an optimist walks into a pandemic...
Oxford Languages’ philosophical definition of an optimist is, “a person who believes that this world is the best of all possible worlds.” I have genuinely tried to operate in step with that line of thinking for most of my life, confident that optimism builds character and pre-determines (with hard work) positive outcomes. One night in mid-March, as the pandemic continued its escalation in Europe and the Northeast, as schools began to close, as the stock market declines wiped away years of savings, and as my wife became a doomsday-prepper overnight, my optimism was nowhere to be found.
I was genuinely concerned that everything that defined my life from both a business and personal perspective was about to change. I felt deeply for those sick and dying, imagined the mental impact of months ahead without travel, sports, movies, friends and extended family but couldn’t truly contemplate that it was real. Would we really not go back to the office? Would schools stay closed? Would travel really stop? Would my sister’s planned surgery really be postponed for months? Would millions of people lose their jobs? Could fear and uncertainty truly replace major elements of commerce? I weighed all of it fully, emotionally, and with the perspective of a man forced to contemplate something entirely different and I was not myself.
When I woke-up the next morning, I felt energized by the honesty of the night before. As the CEO of a company built to help people find work, purpose, and belonging, I had clear professional direction to guide me through the next few months. As a caring husband and father of three boys, I had a family looking to me for re-assurance and calm. And as a self-proclaimed optimist, I had to promise myself to find the light at the end of the tunnel.
Nearly six months removed from that moment, here’s what I’ve learned.
it’s not always good to be first
In Boston, the pandemic all started with Biogen. Given that we share our campus with Biogen in Weston, MA, our headquarters were ground zero for the pandemic for much of New England. When we closed our (recently renovated) office, the idea that we would still be remote nearly six months later seemed impossible. Today, it’s our reality – along with rethinking the fundamental elements of how we work, from staff meetings, to open-office concepts, to PPE and distancing, it’s all on the table.
this moment is about understanding, not answers
It is genuinely OK to not have all of the answers but it’s not OK to avoid discussion. I will genuinely admit to concluding very long days and still feeling that I needed to do more. As we worked through the need to take really hard decisions with respect to furloughs, reductions in hours, compensation adjustments, reductions in force, revenue declines, sickness and health and then issues related to race, equality, inclusion and diversity, we had to be present. In response, we structured “Ask Me Anything” meetings for all Monster employees, where we answered questions to the best of our ability, admitted what we didn’t know and shared our collective concerns and anxiety. The key was just being present and available and letting the organization know that we really did care and that we were all in this together.
you can come home again—but that sometimes requires a rescue mission
To celebrate my wife’s 50 th birthday in early March, we jetted off to Napa Valley, just after the Biogen conference in Massachusetts and just before the shut-down of the California economy. We knew we were running a risk but didn’t fully expect that our little celebration would turn into a rescue mission for my oldest son. He was in college in California and was informed on the day of our arrival that he had 48 hours to vacate his dorm room. So fancy dinners and wine tasting for days on end became packing boxes, finding off-site storage and consoling a very disappointed child. We finally made it to the vineyards for what we didn’t know would become our only trip of 2020.
We returned from California to another son graduating as valedictorian from high school (proud parent here!) -- and doing so virtually. Without spring sports, graduation parties, prom, and commencement speeches, he was left graduating with his parents and brothers on our living room sofa. Watching him navigate the line between having pride in his accomplishments and his disappointment in missing so many normal “senior” events, gave me hope that this unique situation would build resolve and determination for my son and all of this year’s graduates. At Monster, we are proud to have spent considerable time and effort helping college graduates with their job search process. This was a big focus for all of us in the Spring.
it’s never too late to change professions—but I should probably stick to what I’m doing
Every night around 6 pm, I put on my apron, report for duty, and diligently serve as my wife’s assistant in the kitchen. Thus far, I have learned to not do ingredient conversions to the metric system in my head (and I’m pretty good at math), must admit to once mistaking salt for sugar, and definitely over-dressing a few salads. Mistakes aside, I remain in service as a sous chef to this day.
Another skill I’ve added to my resume this year is that of a live TV personality. With my hair and makeup crew (read: me) unable to transform my radio-ready face into my requested Anderson Cooper-esque look, I focused instead on embracing the moments and providing insight on a changing job market for the good people of television. I can now proudly claim to have made TV appearances on three major networks and regularly receive daily Instagram ads for better TV lighting.
we are in a position to drive change
Once the reality of the pandemic became evident and health care companies began ramping-up their hiring to meet the demands of an increasingly sick public, our role in the market became incredibly clear. We had to help health care companies find workers – right away. We put the weight of our team behind this effort and sprung to action staffing nursing homes here in our back yard while simultaneously rolling out bigger programs to help people find their fit across North America and Europe.
Over the past several months, we have helped displaced workers find new roles, we’ve released guides on working from home and provided advice on how to do it better, we’ve published articles on balancing work and mental health when you are never truly able to leave the “office,” through webinars and white papers, we’ve taught those hiring how to do so remotely, and we’ve begun to plan for a more cohesive future of finding work and talent that serves every member of the communities we live, through more inclusive technology and planning.
I will survive without tom brady
Barely. And only because his departure was framed against the world falling apart around us. You may have guessed, I’m a big Boston sports fan.
we are all better together
In the past six months, we’ve worked more closely with the teams at Randstad than ever before. We’ve learned about each other’s business, understood opportunities for alignment, and focused on synergies and future growth. In a year full of difficult decisions and hard conversations about health, the economy, our people and our strategy, having a supportive partner alongside us in business has provided both stability and energy.
I’ve learned more about myself and our teams at Monster and Randstad in the past six months than I could have ever imagined when I started this job, and I’m confident that together we can help our communities get back to work in the wake of the pandemic. I’m an optimist -- being down just isn’t how I operate. If you’re feeling up to it, I invite you to join me. If you’re not, let me know how I can help.