It was about dinnertime when Shirly Evrany got on a Zoom call to discuss the terror that she and her 240 work colleagues in Tel Aviv have endured during the nearly monthlong war with Hamas. But when a siren blared in the background, Evrany excused herself to scurry four flights down to the safe room in her building.
When Evrany returned to the Zoom meeting, she confessed that living and working in her native Tel Aviv these past few weeks has left her—like many of her colleagues—sleepless, terrified for her school-age children and "literally afraid to walk down the street."
Evrany is the vice president of HR for Optimove, a marketing software company based in Tel Aviv, where sirens screech constantly, nearby buildings suffer missile hits, spouses are off in combat, and the people left behind, like Evrany, somehow muddle through the work week.
"This is different from anything we've experienced in the past," she said. "It's the first time our personal security has been compromised."
The steps that business leaders like Evrany are taking to help their employees cope demonstrates how preparation, training and quick footwork can assist workers during such traumatic situations.
The Psychological Toll
Several of Optimove's employees have lost relatives and friends in the Oct. 7 attacks and resulting war. On the morning of the Zoom call, one of Evrany's direct reports revealed that a childhood friend—missing for the past few weeks—had been found dead.
"You tend to their emotions first," she said. "As a manager in HR, you let them cry if they need to. Yell if they need to. Scream. Just ask 'What do you need?' You need to understand the emotional and psychological impact on them.
"You also need to be flexible [with their schedules and workload] because of that emotional and psychological toll. Give them time to themselves. Be flexible with time off, time with family. Remove some of their workload."
When the conflict started, Optimove hired psychologists with expertise in handling violence and war to help counsel their workers. There was such high demand for the service that Optimove has just paid more to keep the psychologists available for longer.
"Even if a worker hasn't lost someone, this still has a very large impact on everyone," said Evrany.
Soon after the conflict started, Evrany organized a meeting of all Optimove's senior managers, advising them on how to supervise and lead during times of war. Senior managers passed the information to lower-level managers, who then explained to the rank-and-file employees the company's plans for operating and managing during the conflict. Leaders were also advised how to keep tabs on their employees' emotional and physical security.
"You need to know how to ascertain [how a worker is doing] if they're not vocal. You should ask them if they have a safe room in their home. If not, where do they go? How many people are in your house? How do you feel and react when sirens go off?"
A safe room is typically made of concrete. People living and working in Tel Aviv know that from the moment a siren sounds warning of an incoming rocket or missile, they have about 90 seconds to make it to the room before a potential explosion. They wait about 10 minutes for an all-clear. "You usually hear the explosion; they are literally above your head."
Asking Employees, 'How Can We Help?'
Managers at Optimove and other companies in the region have learned how to pay close attention to their employees' health and well-being. For instance, they may discover that a worker isn't sleeping well and may steer them to a company service or to doctors who can prescribe medication for sleep or anxiety.
"Our biggest challenge is our state of mind," she said. "Imagine those mothers waiting for those kids to return [from school], and families who have lost their loved ones. I haven't been sleeping myself, and I don't know of anyone else who's been sleeping."
Evrany's HR team created an online form that Optimove's employees can use to describe the type of support they need themselves—or to offer support to a colleague. The HR staff then sorts through those requests and provides what services it can.
"We also ask them if any of their loved ones were drafted" into the military, said Evrany, whose husband was. "We have 38 employees who were called to reserve duty, and 46 employees with an immediate family member who was drafted. It is difficult to worry about your partner while left with kids at home, then have to deal with day-to-day work."
Optimove has also taken other small steps to remind workers of their support. Recently, the company sent each employee a basket of food with a note saying they were thinking of them and they're available for help. And the HR team organized donations of food, equipment and over 100 laptops to families that have lost their homes or loved ones in the war.