Wisconsin School of Business faculty discuss COVID-19 and the American Workplace

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched virtually every aspect of our working lives, imposing a new set of challenges for employees and employers alike. WSB faculty recently examined these workplace issues in a live panel discussion facilitated by Lauren Weber, a reporter with The Wall Street Journal.

The discussion, titled “Not Business as Usual: How the Workforce is Faring During Disruption,” included four faculty from the Department of Management and Human Resources:

  • Sarada, assistant professor of management and economics
  • Jirs Meuris, assistant professor and a faculty affiliate with UW–Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty and the Center for Financial Security
  • Jon Eckhardt, associate professor, faculty affiliate with WSB’s Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship, Discovery Fellow, Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, and the Pyle Bascom Professor in Business Leadership
  • Russ Coff, professor and department chair, academic director of WSB’s Bolz Center for Arts Administration, and the Thomas J. Falk Distinguished Chair in Business

The below conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Faculty Highlights: What are you focused on right now in relation to COVID-19?

WSB faculty shared their thoughts on the coronavirus epidemic and management and human resources issues

Jirs Meuris: Most of my research looks at employee issues and how employee wellbeing affects job performance and related outcomes. One word that stands out to me in thinking about how this pandemic is affecting employees is “uncertainty. Normally when people experience uncertainty in their work—such as pay or hours—they tend to remove themselves from that situation. Now people can’t get away from this kind of risk and uncertainty, so they have to find some way to cope with it. My perspective is that this pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty for people and that’s going to have a lot of devastating effects.

Jon Eckhardt: I’ve been thinking about two aspects of how the current economic crisis has been impacting entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial workforce. One aspect of it is how this affects active companies. Many existing startup companies with high quality products are struggling to land customers and this will impact their ability to raise capital. Second, I am concerned about how the crisis may be affecting the pipeline of future entrepreneurs. In terms of future entrepreneurs, it really comes down to people’s perceptions, how they interpret and make inferences about the world. And two, how what’s happening objectively affects their resources and economic reality that they now face. Both effect how they make inferences about entrepreneurship as a career choice.

Russ Coff: My research is focused on human capital as a source of competitive advantage. I’m very focused on, at the firm level, the implications for employees. One project that I’m in the early stages of is on how businesses can restart given that many contract agreements and understandings have now been broken as a result of COVID-19. We think of employees as bound usually by implicit contracts. There’s an understanding of what the employer is allowed to do, but once an employer has violated the trust of an employee, then re-establishing that trust is really difficult. So that becomes a real challenge for how these firms are going to move forward. We’re looking at what kinds of relationships are at the greatest risk, the hardest to restart, and what the path forward would look like for firms.

Sarada: I’m an economist by training, so I work specifically in the area of the economics of innovation and entrepreneurship. There are two things that are important to focus on, not so much in the workplace, but more about what’s going to happen with the labor force and what’s going to happen with entrepreneurship. The first is really this unequal effect of the crisis on low wage workers. The second is, in a very short time, we’ll have this capital crunch for entrepreneurship.

Click through to the full story for highlights from the Q&A conversation.

Read the full article at: https://wsb.wisc.edu/faculty-research/forward-thinking-faculty-blog/2020/05/21/covid-19-and-the-american-workplace-a-conversation-with-wall-street-journals-lauren-weber-and-wsb-faculty