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Amid crisis, it's OK to be vulnerable

April 17, 2020 - 96 views

Amid crisis, it's OK to be vulnerable

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unexpected consequence: The ability to reveal our vulnerability to the people we work with.

COVID-19 absorbs my days as Cognizant’s chief people officer – and as an individual. I worry about my family. I miss my grown children, who have left the nest.

And I’m sharing this in a blog. Which is what makes this a remarkable moment for business.

For those of us fortunate enough to remain virus-free and working, the pandemic has revealed an unexpected consequence: It’s made being vulnerable acceptable in the workplace. With thanks to Brené Brown, whose widely watched TEDxHouston talk (47 million views and counting) catapulted vulnerability into the mainstream, the capacity to share our true selves with co-workers has never been more prevalent – or more needed.

In these days of self-quarantine, being vulnerable can take many forms. Sometimes it’s being candid that we’re scared, or that we spent a sleepless night. It’s also the simple act of revealing the details of our personal lives that often seemed important to conceal from co-workers. Amid the global calamity of the coronavirus, a house crowded with family and the home office that’s a kitchen table no longer seem worth shielding from our videoconference calls. We can’t help but be moved by our collective experiences.

The message for us all is that the façade we’ve valued for so long – that we’re one person in the office from 9 to 5 and another person when we get home – no longer works. Failing to acknowledge the impact the pandemic is having on us keeps us from connecting with each other at a time when that shared experience is what we need most of all. 

When leaders don’t have all the answers

The truth is, being vulnerable requires us to be brave. For leaders, that can feel counter-intuitive, if not downright wrong. Revealing our emotions – our true selves – in the workplace is hard. It’s like pulling off the Teflon exterior that both protects us and sometimes helps us do our jobs better. 

But that layer of stoicism can also act as a barrier between leaders and their colleagues. While there will always be those who question the ability of leaders who are willing to admit they don’t have all the answers, so many more of us prefer authenticity. We’re looking for someone whose life is chaotic at the moment, just like ours. Who’s worried, just like we are. Who’s uncertain.

Being vulnerable cuts both ways, and the employees who’ve come forward to ask for help have been an invaluable source of information for us as a corporate community as we try to get our arms around every scenario and provide resources.

We’ve fielded hundreds of questions that have come in through our Be Cognizant intranet. Employees in the midst of transfers let us know they need help with housing. Associates with work authorizations contact us about required services. The biggest need we hear about is working at home with school-age children. How do we help employees create schedules with their partners? Listening to feedback has made us a stronger, more connected community.

A sleeves-rolled-up moment

Social distancing and work from home (WFH) impositions aren’t easy. I miss the accidental office connections that come from chance encounters at the coffee station and stopping by a colleague’s office. Communication has become formal.

But along with acknowledging that this is a world we’ve never seen comes the gift of experiences we didn’t necessarily permit ourselves to have before. The treat of a midday walk. Meeting our co-worker’s Golden Retriever during a WebEx call. Rescheduling a call so a colleague can grocery shop for an elderly parent.

It’s a sleeves-rolled-up moment of overwhelming spirit.  It’s about being uncertain together, and in doing so to see what really matters.

Visit our COVID-19 resources page for additional insights and updates.

Digital Business & Technology

Becky Schmitt

EVP & Chief People Officer, Cognizant

Becky Schmitt is Cognizant's Chief People Officer. She leads all aspects of people management and company culture, including...

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