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Why the post-pandemic world will be ‘business as unusual’

The COVID-19 crisis will pass soon. But don’t kid yourself: there won’t be anything usual or normal about this recovery. It will leave many organizations reaching for a playbook and grabbing nothing but a handful of air.

There is simply no modern-day parallel to what we’re experiencing. The virus was novel and so was the response. This one-two punch triggered one of the biggest sociological and economic disruptions in history.

But as unprecedented as those events were, the recovery may be just as disruptive. The playbook for recovery is being written on the fly or as I like to say, “We’re building this plane while flying it.” No one knows for sure where we’re headed and how we’ll land. All we know is the ride is going to be a bit turbulent, the roadmap uncertain, the path paved with complexity and the outcome ambiguous.

Fortunately, we are resilient. We’ve survived famines, depressions, natural disasters, and world wars. Done correctly, we can emerge as better people. Hopefully, we will take this opportunity to reboot our lives, to learn gratitude, to improve our relationships and acquire new skills.

But let’s face it, the expectation that we will emerge from this time wiser, fitter, more grateful and refreshed is pretty unlikely – at least not immediately. Urgency and desperation already fill the air. It will be tempting for both organizations and people to thrust themselves back into something approximating normal quickly, anticipating we can just pick up where things left off.

To expect this invites nothing short of a second crisis. A lot of people are already struggling with anxiety, depression and financial pressures. Some are experiencing early signs of adjustment disorders and even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

During my recent podcast, Bo Mitchell, president of 911 Consulting, predicted that “many employees will be coming back to work with PTSD. That’s not an overstatement or misstatement. That is the absolute truth.”

A study just released by Researchers in China backed him up. The prevalence of PTSD in COVID-19 survivors was a staggering 96.2 percent! Even non-patients who practiced social distancing experienced varying rates of emotional trauma. The exponential curve may crest and flatten but the trauma will linger. When many workers get the call to return to work, employers should expect to see familiar faces walk through the door with very different people behind the masks.

Now is the time for business leaders to prepare for the post-pandemic workforce. It will be business-as-unusual. Getting your response right may be your career and organization’s defining moment.

Here are a few steps you can do right now to post-pandemic proof your business and re-board your workers.

1. Don’t expect people to just put this behind them. “Accept that things will be different for a while,” says Jason Cochran, co-founder of iAspire. “Like the crack of a book dropping after a school shooting sends students and teachers scrambling, a simple sneeze or a cough during a meeting might trigger a disproportionate response.” Expect that every employee – from the front-line to the C-Suite – will bring some baggage back to work. Mitigate it with foresight.
2. Assume every employee is a “carrier” of trauma. Like the carriers of the coronavirus itself, some employees may be asymptomatic (but trauma carriers nonetheless.) Many more will do their best to mask the symptoms. A few will overtly exhibit the signs. Ultimately the severity and scope of intervention required depends on how well each employee functions. To nip this in the bud, you need a plan to help each employee and meet them where they are. Start with one-on-one conversations right now. You can’t wait for the “all-clear” signal – that’s too late. Your company culture and trustworthiness is being tested in ways none of us could have imagined just a few weeks ago. Invite and embrace regular check-ins by phone, video, or chat to take the pulse of engagement and anticipate challenges that lie ahead. You should be reaching out to workers regularly anyway – furloughed or not!
3. Accept this crisis as your final wake-up call. COVID-19 didn’t only infect millions of people but it laid bare the true colors of many leaders and the fragility of company culture. Some shined brightly. But for far too many, let’s call it for what it is. Many C-suites were exposed for nothing more than greed, hubris, and a vast void of values and purpose. Recovery will require clarity, coherence, and commitment from the top. Take this opportunity to shift your behaviors, assume responsibility, embrace the new normal … or just get out of the way.
4. Now more than ever, invest in your managers. While messaging and vision must come from the top, front-line managers are your “boots” on the ground. Don’t send your front-line supervisors into this unprecedented “battle” without the proper “soft” skills. Thousands of supervisors will be abruptly enlisted to coach, mentor and offer counsel. They are the face of your company after all. Enroll them, starting today, in online e-learning for coaching, active listening, communication, developing your culture, leadership, stress management, and team-building skills. Grow their emotional intelligence. (Many managers and executives would benefit too.)

Ira WolfeIra S. Wolfe is chief Googlization officer and president of Success Performance Solutions. He’s the author of the best-selling book Recruiting in the Age of Googlization and recently selected to the Top 50 Global Thought Leaders Future of Work. He resides in Wind Gap, PA

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