People have changed, workplaces must too

Canadian workers feel as anxious as Americans after Sept. 11, and many are disappointed by employer support.

Attitudes about work were profoundly changed by the events of Sept. 11, a new study confirms, but many working Canadians have been disappointed by how their employers have responded to that change.

In a survey of 600 working Canadians, conducted by Aon Consulting in late October, more than 80 per cent of respondents said that in light of the Sept. 11 attacks they plan to spend more time on personal matters and less at work. Of that group, 38 per cent said this was true to a great, or very great extent.
The results of the study also indicate that Canadian workers were as affected by the terrorist attacks as American workers.

In the U.S., a similar survey revealed 82 per cent of workers want to spend more time on personal matters and 42 per cent feel that way to a great or very great extent.

“Canadian workers’ feelings of insecurity are much more prevalent than anyone imagined,” said Marilynne Madigan, senior vice-president, Aon Consulting. “Corporate leaders must provide needed safety and support mechanisms or risk losing employee confidence.”

While most respondents were generally pleased with how their employers responded to these feelings, 20 per cent said their organization’s top leaders were doing a poor job of providing support and guidance.

“They (workers) are looking for leadership and they are looking for their supervisors and ultimately the leaders of the organization to provide guidance and direction. Based on our organization report card we are suggesting they are not doing that good of a job,” she said.

Employees want to know their workplace is safe and they want programs and policies that can help them cope with increased anxiety, Madigan said. There should be effective EAPs in place and now more than ever, organizations have to have a flexible work environment.

For a long time organizations talked about having flexible work environments and the importance of work-life balance but it was only lip service. They won’t be able to do that anymore, predicted Madigan.

“I don’t think we will ever go back to the way it was. I believe the workplace landscape has changed forever. And I think it has changed for the better — 9/11 was a real turning point.”
The survey was intended to gauge the levels of commitment and feelings about security after Sept. 11, and was a followup to research conducted in the spring.

On the whole, levels of commitment have increased since the spring. In fact, commitment levels are at an all-time high, said Madigan. This is attributed to a greater desire for stability. Workers are more committed to their organization and the survey suggests they will be less likely to jump ship for higher pay, so long as the employer is understanding about needs for work-life balance, she said.

Aon itself was directly affected by the attacks, close to 200 employees were lost at the World Trade Centre where 1,350 people worked for the consultancy on floors 92 and 98 to 105 of tower number two.

In the aftermath, CEO Patrick Ryan kept employees around the world apprised of all developments through regular conference calls and by the evening of Sept. 11, a special global EAP was in place to help employees, victims and families deal with their horrible lose.

Work-life harmony has always been important at Aon, but things have changed there too, said Madigan. There is a greater appreciation around the organization that if people need to take some time away, they can and should without colleagues judging what effect it will have on their work.

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