ARTICLES - EMOTIONALLY HEALTHER WORKPLACE

Has Terrorism Affected Your Business Yet?

This article will help explore the answers to the following questions.

• What is the effect of terrorism on your business?
• Have your employees been affected?
• Have you noticed any changes in workers ability to concentrate, or stay on task?
• Have any employees been more tense or irritable?
• How does mood affect productivity or your bottom-line?
• How can you assess the emotional impact of terrorism on your workers?
• What can you do to help keep the business growing despite the effects of the adjustments Americans have had to make?

No, this is not an article on the hot topics of anthrax, the Afghanistan war effort, or the newest (critical, but over-discussed) threats to our country! It addresses you, your employees, and your job. It helps you look at what you need to watch for now to protect your business for the future.

The ongoing media attention, and conversational focus of many Americans, continues to revolve around the crisis of terrorism and the multiple adjustments Americans have had to make (and will continue to make) in their personal and work lives. Despite the rude awakening we now have to address, it is reassuring to know talented people are working daily to keep us safe and to help us recover. We can be proud that we, as a united nation, have the strength and capacity to make the necessary adjustments with only minimal illustrations of resistance to “moving on”.

Despite the success in dealing with the struggles of “moving on”, we still feel the pain. It is not pessimistic to remind ourselves that this will not abate in the near future. As sad as this may be, it is realistic and positive to face the changes we all must make. However, the impact of the changes on each of us individually will result in pressures that are uncomfortable and mood changes that, though mostly normal reactions, will change our work environments and many individual’s work attitudes. Some of us have already seen evidence of difficulties in family members, co-workers, and friends. Staying on task, remaining positive, being able to get off the draining topic of terrorism, etc. is nearly impossible for many. What do we do with our anger? How do we address our sadness? Where can we go when we are frightened? How does this affect our workplace?

The answers will not come easily or soon. We need to make an additional, new adjustment, too. Our mindset is generally to believe all is going to get taken care of quickly and completely. Will this affect our mood? Our attitude? Our feeling secure? There is no doubt our mood, and our behavior will change. For some, this will be obvious and perhaps very destructive. For others, the adjustments will come more easily. Why? What causes one person to cope better that another?

Why do rational suggestions fall on deaf ears for some? Is it they are not bright, aware, realistic? No! It is a combination of factors. Each individual has developed different coping strategies to deal with the difficulties they have had to face in their life. Each person has a unique biological make up that differs slightly from everyone else. Many persons have a well-developed support system, yet others have a collapsing, insufficient, or absent support system. These factors will
contribute to any individual’s ability to adjust to the changes we are now required to make.

Recently a person I was working with asked why some of his employees were not able to “move on”. He said he clearly had put most of the tragedy behind him and doesn’t feel any fear of traveling, biological threats, “or any of that stuff”. Because he was appearing tense and very angry, I asked him if he was usually this upset over employee’s conversations. He paused for a moment and then looked at me and said, angrily, “I’m not angry!” I apologized and then asked if he was sure he had really put everything behind him. “I just said I did!” he firmly stated. But then why are you talking to me like this? It is uncharacteristic of you to raise your voice, and point your finger at me. As it turned out, this employer had not recognized the symptoms he was experiencing. After a short discussion we had clarified that he was worried about the business losing money due to people not buying as much of his product as in previous years during the same season. It was not due to any factors he had control over. Also, in this case, it was not
just a problem of people stopping their spending on his high revenue products, there was also a problem with getting the products they wanted to buy. He was now not able to get many things delivered. The critical transportation system was disrupted as well. He was severely distressed and it was affecting his mood and behavior. Did his mood affect anyone else?

The symptoms this employer was experiencing (and not recognizing in others either), were concentration problems, excessive worry (understandably, especially regarding things he had no control over), and sleepless nights. He also admitted irritability, having easily provoked (or even unprovoked) anger at small things that before would never have bothered him. For the past month he was fatigued, secondary to greatly extended work hours and little relaxation time with his
family. What was happening?

The above example is not an uncommon problem in the workplace, especially recently. Most people fail to recognize when they are depressed or experiencing other emotionally related problems. There is little respect for the enormous impact on co-workers, family, or the over-all business. The need to be able to identify and do something about these symptoms is critical to the well being of the individual and the persons affected by his changes.

How does this affect the general workplace? Is it really important to address this mood disturbance? Won’t it change naturally in a few days?

The possibility of a sad mood or occasional sleepless night is normal and generally has little to no significant effect on the workplace or close relationships. Nevertheless, the continual and repetitive patterns of sleep distressed nights, irritability, loss of energy, sadness, frustration, feelings of no control over major events in your life, do have a substantial impact on the health of both you and your business (as well as the attitudes, cooperation, and productivity of others.

With out calculating the cost of other stress and emotional problems, depression alone accounts for $23 million in absenteeism and reduced productivity according to the latest figures studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. The NIMH reports that 19 million American adults (nearly one out of every ten) will suffer from depression. Due to the recent tragic events, and the ongoing attempts to terrorize the American public, the number of significantly emotionally distressed individuals will (for many months) be substantially greater. In most cases the mood does not just self-correct. One symptom contributes to another and the mood often worsens. Why care? It can’t really be that big of a deal.

Wrong! The Rand Corporation studied the costs associated with untreated depression as being greater than those of diabetes, arthritis, back problems, lung problems, or gastrointestinal disorders. How much do these cost the company in premium increases each year? The Rand study found the over-all cost to the American economy to be between $30 and $44 billion. Lost workdays alone account for $12 billion. Did this affect the business?

“Depression is one of those untreated conditions that can give a quick payback if their depressed workers get treated.” (Ron Kessler, Harvard Medical School).

The Rand Corporation study further documented the substantial losses to businesses related to low energy/tiredness, work habits being less productive, in addition to the problems of morale, concentration, memory, decision-making, and increased use of alcohol and drugs.

“Depression is in the spotlight among employers because it is common and its economic impact is well documented both in terms of disability (from increased risks of accidents and injuries) and its costs in lost productivity.” Wayne Burton, M.D., SVP and Corporate Medical Director Bank One.

Research also addresses the need also to consider the problems of depression on family members due to the effects it has on the loved ones. Does the emotional distress at home get carried into the work setting? Does the stress of the demands on the job get carried back to the home?

More importantly, the impact of the multiple effects of the terrorist attacks and threats on the security, independence, freedom, economy, and work environments have lead to an inevitable increase in depression, anxiety, fear or panic. This must not be taken lightly. To overlook this is like sacrificing all that makes up the core of our American culture and values, as well as your livelihood.

What do I do?

Recognize the signs and symptoms you or your workers experience. It pays off enormously to the business bottom line, as well as the security and health of the workers (and yourself) that are essential to making American business and family systems work.

Symptoms related to some of the significant mood problems are as follows.

• Persistent sad or empty feelings
• Tenseness, irritability or excessively anxious mood
• Decreased energy, fatigue, consistently lower productivity
• Sleep disturbances
• Eating disturbances
• Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
• Thoughts of death or suicide or preoccupation with terrorism
• Constant reported feelings of insecurity without justification
• Difficulty in making decisions, remembering things, staying on task
• Chronic aches and pains
• Alcohol use at unusually high levels

(Five or more symptoms for more than two weeks is likely to signal significant problems that need to be professionally treated)

What kind of help can I provide?

  1. Know your own symptoms and address the problems that prevent your optimal performance.
  2. Watch your family’s symptoms. Don’t ignore or fail to attend to what ultimately will affect you.
  3. Train someone in your organization to watch for symptoms of employees (especially managers who measure productivity)
  4. Get an Employee Assistance Program that focuses on confidentially helping employees get referred to professionals who can evaluate and treat the problems
  5. Provide flex time if employees need to address significant stress concerns (you will win by being supportive and getting the most from your employees)
  6. Review the reality of long term cost savings (NOT greater expenses) related to appropriate care of stress and emotional problems

In the difficult times that we are experiencing now, and the certain difficult times we are going to continue to experience (due to the changes in our standard American ways of operating), we must look at proactive measures that can respond to the REAL concerns that we and our workforce experience.

DON’T IGNORE THE NEEDS OF THOSE WHO SUPPORT YOU AND YOUR LIVELIHOOD, THE COSTS ARE TOO GREAT!

Pscyhologically Healthy Workplace, Coaching and Stress Management Services