Categorized | Life

Business as (Un)usual: Americans try to work through a national tragedy

Posted on 07 November 2008

Terrorists have used brutal means to achieve a particular end–the disruption of our lives and suffocation of our spirit. A small group tried, through unfathomable violence, to deter us from bettering our selves and those we love. Have they succeeded? If you ask any number of American workers, the answer is a resounding no.

An Attack on American Workers?
Tuesday, September 11, was a difficult day for everyone. In companies from coast to coast, employees crowded around televisions, radios, and computer monitors. For most of us, disbelief turned into sadness. Will the sadness turn into quiet resolve?

CareerBuilder producer Gavin Rodkey believes this is the case. He already sees solidarity growing among American workers in the wake of tragedy. “We’re pulling together,” he says, “as fellow workers, as caring people, as Americans.” Two of the jetliners, after all, crashed into the very hub of American commerce. The World Trade Center is located in the heart of the Manhattan financial district, adjacent to the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ. A great many of the victims were probably office workers, sitting innocently at their desks, responding to the first e-mail of the day, milling around a water cooler or coffee pot.

What should companies do to help people through this troubling time?

Perhaps this event transcends context–we may not think of it in terms of workplace safety. Valerie Young, founder of, predicts that the tragedy will still affect our future behavior at work. “The little things that used to frustrate us,” she says, “won’t seem so important now. We won’t get mired in office politics because, in the face of something this terrible, what does it really matter?”

A Range of Emotions
Because disasters affect people in different ways, many companies tried to be extremely proactive. HDVest, a investment services firm, called all of its employees together immediately for an information and support meeting. They opened a special Employee Assistance telephone line to handle calls from concerned workers. Everyone was offered time off, if they wanted to take it.

Dayna Harvey, an HR recruiter for HDVest, says that the company emphasized personnel over policy. “We took things on a case-by-case basis,” she says. “Some people were upset and needed time away, but most stayed at work and kept going. We watched the news, talked about it all day. The women here just seemed to be sad, while the men veered toward anger.

“Nobody really understands why this happened,” she adds, “We all felt so safe until that morning. Now the world seems so uncertain, and we just have to keep our minds focused on work.”

The Spirit to Move On
Valerie Young believes that we must try to restore a little order in times of chaos. “I started doing mindless little tasks,” she says, “rearranging my desk, organizing the books on my bookshelves. My friends reacted the same way; they found refuge in their work. They concentrated on the things they could control.”

Are you able to work? Have your friends and family been shocked, saddened, outraged? How has your employer dealt with the tragedy? What should companies do to help people through this troubling time?

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