• Brad Federman

Reopening Means Reinvesting in Leadership

Originally Published in HR Professionals Magazine

By Brad Federman


It is time to reopen the workplace. Let’s celebrate! Not so fast, first there is plenty of work to be completed. Policies need to be reviewed, processes revamped, assessments completed. You will have to plan for many things including a potential second and third wave. Employees will need special training; offices must be redesigned, and you will require resources that you’ve never needed before. In the midst of all of that it is easy to forget one of the most important things – your people.

  • Almost 70% of employees say Covid-19 is the most stressful time of their professional career.

  • 94% of employees have noted lost productivity due to Covid-19 stress.

  • What is even more alarming is the stark 21% increase of new prescriptions for anti-depressants, anxiety and insomnia medications.  

The core reasons for this stress:

  • Financial security concerns

  • Health and wellbeing risks

  • Family welfare responsibilities

Those concerns will not disappear once the reopening begins. In fact, many will remain, some will change or evolve creating new stress, and others will increase in severity.

This is a time when we need real people leadership. We need to recognize that many organizations will look more like psychological trauma centers. In the next several months, we will need to:

  • Anticipate mental health challenges

  • Help employees cope with stress

  • Remain flexible regarding employees balancing family and work

  • Recognize their fears and safety concerns

  • Acknowledge the severe financial strain many of our employees are under

CEO’s must now become Chief Empathy Officers. We must remember what other people have done during a crisis.  

These 3 leaders exemplify crisis leadership:

Imran Yousuf was 24 when he was working as a bouncer at the Pulse night club the night of the attack. He saw people frozen in terror next to a closed door that could have led them to safety. But no one was moving. Yousef leaped up putting himself at risk of being shot in order to open the door and get people out. He saved between 60 and 70 people. Leaders pay attention to others during a crisis.   

At 3:24 p.m. Flight 1549 was cleared for takeoff from LaGuardia airport. Less than a minute after departure Captain Sully radioed air traffic controllers that he was 700′ and climbing to 5000′. A few moments later he radioed, “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. This is cactus 1549. Hit birds. We’ve lost thrust in both engines.  We all know the ending.  Somehow he kept his cool and everyone made it out alive. Great leaders do not pass stress on to others. Great leaders cope with stress in order to help others.

Confidence and courage transcend age and generations. Malala demonstrates that to us. She loved school, but everything changed when the Taliban took control over her village. The extremists banned many things including a girl’s ability to go to school.  Four years later she decided to resist the Taliban order and return to school. She spoke out publicly on behalf of girls and their right to learn. She knowingly became a target. In October 2012 on a way home from school a masked gunman boarded her school bus and shot her. She woke up 10 days later in a hospital in Birmingham, England and continues to be an activist. Leaders stand for something.

We need to be bold and fearless going forward. Our ability to maintain composure and be future- focused will be the key. Our employees want to know we are heading somewhere worthwhile. We will need to manage expectations along the way so our people are less scared and frustrated. We will make mistakes, but we cannot be afraid to make mistakes. We must get back up, brush ourselves off, and push forward.

Above all else we must allow our people to grieve. To let go of what they knew before in order to create something new now.

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