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Javier Arellano, Director Academic of the Master in Personnel Management Service in Organizations of the School of Economics and Business Administration.

Positive externalities of COVID-19 at work

Thu, 30 Apr 2020 14:04:00 +0000 Posted in University of Navarra
Javier Arellano, Director Academic of the Master in Personnel Management Service in Organizations of the School of Economics and Business Administration.

A few weeks ago I read in the press that Amaya Vizmanos, a bilingual 1st year Business Administration and Law student at the University of Navarra, has created a platform to help 2nd year students who are preparing for the high school diploma who are preparing for the university entrance exam. On the other hand, I myself attend free online webinars on training given by Harvard professors. I am also reminded of an anecdote that was told during the Stop&Think webinar organised by my university on how to continue managing people in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, by Jorge Javier Vicente, director of people from group COFARES, in which he told us that in recent weeks they have been involved, among other projects, in the provision of the "temporary hospital" at IFEMA.

Faced with the avalanche of orders and the difficulties of management, the Cofares team, Javier told us, launched an internal appeal to employees who were at home working at home to come to the headquarters to lend a hand in the warehouses. With undisguisable pride in those colleagues, Javier confessed that in less than two hours more than two hundred volunteers showed up. In my case, I see the overexertion of the department of innovation in education of the University and of the department of IT Services, and so many other examples... that the diagnosis seems obvious to me: the Covid-19 pandemic has awakened in us the spirit of service.

I think that the origin may be a healthy envy or, on the positive side, the good example offered by those health professionals whom we applaud at 8 o'clock from our balconies. That generous work of endless conference at an intense pace, with a tremendous level of tension and assuming the risk of contagion itself, does not surprise us because we have seen it before and we usually "justify" it by attributing it to the fact that certain professions have a vocational component. By the way, it is not a question of making rankings but I have found particularly exemplary the decision of some caregivers to voluntarily lock themselves in nursing homes to protect "their elders". I was saying that it may not surprise us, but we do not fail to applaud and admire this sense of mission statement, this spirit of service, this awareness that the work they perform has a motive that goes beyond the noble purpose of being the means they have to earn a living. And as the example drags (it has already happened in the past), after this health crisis the issue of applications in the Schools of Medicine and Nursing will grow.

But the truth is that the sense of mission statement (we are seeing it every day) is not exclusive to a few professions. On the contrary, all work can be done in a spirit of service. In fact, it is not only healthcare professionals who receive tributes these days. Applause has reached pharmacists, police officers, members of the armed forces, ambulance drivers, transporters, stockers, supermarket cashiers, teachers, etc. The spirit of service that we see these days in so many workers reaches all professions... although not all professionals. And it is not in the what, but in the how, where the difference lies. How does one distinguish? It is not difficult. There are several characteristics common to all those who work in a spirit of service.

Directions towards the common good

The first trait is professionalism. Someone who works in a spirit of service cannot be a "bungler". Of all the meanings I know of the expression "to act with professionalism", the one I like the most is this: the professional is the one who does well the part of his work that he does not like (because he knows that this is important for the work to have the result that is expected of him). There is an obvious causal relationship between the spirit of service and professionalism. The former leads to the latter, to the point that I would go so far as to say that the spirit of service (if it can be measured) would be a good proxy for the level of performance of our work. 

Secondly, working in a spirit of service means taking care of (and even exceeding in) the small details, especially those that have to do with the attention with others (colleagues, customers, suppliers, etc.). The doctor does not need to call every day the relatives of a patient who cannot be accompanied and tell them how he is progressing, so that the patient can be cured. And of course, it is not among the professional obligations of a stretcher-bearer or a person from the cleaning team to lend his cell phone and his time so that a sick person can make a video-call with his family; and what can we say about the time that many of these professionals have dedicated to accompanying sick people in the final moments of their lives. None of this cures, but it all improves the healthcare service. Many small details do not have the value or the transcendence that these have in the field of health and in these circumstances, but they still reflect the attitude of service of those who perform them. A friend was telling me the other day about "the good attitude of your people" during these days, telling me that "with all that is going on, they even take less time to answer emails... and you don't know how much time that saves us". Small details, yes, but they have a great multiplying effect.

The third characteristic of service-minded professionals is that they are usually the ones who smile the most and complain the least. In final, those who are able to generate "good vibes" around them. It should not be by chance. I remember my grandfather always used to tell me that someone is happy when he doesn't have time to think about himself. It is true, those who have a spirit of service do not have time to spare, although it is not known how, but they always manage to do everything, and almost always well. And that general rule of the Economics of happiness that my grandfather used to teach me and that can be stated as follows: "giving is how we receive", also applies in the field of work. We have seen some of this happen in the ICU of the hospitals where the television cameras have been shown during these weeks. And I'm sure it happens too (albeit on a different scale) at your business. Check the list of names proposed for your business mentoring program. You're sure to find among them champions of the spirit of service. And you may find that some colleagues who do "their" work well and are very talented are not on the list. Colleagues whom everyone respects and recognizes as reliable workers who deliver. But workers you may not admire, because you perceive that they lack the ability to look around them. I talk to professionals in many companies these days and they all tell me that they don't need to wait for the next survey work climate to know that it will bring good news. I confess that, in my opinion, the best news of this period of pandemic that we have been living through is that it has allowed us to demonstrate (I refer to the evidence) that the spirit of service is as contagious, if not more so, than the coronavirus.

The founder of our university, St. Josemaría, used to say that the work done with professionalism and attention to small details; the work done with others in mind, with a spirit of service; that work can also be offered to God, asking him for the sick and their families and for those who suffer the economic consequences of this pandemic. I am sure that many people are doing this. St. Josemaría called it sanctification the work, and taught that there is no small work ; the best work is not the one done by the highest-ranking person or the best paid, but the one done with the greatest spirit of service.

Many say that things will not be the same after COVID-19. Hopefully, this true labor reform that the pandemic has brought us, this rediscovering of the vocation of service that exists in every task and this awareness of all the good that we can do with our work, is here to stay. It seems to me to be a very effective way to move forward in the economic crisis that the pandemic is leaving us. Perhaps the problem itself is bringing us part of the solution.