Learnings from the Frontline: The Future Impact on Social Work of the Coronavirus Pandemic | EAPA-SA

Board Member & Eduweek Convener Portfolio Holder, Bernie Roberson gives us her thoughts on how the coronavirus pandemic will bring new topics and presentation insights at Eduweek 2020 – as well as her insights into what ongoing impact she sees the COVID-19 pandemic having on the need for EAP counselling in the future.

Q: How will the COVID-19 pandemic influence new and unprecedented topics that will be presented at Eduweek 2020 and beyond?


 I believe it might be a little bit early for many EAP to have formed final opinions around the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and have formulated focused topics. By next year there will be a lot more research outcomes and the industry will have considered and written about its impact on employees and the workplace. However, I do think that a lot will be said about it by presenters at Eduweek 2020 as in so many ways it is a traumatic event that is impacting people and their lives. As a result there will be an increase in domestic and gender based violence, alcoholism and drug abuse and financial related problems.  It is fairly common when people are not coping or have experienced a traumatic event in their life that they turn to destructive coping mechanisms like gambling, having an affair or abusing alcohol. 

I believe that depression statistics will also rise quite substantially, and that South Africa is going to see an increase in suicides as well, because the financial and emotional fallout of the pandemic is going to impact heavily on a lot of people. Not only do families have to rise to the challenge of staying together at home in close proximity over lockdown, but they face the challenge of a detrimental financial impact – as many  employees and contractors have been furloughed or put on reduced hours where it’s a case of “no work, no pay”.

I believe that depression statistics will also rise quite substantially

The pandemic is unprecedented and very fresh

So, in terms of Eduweek 2020 and pandemic-related topics it is early days – the pandemic is unprecedented and very fresh. But as far as including pandemic information into current topics is concerned I am sure presenters will be updating their presentations to take into account the impact of the coronavirus.  

Q: In what ways do you think that the pandemic will change the role of EAP social work in the future?

I think that the impact the pandemic will have on people and the economy all-round is quite devastating.  I think we are going to see a lot of family and personal-related issues surface among employees – such as their concerns around depression, alcohol abuse and families who have fallen into financial debt and are not coping, as well as domestic and gender based violence.  As mentioned in the EAPA-SA Coronavirus Workplace Overview, social isolation is associated with poor mental health. A study of the SARS outbreak found that a substantial portion of those quarantined displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. It is evident that there is so much that every single one of us is going to be dealing with, and not everybody has the same level of resilience.  Learning to cope is very important and one of the ways we can help is by building people’s resilience and helping them overcome what has happened out there.  As a healthcare worker, managing one’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing during this time is as important as managing one’s physical health.

So, a lot of work lies up ahead for social workers and counsellors within EAP – a lot of counselling will be required.  A great difference can be made in getting people to change their attitude. This is an important function of counselling within EAP – getting people to understand that this crisis has happened and it is traumatic, but then helping people to plot a path so that they can move forward.

Companies are already retrenching and some companies cannot pay their employees leading to  less motivated employees, higher rates of absenteeism and a lot of employees going AWOL.  In this way it is companies, and not just people, who are going to be badly impacted upon and who need help to be able to recover.

A lot of work lies up ahead for social workers and counsellors within EAP

This pandemic has come at a time when people were already experiencing financial difficulties and along with other issues.  Going forward a lot more companies are going to realise their need for EAP services as they are going to be employing individuals with financial difficulties – and those who have lost loved ones. In terms of loss of income, family members and homes – this all has a detrimental impact on an employee’s productivity in the workplace.  How this is going to play out in the future, because business owners and management are going to say they don’t have the necessary resources to put EAP programmes in place will have to be seen, but there is most definitely a vital role for EAP to play, because so many more people are going to need support and counselling – them and their families. 

There is a great concern about how domestic violence is going to escalate over the lockdown and this is of great concern. It was quite prudent of our government to put into place a number of measures to deal with domestic violence, but there is nothing in place to assist in moderating the effects of an increase in alcohol consumption, once thus is reopened for sale, or alleviating the rise in suicides. 

I truly hope that we will all be able to pull together and pool our resources

Like the EAPA-SA Coronavirus Workplace Overview says all of this holds true for healthcare workers as well.  Feeling under pressure at a time like this is quite normal and being stressed and the feelings associated with it are by no means a reflection of incompetence or weakness.  It is going to be challenging times ahead and I truly hope that we will all be able to pull together and pool our resources to effectively deal with the fallout of the crisis once it is over.

Please refer to the EAPA-SA Workplace Guideline COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-19 Virus for further reading.

Bernie Roberson

Bernie Roberson

EAPA-SA Board Member: Eduweek Portfolio Holder

Mrs Roberson obtained her BA Social Work Honours degree and has 28 years’ experience as a social worker. She completed the UP Introductory Course to EAP and trained in Project Management, Trauma Debriefing, Mediation, Divorce Counselling, and HIV Programmes. 

She became involved in EAP Programmes while working for FAMSA and worked for OCSA where she managed and implemented the EAP services at the Goodyear Factory. Mrs Roberson then moved to Induscare as they took over the Goodyear contract and continue to manage and implement EAP services

Mrs Roberson was involved in the resurrection of the Nelson Mandela Bay Chapter in 2008 to 2009 and was Chapter Chairperson from 2010 to 2015. She received Board Member of the Year as well as Chapter of the Year in 2013. She has been involved with EAPA SA since 2010 and the Eduweek Organising Committee since 2012.

She has actively been involved in the EAP field since 2004 where she fell in love with EAP. Mrs Roberson is also actively involved in both the local Chapter and the Board and brings with skills, knowledge, commitment and dedication. She is committed to furthering the field of EAP and previously voluntarily assisted the board for almost a year when they did not have a secretary or office manager and is fully aware of the time commitments required to serve on the board.