An Action Plan For The Anniversary of September 11th

There is no catchall answer as to the exact actions corporations should take. Whatever you do, it must fit your culture and situation.  Individual managers and corporations need to allow their people the time and the flexibility they need to reflect, mourn, or just work through any anxiety that might occur on or around that day.  Managers can begin the process of planning for the anniversary of that catastrophe by asking workers individually and in teams "what they need," and then provide it to the point that it exceeds their employees expectations.  Do not try a "business as usual" approach, because views on corporate responsibility have changed as a result of 9/11 and other recent corporate scandals.  

If your company lost employees in the events of that day you need to respond differently than if your employees and your firm had no direct connection with 9/11.  Under no circumstances should you ignore the event because the widespread media coverage alone will ensure that your employees have it on their minds.  The best and most strategic managers and HR people anticipate problems and ensure that their organizations respond appropriately. This anniversary should be no different.  Rather than outlining a detailed plan that might not fit your organization I have instead provided a "toolkit" of tips that you can select from.  They are separated into the appropriate categories and are listed below. 


Although terrorist events may have occurred thousands of miles away from where you work, you still need to realize that your employee's memory of the events of that day and how they mourn are unique and should not be disregarded.  Since it's hard to accurately gage the degree of anxiety, it is better to over prepare and show that organization is sensitive and cares. 

Actions that your organization can take are listed below in seven general categories

·  Recognition of the importance of the day

·  Planning for anxiety and mourning

·  Communication of corporate responsibility and values

·  Time off for employees to participate in public/private memorials

·  Special case – if one of your employees lost a friend or loved one in the event

·  Special case – if your company was directly involved in the event or it's aftermath

·  Additional things you might consider 

I)       Recognition of the importance of the day

For some organizations, the best way to approach the anniversary is to recognize your employees’ need to participate in memorials to honor the day.  Your organization can also "do something" by leaving a positive and lasting legacy of 911. Some ideas to assist you in determining what those activities could include are: 

·        Volunteering — allow your workers to spend the morning or the entire day volunteering at local not-for-profit organizations or schools

·        Donate leave time — allow your employees to donate the equivalent dollar value of some portion of their vacation (or sick) leave time to a charitable organizations

·        Employee donations — provide a temporary memorial in the lobby and allow employees to donate funds to an appropriate charity.  Matching their contributions can serve as a way for your organization to demonstrate its values, and support the employees wishes simultaneously

·        A scholarship — establish a scholarship (for the sons or daughters of your employees) in the name of the heroes and the victims of 9/11

·        Recognize public servants — invite local fire, rescue, military, Red Cross or police workers to your site for lunch or financially support one of their events planned in honor of 9/11.  Also recognize your own employees in the National Guard that served in post 9/11 security efforts

·        A moment of silence — hold a moment (or hour) of silence during the same hour as the first attack (in your time zone)

·        9/11 Anniversary events — sponsor or co-sponsor local events related to the anniversary.  Allow your employees to help out or attend

·        Company donations — donate a percentage of your revenue for that day to a charity related to (or not related to) the disaster. If you have "retail" facilities in New York or Washington, donate a portion or all of the profits from those facilities (for that day) to charity

·        Donate products — send samples or care packages of your products to the New York (or your local) fire and police department to recognize their loss and their efforts

·        Speak — if your organization is somehow involved in disaster recovery (products or services), organize efforts to get your managers and employees to speak at schools or local events 

II) Plan for anxiety and mourning

On the day of the anniversary, employees are likely to have heightened awareness about additional terrorist threats as well as general anxiety from the media coverage surrounding the anniversary.  This increased stress or anxiety can lead to accidents or mishaps due to lack of focus on the work at hand. Here are some actions steps that can help you to reduce or to deal with stress and anxiety: 

·        Avoid flying — allow employees that are concerned or even hesitant, to avoid flying that day (especially those that flew or were stranded on 9/11)

·        Identify anxiety — educate managers about the warning signs of anxiety, stress and other problems that might require their attention. Suggest tools or approaches they should use.

·        Counseling — notify employees (and managers) of grief or anxiety counseling options that will be available to them on this day through their benefits plan.  Offer private and anonymous counseling at a discrete, onsite location.

·        Harassment – provide educational resources to your employees to prevent or decrease harassment situations inside and outside of work that may involve people of Middle Eastern descent.  You should also prepare for any degree of discomfort that people of Middle Eastern descent or of the Muslim religion might feel as a result of harassment.  As unlikely as it may be, also prepare for any potential harassment initiated by customers or even employees

·        Designate a leader — designate an HR person to be the primary management contact for issues related to the anniversary of the event.  Be sure that they are qualified to lead this important effort

·        Response team — form a committee or a "(HR) response team" to both prepare the plan for that day and help the designated HR person in responding to issues that occur on the anniversary

·        Productivity issues — develop a  "general malaise" plan in the event that some employees (that have no recent performance issues) are less productive or are "just distracted" that day.  Be tolerant

·        Prepare for the worst — develop a "worst-case scenario" plan (listing possible problems and the way to handle each) for the unlikely event that a significant number of your employees undergo grief or stress that day.  Communicate to your managers how they can use this plan to lessen the impact of issues resulting from what they are experiencing.

·        Local control — allow each manager to hold an individual event in their unit, as they deem appropriate. Provide them with several scripts to use

·        Media coverage — allow employees to tune in to the news coverage on TV or radio, where it is appropriate.  As an alternative, tape the key events and replay them in break rooms and during lunch.

·        NY/DC special issues — if you have a facility in the New York or Washington area, allow your employees or the local HR team to develop their own unique plans as they deem appropriate (because stress levels will likely be higher in those locations) 

III) Communicate what you are trying to do

There is a significant chance that what you are trying to do will be misinterpreted because so many emotions are involved in the events related to 9/11.  Here are some suggested actions steps relating to employee communications: 

·        Make your goals clear — "Over communicate" the purpose of what you're trying to do.  Be prepared for responses ranging from "that's not appropriate" to "that's not enough". Make sure employees know what you're doing for the anniversary, why you are doing it and what will be derived from these activities in case their families or even customers inquire

·        Give employees a voice — survey your employees, or ask a few "opinion leaders", what they think would be an appropriate response for the company to take

·        Hold an event — hold an "all hands" event the morning of the anniversary to provide employees with a forum to share their feelings

·        FAQ — develop a frequently asked questions with answers list and distribute it to managers or post it on your web site

·        Educate employees — Post information of the symptoms associated with anxiety and a checklist of what employees can do to remedy these feelings if they are suffering from any of them

·        Information on the web site — Add an information section to your web site, which covers issues related to the anniversary of the event.  Consider opening an electronic chat room to allow employees to express and share their opinions that day

·        CEO message — have the CEO send a message to all employees recognizing the event and outlining your company's actions to recognize the importance of the event.  Consider giving September 11th "a name" (remembrance day, never forget day, pull together day etc.) so that employees know you care

·        Rumors — Develop a mechanism to quickly "squelch" any rumors that occur that day 

IV) Also consider "Time off " options in your plan (for all firms)

·        Use leave — allow employees to take that day off as a sick or vacation day

·        Scheduling — allow flexible scheduling, work at home options or more liberal "shift switching" for employees that would like to spend time with their families but cannot afford to take unpaid time off

·        Morning off — let individual employees stay home or attend related events that morning and come to work in the afternoon

·        Late opening — open your facility " late" that day so that all employees can spend time with their families during the hour of the first plane crash

·        Give blood — Allow individual employees to take time off work to give blood, in order to meet their need to "do something" to show they care

·        Matching pay — allow employees to take a few hours of paid time off that day to work at local charities and in addition, donate the equivalent amount of their salary for those hours to that charity 

V) Special case – if one of your employees lost a friend or loved one in the event

If an individual employee lost a relative or friend (or in any way was emotionally involved) you need to treat them differently than the rest of the organization.  In addition to some of the suggestions listed above, you might also consider the following: 

·        Ask the employee — ask the impacted individuals, directly, what actions they would like you to take to support and nurture their need to participate or contribute to the anniversary memorial.  If you aren’t already aware of who these individual might be, informally ask managers, and "well connected" employees, who they think lost someone

·        Be careful of publicity — be extra careful that you don't highlight an individual employee about their personal "losses" without their consent

·        Paid time off — allow employees who lost someone close to take one or more days off with pay

·        Make managers aware — inform the managers of impacted employees so that they can be aware of the high likelihood of the additional anxiety their employee(s) may be feeling

·        Provide opportunities — provide a mechanism where an affected employee can honor their lost one(s).  For example, provide funds for a trip to New York, Pennsylvania or Washington, donate money in their behalf to a charity, offer a company scholarship in their name, provide an opportunity for them to speak at the company event memorializing that day, etc. 

VI) Special case – if your company was directly involved in the event

If your company was directly involved in the event or the aftermath, the likelihood of anxiety is significantly higher.  In addition to the suggestions listed earlier, you might also consider some of these: 

·        Closing — seriously consider closing the facility for that morning or the entire day

·        Work at home — allow employees to work at home that day

·        Provide speakers — offer to send managers and employees that had some direct experience with the event or the aftermath to speak at local schools or organizations

·        Counseling — provide onsite grief counselors during that day (or that entire week)

·        Include the families — make every attempt to involve employees’ families in your planning and events where appropriate

·        Public recognition — consider newspaper ads, sponsoring memorial events or other mediums to publicly recognize those that were lost

·        Holiday schedule — shift to a "holiday" schedule to allow more workers to spend time with their families

·        Recovery progress — provide a progress report to highlight how the company has "come back" as a way of celebrating all their efforts after the event (and to reinforce their sense of job security)

·        Update your response plan — use the anniversary as an opportunity to ask employees if there's "anything else" that can or should be done (that wasn't part of the initial "reaction plan") to aid victims and their families. Also consider "re-funding" or increasing the amounts of scholarships and other support funds provided to survivors

·        Memorial — if you haven't already, build a permanent memorial to the victims on your company campus

·        Allow employees to share — provide a communication mechanism where employees at company facilities that are not in New York or Washington can communicate their feelings and respect to employees in the those two directly impacted locations 

VII) Additional things you might consider (for all firms)

In addition to the above categorized items, there are some general things that organizations can do on the 9/11 anniversary day.  They include:

·        Global locations — develop a plan for employees that are in global locations to heighten their awareness and to be prepared for possible repercussions. Contact your employees in international locations that might be at risk for terrorism or retaliation. Ask them what they need and respond rapidly to their requests

·        Customers and suppliers — if your company's suppliers or customers suffered a major impact as a result of the event, consider a plan of action that acknowledges their losses and shows that you care

·        Postpone major activities — postpone any corporate announcements, large-scale events or major business decisions until after the anniversary to avoid a negative public reaction

·        Landmark buildings — if any of your employees currently work in a "landmark building" be prepare for an added level of hallway conversation about their concerns and anxiety

·        Review your disaster plan — Use the anniversary as a reminder to review your company's disaster plan in order to be prepared in the unlikely event that another terrorism event should occur on the anniversary day (or at any other time).  Also, if you haven't already, update your insurance policy for terrorism

·        Involve unions — where applicable, involve unions in the planning of events and financially support any events they might hold


Although an entire year has gone by, to many individuals, the events of 9/11 may seem like only yesterday.  It's important to anticipate your employees’ need to honor and remember both those that were lost and those that contributed significantly to the efforts following the tragedy. Since there's no way to identify which specific employees were unfavorably impacted by this event the most and what their needs will be, you should develop broader plans that include all employees.  You must be prepared for any anxiety or stress, which could affect an employee’s health and safety.  In addition, this anniversary is an opportunity to review what you have accomplished during the last year in regards to this event and (without being callous) to reinforce your employees’ belief that your company is a "caring" organization.

If you haven't already planned something to address the 9/11 anniversary, it’s time for managers and HR professionals to take the lead to provide some form of communications to your employees that informs them about what was accomplished on this anniversary.  This type of employee communications piece will demonstrate to your employees how the company went "beyond the call of duty" to provide employees with an unequaled opportunity to reflect, spend time with family and friends or to mourn. Given the generally bad public image that corporations have earned lately this is an opportunity to show that "you" are different and that you care!

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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