Coping with Sept. 11

Employees may show signs of stress and grief around the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Here are some things to watch for and tips on what to do

The one year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is approaching, and organizations should be aware of the impact grief can have on staff. With this in mind, FGI, a Toronto-based EAP consulting firm, has prepared advice for employers to help staff through what can be a difficult time.

Coping with grief

Grief is both a normal and a healthy process individuals go through in the wake of traumatic events. People exposed to such trauma, whether through direct experience and loss or from a more peripheral and observational advantage, will experience a grief response.

As the anniversary approaches, it would not be abnormal for people who appear to have been coping well become preoccupied with death and grief. It can lead to a resurgence of intense emotions similar to those experienced immediately after the attack.

Employee responses can differ based on personal experience and how closely they were affected by the attacks. Reactions may also vary based on the employee’s individual resilience to deal with such an event and the availability of a strong support network. Employees may experience:

•mood swings;

•change in sleeping habits and eating patterns;

•questioning the meaning of priorities in life;

•resurfacing of past thoughts and feelings;

•diminished energy;

•difficulty concentrating;

•feeling overwhelmed;

•increased alcohol and drug use; and

•increased physical symptoms.

Signs to watch for

There are a number of ways employers can be on the lookout for problems in the workplace leading up to the anniversary. A well performing individual may suddenly:

•make more errors;

•demonstrate reduced or uncharacteristic performance;

•become forgetful;

•exhibit signs of frustration; and

•become disorganized or, conversely, hypervigilant.

There may be changes in behaviour, for example:


•avoidance of going to work (especially if they work in a tall building);

•fear of opening mail;

•greater emotional outbursts;

•increased substance use; and

•reduced co-operation.

What can the organization do?

There are a number of steps companies can take to help lessen the impact of the anniversary. One idea is to openly acknowledge Sept. 11 throughout the company through newsletters, memos or bulletins. Employees should be given the opportunity to commemorate the day, and should be involved in decision-making and planning for the memorial event.

Managers can also play an active role in providing support. They can:

•acknowledge employee’s concerns in a respectful, emphatic and non-intrusive manner;

•encourage employees to deal with their feelings and be patient with themselves and others;

•remind employees that they each have a very unique and resourceful way of coping with traumatic events and to continue to draw on their natural resilience;

•urge employees to reach out to people they trust;

•inform staff that these feelings may vary from day to day and may be different than the feelings and thoughts of those around them;

•prompt employees to focus their attention on the things in their life that are important and things they can influence;

•offer supportive statements of the accomplishments of the past year;

•acknowledge the impact of the upcoming anniversary date and that employees may have varying needs; and

•provide information on EAP and other community resources that are available to employees and family members.

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