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A new beginning: reflections of an EAP consultant a decade after 9/11.

After that fateful day in September 2001, many of us in the employee assistance field were thrust into a role that was unforeseen. The terrorism events of 9/11 immediately resulted in a vigorous dialogue among EAP providers about how we saw the events shaping our short-term tasks as well as our future. EAP organizations and publications soon provided forums to discuss these new challenges to our clients and companies. At that time, it was hardly "business as usual."

What follows is my perspective, based on the many years that I have been consulting with company leaders. My hope is that these comments can provide a vehicle to spark more dialogue that will lead to continued evolution of our profession.

The Experience of One CEO

One event is still particularly vivid in my mind. Howard Lutnick, the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, happened to be late for work at the World Trade Center on 9/11 due to a family commitment he had that day. This resulted in him avoiding the tragic fate that most of his workforce experienced.

When Lutnick arrived at work, he futilely tried to reach his employees who were stuck between the 101st and 105th floors. Later that day, when interviewed on camera, he was genuine as well as tearful. The spectacle of a CEO experiencing such personal pain further shook the foundation of both the business community and society.

Social worker and author Susan Star Paddock commented on the Lutnick broadcast in a blog entry that, "In confronting death, Lutnick realized something every businessperson needs to know: Our workplaces are not just gatherings of strangers who assist us in our livelihood In a very real sense they are a second family, the people we've come to know as well as we know anyone. On Sept. 11th, nothing mattered beyond the lives of those thousands of co-workers."

Further Impact on Workplace

A similar observation was evident in a study titled, "Impact of September 11th on the American Workplace," conducted by Sheryl and Don Grimme of GHR Training Solutions. They found that the vast majority of organizations studied immediately after 9/11 reported an increase in volunteerism and coworker emotional support.

The study also revealed that two-thirds of participants observed an increase in management's sensitivity to employee concerns and an enhanced sense of teamwork. The study authors had this to say about their findings:

"We believe this study has reconfirmed what we've come to know about the American character. A crisis brings out the very best in the vast majority of Americans. Not only the visible heroes, e.g., the rescue workers at 'Ground Zero,' but also the 'unsung' heroes in America's workplaces--and at all levels. They struggle in a balancing act to 'do their jobs'--while caring for their families and reaching out to assist others in need."

Effect on EAP

The emotions that this event triggered have forever changed the role of the employee assistance profession. Prior to that fateful day, those of us in EA fought an uphill battle in the corporate suite. We were empowered to assist employees, but the "don't ask, don't tell" mentality was still an underlying current the dampened the utilization of the EAP.

However, since 9/11, the concept of the workplace as a network of people with needs, wants, desires, and emotions seemed to jell with the raw emotion of Howard Lutnick. In this way, the role of behavior professionals has grown in value and is now more appreciated in the business community.

The collective angst from this pivotal event was revealed in a recent conversation I had with John O'Rourke, vice president of human resources at SCA Americas. "Do you see this keychain flashlight?" asked O'Rourke. "I began to carry it when we moved into this high-rise office building in 2006. I was affected by the story of people being told to 'stay where you are' during that fateful day. I remember that many of the individuals trapped in the towers had to rely on light sources, such as their cell phone screens, in order to navigate the stairs to safety."

John went on to describe the post-9/11 security features of the building currently housing his company, noting that, "since 9/11 there has been an increased sense of urgency and caution."

The perspective of this business executive is shared by many of the individuals I work with--that is: 9/11 has created a culture of increased vigilance and greater concern for the health and safety of co-workers.

The convergence of this sense of urgency to mitigate potential security risks and the increased recognition of the humanity of the workplace has resulted in increased visibility of the EAR Nowhere is this more apparent than the interface between human resources (HR) and EAP, as frontline supervisors and corporate executives alike have come to understand that incidents outside of the workplace (in addition to those within) profoundly influence the health and productivity of the workforce.

As O'Rourke put it, "for better or worse, anxiety and feelings are seen as more legitimate." Such a statement summarizes the "opportunities" for EAP that have emerged from the crisis that we all endured.

Summary

As I look back, I can see that there was a transitional period that followed 9/11. Before 9/11, stress-reduction workshops were a brown bag affair that enabled the relatively few attendees to sharpen their coping skills. Today, stress management is accepted as a mainstream issue that affects not only the rank and file workers, but also the C-suite. Indeed, the "human capital" of the workplace is now seen as key to productivity and performance.

In addition to recognizing the role of stress, today there is much less differentiation in the workplace between work and personal life issues. In fact, the dramatic emergence of the "work-life" product line over the past decade has provided employers with the opportunity to demonstrate to their employees that personal and family needs are recognized, valued, and supported. Personally, I think this has been a change in the fight direction for the good of the company, its employees, and for the employee assistance profession.

Sources:

Susan Star Paddock website--www. susanstarpaddock.com/relationships.html

Grimme, S., & Grimme, D. (2001). Impact of September 11th on the American Workplace. GHR Training Solutions. Available from www.ghr-training.com/Documents/9-11%20 Workplace%20Results.pd

By Edward J. Haaz, LPC, ABMPP, MEd

Edward Haaz is a licensed professional counselor and board certified medical psychotherapist specializing in EAP, behavioral health, and wellness in the workplace. He is currently the senior behaviorist for HealthNext, president/COO of Corporate Health Solutions, Inc., and has been president/CEO of Mental Health Consultants since 1980. Eddie can be reached at Ehaaz@ mhconsultants.com or (215) 353-2581.
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Title Annotation:feature article; Employee Assistance Programs
Author:Haaz, Edward J.
Publication:The Journal of Employee Assistance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2011
Words:1122
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