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Covid-19 and the Workplace: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


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This presentation concerns the social and psychological implications of COVID-19 for workers and work organziations around the globe with a focus on the good (e.g., working-from-home, remote leadership), the bad (e.g., unemployment) and the ugly (e.g., stress, mental health). This was presented at the Work and Organizational Psychology association in the Netherlands in November 2020.

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Covid-19 and the Workplace: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  1. 1. COVID-19 and the workplace: The good, the bad, and the ugly Mark van Vugt Professor of Psychology Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam & University of Oxford
  2. 2. Kevin Jay Mark
  3. 3. Read more?
  4. 4. Talk • COVID-19: Knowns and unknowns • The relatively Good: – WFH (working-from-home) – Virtual teams – Remote leadership • The Bad: – Insecurity – Inequality • The Ugly: – Social distancing – Isolation • Workplace after Covid-19
  5. 5. COVID-19: Knowns and unknowns • Shocks (9/11, banking crisis) create ethical issues (privacy, surveillance) • Infectious disease threats have changed societies and workplaces fundamentally • Vaccin?
  6. 6. Disease threats tighten cultures Muray & Schaller, 2011
  7. 7. Disease threats induce xenophobia Ji, T., Tybur, J. M., & van Vugt, M. (2019)
  8. 8. The (relatively Good: Working-from-home (WFH) • Before Covid-19: – 10-15% works from home • After COVID-19: – 40-50% works from home • Mandatory “Companies should never just implement telecommuting without changing anything else, they also need to shift their culture and norms to support the new arrangement.“ - I/O psychologist Kristen Shockley (2018)
  9. 9. Low Richness Less Social Presence High Richness More Social Presence Medium properties Communication
  10. 10. LinkedIn-study before COVID-19
  11. 11. WFH: Good Employers • Cost saving (office, travel costs) • Recruit best talent (from anywhere) • Form better teams by matching talents. expertise Employees • Work-life balance – Saving time – Care – Hobbies • Improves productivity and wellbeing for – Professionals (low interdependence) – Gig workers(ZZP) already WFH for years – Physically disabled
  12. 12. Which employees profit most? • Workers with complex jobs but no significant collaboration do better remotely – Knowledge workers (e.g., software developers) • Worker with clear objective performance outcomes also profit (e.g., call centers) • Work-activity important: writing reports versus appraisals Golden, T.D., Gajendran, R.S. J Bus Psychol (2019).
  13. 13. WFH: Not so good Employers • Less control, supervision • Performance management • Team projects suffer Employees: • Social and professional isolation • Fewer opportunities to share information and collaborate (creativity loss) • Boundaries between work and private life are blurred
  14. 14. Who suffer the most from Mandatory WFH? A. Introverts B. Extraverts
  15. 15. Dr. Kelder: “Since the pandemic, I suffer from mood swings”
  16. 16. Intervention potential WFH • Rituals/routines for boundaries between work-home life • Co-working spaces (to avoid professional isolation) • Improved online social interaction (better technology, GAZE-2) • Back to office • Identify risk groups – Singles, Expats – Young families – New/young workers – Personality differences – Sex differences • Increase in traditional gender roles?
  17. 17. Teamwork during COVID-19
  18. 18. Virtual teams • Virtual teams can better match knowledge and expertise – Jarvenpaa, S. L., & Leidner, D. E. (1999); – Hertel, G., Geister, S., & Konradt, U. (2005). – Alsharo, M., Gregg, D., & Ramirez, R. (2017). – Mak, S., & Kozlowski, S.W.J. (2019 Disadvantages • Too much asynchronous communication is bad • Initial trust lower in virtual teams • Difficulties socializng new members • Team creativity may suffer
  19. 19. Study comparing Virtual and F2F teams Technological issues Absence body language Less social-emotional communication Less even participation Less extra-role behavior Less delegation by leader Less visible dominance-behavior
  20. 20. Leadership: Three signifcant trends (1) Crisis leadership (1) Offering support (2) Balance between realism and optimism (3) Vision on future (2) Remote leadership (3) Health-oriented leadership
  21. 21. Historical disease threats affect leadership GLOBE project_ Directive leadership dimension Shirley Sheng’s PhD-project
  22. 22. Which candidate would you vote for as the president of Taminia? dominant
  23. 23. Remote leadership • Task-oriented (socio-emotional suffers) • Team-oriented (little room for one on ones) • Too little (synchronous better that asynchronous) Shi, Cook, & van Vugt (2020)
  24. 24. Self-reported Work Actual work F(3, 85) = .93, p = .43, η2 = .03 F(3, 85) = 2.74, p < .05, η2 = .09
  25. 25. 3. Health-oriented leadership- Female touch? - Prioritize health among employees (balance privacy-interest) - 1-on-1 contact (especially low LMX) - Compliance to health & safety standard - Good rolemodel
  26. 26. The Bad: Socio-economic impacts • Unemployment, job insecurity – Certain sectors hit hard • Social-psychological and material benefits of work are lost – Traditional gender roles • Work “survivors” show more stress and less job commitment • (unsafe) Risk behavior among low-paid employees  Career adaptability is increasing
  27. 27. The Ugly: Evolutionary mismatch • Presenteeism – The critical (key workers) – The engaged • Social distancing (vs affiliating) – Fewer people at work, fewer options to socially learn learn and network – Mental and physical health costs (singles, lower SES) – app development (Clinical psychology, VU) – Increase in workstress (job demands exceed resources, loss of social capital)
  28. 28. Workplace after COVID-19? Stop Continue Stopped 9-5 office jobs Training & development Started Mandatory working- from-home Online seminars After COVID-19 crisis During COVID-19 crisis Old work practices New practices
  29. 29. Workers want more flexibility