Expanding human and social skills in the era of Covid-19

Important guidance on the human and social skills needed for a safe return to work.

Blog by IOE Adviser Akustina Morni

Health and safety professionals at work are there to prevent accidents and respond to them when they happen. They also develop policies and procedures to ensure a safe work environment and organise staff briefings.

However, in the era of Covid-19, health and safety at work takes on a broader dimension and increases the responsibilities of safety professionals as well as managers across the organisation. CEOs, human resource personnel and supervisors must all take on health and safety roles to mitigate the spread and manage the impact of Covid-19 related risks.

What skills are required for managing the impact of a public health emergency on staff? There are some fundamental skills which managers need to draw on or further develop as they and their teams head back to work. These skills are the human and social ones that are often mentioned when talking about the next generation of skills required for the future of work.

What skills are needed for a return to work?

The world is learning to co-exist with the coronavirus as the search for a vaccine continues and/or when herd immunity[1] takes effect. And living with the virus also means living with the health and mental health risks. According to World Economic Forum[2], the lockdown of almost 3 billion people in one form or another was the world’s biggest psychological experiment. There are predictions of burnout and stress-related absenteeism in the latter half of 2020.

Even more interesting, it mentioned that for disaster responses – there are usually two tents: one to attend to the injured. And another to treat the invisible, psychological wounds of trauma. Currently, most countries are focused on the first tent, but no one is watching the second tent. We should not forget to prepare for the psychological consequences of the global lockdown, as this would impede health and economic recovery. This is where human and social skills among managers are most needed.

What are the eight top skills needed to manage both ‘tents’?

Leadership skills

  • Ability to solve problems through critical thinking and lead teams through unpredictable times
  • Directing money fast to where it is needed the most

Adaptation skills

  • Ability to adjust and respond quickly to changing circumstances, ideas, responsibilities, expectations, trends, strategies and other processes
  • Ability to self-motivate if working from home

Anticipation skills

  • Ability to predict and plan for a second wave or future outbreak (early detection and fast mitigation)
  • Ability to look ahead of others and develop solutions in the form of advocacy, products or services

Risk management

  • Determining ways to reduce risk – social/physical distancing, masks, PPEs, soaps in common areas, when common areas can re-open, checking on the well-being and health of workers, monitoring travels, promoting teleworking where possible
  • Identifying hidden hazards or invisible threats (by investigating cases, asking questions, inspecting equipment and sites)
  • Emergency procedures planning – creating simple policies as a start
  • Running health and safety meetings and training courses for employees

Analytical skills - Gathering and interpreting data

  • Compiling statistics and writing reports
  • Understanding health and safety laws of the country
  • Identifying ‘Clean zones’ within the vicinity of the workplace
  • Knowledge of regulatory organizations (nearest hospital, clinics, labs, OSH authorities)

Coordination skills

  • Liaising with external health and safety authorities
  • External stakeholder management (new and traditional partners)
  • Ability to negotiate through tough conflicts
  • Establishment of health committees (how to create a culture of shared responsibilities)

Communication skills

  • Health diplomacy and advocacy
  • Timely information dissemination and clear instructions
  • Promoting anti-discrimination practices

Digital literacy

  • Ability to learn new apps or understanding how data is collected, used and managed

Managers who can successfully navigate through this new normality would be able to:

At a personal level, these skills are transferrable – they make an individual more employable in any sector or industry.

How can each stakeholder foster and harness these skills?

To be frank, skills can only be strengthened over time and with practice. Josh Kaufman through a TedTalk[3] said that professional athletes or experts would need on average 10,000 hours to master a skill. However, he argues that to learn a new skill, you can attain a reasonable level within the first 20 hours.

Some training courses can indeed be expensive, but they are only perceived to be costly if there is no return on investment. In the long term, improved skills and good synergies among work colleagues make teams more productive. And when teams are productive, organisations are more effective, efficient, sustainable and resilient. It gives private companies especially, a competitive advantage.

Other than training, there are also other ways to promote these skills, when safe to do so:

  • Work-based learning (virtual or physical)
  • Use of e-learning tools (such as MOOCs)
  • TVET institutions
  • Mentorship programmes
  • Apprenticeship programmes
  • Local community courses
  • Practising infront of strangers
  • Learning by doing
  • Setting up a personal 20-hour skills challenge

The most important thing to have is the right mindset. It is normal to have a psychological reaction to the crisis. It is stressful and exhausting. But together, we can direct our focus instead on arming ourselves with new skills. A learning organization is key to come out of the pandemic stronger. Go and use the time now to learn a new skill.

You got this.




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