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About this Video


This is an excerpt of John Sumser’s popular keynote presentation at The HR Tech Conference & Exposition in the Fall of 2020.


In this clip, John Sumser delves into workforce trauma caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. John discusses the psychological impacts of sustained traumatic stress and describes the period we’re in now as the end of the heroic response period.


I’d love to hear your thoughts about the discussion we had in the interview. Post your comments on or my YouTube Channel »




Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused (or extremely confused) and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation and let us know if you find something wrong and we’ll get it fixed right away. Thank you for your understanding.


JS – John Sumser, Principal Analyst, HRExaminer


[00:00:03] The first thing that I want to talk to you a little bit about is sustained traumatic stress. This quote is from the veterans administration talking about stress during war time. Some typical civilian stressors include threat to life being confined to one’s home, losing a loved one or family member suffering from financial hardships and having restricted access to resource such as food, water, and other supplies.


[00:00:35] As it is with everything in this presentation, the references are available in the slide deck, and you’ll be able to download that. But let me ask you, does this sound familiar to you? This sustained traumatic stress description? I’m going to argue that not only aren’t we in the new normal, but that there’s nothing new and there’s nothing normal about it.


[00:00:58] One of the things I want to be sure to tell you is that I’m not trying to persuade you of something. I don’t really have a secret recipe to sell. I do want to make you think. And I want to try to make you think outside of the assumptions that are the standard right now, this chart is from the field manual for mental health and human service workers in major disasters.


[00:01:26] And it’s what happens over the course of a disaster. And so many of the disasters that this manual is for are plane crashes or hurricanes or tornadoes or earthquakes. They’re the kind of thing that happened. And then things start to come back to normal. In our case, the trauma and the disaster has been happening and happening and happening and happening.


[00:01:54] There are people in this audience who haven’t left their homes since the 11th of March. And so. What happens in the psychology of response to disaster is there is a period of heroic response where everybody is energized by the disaster and go work harder, trying to get things done, to make the disaster, adjust, to get the people and the things back in place after the disaster.


[00:02:27] And that phase right after the disastrous called the heroic period. Right now, we have been running for seven months in a heroic period with every day, bringing a new kind and flavor of disaster to us, more uncertainty, more news. And so to nobody’s surprise engagement, scores, and engagement. Testing and engagement measurement has all gone up into the right for the entire time of the problem so far.


[00:03:01] And that’s led many of our leaders to make the assumption that engagement is up because remote working is a better way of doing things or these circumstances are somehow great. Truth is that’s a honeymoon period, and we’re about to hit a wall of disillusionment. You can see and feel the burnout everywhere you go.


[00:03:28] And that time of disillusionment will be long. And after disillusionment, it’s not a return to anything, it’s working through the grief of everything that has been lost and we’ve lost a lot.


Watch more of John’s talks on his YouTube Channel »

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