How Should HR React in the Aftermath of Terrorism Events?

Below is a list of potential business issues that may arise as a result of the events: 

Potential employee fears and anxiety

  1. Employees may fear working in (or even near) tall buildings, especially landmark or symbolic buildings.
  2. Employees will likely fear taking commercial airline flights, especially out of major airports. Some may even refuse to fly.
  3. Employees in the New York and Washington areas and all airline and financial services employees are likely to have friends or co-workers that suffered directly as a result of the traumatic events.  Expect the emotional distractions related these losses to last for a period of time.  Expect there to be different stages of response such as shock, sadness, anger, and depression.  
  4. Employees in other major cities are also likely to suffer from a general malaise and anxiety as a result of the extensive and graphic news coverage.
  5. Expect there to be a heightened sense of our mortality to cause some people to revisit their current life/work balance and their overall career choices. Some people who have wrestled with questions related to how many hours they work or how much they travel may now make decisions to change jobs/careers or cut back their hours.

Employee relations issues

  1. Expected an overall decrease in productivity, an increase in hallway conversations and a desire to listen to the news.
  2. Employees perceived as being from certain ethnic and religious groups are likely to fear retaliation and or blame from either customers or co-workers.
  3. Some employees or customers may actually begin to harass any employees perceived as being from certain ethnic and religious groups.
  4. Expect increased absenteeism/ late arrivals and increased vacation requests during this period.
  5. Expect employees stranded as a result of flight cancellations to be anxious.
  6. Expect your international employees to have increased fears of terrorism and air travel.
  7. If you have people missing or dead from these recent events, or who were in buildings that were damaged, anticipate the need for grief counseling and immediate financial support.  Talk to your legal staff about any potential legal or insurance liabilities.
  8. Expect a slowdown in recruiting and turnover because few people will be moving/ looking during this uncertain period.

Possible solutions and things a manager can do

  1. Keeping people busy and getting them back to work is a good thing because it keeps their minds productively engaged and unproductively off of current events.  Urge employees to come to work and to get back into their routine immediately,    wherever possible.  Frame this as part of your organization’s crisis response plan.
  2. Educate managers about the symptoms of possible anxiety problems and employee concerns that require their attention and that might require professional attention.  Suggests tools or approaches they should use.  Urge managers to talk directly to     their employees about needing to stay on top of assessing the immediate and the delayed trauma and how to respond rapidly and effectively to whatever is indicated.
  3. Designate an HR person to be the primary contact for issues related to this event.  Be sure that they are qualified to lead this charge and that they do so visibly.
  4. Post information of the symptoms associated with reactive anxiety and depression and a checklist of what employees should do when if the symptoms persist or worsen.
  5. Provide on site or telephone counseling/education for anxiety/depression.
  6. Add an information section to your web site which covers issues related to this event
  7. If individual workers are clearly being disruptive (because of their anxiety) send them to counseling or home
  8. Contact your employees in international locations that might be at risk for terrorism or retaliation. Ask them what they need    and respond rapidly to the requests
  9. Allow or even encourage workers to take time off to work for charities or to give blood, in order to meet their need to "do something" to help
  10. Encourage employees who see harassment (of employees perceived to be from certain religious and ethnic groups) to report it immediately.  Remind employees of the penalties for harassment.  Assign an HR professional to handle these cases and identify any employees that may be "at risk" of violence or harassment
  11. Be more flexible in requests for using sick leave and vacation for the next week
  12. Allow workers time to call friends and relatives and to talk out their concerns
  13. Allow stressed workers to work at home or to use sick days until their anxieties subside
  14. Allow workers to postpone or cancel immediate business trips that require commercial flights
  15. Involve the workers (or union) in the process of alleviating anxiety in order to lessen their fears and to get their “ownership” of the problem
  16. Tell employees that you will keep them informed about any new events through emails or the loudspeaker, so they have no need to constantly listen to the “news”
  17. Cancel or postpone upcoming conferences or events that may require a large number of people to fly commercial carriers   (especially to New York or Washington)
  18. Contact your employee assistance program vendor to see what services they offer and if they are gearing up for the extra counseling that will be needed
  19. Use this is an opportunity to review and upgrade your disaster plan
  20. Establish feedback loops so employees can communicate about unmet/unanticipated needs or ways to improve the organization’s response.

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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