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Covid-19 and corporate social responsibility: reshaping the present

Business resiliente

17/11/2020

Corporate social responsibility and focusing on employees as a way to overcome the crisis and create value for companies

The global public health emergency and economic systems

The sudden outbreak of the novel Coronavirus has derailed our existing economic and social patterns, affecting the way we work and forcing companies to rethink their businesses from one day to the next.

To avoid closing down, many companies have reinvented themselves, starting to produce face masks and hand sanitisers, thus bolstering domestic production. An example of this is Di.Bi., which manufactures technical fabrics for sportswear, which pivoted to the production of face masks.

The public health emergency triggered by Covid-19 has significantly affected the global economy, leading to a drop in GDP and an increase in public debt

Some companies have had to shutter their production to protect the health of their employees and customers and this decision has hit unemployment hard: many people are on furlough or have seen their term contracts expire without renewal, while others who were already unemployed before the crisis are now finding it even harder to find a job. This precarious work situation also adversely affects families with respect to paying bills and rent or minding younger children who can no longer go to school.

Mental health and burnout

The public health emergency and its economic fallout have a significant impact on workers’ mental and physical wellbeing. Concerns about catching the virus and illness are accompanied by worries about continuing to have a job, which all causes great stress that may manifest as physical ailments (migraines, hypertension and gastritis) or mental issues (anxiety, agitation and insomnia).

These disorders are often defined as “burnout syndrome”, with emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and derealisation. If not dealt with appropriately, this syndrome can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the current situation, people more likely to “burn out” are those working in the front line sectors who cannot slow down their work pace.
These sectors include companies that produce personal protective equipment (such as masks, protective goggles, hand sanitizer and protective coveralls) and companies that produce the healthcare equipment used in the hospitals (like mechanical ventilators). Another group at risk is the key healthcare workers (doctors, nurses and pharmacists) who place their own health at risk (and that of their families) to save the lives of as many people as possible.

Healthcare professionals have found themselves in an extraordinary situation where the organisational, physical and mental stresses typical of their work suddenly arose simultaneously, making it hard to cope

The photos of two nurses symbolise this situation: Alessia Bonari (showing the bruises and marks on her face due to the prolonged use of her face mask and protective goggles) and Elena Pagliarini (who fell asleep at her desk still dressed in her gown and mask exhausted from her long shift).

In addition to the legitimate fear of contracting the virus, another two factors have a negative effect on our mental health: self-isolation and quarantine. This mandatory isolation which is necessary to protect us means we may not be able to see family members, friends and work colleagues for long periods of time, causing us significant emotional distress (for example, people who have not been able to hug their elderly parents for months or the challenge of working on your own without being able to take a break with your colleagues).

Moreover, we have become wary of those around us as possible sources of infection: in addition to the isolation imposed by the Prime Minister’s decree, there is a risk that we self-distance ourselves to the detriment of our relationships with people outside our close circle of family members.

The next step just around the corner is alienation. However, if it is true that people are key to being successful, employees play an important role in this process and must be retained and valued as far as possible in order that companies can restart with them in the post-Covid-19 world. It is essential that companies introduce methods to safeguard their employees’ wellbeing, so that they can feel safe and secure at work and, as a result, more motivated and productive.

Maintaining employee wellbeing at work

How can companies promote employee wellbeing? There are various options that can be introduced to facilitate working during the pandemic.

The first measure is to introduce flexible work hours and allow employees to work from home, providing them with pointers about how to do this most efficiently.

Another way that managers can help their teams is to agree times when conference calls are not to be scheduled (to facilitate parents who have to balance their new family commitments with work) and to agree work routines that encourage a work-life balance (balancing the amount of time spent working and the employees’ personal lives).
A key measure for professional training (including online courses) is making platforms available to employees so they can continue to upskill (for example, online courses, conversation classes, TED Talks and webinars).

Some companies have also introduced remote mental health support services for their employees (available on a one-to-one basis or in group sessions).
Another idea could be a newsletter with advice and tips on how to best deal with the current situation, thereby allowing colleagues to keep in contact while they are not physically in the same office.

Some of these measures will become a part of our lives after the pandemic. A return to our previous work patterns is unthinkable as these months have shown that working from home is possible. Therefore, the changes in how we conceive working hours, overtime and leave will remain post Covid-19.

Enhancing human capital

A company’s value is tied to that of its employees. How can it best enhance its employees?

There are three pillars:

1. Rethink the concept of “work”, based on simple models, many opportunities to collaborate and friendly work environments;

2. Manage human resources by rewarding positive performances based on transparent and objective criteria;

3. Encourage an ingrained values culture.

The Covid-19 epidemic makes us reflect and think about the future: once the emergency is over, should we return to our previous habits or try and improve our quality of life?

The above three pillars are augmented by other best practices:

1. Enhance individuality, by including diversity and focusing on personal talents;

2. Foster good relations between the departments of an organisation in order to decrease the numerous and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures via direct human interaction

3. Set up an internal training academy.

These few simple tips can increase employee engagement; accordingly, employees feel more involved in the company, are more satisfied and motivated and will generate real value for the company and its internal and external stakeholders.

Corporate social responsibility and new challenges

The pandemic has showcased the importance of corporate social responsibility, which is the ability to adequately manage the ethical and social consequences of a company’s actions. Companies have shown themselves able to respond to the challenges thrown at them by Covid-19 in a sustainable manner, demonstrating greater resilience and ability to respond to crises.

The first step to becoming socially responsible lies within a company. It should focus on its employees and consultants to provide them with a certain level of safety and comfort.
This is fundamental as the pandemic has allowed us to focus on values: people need to find something to identify with to fill the gap created by social distancing.

Consumers have also had consciences pricked, leading them to demand that companies abide by ethical and sustainable commercial practices and they are prepared to boycott those companies that do not meet this requirement.

Sustainability is an integral and permanent part of the new way of doing business. Companies will have to refresh their corporate and environmental policies appropriately, modifying how they are run and transforming the situations created by the public health emergency into business opportunities.

The challenge lies in identifying a new role for corporate social responsibility, identifying the right strategies to overcome the social, economic and environmental challenges posed by Covid-19