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Ref: Building best practices of business continuity after 9/11


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Life goes on: the Sept. 11 attacks were over within hours, but the effects linger even today. This is how employees are adapting - Employee Relations

The terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, devastated a nation and its people. For HR professionals, the shock occurred on two levels--a personal one a well as a professional one. The fact that the attacks occurred while most people were at work pierced to the very soul of what HR is all about.

Only one year later the country feels, in many ways, eons away from how it operated on Sept. 10, 2001. HR professionals are coping with the changes and adapting to new pressures in beefing up disaster recovery plans, expanding background checks on new and existing employees, enhancing security measures and helping employees who may still be coping with the tragedy.

As the anniversary approached, HR Magazine asked readers in a variety of industries and HR-related functions to reflect on what the past year has been like--how their workplaces and jobs have changed. Here's what some of them had to say.

JOY WYATT, Senior Vice President and Director of Human Resources, Fiduciary Trust Co., New York

Fiduciary Trust manages assets and investment strategies for individuals and institutions. The company's headquarters were located in the World Trade Center Towers. Among those lost were Alayne Gentul, senior vice president and director of HR, and Ed Emery, VP and director of training and development.

A workplace becomes something more than a place to work after a tragedy like Sept. 11. For companies in the Twin Towers, it became a place to flee.

In the months afterward, employees still have and share painful memories of their former workplace and their lost colleagues. In Fiduciary's new headquarters at Rockefeller Center, the workplace, though in a new space, is still filled with memories. Now the job of taking care of people has a number of new dimensions, such as:

Finding new ways for employees to care for their mental and spiritual health. The employee assistance program (EAP) has never been more important than it is now. The EAP is the channel to a variety of support services, both for employees them-selves as well as for the leadership as managers.

An unexpected side benefit for HR is the mentoring and counseling that EAP leaders can provide to HR itself.

Keeping the business moving while ensuring management remains sensitive to individuals' needs. If the company doesn't succeed, everyone loses. But to succeed, many people must focus on today, the next day and the next.

Some employees don't find it easy or even possible to put the past behind them. HR helps executives manage their employees' emotional needs and works with leadership to develop strategies for moving forward while leaving no one behind.

A new appreciation for the impact of leaves of absence and other employee policies. Helping employees transition back to work from absences for post-traumatic stress may involve more time and attention to the details of the workplace than ever before. This requires a level of sensitivity that may be unknown in a manager's prior experience. HR helps managers understand what to expect and how to establish reasonable performance expectations.

Performance management isn't "business as usual." In a time of great stress, it is often amazing to see how many people are able to work above and beyond" to achieve the extraordinary. After Sept. 11, employees with the ability to simply show up and continue with their normal business tasks added tremendously to maintaining the strength of our business. HR helps management keep sight of the different ways employees can be rewarded to ensure a strong foundation for growth over the long haul.

The experience of 9/11 and its aftermath show this: The things we already knew how to do became much more important. The strongest quality for an HR professional and team to exhibit during such a time is flexibility, and perhaps the most important skill is the ability to listen. We have the technical skills to aid the recovery--but with time and resources so precious, and people so challenged, we have to remember to demonstrate our true "people" skills--our humanity--every day.

BOB LAWRENCE, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, New York

Empire's corporate headquarters were at the World Trade Center, occupying 10 floors in the North Tower. Nine employees and two longtime consultants died, and three employees were seriously injured.

Shortly after Sept. 11, we organized a series of group counseling sessions for the 1,900 employees that were located at the World Trade Center and survived the attack. We also held sessions for employees at our other locations. None of our employees was immune from the events of the day, no matter where they worked.

The sessions included presentations by EAP counselors, clergy of various denominations and Empire senior management. The level of participation was overwhelming. Whether it was because employees wanted "counseling" or because they had an intense need to be together, we'll never know. But the meetings clearly met a need. And, while we did see an initial spike in EAP participation in the weeks after the attack, the level of usage returned to normal by the end of year.

Empire had a disaster recovery plan in place prior to Sept. 11. It was clearly a critical component of our ability to successfully respond to the challenges we faced as a result of the terrorist attack.

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