Getting through the Workday Concentrating at the Office Hasn't Been the Same since Sept. 11

By Gordon, Mark | The Florida Times Union, November 11, 2001 | Go to article overview

Getting through the Workday Concentrating at the Office Hasn't Been the Same since Sept. 11


Gordon, Mark, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Mark Gordon, Times-Union business writer

Motivation has always been a cinch for Eliza Young. Just look at how she started a Web site design firm in her Arlington home five years ago and built it into a thriving business, with nine employees and earnings that could reach $1 million this year.

But that motivation, not to mention her energy and focus, has taken a two-month hiatus, ever since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Young, who was in New York City to set up a second office for her company that day, saw the explosions and devastating aftermath from a loft apartment less then half a mile away from the Twin Towers.

"It's really easy to get bummed out and lose focus and find yourself not moving forward," Young said recently from her New York office, where, if she opened her window, she'd be able to breathe in the smell of death a few blocks away. "It's kind of like learning to walk again."

Getting back to the grind of concentrating on daily work tasks has become a Herculean task for Young and thousands of other Americans and First Coast residents since the attacks. But just like a baby learning to walk, there is help. There are resources people can turn to for help, from leaning on family members to meditating.

For many people facing this quandary, from entrepreneurs to rank-and-file employees to middle managers to chief executives, going to work has been like navigating an emotional minefield: There are feelings of sadness and overwhelming grief for the attack victims, combined with anxiety and fear brought on by the daily barrage of anthrax scares and warnings of new terrorist attacks, mixed in with the pressure of a flopping national economy that has ushered in thousands of job layoffs.

And then, of course, the United States itself is at war, and national leaders warn that the battle to exterminate terrorism will be a long one.

The bottom line is that some workplace experts and work psychologists say a new workplace has emerged, where managers need to be aware of emotions from their staffs, and employees need to be able to push past those emotions to accomplish things that might have seemed routine up until Sept. 11.

Across the board, many things will be changing. Experts said productivity levels could drop, and the numbers of workers asking for more time off could rise.

But there is hope. From taking better care of yourself physically to simply thinking positively, there are ways to get past the tragedy.

"One of the things you should consider when trying to deal with this national upheaval is that there are many people feeling exactly what you are feeling" said Daniel Rutley, a psychotherapist and author of a new book on negative thinking. "You can't change what's happened, but you can learn how to cope with it and even emerge a stronger person."

'WALKING AROUND'

The first phase in battling low motivation comes from the managers and supervisors, experts said. Those are people that set the tone for how their staff will perform. If it's done right, then managers can pick up new-found loyalty from their employees. If it's done wrongly, it can lead to morale problems that would be difficult to fix.

"What managers do today is going to impact on the productivity and loyalty of tomorrow," said Greg Smith, a suburban Atlanta-based management consultant and author of Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Transforming Your Workforce from High-Turnover to High-Retention. "Managers need to create a work environment that focuses on the psychological aspects of employment."

Smith said managers can start by simply listening to their employees. Listen to their concerns, and don't judge them on what you feel but on what they feel, Smith said.

One manager trying to do that is Bob Haulter, the vice president for human resources at CSX Transportation, the Jacksonville-based railroad. Ever since the attacks, Haulter said, he has been doing a lot of "managing by walking around. …

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