When we can finally reopen our worksites, it’s easy to envision CEOs, bosses and team leaders standing in front of returning employees and saying, “Welcome back, everyone! Free coffee and doughnuts today. Now, let’s get to work!”
Yet for many employees, performing at their pre-COVID-19 levels will be impossible—unless their leaders overcome a blind spot.
Consider U.S. Congressman Max Rose from New York. He’s also a U.S. Army Captain who served as an active duty officer in Afghanistan from 2012-13, and earned a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Combat Infantry Badge.
He was recently deployed with the National Guard to help turn a Staten Island psychiatric center into an emergency hospital for patients with COVID-19. In a recent interview with POLITICO, he said (italics are mine):
“… there’s a deep sense that this disease could be lurking, this virus could be lurking anywhere. That vigilance wears on you. It reminds me in some ways of when I was in Afghanistan.
"Whenever you left the wire, you had to be hyper-, hyper-aware that an IED could be anywhere… the human body isn’t built to maintain that level of vigilance.
"It wears on you in all different types of ways… I do believe that if people leave their homes now, they’re feeling this oddly similar sense — that this virus could be anywhere.”
4 ways the military metaphor fits your employees
- Their commander—their workplace leader—ordered them to their foxholes—their homes
- They’ve been under attack 24/7 by an invisible enemy determined to kill them
- Moreover, their loved ones have been under attack 24/7 by that same invisible enemy
- They’re frightened of severe illness, death and/or financial ruin as news and social media continually broadcast the threat and number of illnesses and fatalities.
In the U.S. Army, soldiers are rotated out of combat zones every 30 days for rest and relaxation.
Your employees will have been in combat for 90+ days with no R&R; then—with no break—be told to return to their workplace, facing potential exposure to the lethal virus, and transmitting it to their families.
Compounding their distress, news and social media will bombard the nation about a possible second round of COVID-19 in the fall.
Employee anxiety can blindside you
According to Mayo Clinic, most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping—and focusing on work.
Whether we call the physical, mental and emotional strain from COVID-19 anxiety, trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder, leaders can’t ignore the fear, worry, grief, resentment, sleeplessness and loss of control employees have shouldered for months.
They’re not ready to focus on work.
Your people need leadership to move through this
Your Employee Assistant Program isn’t the solution.
EAPs assist a small percentage of employees with issues regarding relationships, child or elder care, substance abuse, financial or legal problems, and wellness.
Your EAP is simply not equipped for the pervasive anguish caused by the pandemic and felt by employees at every level of your workplace.
How to turn trauma into trust
Realize that, for now, you’re no longer solely in business management. You’re also in emergency management.
Fortunately, there are proven models to follow.
The military, police and fire departments, ambulance services and hospitals employ millions of people in high-stress, high-stakes workplaces. They make sure their people are trained and led to perform at their peak.
To help your employees transition from trauma to trust, follow this emergency management model before employees come back:
- Prepare a safe workplace so employees will feel secure and valued
- Ask your employees how they’re faring, and what they need
- Do what you can to help solve reopening problems of childcare and eldercare, transportation, preference to work from home
- Express empathy as well as optimism
- Be truthful, even with bad news
- Share your vision for the new normal at your organization, including clear goals, strategies and tactics
- Help everyone understand their role
- Reinforce the sense of belonging and working with a common purpose
- Lead by example
Don’t be blindsided by your employees’ trauma, anxiety and PTSD. Get started on your emergency management before re-opening. This will help your returning employees settle in, focus and function at their peak as quickly as possible.
Let’s get rolling
I can coach you right now in how to begin preparing your employees to return to your workplace with fortitude and enthusiasm. Then, when you reopen, you can collectively work toward your organization’s goals rather than addressing employee trauma and anxiety.
As an U.S. Army veteran and former police commissioner, and having helped more than 300 clients with their emergency management, I can guide you. Let’s work together to make your employees feel safe, secure, supported and inspired so they can focus on their jobs.
Call me at (203) 563-9999 or email BoMitchell@911Consulting.net.