Manage With Care

Strategies for helping employees triumph over tragedies

By now, you’ve heard the news. On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks changed the landscapes of New York and Washington D.C., and stole the lives of more than 5,000 people. While this traumatic event took its toll on thousands of individuals, employers wondered how they’d help their employees cope.

“Anyone can suffer posttraumatic symptoms and they may not recognize that their reactions are related to the traumatic event,” advises Ann T. Brody, L.C.S.W., a professional counselor who works with various employee-assistance programs. Some common symptoms after a critical incident include fear, confusion, memory problems, suspiciousness, dizziness, a shortened attention span, as well as a host of other reactions. “If you disregard these symptoms, your employees aren’t likely to adjust well,” cautions Brody.

So how can you ensure that you’re properly supporting your employees in a time of crisis? Sensitivity is key, advises Kate Wendleton, president of the Five O’Clock Club, a career counseling network in New York (www.fiveoclockclub.com). Here are some more suggestions:

  • Watch for signs. “Be aware that employees may be hypersensitive,” she says. “[Employees] may be nervous, drop coffee, not sleep well, giggle, or say dumb things–these are all due to anxiety.”
  • Prepare for a decline in productivity. When tragedy strikes, staff members may need to talk more about the issues. This could greatly impact productivity, particularly if the tragedy was on the job or impacted a fellow employee. Productivity may also suffer as a result of increased absenteeism or late arrivals. You can also expect increased vacation requests.
  • Take time to grieve. Grieving at work may help an employee bring closure to an incident. Understand that people grieve differently and respect those differences. Allow them to openly express their concerns. Also be prepared with on-site or telephone counseling.
  • Provide reassurance. After a tragedy, it’s important to communicate what kind of safety procedures are in place and what employee-assistance programs are available to the staff.
  • Return to normalcy. As much as possible, try to help the staff ease back into their daily routines. Adds Wendleton, “A normal routine makes people feel normal and helps alleviate some anxiety.”
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