UP’s Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences discussion tackles managing well-being in a new world of work as COVID-19 tests employees, employers

Posted on March 24, 2021

The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences recently hosted a virtual panel discussion titled ‘Will we ever find balance again? Managing your well-being during these uncertain times’.

Opening the discussion, moderator Professor Alewyn Nel, Head of Department: Human Resource Management, said certain facets of our lives are being tested in various ways because of the pandemic, including economically, psychologically, professionally, and socially. “It is natural that we experience what is called ‘COVID fatigue’. Sustaining overall well-being is more important than it was before [the pandemic] and we need to understand how to achieve that and how to manage workload balance during these chaotic times.”

The virtual event also featured other academic staff members from the Faculty’s  Department of Human Resource Management: Professor Nasima Carrim, Programme Manager: Magister Human Resource Management and Labour Relations Management; Professor Herbert Kanengoni, Programme Manager: Magister Industrial Psychology; Professor Eileen Koekemoer, Programme Manager: Honours Industrial Psychology; and Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology of South Africa President Dr Natasha Winkler-Titus.

“The South African Depression and Anxiety Group has reported that instances of depression and not being able to cope have tripled since 2020. Research has shown that experiences of wellness are declining and, surprisingly, as tech-savvy as millennials are, they have recorded high numbers of burnout,” said Dr Winkler-Titus. She said this makes sense because millennials have greater financial stresses and feelings of loneliness. 

Prof Carrim noted that remote working is a new concept to many and while people did work remotely before the pandemic, it was a personal choice, now they are forced to do it. “Not everyone is comfortable working from home, some employees feel that they know how to do their jobs or even where they stand within their organisations, others do not know how to use IT platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet for meetings.”

She added that employees are not only emotionally and psychologically fatigued, they are also physically fatigued, especially those who are taking care of family members while working. “It takes a toll on a person,” she said.

Employers must compete with the responsibilities of employees

“Salary cuts left a negative impact as well. Substance abuse has increased because people are battling to cope with the changes forced upon us. Pressures from employers can also cause stress for employees,” said Prof Carrim.

Agreeing with Prof Carrim, Prof Koekemoer said one of the biggest challenges with working from home is that employees must share space with other family members, which is a difficult task. Another challenge for these employees is finding the mental space to give undivided time and attention to their work. “What we must tell ourselves is that we are in a transitional phase where old work habits need to be replaced by new work habits, and this is difficult, taking into account so many variables that are changing. It is also difficult on the employer’s side because they must realise that their employees have unique challenges at home that influence their work. Employers are now competing with the responsibilities of their employees.

“Do not over commit and then under deliver as employees because that breaks the trust between you and the employer, rather renegotiate your workload tasks with your managers,” she advised people working from home.  

Prof Kanengoni highlighted the lack of interaction and collaboration as a problem as some employees benefit more from these activities as opposed to working alone.

“COVID-19 has brought a decline of purpose for a lot of people. Lack of recognition is also problematic to certain employees. Engagement and continuous support can help rebuild trust between employer and employee. Employers need to support their staff through meetings and engagement. External validation is important to some employees,” said Prof Kanengoni.

Click here to watch the video

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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