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David Larkin

15th Oct 2021

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Irish businesses pass Covid-19 ‘stress test’, according to IMI-CUBS research

During May and June of this year, the Irish Management Institute (IMI), in collaboration with Cork University Business School, University College Cork, carried out a survey to examine the views of Irish business leaders relating to their organisation’s resilience during and as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. The 392 respondents represented a variety of sectors, with the public sector (28%) and financial services (16%) being the largest. In total, 29% of the respondents were middle managers, with the remaining 71% holding senior to C-level positions within their organisation.

The research revealed that organisations leaned on their workforce’s ability to adapt in the face of disruption. Respondents cited their people’s determination to work together ‘to achieve a common goal’ and the benefits of ‘a burning platform to achieve agility, new ways of working and new products’. When asked about their organisation’s ability to react to the crisis, 86% of leaders felt their organisation responded ‘well’ or ‘very well’ to the pandemic.

Whitney Johnson, one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on strategic resiliencesaid of the Irish response: “One of the beauties of the past 18 months is that we’ve all realised that we were more able to bounce back and adapt than we thought. This was a wonderful stress test for us – and in many respects we succeeded with flying colours. I think that’s important for us to recognise, that we have strengthened that muscle.” 

When asked about how well organisations handled communications with staff during the pandemic, the survey showed that 82% of leaders felt that they provided the right amount of communication. However, challenges emerged in terms of how organisations communicated with staff to emphasise the challenges presented by the pandemic, with 13% of respondents stating there was too little emphasis on these challenges.

Thia Hennessy, Dean of Cork University Business School, said: During a crisis, there are opportunities. What leaders are telling us here is that there were missed opportunities. It comes back to balancing short- and long-term issues. It’s possible that responding to the pandemic and getting people working remotely was the key focus of the communications, and there wasn’t enough emphasis on opportunities. 

The joint research asked leaders to describe the level of trust between senior managers and staff, with the data revealing an increased level of trust at the time of the survey (79% positive responses) compared to pre-pandemic (76%). While there was an uptick in levels of trust in both public and private sector, the gains in the public sector were eight times higher than those seen in the private sector.

Dr Colm Foster, the Director of Executive Education at the IMI, said: “This public-private sector discrepancy is a fascinating finding from the research. This could be a reflection of the immediate response and mobilisation from public sector bodies and frontline workers in tackling the society-wide disruption caused by the pandemic, which in turn led to a collective mindset to meet the challenges based on a foundation of trust.”

When leaders were asked about their hopefulness regarding their organisation’s future, 86% said they were hopeful. One of the respondents noted: “Our people really delivered when backs were to the wall and this gives great confidence as we look to the future.”

The respondents were also questioned, having come through the crisis, on how well they were set up to handle any further challenges, with more than a fifth (21%) of leaders feeling that their staff would be unable to face further disruption.

“We saw work-related stress, fatigue and isolation coming up time and again in the research,” said Thia Hennessy, Dean of Cork University Business School. “As we return to the workplace, it’s important for leaders to focus on issue of wellbeing. Fantastic progress has been made on trust and new work practices. Now, the challenge for leaders is to retain the best parts of that while adjusting to working in the office again.”

Simon Boucher, the CEO of IMI, said: “This in-depth research by IMI and our colleagues at Cork University Business School provides an invaluable snapshot of Irish businesses’ response to a crisis of enormous scale. As our national recovery accelerates, the data collected in this study paints a heartening picture of the resilience of our business community, as well as shedding light on the upcoming challenges facing leaders.

For more on the IMI/CUBS Organisational Resilience Survey, you can view an infographic of the findings here.