The University of Cape Coast School of Business has been organising a series of e-seminars on various topics to engage the public, students, lecturers and alumni to reflect on the challenges and opportunities brought by the COIVD-19.
On Wednesday, 17 June 2020, the 4th session of the e-seminar was organised on the topic Coronavirus Pandemic: implications for workplace reforms and employee wellbeing.
In his introductory comment, the Dean of the Business School, Prof John Gatsi, called for huge investment in ICT to enhance the correction of disruptions to work.
He supported his call with data from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in which only 10.7% of households in Africa have computers in 2019 and internet use was just about 28% when Europe was 83%.
He asked human resource experts to unearth other critical challenges that the pandemic has brought apart from job losses such as health and safety, illnesses related to COVID-19 but not through infections to establish a basis for comprehensive solutions.
One of the discussants, Mr Francis Eduku, Vice-President and Human Resource Director of Goldfields Ghana Limited, explained that one of the issues labour unions and leaders are silent about is the effect of the pandemic on psychological contract, which is about the unwritten contracts which cannot be found in the collective bargaining agreements but have become part of the work culture, motivation and recognition.
He said all these things have been eroded such that all the unwritten promises made by management and employers to employees for which performance was good could not be fulfilled. He explained that with COVID-19 where people work from home and virtually in many cases nobody is providing workplace socialisation, acknowledging and recognizing as before. In some cases, no employer is interested in whether the home setting provides a conducive environment to work. Mr Eduku said some workers are isolated and filled with anxiety.
He, therefore, charged the Department of Human Resource Management of the School of Business to conduct a survey into the impact of the pandemic on psychological contracts to provide a balanced perspective of the effect on employees. He also called for collaborative, caring and engaging relationship between employees and employers.
For her part, Dr Hannah Vivian Osei, a senior Lecturer at the Department of Human Resource and Organisational Development, KNUST, the workplace for some employees have moved to the home with inappropriate setup for work coupled with destructive surroundings.
She called on organisations and individuals to invest in virtual infrastructure and assets that will make employees deliver in the new work environment because Coronavirus Pandemic is a strong trigger for reforms to embrace technology-intensive workplace.
Dr Osei explained that with technology and proper capacity building everywhere could become the workplace.
Dr Osei asked governments in Africa to invest in ICT to enhance inclusion of Employees and potential employees in the new workplace because access to the internet and ownership of computers in households is abysmal and that this should attract attention.
She also appealed to organisations not to terminate at the least misconduct but to promote negotiations and empathy during the period.
She advised employees to protect data and information of their organisations with upscale sensitivity saying flexible workplace and working hours should not increase the risk of organisational secrets and information. Dr Osei advised organisations to place premium on human dignity, pain and empathy to inform any employee who out of extreme consideration and with regards to the law has to be laid off.
Dr Osei explained that one positive observation about the pandemic is the serious attention being paid to health and safety at the workplace but called for more investments into office layouts to sustain the benefits to employees.
Taking his turn, Dr Agbettor encouraged employers not to live in fear that the multiple work locations and flexibility being experienced will expose their vital information to the wrong people. He rather asked employers to build such capabilities for their employees to improve trust.
Dr Agbettor, who is also the Executive Director of the Institute of Human Resource Practitioners Ghana explained that COVID-19 has increased socialisation risk for both employers and employees because, to many, their source of joy, sharing of experiences for a long time is the interaction at fixed workplace.
The challenge now he said is how to build into the new work models the workplace socialisation. He appealed to employees to provide interest-free loans to employees if they have the means and alternatively negotiate with financial institutions for flexible loans to their employees to minimise the financial anxiety.
Dr Agbettor asked employers and organisations not to hide behind the pandemic to deny their employees legitimate expectations and they should be transparent with employees.
Dr Nana Yaw Oppong, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Human Resource Management, University of Cape Coast School of Business, discussed the challenges that the pandemic poses to collective bargaining agreements especially post-COVID and call on labour unions to start discussing the issues. He advised employers to follow redundancy procedures and negotiations. He advised further that redundancy reason as provided by the law is critical.
Dr Oppong explained that employers should not treat employees as victims of the pandemic that should be laid off at the will of the employers without following the redundancy process.