Counselling preparedness and responsiveness of industrial psychologists in the face of COVID-19.
du Plessis, Marieta
Thomas, Emma C.
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The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as a pandemic in March 2020. For much of the following year, the COVID-19 pandemic had a bewildering and unprecedented effect on all aspects of society across the globe (Gautam & Sharma, 2020). For instance, in March 2020 the South African government implemented drastic measures to curb the spread of the virus, breaking existing social and economic forms of contact (Arndt et al., 2020). It quickly became evident that the direct and indirect psychological and social effects of the pandemic were pervasive and could affect mental health long after the pandemic itself is over (Holmes et al., 2020). As a result of prolonged lockdown and business closures, people experienced social isolation, lifestyle disruptions and loss of personal income, whilst society lost its productivity in a crippled economy (Tan et al., 2020). This pandemic has exacerbated stressors in a healthcare system in which burnout, a response to workplace stress, is already endemic (Restauri & Sheridan, 2020). Given this global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is much speculation about the effects it will have on the future of work and on people working in organisations (Rudolph et al., 2020). Indeed, the influence of the pandemic has provoked a career shock in many people (Akkermans, Richardson, & Kraimer, 2020; Hite & McDonald, 2020). There have been tangible effects on work- related processes, including job losses and large-scale implementation of new remote labour policies (Adalja, Toner, & Inglesby, 2020).These changes have imposed numerous psychological stressors upon individuals (Van Bavel et al., 2020). For example, people are experiencing increased work and family demands, especially as they navigate the need to re-balance multiple work-related roles with their personal lives. Frontline employees such as healthcare workers needed increased levels of resilience, as they continued to attempt to save lives whilst battling snowballing numbers of infected people (Hite & McDonald, 2020). External demands (e.g. increased uncertainty about job security, financial difficulties) are likewise accumulating. Sibley et al. (2020) reported that the nationwide lockdown in New Zealand resulted in higher rates of mental distress. Zacher and Rudolph (2020) reported decreases in life satisfaction and positive affect in a German sample (N = 979). In India, a 20% increase in patients with mental illness has been reported since the COVID-19 outbreak (Loiwal, 2020). This emerging evidence of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health echoes WHO concerns about its long-term psychosocial consequences (WHO, 2020a). Specifically, there are concerns about increased experiences of loneliness, anxiety, depression, insomnia, harmful substance use, self-harm and suicidal behaviour (WHO, 2020b). Kumar and Nayar (2020) suggest that one of the major challenges in mitigating mental health consequences of the pandemic is the lack of mental health professionals, practitioners and counsellors. Industrial-organisational psychologists (IOPs) are professionals who specialise in the psychology of work and human behaviour in organisations (Van Vuuren, 2010). The Health Professions Act (2006) (Health Professions Council of South Africa [HPCSA], 2011) postulates that the main tasks of IOPs are to: [P]lan, develop and apply paradigms, theories, models, constructs and principles of psychology to issues related to the world of work in order to understand, modify and enhance individual, group and organisational behaviour, well-being and effectiveness. (p. 9) Hence, IOPs should support well-balanced employees towards a process of development and optimisation. Although a key focus for IOPs is to ensure workplace readiness and compliance with occupational health and safety measures (Rudolph et al., 2020), it is clear that COVID-19 workplace interventions should address not only the physiological but also the psychological needs of employees (e.g. via counselling procedures) (Zhou et al., 2020). The purpose of this study was to determine the preparedness and crisis responsiveness of IOPs as related to workplace counselling.