September 11

A day like no other.

Canadian HR Reporter asked some HR executives to share how the events of Sept. 11 affected their workplaces.

Ian Hendry
Managing director HR
RBC Dominion Securities

Life has changed quite a bit.

In the weeks after Sept. 11, I did little else than New York issues. The devastation is astounding. We had offices in Liberty Plaza, one of the adjacent buildings to the World Trade Centre that was evacuated.

As our people were evacuated there was already chaos. A number of our people, in an effort to help, were true soldiers to this, helping people who were hit by cars as the whole place went berserk.

We have people who witnessed human tragedy first hand. People literally standing watching people jumping from buildings. The toll from the standpoint of what they actually saw will be indelibly marked on them and they will be scarred for life. In the subsequent days, the television networks repeated broadcasts of the tragedy…watching that plane go into the building. Again, the memory for them is going to be a long-lasting legacy.

Some people were logistically trying to get our business up and running and were focused on doing many marvellous things from an operational standpoint. But we also had a lot of people sitting at home, glued to the television set and having that memory constantly flashed in front of them.

From the standpoint of trauma, many of the people in our Toronto office lost friends in the towers. There was one very large company, Cantor Fitzgerald, we did a lot of business with. Some of our trading people had frequent daily dealings with their folk. Cantor Fitzgerald has 40 people left out of close to 1,000.

I guess the one lasting piece, as logistically we get ourselves back together, and try to get our people gainfully employed again, is that it’s relatively simple over six months to move our operations into another building, but for all those 6,000 families who have potentially lost one parent — how do you rebuild your life when you’re a single parent?

From an HR standpoint, it’s: How do you help people rebuild their lives? That’s hard in relation to rebuilding a building.

Fred Alaggia
Senior manager HR
St. Boniface General Hospital

There is still a great deal of discussion among staff about the tragedy, although the focus is now mainly on what happens next. There appears to be a great deal of concern that the rhetoric from the U.S. president, particularly the “you’re either against us or for us” does not reflect a measured or guarded approach in responding to the terrorist attacks.

In a recent meeting with our joint EAP committee, we have noted that there has not been a significant increase in users seeking assistance. However, it is expected that once the emotional numbness that has affected many people wears off, the emotions associated with images of the attack and the escalating war footage will see our EAP resources coming under more pressure to provide counselling. Our employees are conducting business as usual with perhaps a greater sense of introspection and sombreness.

John Cardella
Vice-president HR
Compaq Canada
Richmond Hill, Ont.

At Compaq Canada, empathy to the needs of employees was demonstrated throughout the crisis. HR and the leadership team were directly involved to make the following happen:
• Compaq management quickly realized the magnitude of the tragedy and a message was sent immediately from the president to all employees. Given the gravity of the situation, meetings were cancelled and people were urged to return home to be with family and loved ones. While employees were still in the offices, TV and radio were played so that all could get the most current news.
• As quickly as possible, Compaq began to facilitate the healing process by encouraging employees to participate in the disaster relief efforts. A message from the president announced that Compaq had contributed $100,000 to the Canadian Red Cross (to be used in New York), links were established on our intranet to blood donor needs and clinics, and the company’s Matching Gift Program was communicated widely.
• In tribute to our U.S. friends, all employees on Friday Sept. 14 received a red, white and blue ribbon to show support and solidarity with our U.S. neighbours. Friday Sept. 14 was declared as our Day of Mourning.

While employees continue to grieve and mourn lost colleagues in the U.S., consideration is made daily for the human need to talk openly and share the pain. Compaq’s EAP provider information has been widely communicated and employees and their families are strongly urged to find comfort and support where they can.

Louis Tasse
HR director
Velan Inc.

Everybody has been affected in some way by this and will be by what will happen next.

I will always remember that Tuesday morning. I was with a colleague and we were about to leave to drive to one of our plants located in Williston, near Burlington, Vt.

As we were leaving we were told that an airplane went into one of the World Trade Centre towers. We assumed it was an accident and proceeded to get in my car and take the highway. We left the head office at 9:15 a.m., turned on the radio and, for the next one-and-a-half hours, followed the events as they were described by the radio stations. We could not believe what we were listening to. We all now know the details and that it was real. We actually verified if it would be pertinent to continue to the U.S. border; it wasn’t, we turned back and returned to our head office in Montreal.

During that day it was impossible for anyone to carry on the usual work, many employees were listening to the radio with their colleagues, some were watching on CNN. The spirit to work was not there.

It is still in our head, we are still thinking about it, afraid of what may be next, afraid that violence will not end.

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