Helping Your Employees Through Times of Crisis

In the aftermath of a disaster, the most difficult issues for IT managers to cope with often have nothing to do with technology.

“The biggest problem we’ve ended up having to deal with is getting everyone to stay on task, myself included,” said Brian Kilcourse, CIO at Longs Drug Stores Corp. in Walnut Creek, Calif.

“It’s a tragedy of immense proportions, and everyone needs to work through it,” he added. “We try to be sensitive to the fact that some days are really, really tough days and this was the worst of them.”

Helping people work through it will be important for IT managers in the days and weeks to come. “I’m sure American business is feeling a lack of productivity because we’re all preoccupied with this,” said Joseph Dadourian, a Los Angeles-based workplace psychologist and director of clinical services at QuickSanity LLP in Los Angeles, which provides Internet-based psychological services for companies.

“We’re all different, and everybody’s going to handle it differently,” said Dadourian during a break from helping an IT group in California deal with their grief. “One woman was crying profusely today; someone else told a joke.”

“Let them have the reaction they’re having, and that’s going to help them get through it faster than anything,” said Eileen Strider, a principal at Strider and Cline Inc., a Kansas City, Mo.-based firm specializing in organizational effectiveness. “Companies are crazy if they think they can tell people to put their heads down and get to work.”

And don’t worry that you’re not trained for this. “No one has the answers,” said Jean McLendon, an organizational consultant and psychotherapist in Chapel Hill, N.C. “The manager needs permission to stumble along.” There’s no single way people are supposed to feel, she said; your job is to allow people to express what they’re feeling without any judgment.

But as you listen, be careful of your reactions, said Dadourian. Don’t feed rumours, and don’t speculate about the unknown. Also, remember that everyone is different, he advised, and be careful about saying you know what someone is feeling. Because most likely, you don’t.