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Helping Employees Cope

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When a terrorist attack destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon on September 11, business--and the employees who conduct it--stopped short at companies across the country. For companies that faced terrible human losses or had their operations physically disrupted, the struggle to keep the business operating is an obvious challenge. But even at businesses not directly affected by the physical and emotional trauma, workers were often overwhelmed with grief and fear.

For many CEOs, rallying employees, and keeping the business operational in the wake of national tragedy is a daunting proposition. Luckily, when you' re managing and motivating a workforce in times of crisis, simple remedies are often most effective.

  • Listen. "People have to be able to hear each other and have to be able to listen to people' s stories," says grief researcher Phyllis Silverman, author of, among other studies on grief, Never Too Young to Know: Death in Children' s Lives. Advises Ed Ruda, a human resources consultant with Chicago-based Ruda Cohen & Associates: "Get small groups together and let them talk their feelings out. The more they do that, the more they can relax on the job."
  • Be visible. "What management needs to do is be available," says consultant John Kerlish of Lancaster, Pa.-based Human Resources Management Associates. "Business owners and key managers should be out on the floor... taking time to show that they care how [ employees] feel about things." Be generous with praise, adds Ruda. "This is the time for a pat on the back for every little positive achievement on the job."
  • Turn off the TV. Limit the amount of news coverage that employees see during the course of the workday, says Kerlish.
  • Help employees contribute. Turning feelings of grief to constructive purposes is a way of honoring those who have died, Silverman points out. Organizing a blood drive, collect relief supplies, or support other types of charitable activity with company support will make employees feel better, says Kerlish. "Get people to focus on the good things that are happening out there," he says.
  • Remind employees of available resources. If Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) is part of your company' s health care plan, now' s the time to remind employees of its availability. Otherwise, direct employees to local crisis centers which can offer professional counseling at minimal cost.
  • Watch for physical symptoms. Persistent sleeplessness, loss of appetite, excessive anger, crying, loss of focus, distraction, newfound inability to deal with pressure--these may be signals that an employee needs extra help dealing with his or her emotions.
  • Give it time. If employees say that they now find their jobs trivial or meaningless after the events of September 11, Ruda counsels patience. "Ask people to please reserve judgment for another week. What companies have to do is buy time, they just have to buy time to let people' s emotions get back to normal," he says.

    It' s also important to realize that "normal" may be a relative term. "One dilemma we face as Americans who grieve is we want to be able to get through this quickly," says Silverman. "[ But in the face of] this kind of loss one is forever different... None of us are going to be the same. We' re always going to be looking over our shoulder a little bit."

Emily Barker is a senior staff writer at Inc magazine.

Copyright © 2001 Inc.com LLC

More follow-ups related to the Sept. 11 attacks:
Business Insurance: A 12-Point Checklist
Disaster Recovery Planning 101
Resources for Affected Businesses

Last updated: Oct 1, 2001




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