Helping Employees Handle The Stress of Heightened Terror Alerts

Why do you need to act?

·        present and potential employees will judge your firm based on your reaction to this issue

·        having stressed out or nervous employees coming in to work may actually be disruptive and actually be worse than letting them stay at home

·        even if workers do come in, breaking news and rumors during working hours may cause panic and disruption if you're not prepared

·        being proactive and anticipating employee related issues will allow your organization to be productive, even during terror alert periods

What actions should individual managers or HR departments take?

1.      Survey a group of employees that feel stressed and ask them for a list of what they would consider to be reasonable options

2.      Review and implement portions of your natural disaster, Y2K or previous 9/11 reaction plans as they relate to employee stress and coming to work in targeted areas

3.      Provide every manager with a simple one-page "do’s and don'ts" checklist

4.      Appoint an individual in HR to answer employee questions and to serve as a liaison with corporate security

5.      Create a password protected web site that enables all employees both in targeted areas and those working abroad to get trusted information internally in real time.

6.      Send out an e-mail to all employees showing your sympathy for their concerns and outlining their options

7.      Be particularly sensitive to individuals in the New York, New Jersey and Washington areas that are likely to have relatives or friends that were involved in the first 9/11 tragedy

8.      As much as possible, tell employees the steps you have taken to prevent events and to assure their security during an event

Possible employee options should include:

9.      Offer a recorded message, e-mail or web site that outlines employee options in each job category and location

10.  Advise "essential employee's" that they need to come in (remember without managers present, there could be chaos if events worsen)

11.  Allow nonessential employees (generally those that are not involved in customer service or transactions) that they can stay home (and use comp time, sick leave or vacation time (if they are hourly employees)

12.  Advise employees as to the consequences if they are required to come in, and they do not

13.  Allow stressed-out employees that are not involved in essential jobs to work from home or at a designated remote company site

14.  Consider developing an email, cell phone or paging alert network so that employees can be notified immediately at home about company expectations and their options

15.  Allow individual managers some leeway in granting employee requests

16.  Provide on-site counseling or give employees an employee assistance program number to call if they are stressed

17.  Tell employees that no matter what they do, they must let their manager know the option that they have selected

18.  For workers that do come in, be sure to keep them busy, because it keeps their minds engaged and off of current events.  Let them know you will inform them instantly if any thing comes up (so they don't have to monitor the TV/radio constantly)

19.  Educate managers about the symptoms of anxiety problems and employee concerns that require a managers or professional attention. Urge managers to talk directly to their employees about any related issues

20.  Develop a plan to handle individual workers that are clearly being disruptive (because of their anxiety)

21.  Involve the workers (or union) in the planning process, in order to lessen their fears and to get their “ understanding” of the problem

22.  Allow or even encourage workers to take a day off to work for charities in order to meet their need to "do something" during stressful times

23.  Consider allowing workers to postpone or cancel immediate business trips that require visits to New York or Washington

24.  Consider canceling or postponing upcoming conferences or events that may require a large number of people to fly to New York, NJ or Washington

25.  Use this is an opportunity to review and upgrade your disaster/terrorism plan

26.  Establish feedback loops in order to learn from past mistakes and improve the organization's response to future issues 

Remember that there are no hard and fast answers to stress related issues.  In case of doubt, err on the side of empathy and compassion.  For it is highly likely that treating people "right" now will have positive payoffs later down the road when employees reconsider their career options.  It's also important to remember that customers are also aware of the terrorism issue and they are likely to react positively to any sympathetic response that you take regarding employee concerns.

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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