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Juniorprofessur Europäisches Management


Healthcare organizations’ resilience in the COVID-19 crisis (COVRES)

The spread of COVID-19 seems to have hit Europe out of the blue even though the threat of a global pandemic was definitely beyond the unexpected. Already back in 2015, Bill Gates criticized that for "[t]he next outbreak? We're not ready" (Gates, 2015). In addition to a WHO report on the ten threats to global health in 2019 that stressed, among others, the danger of antimicrobial resistance as well as the occurrence and spread of Ebola and a potential disease X in terms of an unknown pathogen (WHO, 2019), the WHO also released a specific guide “to inform and harmonize national and international pandemic preparedness and response” (WHO, 2017: 2; Rouleau et al., 2020). Initially published in 2009, the guide was revised based on the “lessons learned from the influenza A(H1N1) 2009” (WHO, 2017: 8). The thread of a global pandemic can thus hardly be described as unexpected just as, due to the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the emergence of MERS-CoV in 2012 (WHO, 2019), we cannot frame COVID-19 as a completely unknown disease.

Nonetheless, and despite the fact that China has been affected by the coronavirus before, we were not prepared for this type of outbreak. Even worse, most countries even did not use the summer to prepare thoroughly for a potential second wave which currently hit them with full force, whereas other countries, such as New Zealand or Taiwan harvest the fruits of their anticipation and preparation.

Therefore, as the occurrence of this virus has impressively demonstrated us, the need for organizations being resilient has never been more urgent, in particular for system-relevant infrastructure, such as hospitals. Since healthcare organizations heavily depend on their leaders, even stronger in times of crisis, such as during the current COVID-19 crisis, we aim to understand how the leader related to organizational resilience.

By examining health care organizations’ resilience from a multi-level perspective, we address one of “the grand challenges that confront our species” (Tourish, 2020: 107), especially since this crisis will probably not be the last global pandemic. Thus, we will provide useful implications for health care practice.

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Leaders’ resilience. How leaders deal with critical situations successfully and sustainably

Current developments, such as globalization and digitalization, have led to changes in the world of work leading to generally higher pace and overall stress levels. The annual economic costs resulting from this work-related overload have been increasing for years. According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, these costs can be divided into direct and indirect costs, whereby direct costs can be directly assigned to work-related stress (e.g. preventive measures), while indirect costs tend to arise as a result of work-related stress (e.g. lower work productivity due to increased sick leave or fluctuation). Thus, direct costs are only the “tip of the iceberg” (EU-OSHA, 2014).

One buzzword that has been repeatedly used in this context and that can be seen as a result of increasingly tough working conditions and excessive stress is burnout. Burnout defined as a “a state of depletion of a person’s resources and energy” (Sharma, 2007: 23) is not a new but an ongoing problem in the modern world of employment. Although this problem affects all people in the labor market, leaders often play key roles in this scenario because of their key position regarding corporate performance. If leaders fail to deal effectively with current developments, this will not only have negative consequences for the leaders themselves (e.g. overwork), but also easily for their employees (e.g. demotivation) and the entire organization (e.g. lower productivity). Leadership tasks are furthermore usually particularly challenging. Therefore, leaders are often under enormous pressure, which increases the risk of a managerial burnout.

If a leader is not able to deal with it, this can lead to serious consequences for the leader themselves, his or her employees and the entire company. In order to prevent such a trickle-down-effect, leaders who focus on their employees’ and company’s well-being must constantly keep an eye on their own resilience, critically reflecting themselves and, if necessary, take measures to strengthen their resilience. In this context, resilience defines “positive adaptation in the face of risk or adversity” (Wright, Masten & Narayan, 2013: 17; Foerster & Duchek, 2017, 2018) refers not only to the simple abstinence of mental disorders, but to an overall improved physical and psychological well-being (Davydov, Stewart, Ritchie & Chaudieu, 2010; Foerster & Duchek, 2017; Truffino, 2010).