have to act responsibly. An excellent place to start is to listen to warnings from experts and practise social distancing.

 

Head of Marketing USBOwen Mbundu is the Head of Marketing/Marketing Director at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB). He holds an MBA and a Postgraduate Diploma in Futures Studies (Cum Laude) from USB.

 

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Work in the time of Corona

USB News

Work in the time of Corona

  • MAR 24
  • Tags COVID-19; Coronavirus; lockdown; work from home; MBA Healthcare Leadership; flatten the curve;

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Prof Renata Schoeman, Head of the Health Care Leadership MBA specialisation stream at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), reassures us that we can stay productive, healthy and happy while working from home during the 21-day COVID-19 lockdown.    

As South Africans face the reality of a 21-day lockdown to contain the spread of Coronavirus, working from home has become the “new normal” overnight – and if properly managed, it can be just as productive as being in the office.

South Africa’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased six-fold in just eight days to 23 March, prompting President Cyril Ramaphosa to announce the “immediate, swift and extraordinary action” of a nationwide lockdown, which will close all except essential businesses from midnight on Thursday, 26 March. 

Prof Renata Schoeman, head of the MBA in Healthcare Leadership programme at USB, said that South African companies now join millions of businesses across the globe forced to “learn fast and on-the-job how to manage a completely remote workforce”. 

At the same time, scores of employees suddenly experiencing the ‘freedom’ of working from home may also be experiencing anxiety sparked by a lack of supervision and direction, having little time to adjust to a new way of working, fears of job losses, along with challenges of managing technology, keeping productive, staying connected and juggling family and work responsibilities. 

Work in the time of Corona – remaining productive while staying home to flatten the curve to contain impact on a strained healthcare system – presents unprecedented challenges for workers, business and the economy as a whole. 

“The spread of COVID-19 has made the adoption of technology and remote and flexible working inevitable, with a likely lasting change in the way we work,” Prof Schoeman said. 

Being coopedup with children, spouses, pets and even extended family also poses additional challenges and requires us “to become masters of adaptability and agility overnight”, she said. 

“Successful working from home is dependent on an individual’s self-sufficiency (such as time-management skills, self-discipline and motivation), communication skills, adaptability and technological skills,” Prof Schoeman said. 

Keep to your daily routine. Get ready for work as you would on a normal day (don’t work in your pyjamas) and don’t be too comfortable and laid back. This will negatively impact your motivation and productivity. Make a to-do list at the beginning of the day, prioritise the tasks you need to accomplish, and plan your time accordingly.

For those suddenly adapting to the new reality of working from home, Prof Schoeman says it is easy to fall into the trap of poor discipline – ditch your daily routine, eat junk food, take ‘power naps or tackle those DIY projects that there’s never been time for.  

To stay on track while working from home, she advises: 

  • Operate in a business-like manner. Set aside a separate, dedicated workspace, free from distractions, and customise it with the equipment and connectivity you need to be productive. 
  • Limit and manage disruptions and interruptions. Set down clear boundaries for family and friends and establish a routine. 
  • Keep to your daily routine. Get ready for work as you would on a normal day (don’t work in your pyjamas) and don’t be too comfortable and laid back. This will negatively impact your motivation and productivity. Make a to-do list at the beginning of the day, prioritise the tasks you need to accomplish, and plan your time accordingly.  Stay ‘in the loop. When working from home, it is very easy to miss out on the casual exchange opassage information and to feel isolated. Keep up the corridor chat and tea-break conversations with colleagues in a virtual way – by phone, online chat or social media – and make the effort for daily check-ins with teams and co-workers using online work platforms or just a WhatsApp group. Technology makes it possible to stay connected as though we were sitting in our office, rather than at home. 
  • Stay professional and be connected. Use video-conferencing (set reminders to show up on time and remember to mute yourself when not talking), and make sure to be reachable and responsive during working hours.  
  • Maintain your physical and emotional health. Very diligent workers are at risk for burnout as the boundaries between work and home blur, and employees may also feel the need to prove that they are being trustworthy and productive. Set boundaries for when your workday starts and ends.  
  • Eat healthily, exercise regularly, keep to your sleeping routine, limit non-work-related screen time and connect with your family and friends, even if via phone, online chat or social media.

Employees are less stressed due to avoiding traffic and commuting time (which also saves time, money and environmental impact), having the ability to stay at home with children, especially with the current shutdown of schools, and better work-life balance due to more flexibility in how they allocate their time,

For employers fearing lack of productivity in employees working out of sight and without conventional supervision, Prof Schoeman said several studies had shown remote workers having greater productivity (separate studies from Stanford University found productivity levels increasing between 13 and 21%) due to less interruptions, such as colleagues popping in for a chat, and fewer inefficient meetings.  

Employees are less stressed due to avoiding traffic and commuting time (which also saves time, money and environmental impact), having the ability to stay at home with children, especially with the current shutdown of schools, and better work-life balance due to more flexibility in how they allocate their time,” she said. 

Prof Schoeman said the greater independence of remote or flexible work helped employees to develop skills in self-management (self-motivation, self-discipline, focus, and concentration), communication, and the use of technology. 

“Less stress, healthier eating habits and more physical activity means healthier, happier employees who take fewer sick days and don’t put others at risk when ill – especially important at this time,” she said. 

“A final thought for employees working from home: always strive to be a better worker – be responsible and accountable. You are the master of your integrity.  

“And for the employers? Develop measurable goals and metrics for work to be performed during this time and make a determined effort to improve communication and technological capabilities. That will make remote working a win:win experience for all – not only in the time of a global pandemic,” Prof Schoeman said. 

Prof Renata Schoeman | Head: Health Care Leadership MBA, USB 

Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist since 2008. As a psychiatrist, she has special interests in cognition and has been particularly active in raising awareness for ADHD in adults and children. She also holds appointments as associate professor in Leadership (USB), as head of the Health Care Leadership MBA specialisation stream, and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation. 

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Virus and values

USB News

Virus and Values

  • MAR 20
  • Tags COVID-19, Coronavirus, flatten the curve, business in society, humanity, moral values, responsible leadership, social impact

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Prof Arnold SmitAssociate Professor of Business in Society, unpacks five moral values that we all have in common. These values, he says, are the essence of what makes us human, and should be upheld at all costs during these difficult times in our society.  

crisis reveals so much of who we are. It can bring out the best in us. It can bring out the worst in us. Apart from posing a threat to our health and safety, a crisis may also present a test for our values. It is no different in our confrontation with COVID-19. The spread of the coronavirus demonstrates our physical interconnectedness while at the same time it reveals how we respond to the relatedness of our human existence. The physical side of the corona confrontation is a health issue, the relational dimension is a moral one. However, both are contained in the frailty of our human existence.

The spread of the coronavirus demonstrates our physical interconnectedness while at the same time it reveals how we respond to the relatedness of our human existence.

While not equipped to speak science to virology, I want to share a few thoughts on how COVID-19 confronts our sense of morality. It is widely accepted that humanity holds five moral values in common: honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness and compassion. While we can add some to the list or find different words for each, these five values contain the essence of what makes us human in our relatedness. These values describe our aspirational beliefs about human behaviour and determine how we prefer to live and relate, our sense of what is right or wrong, in a particular context, and the decisions that we make as a result. When we uphold them, we do better; together. When we violate them, we pay the price; together. 

It is widely accepted that humanity holds five moral values in common: honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness and compassion… When we uphold them, we do better; together. When we violate them, we pay the price; together.

Because of the relatedness of our existence, we are ever being called upon to be honest, respectful, responsible, fair and compassionate in our dealings with one another. The demand for being so connected to others seems even bigger now that a dangerous and fast spreading virus runs through the channels of our physical connectedness. Every contact point with others may become a question of how to behave, how to relate and what to decide.  

The value of honesty, for example, now calls upon us to think carefully about the information we rely on and share, to be transparent about our own state of health and truthful about our whereabouts in potentially risky contact with others. 

The value of respect now especially calls upon us to treat everyone else – irrespective of their standing or influence – with dignity; to make their health and safety a priority as if it were our own, and to honour their personal space through social distancing 

Responsibility means that we think carefully about what we decide and do – especially in view of the impact that it may have on others. While we need to care for and protect ourselves, we must consider the rightful interests of others too.  

What does fairness mean when we fear scarcity and shop for supplies? What does it mean when we stock medical supplies which are now more needed in healthcare facilities? What does it mean when decisions are pending about salary adjustments and potential layoffs? 

Compassion speaks to our ability to watch out for others and care about their needs and circumstances. What we in South Africa so far mainly witnessed about COVID-19’s impact on individuals, families, communities and businesses, and how people have been challenged to manage the tension between social distancing and mutual care, may become more intensively part of our daily existence in the time to come. 

What I have written above, about the virus – values connection, may confront most of us in our daily conduct as we go about life, work and relationships. It certainly requires from us to be mindful and sensitive while we care for self and stay in touch with others. It gets more challenging, though, when the essence of your job is to make decisions in an organisational or professional context. 

The Coronavirus has no awareness of itself or its impact. It simply flourishes where the ecosystems of nature and humanity allow it to do.

The Coronavirus has no awareness of itself or its impact. It simply flourishes where the ecosystems of nature and humanity allow it to do. However, it does awaken a new awareness about our essential vulnerability and inevitable interdependence as a human community. While we stay hopeful for a scientific breakthrough to put the virus in its place, we’ll have to rely just as much on our capacity for values-based living and relating to carry us through.  

Prof Arnold Smit
Associate Professor of Business in Society
University of Stellenbosch Business School 

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How USB is responding to the Coronavirus pandemic

USB News

How USB is responding to the Coronavirus pandemic

  • MAR 19
  • Tags COVID-19; Coronavirus; online education; webinars; lockdown; blended learning

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What does the outbreak of COVID-19 mean for USB?

Please read the official communication about the national lockdown from our Deputy Registrar regarding students and faculty.

Official announcement

Legislation from National Government

On 23 March 2020, the South African government declared a nation-wide lockdown in terms of the Disaster Management Act – entailing that, from midnight on Thursday 26 March, all South Africans will have to stay at home. This lockdown period was to last for 21 days until midnight on Thursday 16 April. The lockdown was extended until midnight on 30 April, from which we entered a staged quarantine process.

For updates on the COVID-19 outbreak in South Africa, you may visit the South African Online Resource & News Portal for COVID-19. 

Students and classes

Since Monday 20 April, online teaching has been instituted for all USB programmes, irrespective of previous delivery modes. Teaching via this mode will continue until further notice. In-person consultation is still on hold, but USB will be in contact with stakeholders regarding any changes to protocol.

We will continue services to our students remotely during working hours. If we do not respond within 48 hours, our Centre for Student Administration is available at csa@usb.ac.za to handle any queries

We remain committed to the completion of the academic programme for this year, and continue to make future provisions for online facilities, such as remote learning through our Blended Learning format. Programme-specific arrangements regarding classes will be communicated via our Learning Hub platform.

Events

It is an unfortunate reality that we have had to postpone each of our events involving physical interaction until further notice. These events include USB Leader’s Angle events, Alumni Masterclasses and Networking events, as well as other in-person talks, workshops and seminars. This decision from USB and Stellenbosch University (SU) has not been made lightly. We have invested much time and finance into creating these experiences, and understand the disappointment of those who were looking forward to each occasion, making time in their busy schedules to attend. We also understand the importance of these events within the USB community, and the loss incurred from these cancellations.

Despite these setbacks, we have made great headway in putting our events online, particularly with our Leader’s Angle Series and Alumni Webinars. We hope to apply this winning formula to as many events on our calendar as we can. 

Staff

Since the announcement of the lockdown, staff has been working from home. They are fully connected and available to respond to e-mails and phone calls during work hours to ensure that the operational needs of each USB department are met.

With our business school’s commitment to responsible leadership and creating value for a better world in mind, we believe we have taken the best course of action at this point in time. Taking into account the fluidity of the situation, we are constantly reevaluating our strategies to ensure we will exercise best practices in our decisions going forward.

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