Coronavirus: maintaining a healthy and productive workplace.

by | Mar 23, 2020 | Blog, News, NEWS2USE

Let’s heed President Ramaphosa’s call to work together.

There is no room for complacency.

Compared to many northern hemisphere countries, South Africa has to date been relatively spared from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, but that does not mean it is not on its way. The government’s seemingly draconian response is thus timeous.

Management has an urgent responsibility to maintain, to the best of their ability, a healthy workplace; building resilience and thereby ensuring on-going productivity.

As a manager will need to make many decisions as the COVID-19 story unfolds.

Don’t expect to have all the answers. This is a clear VUCA situation; volatile and unpredictable. It is simply evidence of our interconnected and complexifying world.


Volatile The rapid and unexpected spread of the virus in Europe and the United States demonstrates ‘Volatility’.
Uncertain Tumbling stock markets point to the core feature of ‘Uncertainty’.
Complex Complexity relates to the multiple factors involved in the situation.
Ambiguous  ‘Ambiguity’ recognises there might be both negative and positive consequences in any complex situation.


Three core issues are at stake for management:

  • How to lower the risk of infection in the workplace
  • How to think strategically about the business and keep employees productive
  • How to assist with enlivening employees disease fighting immune systems.

Responding strategically

Here below is a framework to help you think strategically as you navigate this uncharted VUCA territory.

Aaron Antonovsky’s approach of ‘Salutogenesis’ provides clear guidelines for supporting yourself and employees’ ‘sense of coherence’ through the pandemic. Remember this ‘sense of coherence’ is a key factor in enlivening the immune response.

There are three enabling qualities for a ‘sense of coherence’:

‘Comprehensibility’: When employees have sufficient grasp of what is going on, it helps to maintain mental equilibrium.

‘Manageability’: When employees know how to respond and the resources are made available it brings a sense of reassurance.

‘Meaningfulness’: When employees understand the significance of the measures being taken and the value of appropriate action, it enables commitment.


Providing accurate information about the pandemic is key so that when taking informed decisions they can be based in a deeper understanding of how the virus works. By watching this short video by Dr Lin you will understand the rationale behind the hygiene and personal care recommendations.

As we face a daily barrage of negative news reporting, it can be difficult to differentiate between cold facts and sensationalism. Coupled to the often confusing and contradictory messaging on social media, management must help provide credible data. These are suggested sites with which to follow world trends:

These sites are helpful in providing information on hygiene and personal care:

As a manager do keep up-to-date with information and share this with staff on a regular basis, thereby providing a more balance perspective. This information includes the significant statistic that many of those infected with the virus around the world have already recovered. This emphasises the fact that even without  an available vaccine, people’s immune systems are working well.

Further research shows that in order to learn how to cope with a new virus the immune system needs time. And remember also to share that wearing face masks will not be effective in preventing a healthy person from catching the virus.

There are conflicting predictions on how the virus is going to infect all countries in the world. Although this is an American based article, it is thought-provoking and challenging.



Since ‘knowing what to do’ with the best information available, helps reduce fear and supports a sense of ‘being in control’, do include as many people as possible in decision-making.

Encourage each department to hold group conversations about how all  can play a constructive role in practicing appropriate hygiene. Hold conversations discussing how best to remain safe from infection in public areas, especially when travelling.

When sharing new information, enable staff to discuss the implications, and identify what actions they want to take to better manage the situation.



The well-known psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, said; “If we can know the ‘why’ we will find the ‘how’”. And, as we said, business strategist Nassim Taleb introduced the notion of ‘antifragile’ emphasising that living systems actually become stronger under stress. So, both for employees and management, if we learn to adapt effectively in our personal lives, this urgent situation might still help us and our teams grow in strength.


Some good may yet come from this crisis

Take action now; start with these 6 options:

  • Fever is an early indicator of infection; consider purchasing temperature scanner. Train in its proper use. This will reduce fear and build a sense of control.
  • Practice rigorous hygiene. Install hand sanitisers round the offices. Plenty of soap in the cloak rooms. Make tissues readily available, and bins for immediate disposal.
  • Get the message of prevention and containment out – loud and clear:
    Put up posters about the virus, on hand washing, and boosting the immune system.
  • Encourage generative conversation so employees can express their concerns and find solution; How to clean door handles and surfaces, work from home, manage taxi, bus and train travel, and care for the ill.
  • Ensure easy access to drinking water to remain well-hydrated.
  • Distribute hygiene products
    Buy in bulk and sell to staff at a subsidised rate so employees can provide for family and friends. You will be assisting communities to prevent the spread of the virus.

Business strategist Nassim Taleb’s ‘antifragile’ concept emphasises that living systems actually become stronger under stress. So, for both employees and management, if we can learn to adapt effectively, this situation can still help us and out teams grow.

Some good may yet come from this crisis

Isle of Houghton, Old Trafford Building 4, Ground Floor, Cnr Boundary & Carse O’Gowrie Roads, Houghton, JHB