April 1, 2020
The worldwide spread of the Covid-19 infection has no precedent in the modern world as a health crisis that calls upon the extraordinary and immediate unity of all constituents of our society. Often seen as a utopia in contemporary society, unity must now concretely permeate our daily lives.
While doubts are raised about the effectiveness of the control and prevention policies that were adopted throughout the world (e.g., Anderson, Mckee, & Mossialos, 2020; Tanne et al., 2020), governments’ officials, non-governmental organisations (e.g., WHO), the media and academic scholars (including contributors to this forum) converge on the observation that the crisis has had an ostensible effect on organisational morality and behaviours in recent weeks (e.g., Buheji & Ahmed, 2020; Downey, 2020; ET Bureau, 2020; The United Nations, 2020). The instrumental efforts of organisations to innovate their business models and guarantee the continuity of their economic activities in these difficult circumstances (e.g., orders collapse and the inevitability of temporal physical distances) are accompanied by a general demonstration of solidarity with direct and indirect business ‘relatives’, as well as a desire for connectedness with wider society. A simple internet search of corporate names and the term ‘Covid-19’ provides interested readers with links to a myriad of solidarity statements and initiatives that are not limited to philanthropy and (hopefully) symbolism.
This situation might be an opportunity for organisational scholars to take notice of, and appreciate, the fact that actors of the business community are capable of rising above (yet perhaps not substituting) the individualist and reckless behaviours that are often (legitimately) associated with them in the management literature. As a case in point, empathy seems to have become broadly embedded in virtual interactions at work, possibly making it easier for everyone to alleviate anxiety and fear, and cope with emerging gaps in human contact, synchronicity, ordering and certainty in day-to-day business activities.
In a recent work published in the Journal of Business Ethics (Martinez, 2019), I discuss faith as one aspect of human psychology that combines cognition and affection and enriches our understanding of how business agents relate to ‘Others’ (i.e., the self, other business agents and members of the wider stakeholder community). I propose that high levels of faith development amongst business decision-makers, management teams and members of the stakeholder community generate a climate of trust that renders unlikely the occurrence of social and environmental misconduct. Four variables are advanced that determine the level of faith development: connectivity, inclusivity, reciprocity and emotional affinity.
Because the Covid-19 pandemic is a collective threat that raises society’s awareness of the interdependence between individuals and across groups (Klein, 2020), it is not illusive to believe that it has a stimulating effect on faith development in the business community. The exact nature, scope and intensity of this effect are difficult to exhaustively define at this point. Yet it seems reasonable to expect that it will intensify in the weeks ahead as we observe an increase in the number of people and organisations (i) being involved in activities aimed at contributing the care of Others (connectivity), (ii) including Others in their moral considerations (inclusivity), (iii) demonstrating affection towards Others (emotional affinity), and (iv) feeling rewarded for responding to the needs and concerns of Others (reciprocity).
While these redemptive attributes have the immediate effect of relieving anxiety at an individual level, the deeply game changing nature of the crisis we now face may well yield to broader reflections about the way we think of business, and of its role in the pursuit of a more sustainable society. My humble call is that the faith development model, and the evidence of its relevance to explain some of the most authentic and responsible individual and organisational reactions in these troubling times, be extended in future research as part of an effort to bringing in new insights on the potential of business to act responsibly.
We now need to trust that all types of organizations (all over the world) will continue to cooperate tirelessly in the quest for social cohesion and mobilise resources in fight against Covid-19 and for the recovery effort. Many reported organisational reactions to the crisis set the mood for optimism because they align with a generous conception of business as a means to serving communities, and of economic aspects in a more general sense as a narrow segment of human life. Let us hope that this collective spirit will help us to prevail sooner rather than later, and that the prospect of a post-Covid-19 financial crisis will not lead business actors to submit to ‘lower levels of faith development’. What can however be assumed is that the unfolding events provide for an intriguing field for empirical research, theory-building and practice in the domain of responsible management.
Anderson, M., Mckee, M., & Mossialos, E. (2020). Covid-19 exposes weaknesses in European response to outbreaks. BMJ, 368, m1075. doi:10.1136/bmj.m1075
Buheji, M., & Ahmed, D. (2020). Foresight of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Opportunities for a Better World. American Journal Economics, 10(2), 97-108.
Downey, P. (2020, Saturday March 28, 2020). Th media thrive on conflict, but Covid-19 teaches us solidarity.Business Post. Retrieved from https://www.businesspost.ie/coronavirus/the-media-thrive-on-conflict-but-covid-19-teaches-us-solidarity-7aff465b
ET Bureau. (2020, March 28th, 2020). Tech Mahindra tweaks brand logo to convey solidarity in fight against COVID-19. The Economic Times. Retrieved from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/ites/tech-mahindra-tweaks-brand-logo-to-convey-solidarity-in-fight-against-covid-19/articleshow/74861592.cms
Klein, E. (2020, March 17th, 2020). The Covid-19 question: Can social solidarity replicate faster than the virus?Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/coronavirus-covid19/2020/3/17/21180645/covid-19-coronavirus-social-solidarity-epidemic-pandemic-paid-leave-health-care
Martinez, F. (2019). On the Role of Faith in Sustainability Management: A Conceptual Model and Research Agenda. Journal of Business Ethics, 155(3), 787-807. doi:10.1007/s10551-017-3540-4
Tanne, J. H., Hayasaki, E., Zastrow, M., Pulla, P., Smith, P., & Rada, A. G. (2020). Covid-19: how doctors and healthcare systems are tackling coronavirus worldwide. BMJ, 368, m1090. doi:10.1136/bmj.m1090
The United Nations. (2020). Acts of kindness spread amid COVID-19 outbreak as UN acts to counter threat. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus-disease-covid-19/acts-solidarity-spread-amid-covid-19-outbreak-un-continues-counter.