Advice from Dr Jonathon Staggs

During a time of fear and uncertainty due to a virus outbreak, it is important to continue to take leadership with our moral emotions argues CHC Business faculty member, Dr Jonathan Staggs. Dr Staggs was involved in a research project that examined an emergency department response to the Ebola crisis in 2014. The team found that leadership was required to re-orient the focus from emotions of fear and blame towards moral emotions of courage and care. The findings of this research project have just been published here. The findings describe the frontline professionals working in emergency departments as ‘institutional custodians’- those who maintain values of social inclusion and care.  The study noted key turning points in the response to the virus outbreak that are applicable to us today as we respond to COVID-19.

For a commentary on this research, please visit:

In our research, we saw that the risk and the danger perceived by those on the frontline was palpable. The risk and the ensuing ‘negative’ emotions were not swept under the carpet however as they helped assess risk and minimise further harm.   Then, with good leadership, these emotions were recognised and leaders provided the space in which these could be robustly discussed. I believe this provided the opportunity for those on the frontline to ‘re-enrol’ to protect the values of social inclusion and care. For these individuals, there was a discernible shift as a set of higher order moral emotions kicked in.  There are lessons from these custodians for us all….


Advice from Dr Jonathan Staggs

Recognise the emotions

Try to recognise when and how fear, worry, and blame can surface. Even if we are used to being on the frontline, our natural emotions can get the better of us and it is important to recognise them.

Understand the risks

When uncertainty rises, we can tend to default to our natural risk position. Those who tend to risk adverse go to one end of the spectrum (which might explain panic buying) and those who are less risk adverse tend to downplay things (and continue to ignore government warnings). Now is the time to recognise our default positions to risk and uncertainty and find the appropriate balance.

Facilitate discussions

Create spaces to have a robust discussion about what these perceived risks mean to you, your family, and community. These are discussions that have boundaries where a frank exchange of views (and not necessary all rational!) can be made. Social media is NOT one of these spaces.

Mobilise resources

At a time when we may feel powerless it is important to recognise what we can do and what we do have. This includes a set of moral emotions of what we believe is right. These emotions are resources that can initiate powerful actions towards solidarity and the values that we know can maintain community.

Celebrate our institutions

We do not know what the future holds but anxiety can rob us from celebrating the values of institutions that have brought us so far. These institutions include family, the church, our health and welfare systems, the rule of law, and the tiers of government that constitute our democracy. There is strength in our institutions to be celebrated and maintained, and not fragmented and lost.