Managing Through A Crisis

Conducting business after the tragic events of Sept. 11 seems different than it did just a few weeks ago. How employees react to these terrorist attacks on the United States cannot be easily processed at a 4:00 all-staff meeting. But ignoring what is bound to be an increase of personal problems on the job can be detrimental to business, says Laurie Anderson, a clinical psychologist and organizational consultant in Chicago.

The HR staff is not a social-working enterprise, but much of the responsibility to help employees deal with the trauma will fall into the hands of HR professionals and, often, their managers. “We’re feeling our powerlessness, and that we cannot control our boundaries….Employers must work with their people to understand that,” Anderson says.

Assessment and Response

Anderson states that there has to be an ongoing assessment and an appropriate response strategy as events continue to unfold. “We have to look at predictable issues. If you work in a tall building, how will you deal with some of your staff who may feel unsafe? So you have to ask, Where can your employees work? It used to be exciting to go downtown to work. That allure is dissipating. What are your alternatives? If your work included a great deal of travel, when does travel begin again?” Anderson asks.

Many of these questions, she says, aren’t new. In the past few decades, as more companies established an international presence, the seeds of these issues were planted. “In light of these attacks, the issues are now being forced,” Anderson says.

HR professionals can facilitate this transition and address the immediate disruption and disorientation of workers by understanding the macro issues and translating them locally for how this affects the individuals and the businesses. “Crisis response is now more critical,” Anderson says.

Potential employee anxiety may be brought about by a variety of factors: