Omicron Posing New Dilemma for C-Suite Leaders

New concerns are arising from the Omicron variant as it arrives in the U.S. With the waiting game on, Korn Ferry experts weigh in on the latest COVID variant and their top concerns facing C-suites.

December 14, 2021 – The latest coronavirus headlines are creating chills for many, and with news of Omicron spreading across Africa and Europe, executives worldwide are bracing themselves for the possibility of a severe wave of sickness among their employees. A new Korn Ferry report concludes that the threat of Omicron has created so many immediate challenges that most leaders feel they need to pause, reflect, and then wait. It is counter to how most chief executives have been trained to think. “Everyone is holding their breath while waiting for three pieces of information,” said David Vied, global sector leader of the medical devices and diagnostics practice at Korn Ferry. “What’s the severity of illness? How does Omicron affect different populations? And what is the effectiveness of the vaccines?”

In the space of days, the threat of Omicron has created so many immediate challenges that most leaders feel they need to pause, reflect and then wait. Here’s what Korn Ferry experts say about the top concerns facing C-suites:

What’s a Leader’s First Move?

“Call your people,” said Mr. Vied, and not to deliver a missive. “Ask how they’re doing, how they’re reacting, how their families are, and whether they have loved ones overseas. Those conversations will subtly provide feedback and context, which will help you make good policies in the weeks ahead.”

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“This is an opportunity to reinforce that you care about safety, and to reach out and make connections,” said Elise Freedman, Korn Ferry’s workforce transformation practice leader. “Be sensitive to the fact that many folks have no choice about where and when they work, and continue to frame these topics carefully. Empathy and grace should be your mantras.”

How do I Demonstrate Care and Safety?

“Ultimately, the real answer is testing,” said Jane Stevenson, global leader of the CEO succession practice and vice chair at Korn Ferry. “If it’s a large company and groups of people are getting together in person, then testing is going to have to be part of the equation. Vaccination alone is not enough.”

How do I Set the Right Tone?

“Opportunity awaits. This moment gives every organization the chance to redefine itself,” said Brian Bloom, Korn Ferry’s vice president of global benefits. “It’s the rare opportunity to look at every operational aspect of your business and see what makes sense in areas ranging from global real estate footprint to staffing.”

Should We Reverse Our Back-to-Office Plan?

“Nope,” said Ms. Freedman. “Variants and lockdowns will come and go, and it’s time to pick a long-term strategy. At some point, you’ve just got to make your plan and walk forward. If we continue to allow every hiccup to derail plans, it’s just going to get harder and harder to get back to the workplace.”

Will Omicron Present Diversity and Inclusion Issues?

“Of course, racism toward African employees will likely rise, just like it did for Asian employees when the epicenter was Wuhan,” said Andrés Tapia’s Korn Ferry’s ESG and DE&I specialist. “HR departments should be on alert. Executives also need to remember that some employees are at much greater risk than others. Underrepresented talent will have greater vulnerabilities and barriers around COVID.”

Related: Jobless Claims Rise Slightly as Omicron Arrives on U.S. Shores

What Should My Mindset Be?

“This is the new normal,” said Ms. Stevenson, not a crisis. “We have to adjust to the fact that there will always be some variant going on. Viruses subside, but they never disappear.”

Unemployment Rate Falls to 4.2 Percent as Covid Concerns Surge

The U.S. economy added back fewer jobs than expected in November, while the unemployment rate fell further than anticipated to the lowest since February 2020 as Omicron worries continue to build. Veteran search consultant Jeff Rives of Chapel Hill Solutions sits down with Hunt Scanlon to discuss current trends in the market.

Should I Make Any Announcements?

“Do not lay out an edict unless absolutely necessary,” said Juan Pablo Gonzalez, professional services sector leader at Korn Ferry. “Instead, this is a time to listen. Stay close to your people and think through what people are experiencing. Their concerns will vary: Some will worry about potential exposures on a subway commute, while others might be stressed about childcare.”.

Where Can I Quickly Find Best Practices?

“Keep your eye on the responses of companies in heavily affected regions this week,” said Mr. Gonzalez. “Africa and Europe are three days ahead of the U.S.” coping with Omicron. They’re seeing more sooner” and can provide a bellwether of what will soon be happening in your neck of the woods.

Is There Any Positive News Here?

“We’ve learned more about Omicron in three days than we learned about COVID-19 in three months in 2020,” said Mr. Vied. “Though it may seem like déjà vu, this time officials and executives alike are much more prepared.”

Related: Skills Gap Points to Why We Need to Invest in People

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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