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Employees having a meeting

Dealing with a crisis? Don’t forget your employees

USB News

Dealing with a crisis? Don’t forget your employees

Employees having a meeting

  • May 18
  • Tags Media release; MBA research

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In the first South African study to explore the crisis communication needs of employees specifically, University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) MBA graduate Leana Kotze highlighted that, in an organisational crisis, “an employee-centred approach is good for employees, and for organisations too”.

Environmental disasters, corporate fraud, product failures, the disruption wrought by a global pandemic: any of these can propel an organisation into crisis communication mode, but in the drive to manage the fall-out and protect their reputation, companies often neglect to talk to their most important stakeholders – employees.

The uncertainty, insecurity, fear and anxiety that go hand-in-hand with a crisis impact negatively on employee productivity and engagement, and in turn affect the organisation’s performance, yet research shows that employees’ needs are often ignored in a crisis.

Executives tend to prioritise communication with external stakeholders such as the media, shareholders, affected communities and government, but neglecting employees’ needs not only hinders productivity and performance, it can also backfire on external crisis communication efforts when staff share their negative views with other stakeholders or on public platforms.

“Employees need to make sense of a crisis through clear, relevant, useful and consistent communication…”

Employees need to make sense of a crisis through clear, relevant, useful and consistent communication; they need practical guidance on how to continue doing their jobs; and they need to believe that the employer is showing care and consideration for them, and listening to them.

Kotze said that while managers were aware of the need for communication in times of crisis, it was mostly viewed from the perspective of senders such as senior executives with little attention paid to what employees actually needed from their organisations.

Employees tend to have stronger and more complex relationships with the organisation than other stakeholders, and they are “ambassadors” for the organisation who interact with and influence other stakeholders – hence the need for a tailored and employee-centred approach to crisis communication, Kotze said.

Her research provides new insights into employee crisis communication in South Africa and offers practical recommendations for managers to optimise internal crisis communication in a more employee-centred way.

Kotze said her study was motivated by a “dearth of both local and global research” on internal crisis communication, particularly in relation to the needs of employees.

“Internal communication has a significant influence on employee engagement, which in turn positively influences their productivity and organisational commitment.”

“Internal communication has a significant influence on employee engagement, which in turn positively influences their productivity and organisational commitment. This makes internal communication an indispensable element of crisis management, as ineffective communication can significantly worsen a situation that is literally a matter of life and death,” Kotze said.

She conducted separate focus groups with senior executives and with employees, drawn from a number of organisations that had previously experienced crises.

“A surprising finding from the feedback of both executives and employees was that South African organisations actually do aim to follow an employee-centred approach to internal crisis communication, and that managers actively strive to understand and meet employees’ needs through internal crisis communication.

“This is a departure from previous research in other countries which found that organisations often ignore employees’ needs during a crisis. Albeit from a small sample, it might suggest a progressive approach by South African organisations, and it warrants further research,” Kotze said.

Her research found that employees have a strong need for “sensemaking” – the process of gathering and processing information to understand and make sense of a crisis, and find meaning, direction and purpose for moving forward. They expect their employers to provide that information and will turn to the grapevine instead if they don’t, causing a risk of unfounded rumours and misinformation spreading.

“Employees want communication that they deem clear, relevant and useful. To be relevant and useful, information should enable employees to do their jobs, help them understand how they and their work are impacted by the crisis, and tell them how to act in response to the crisis,” Kotze said.

Crises are perceived as a threat and they spark fear, she said, and “employees need to believe that the leadership is in control and need to be made aware of what management is doing to manage the crisis”.

A further need is for care and consideration, a need that is met when employees feel their voices are being heard and when the organisation shows that it is acting with consideration for employees.

Recommendations
Kotze recommends a number of guidelines for managers to consider in developing an employee-centred approach to internal crisis communication.

  • The most important information that organisations should provide to employees is about the impact the crisis will have on their job security, salary, and related issues. If this information is incomplete or not yet available, the organisation should communicate openly as to the reasons, and assure employees the information will be provided as soon as it is available.
  • Internal crisis communication messages must be consistent, and the organisation’s actions must line-up with what has been communicated.
  • Managers should make use of surveys, questionnaires, feedback platforms and personal interaction to “ask and listen” to employees’ needs. This should include physical or virtual platforms where employees can air grievances and raise concerns within the organisation.
  • Employees should have options to engage anonymously with the organisation.
  • Showing care and consideration goes beyond asking and listening, and organisations should take concrete actions aimed at meeting employees’ needs, addressing their emotions and reactions to the crisis, and showing that they care.
  • Employees know that business must go on in the face of a crisis, but don’t want to feel that the organisation is prioritising its own interests and performance over the needs of human beings. Communication that encourages work to go on is necessary, but must show sensitivity to the impact of the crisis on the ground.
  • While communication and visibility from the senior leadership is essential, the organisation should also deploy direct line managers and supervisors in the communication effort, as they are closest to and most credible to their teams and can play a key role in gauging sentiment, facilitating collective sensemaking, and giving feedback to the organisation on employees’ needs and concerns which can be used to refine ongoing communication.
  • Meetings within teams or departments are important to facilitate collective sensemaking, where employees can discuss the crisis and its impact, and share information with colleagues they are familiar and comfortable with.
  • As much as employees want information, they also don’t want “information overload” which can overwhelm and cause further anxiety or confusion.

“If managers strive to follow these guidelines in developing their internal crisis communication approach, this research suggests that employees will react positively. This positive reaction and the satisfaction of employee needs will ultimately benefit the organisation in terms of employees’ identification with the organisation, their trust in the organisation, and increased or sustained engagement and productivity.

“Organisations will enjoy similar benefits if leadership is clearly displayed during a crisis and if the organisation makes employees aware of the tangible actions it has taken in the face of the crisis,” Kotze said.

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Gray wooden computer cubicles inside room

Has working from home made the office redundant? Not yet.

USB News

Remote work and employee engagement in Covid-19

Gray wooden computer cubicles inside room

  • April 6
  • Tags Media release, Covid-19, Research, remote working

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Down-scaling or even closing physical office spaces might look like the way of the future, but a University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) study found that the future of work more likely lies in a blend of remote and office-based work.

Has working from home made the office redundant? Not yet.

After more than a year in which millions of office workers around the globe were forced to work from home for months during national lockdowns and did so (mostly) successfully, businesses are faced during the gradual return to ‘normal’ with the question of whether this year heralds the end of the physical office.

Down-scaling or even closing physical office spaces might look like the way of the future, but a University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) study found that the future of work more likely lies in a blend of remote and office-based work.

MBA graduate Mandi Joubert conducted the research at the height of South Africa’s national lockdown to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus and found that while employees experienced many positives in working from home, they missed the interaction and support of an office environment.

…a University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) study found that the future of work more likely lies in a blend of remote and office-based work.

She said previous studies had shown that employees with flexible work arrangements, able to blend office and remote working, had higher levels of engagement than employees who were either firmly office-based or worked exclusively remotely, and the lockdown had provided the ideal “laboratory” to investigate this among a group of employees forced to work exclusively from home.

“Globally it is anticipated that Covid-19 will have far-reaching impact on the future of work and especially remote working. The rapid change in ways of working forced by the spread of Covid-19 provide opportunities for organisations and managers to redesign their workspaces and physical footprints to accommodate new ways of working, both in flexitime and ‘flexiplace’, enabled by new technology.

“However, the research also showed that participants were not ready for a complete shift to remote work – a physical office space to allow face-to-face personal interaction within teams and within the broader organisation will remain a requirement.

A physical office space to allow face-to-face personal interaction within teams and within the broader organisation will remain a requirement.

“A combination of office- and home-based work in future could be the best route to greater employee engagement, productivity and performance, benefiting both the individual and the company.”

Joubert recommends companies consider blended and flexible working arrangements, enabling employees to work from home or remotely for two to three days a week.

Joubert recommends companies consider blended and flexible working arrangements, enabling employees to work from home or remotely for two to three days a week.

Employee engagement – where employees feel connected to their work, are energised, mentally resilient, dedicated and involved – is important, she said, because it has been shown to influence customer satisfaction and profitability, and because it is seen as the opposite of employee burnout, which in turn impacts negatively on business results.

Joubert’s research echoed the findings of the Global Work from Home Experience Survey[i] which found that 76% of respondents would want to work from home at least one day per week, an increase from 31% before the pandemic.

Some companies that have seen the benefits of remote working are already implementing lessons from lockdown, she said, with one employer in the study introducing more flexible working arrangements and remote working options once employees could return to the office when hard lockdown restrictions were eased.

Some companies that have seen the benefits of remote working are already implementing lessons from lockdown…

Another had closed down a satellite office during lockdown because of the cost-savings achieved by having teams all work from one office, on a rotation system where they worked partly remotely and partly in-office.

“These are positive signals of employers seeing the benefits and acting on them, but they would also need to weigh up the cost savings of reducing office space against the costs of properly equipping staff for remote working,” Joubert said.

Her research showed that companies providing the resources to work effectively from home significantly contributed to a positive experience and greater productivity. These included access to computers, internet connections, company networks and data, as well as physical resources such as office chairs, with one participant reporting that their employer had delivered office chairs and headsets to all their staff.

Organisational culture also makes a difference – employees’ work-from-home experience was much more positive when managers’ expectations were clear and they felt they were trusted to get on with their work. Employees valued companies that provided support such as online platforms for regular team check-ins and forums for information sharing and to raise concerns and complaints.

Organisational culture also makes a difference – employees’ work-from-home experience was much more positive when managers’ expectations were clear and they felt they were trusted to get on with their work.

Joubert said participants said they experienced improved work-life balance, with the flexibility to attend to family, personal and work commitments as they arose, as well as time and costs saved on commuting.

While there were distractions in working from home, participants said these balanced out with the lack of the usual office distractions.

The key disadvantage was the lack of human interaction.

“Video calls and online meetings were a positive for keeping in touch with colleagues but didn’t replace in-person interaction – the informal workplace chats that are part of the social nature of work, that provide encouragement and motivation and often get things done more efficiently than formal meetings, as well as the non-verbal cues, body language and facial expressions that aren’t always possible to read in online meetings, especially with many suffering Zoom-overload and getting into the habit of turning off cameras,” Joubert said.

Working exclusively from home means “eating, sleeping, working, living all in the same space” and the lack of variety and human contact became “mentally and emotionally demoralising” for some participants, while the volume of online meetings can become overwhelming.

“There is a negative impact on communication and opportunities for spontaneous collaboration when people are not all working in the same space, where it is possible to get quick answers, solve problems quickly in person rather than waiting for response to emails or messages, or call quick meetings or brainstorming sessions to work out a problem.”

Joubert said it was especially significant that remote working, where the focus was mainly on the job of one’s own team, caused employees to feel they had lost sight of the company’s “big picture”, of what was happening in the business overall.

Joubert said it was especially significant that remote working… caused employees to feel they had lost sight of the company’s “big picture”, of what was happening in the business overall.

Working full-time from home also meant that employees lost out on the informal training, learning and mentoring that happens between junior and senior colleagues in an office set-up.

“All of these downsides of a lack of physical, face-to-face interaction were the key reason for participants want to alternate home and office work. None preferred a 100% full-time return to office-based work, but they definitely wanted some office time at least.

“Ideally, they wanted to be able to manage their own diaries and schedules and how they achieved set targets and deadlines.”

Joubert’s recommendations for managers and companies considering new ways of working in a post-Covid-19 world include:

  • Review existing flexible work arrangement (FWA) policies and consider allowing employees to work remotely for two – three days a week, or alternatively allow employees to manage their own time and only work from the office when needed.
  • Exclusive work from home is not encouraged, as regular human interaction is beneficial for employee engagement.
  • If an FWA policy is adopted, expectations and deliverables should be clearly communicated.
  • Prioritise employee wellness and introduce formalised wellness programmes. Ensure that employee wellbeing is being practiced as well as preached. Prioritise diversity and inclusion.
  • Reconsider physical office space. Reconsider the amount of office floor space needed in accordance with the applicable remote work policy.
  • Allow dedicated opportunities in meetings to focus on employees and their wellbeing instead of only focusing on operational discussions.
  • Adopt a policy of cameras on during meetings to ensure employees can benefit from non-verbal communication and are able to pick up on social cues.

“The sample size was small, with 14 participants, but they did represent nine different industries and different organisational levels. The circumstances of a global pandemic brought with them particular anxieties and uncertainties, companies weren’t necessarily well-prepared for a sudden shift to remote working, and employees had additional challenges such as a lack of childcare and domestic support which might not be there in more normal circumstances.

…the results of the study made it worth exploring the relationship between remote working and employee engagement further.

“On the plus side, the weight of the findings is strengthened by the fact that all participants were able to report on their remote working experiences ‘in real time’ rather than theoretically or after the fact, since they were all working from home at the same time and in the same context of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

She said the results of the study made it worth exploring the relationship between remote working and employee engagement further.

[i] https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/global-work-from-home-experience-survey

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Research Methods Workshop

USB News

Research Methods Workshop

Workshop on Research Methods, Co-Organized by: African Centre for Development Finance at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB-ACDF) with Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, Sonoco International Business Department, U.S.A.

The Objective of the workshop:
A common obstacle to these outcomes for all scholars is limited experience in sourcing, preparing, and analysing high quality data. This workshop will combine instructive tutorials with hands-on experience in writing code in statistical analysis packages (e.g. STATA, R, etc.). Participants are encouraged (but not necessarily required) to bring datasets they are already working with and through the workshop develop code capable of helping them execute their analysis.

What the course will cover:
The course will focus on presenting a cutting edge research methods tailored to high impact African context through a hands-on, intensive one-week curriculum covering the following topics: Collecting high quality data in an environment where publicly available data is often unavailable or unreliable, Cleaning and preparing data for analysis, Conducting analysis through econometric models and descriptive statistics, Presenting results and developing a personalized library of software code useful to all of the above.

Who should attend:
Postgraduate, Master’s and Doctoral Candidates, Post-Doctoral Fellows and current Doctoral fellows and other academics working in this domain will be given more priority.

Course provider:
African Centre for Development Finance at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB-ACDF) with Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, Sonoco International Business Department, U.S.A.

Prerequisite:
Participants are expected to have intermediate level microeconomic theory at the undergraduate level. Basic knowledge on mathematical economics, econometrics, linear programming and applications is desirable but not compulsory. STATA and R will be employed. Prior knowledge of at least one of the software will be an added advantage.

Course Material:
The course pack will be prepared and made available to participants during registration. The materials required for pre-course reading will be sent directly to the participants via email or via the course website.

Presenters

Dr Christopher B. Yenkey is an assistant professor in the Sonoco International Business Department at the Darla Moore School of International Business. He earned his Ph.D. in Sociology at Cornell University, Yenkey served as a visiting scholar at the Institute for Economic Affairs in Nairobi, Kenya. Yenkey received a B.A. in Economics from the University of Texas, Austin, in 2001 and served as a research associate in the Department of Economic Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City from 2001 to 2003. He is an associate director of the Center for the Study of Economy and Society at Cornell University from 2010 to 2011.

Dr Nyankomo Marwa is senior lecturer in Development Finance and Econometrics at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa. He holds a PhD in Development Finance from the University of Stellenbosch Business School; an MSc Agricultural Economics from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA; an MSc Applied Statistics and Biostatistics from Hasselt University, Belgium; and a BSc Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness from Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania. He holds visiting research positions at the School of Management Sciences of the University of Quebec Montreal, Canada, and the University of Saskatchewan, Canada.

Registration Procedure

The workshop fee is $250 (R3 500) per participants.

Applications close 30 November 2018 for South African students only

For more details on logistics and other enquiries, please contact the International office:
[email protected] | +27 21 918 4196

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USB Management review

USB launches new online business knowledge platform

USB News

USB launches new online business knowledge platform

  • USB
  • JUL 30 2018
  • Tags Research, Management Review

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The University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) recently launched its new online platform, USB Management Review, which features business knowledge articles based on the research conducted by faculty, students, and research centres.

The platform also provides access to thought-provoking opinion pieces, topical reports, and valuable insight into the research process itself. The topics are aligned with USB’s key areas of expertise – leadership, finance, futures studies, coaching, and strategic management.

Prof Piet Naudé, director of USB, says: “Academic research is important but there is also a need for knowledge that could be applied directly (or at least quite smoothly) to actual business problems.

“This requires a translation of theory into practice; it requires a different genre than pure academic language to ensure wider accessibility. This is what USB Management Review is about.”

Editorial director of USB Management Review and head of research at USB , Prof Mias de Klerk, says with this online platform they want USB research to make an impact in the world of business. “The core focus of our first edition is leadership integrity. What happens within organisations is largely an outcome, or lack of, the integrity of leadership.

“Leadership integrity is one of many constructs that form part of responsible leadership, which is core to USB’s research focus. Responsible leadership describes a generic quality of all leadership that aims to respond to stakeholders’ concerns in a morally responsible manner,” he says.

USB Management Review will be published in June and October each year to ensure visibility among relevant interest and stakeholder groups. It can be accessed via the research tab from the USB homepage. To read the articles that appeared in the first edition, click here.

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