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Fear During War

Fear Is a Legitimate Reaction During War

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Flag flying at half mast

Employers Can Help Employees During Times of War

Image Copyright Jane Norton

The enemies of America and the free world depend upon our fear for their success. Following September 11, 2001, general anxiety swept through the world, but this fear was especially powerful in the United States of America because the tragedy occurred here. The anthrax deaths, following so closely after the plane bombings, heightened these feelings of fear and anxiety.

Because of the amount of time people spend daily in their workplaces, much of the wars against the enemies of America will occur while people are at work. I’ll first discuss the emotions of fear and anxiety and their relationship to the productivity of individuals at work. During these times of war worry, there are specific actions you can take to help people (and yourself) mitigate their affect. Then I’ll highlight the actions employers can take to address fear from potential negative events in the workplace.

Fear Is Normal During War

Fear is a strong reaction to an anticipated unpleasant event. Fear is normal when elicited by evil acts and potentially evil acts. The issue is to keep fear from paralyzing you and your actions while you still intelligently respond to world events with a heightened sense of awareness and safekeeping.

As an example, if you travel to work on the New York City subway, you need to be aware of the events occurring around you. If you are a hiring employer, you need to pay attention to checking the background of potential employees. You owe this awareness both to yourself and the people you employ. (In fact, as an employer, in addition to the sorrow an injury to an employee will evoke, you may also be liable for the actions of an employee whose background you didn’t adequately check.)

Fear and anxiety are especially rampant when they relate to events or potential events that you cannot predict or control. Actions that involve innocent people and that occur randomly and unpredictably are the toughest to weather. Recovering from their impact is difficult. They impact you emotionally as well as potentially, physically.

Issues such as your proximity to terrible events, your past experience dealing with fear and anxiety, and the support systems of people and resources present in your life impact your coping skills.

War on Television

Speaking to a client today, I said, “When I was watching the war on television last night …” I paused and the profundity of that fact overpowered me. This is the first generation of people who watch war on television. Online news sources report massive numbers of visitors seeking information about the war online.

More information is available from multiple media sources than has ever been available before in the history of the world. Constantly watching and listening to war news can have a profound effect on the minds and emotions of people. Hit with a barrage of information, the constant speculation of journalists, and graphic pictures of war, it is no wonder that a feeling of unease permeates society.

Disagreement over the ethics of war, the need for war, the reasons for war, and the justice of war keep people at odds with their co-workers and neighbors. Tempers are short and because of the emotional and visceral feelings people experience about war, discussion is often heated and disturbing. The participation of a loved one in an unfolding world event will also affect your mood and the level of anxiety you experience.

In this environment, however, recognize that both individuals and employers have paths that will alleviate the level of fear and anxiety.

"To use fear as the friend it is, we must retrain and reprogram ourselves... We must persistently and convincingly tell ourselves that the fear is here - with its gift of energy and heightened awareness - so we can do our best and learn the most in the new situation."

--Peter McWilliams, Author, Life 101

As an individual, you can take action to keep any fear and anxiety you may experience under control. Consider doing the following actions. If these do not help you, you may need to seek professional assistance.

As an example, if you are still experiencing a tragic event over and over again in your dreams and as you day dream a year after the event has occurred, you may need help to get past it. A parent who loses a child will never completely recover from the loss. But, if the loss is still affecting the individual’s ability to perform work after six months, the individual needs assistance beyond what is generally available at work.

Recommended Actions During War

  • Recognize that any feelings of fear, anxiety, or worry you may experience are normal.
  • Spend as much of your time as possible going about your normal routine. Focus on the activities and events that are not changing.
  • Maintain a heightened sense of awareness about your surroundings and the activities of others, but do not allow the increased watchfulness to paralyze your actions.
  • Watch the media and stay informed about world events but do not focus on the television, radio, and Internet obsessively.
  • Try to put world events in perspective. You didn’t cause them; you probably cannot fundamentally affect them.
  • Talk about your fear, anger, or anxiety with close friends and family. If you feel overwhelmed, seek counseling and help through your employer’s employee assistance program or another source.
  • Implement stress-reducing activities daily such as exercise, healthy eating and sleep, yoga, stretching, positive visualization, meditation, walking, gardening and prayer.
  • Do something about your fears and concerns. Protest with a group that is pro-war or anti-war, based on your political position. Donate to causes you support. Circulate petitions. Participate in prayer services. Light a candle in your window. Participate in online debate at political websites. Find a way to express your deeply held beliefs.

You can take the feelings of fear and anxiety that you are experiencing and address them in these healthy ways. If you are effectively dealing with your personal feelings, you can help make the workplace remain fear-free, or at least, cause your employer to help mitigate fear and anxiety.

"Let the fear of danger be a spur to prevent it; he that fears not, gives advantage to the danger."

--Francis Quarles, English Poet (1592 - 1644)

As an employer, you can help employees address their legitimate feelings of fear and anxiety in three ways. You can assist people to feel safe, or at least educated, economically. You can pay attention to and employ procedures that will ensure their physical well-being. You can create a work environment that supports employees mentally and emotionally.

Recommended Actions During War

Make Sure People Are Safe

Assess the potential vulnerability of your workplace to activities of war, terrorism, or any potential danger, disaster, or threat. Your first course of action is to take every necessary step to ensure the safety of your workplace. Assess risk and vulnerability; implement a disaster plan, that identifies potential disasters; and train all staff members in the appropriate procedures for each potential event.

Every disaster plan should designate a meeting location so you know the members of your work force are safe. Additionally, every disaster plan should include an employee call list (call tree) so that you can notify employees before they come to work in the event of problems at the workplace.

Counsel Executives About Appropriate Crisis Communication

During any stressful, fearful event, employees look to executive managers for leadership and communication. People want to know what is happening and the potential impact of the events on their employment and safety.

Employ every possible method to keep communication open and frequent, the Intranet, the newsletter, paging systems, cell phones, and meetings. Keep the message communicated as consistent and soothing as possible while maintaining truthfulness. Make HR staff people and managers visibly available for communication.

The more legitimate information people have, the less likely they are to depend on rumors, the less time they spend seeking information.

Explain the Economic Impact of the War

Fear-causing events, such as war, can have a profound impact on the workplace. As an executive leader, you need to be prepared to talk to employees about the potential impact of the war on your customers, the sale of your products, and the employment and paychecks of your staff. Bad news is best conveyed early while people have time to prepare. War is scary and can do scary things to the economy. Don’t let your employees be caught uninformed. With unemployment so high, currently, this job market is treacherous for the unemployed.

Foster Appropriate Workplace Discussion About War

While discussion of world events should not be the focus of your workplace, it is probable that some discussion will take place. Emphasize to staff that talking about what is happening is appropriate. Heated political debates and disagreements are not appropriate for the workplace. They have the potential to interfere with productivity. They may foster long term bad feelings among people who have to work together.

To help, you can lead discussions about topics such as how to ensure a safe, productive, peaceful work environment. Provide televisions in the lunchroom so people can watch events unfold during break time. Help your employees feel connected to world events without the war taking over your workplace.

Assess the Personal Involvement of Employees

If world events, such as war, impact an individual personally, offer released time, support, help obtaining information and anything else the individual appears to need. Armed force reservists, who have been called to military duty, need information and reassurance about their workplace rights. As an example, a mother, whose child is stationed in Iraq, may need additional support and encouragement from her supervisor and the human resource department.

However long or short the duration of the war, events that cause fear and anxiety in people and in the workplace, must be addressed by both individuals and employers. Unfortunately, putting your head in the sand won’t make the war go away.

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