70 experts from 21 leading tourism, hospitality, events, and culinary arts (TH&E) institutions of THE-ICE member network in 16 countries shared their strategies for supporting staff, colleagues, and students through the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant disruption it has caused to personal and professional environments.
On Thursday, 30th April 2020 THE-ICE hosted their fifth COVID-19 webinar, with attendees hearing from panellists Ms Jane Gentle (THE-ICE, Australia), Professor Marcus Stephenson (Sunway University, Malaysia), mindfulness business trainer Dr Eef Heinhuis (The Netherlands), and Professor Jane Ali-Knight (Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland). From the panellist perspectives and open discussion, four areas of focus emerged:
- Providing support to staff and colleagues
- Practicing mindfulness and building resilience
- Maintaining clear and open communication at all levels
- Taking reasonable and appropriate measures
Within these areas, the following key takeaways were highlighted:
Providing support to staff and colleagues
- Staff and students are currently experiencing grief at the loss of control and increased unpredictability in their personal and professional environments.
- Regular virtual meetings allow managers to check in on the emotional wellbeing of their staff as well as to manage workloads, although expectations of staff output should be managed in these extraordinary circumstances, and staff wellbeing should be prioritised.
- Institutions should be mindful of the differing levels of access staff may have to time and resources when working from home.
- Staff and colleagues should be supported emotionally and encouraged to take the same breaks and to move around as they would at the office, where practical.
Practicing mindfulness and building resilience
- Dr Eef Heinhuis outlined the benefits of practicing mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training and led a brief mindfulness exercise for attendees. Mindfulness exercises have a high return on investment for those who participate, reducing stress and risk of burnout, which ultimately reduces turnover, and increasing productivity and creativity.
- Seek to establish a routine that includes healthy food, regular physical activity, time in nature, and seeking support from friends, family, and colleagues where needed.
- Recognise how you are feeling and be kind to yourself. Manage expectations of how much you can achieve, personally and professionally, in these extraordinary circumstances and with the resources that you have available.
Maintaining clear and open communication at all levels
- Clear and consistent communication with students and staff is key to overcoming challenges.
- When communicating with staff, keep a positive mindset and focus on what is within their control, not the unpredictable or uncontrollable elements of the current situation.
- Organising student consultations and keeping virtual ‘office hours’ gives students the opportunity to tell their teachers and their institution about the problems they are facing. Surveying students on how they are coping with the transition to online learning may also provide useful metrics on how the institution is meeting their needs, and which areas may need more resources or improvement.
- Academic transparency is essential, especially in situations where cancelled or postponed practical classes may have a knock-on effect. Bridging workshops or courses, temporary pass/fail grading, and evaluation and alignment of learning objectives in forthcoming subjects were proposed as potential strategies to manage this.
- It is important to work closely with government and regulatory bodies in these rapidly changing times to ensure compliance, and to clearly record all temporary regulations and the process of consultation that led to each of these decisions.
Taking reasonable and appropriate measures
- We are not all in the same boat; consider the particular context of your institution and be mindful of any additional challenges staff and students may be facing.
- Nobody has the right answers or perfect approach for the current situation. Each institution should take measures that are appropriate and reasonable for its staff and students.
Members of THE-ICE network also shared how they are supporting their staff, students, and community during the pandemic:
- The management team, professors, personnel, and students of Dusit Thani College (DTC), Thailand, are cooking and delivering food to healthcare workers at hospitals as part of Dusit Thani Group’s “Food for Heroes” campaign. DTC is also offering free online cooking classes which are accessible to everyone.
- Swiss Education Group, Switzerland, is focusing on investing time and resources into upskilling and increasing competencies for staff, with a focus on online teaching and learning.
- Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management, United Arab Emirates, have made their counselling services available online and are seeking to keep students engaged outside of online classes as well, especially those who are living away from home, family, and other existing support networks.
The recording of the webinar can be accessed here.