It’s not always business as usual (Editorial)

Regardless of whether one supports or opposes the war in Iraq, the human costs of the conflict have often been difficult to bear. Stories of the Iraqi regime’s decades-long terror tactics, American prisoners of war, civilians killed and injured by coalition bombing. The images are hard to escape in a wired, news hungry world. And there are fears this is just the beginning, with more war and terrorism to come.

And amidst the war reports, the threat of SARS shut down Canadian hospitals and unnerved the country. With summer drawing near West Nile virus will also be returning to northern climes that were once believed immune from such tropical dangers.

At times it can seem apocalyptic.

It should not be lost on employers that in these difficult times employees are experiencing emotions that affect their day-to-day work lives.

American expatriates in Canada may have family or friends serving in Iraq. Many Muslim-Canadians are both worried by the images from their homelands and feeling a sense of alienation from co-workers who may view them with suspicion or disdain. And Asian-Canadians too worry they are being viewed as possible SARS carriers. All these members of the workforce have been going through difficult emotional times, but so have we all, for the world has truly become a global village.

If you have your finger on the pulse of the organization, as all good HR professionals are expected to, chances are you have sensed the malaise, distraction and even depression existing within your workforce. That’s not to say that everyone is pessimistic all, or even some, of the time. But there’s no denying that for many it has been difficult to carry on business as usual.

There may be times when HR has to intervene and apply respectful workplaces policies, to ensure pro- or anti-war sentiments don’t spill into workplace conflict. In other cases, counselling may be required to help employees deal with their emotions.

Business can’t and shouldn’t stop. Work can help ground people. Its sense of community can be a solace. But employers do need to be sensitive. It’s pretty difficult to concentrate on a change management initiative in the middle of war and pestilence.

At times like this, it’s good to let staff get on with the job at hand, and leave organizational effectiveness for another day. Re-engineering, restructuring and process evaluation can surely wait for a better day.

Dispense with quarterly executive briefings on productivity levels and profit ratios, and instead open the floor to staff questions. It’s a good time for leaders to show their human side — it’s certainly lacking in the world outside the company’s walls.

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