All workplaces feel the terror (editorial)

Sorrow, fear and anger. The tragedy of Sept. 11 and the opening of a new war have brought these emotions into the workplace as Canadians grapple with the events that will mark the beginning of this century.

For employers and people in HR who have stewardship over workforces, it’s important to consider Sept. 11’s continuing impact on our society. And while HR can’t spare employees the grief that has, and will, come, there is a role to play in acknowledging, monitoring and addressing the raw emotions in our workplaces.

The mood will be different in every organization. Some firms have lost people. Others have lost business colleagues. Staff may have friends or relatives among the victims of the attacks on New York and Washington, or upon the four hijacked airliners. Everyone has been affected.

Whether an employer needs to make counselling and EAP services available or whether it’s a matter of responding to the collective need to “do something” by setting up fundraising programs for the victims and their families, employers must appreciate business as usual does not apply.

Productivity will have to take a back seat sometimes — focusing on the job may be difficult some days, just as it was the week of Sept. 11 as people reacted to events in the United States.

HR professionals should gauge the mood of their organizations, talking to staff and managers. Understanding the workforce has always been part of the profession’s role, and it is at the heart of organizational effectiveness. Sensitivity to emotions of sorrow and fear is important, and these issues will play themselves out in many ways — such as staff concerned about taking global assignments or a desire to avoid business travel.

But it is the third reaction — anger — that HR must be most vigilant about in these difficult times. For Canadians of the Muslim faith or Arab descent, there is concern about a backlash. HR needs to ensure workplaces are free from misdirected retribution against minorities that are both innocent and suffering from their own unique and isolating fears about the rest of society’s response to the terrorism of Sept. 11.

The ignorance of those who commit hate crimes is displayed by the fact that not only have Muslims been targetted, but Sikhs and Hindus have also been victimized because of their complexion or the wearing of traditional dress that may be similar to Middle Eastern fashions. Thus, HR must be mindful of the fears and safety of an even larger group of employees.

During these heart-wrenching days, employers have an obligation and opportunity to help workforces and the society they represent carry on.

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