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A Hidden Hurdle In Reopening

Wise words from several CEOs in the time of COVID-19

The drive to reopen has begun, and CEOs all across the U.S. are figuring the best ways to bring people back. As you’re planning for physical safety, you should also be thinking about psychological safety. Overcoming employee fear will be a huge hurdle to restoring operations in the days to come—don’t be blindsided by the challenge.

“Leadership needs to recognize that many employees have been traumatized or significantly burdened by this COVID-19 ordeal,” Allison Velez, Chief People Officer for Paladina Health, one of the country's largest providers of direct primary care, writes for Chief Executive. “And those wounds will be slow to heal, especially with prospects of a widely available, effective vaccine still more than a year away.”

Luckily, there are some simple, effective steps you can take to help, she says. Among them:

  • Involve employees in the process of creating safe workspaces. Consider the formation of an employee safety task force that can work collaboratively with HR to implement new policies and procedures.
  • Ask supervisors to watch for the warning signs of depression and anxiety, and explain how to approach employees who seem to be suffering.
  • Encourage daily check-ins between supervisors and their teams. This is not a time to solely focus on what is getting done but, rather, on how people are doing.
  • Focus on wellness. Some employees may have neglected their own health during the shutdown. Encourage healthier behavior in the workplace.

“Most importantly,” she writes, “leaders must be flexible and realistic in their expectations.” We will not go back to normal right away. And normal may not be the normal we once knew.

But don’t worry, no matter what happens in the future, you can count on one thing not changing: lawyers. Writing over at the U.S. Chamber’s law blog, Chief Executive legal columnist Dan Fisher says CEOs should expect to get sued over some aspect of COVID, no matter how hard they work to handle issues like worker and customer safety.

“In many ways, no matter what decision a business makes there’s litigation risk attached to it. Someone will be unhappy, someone will be aggrieved, and someone will sue.” So at least we have that to look forward to. — Dan Bigman, Editor, Chief Executive magazine

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