Within the last several years, particularly since 9/11 and the inception of a broad-reaching emphasis on national security, the American workplace has changed. Where at one time there was free and open intercourse, there are now multiple gateways prior to access--technological, social, and physical. Getting into a secured building requires the emptying of pockets and purses, the removal of shoes, and a sometimes more personal inspection. With that security--which is by its nature is based in the experience of fear--comes an increase in general anxiety. People are generally more hypervigilant--readier to perceive danger, more high strung, and more sensitive.
After 9/11, National Employee Assistance Programs had been virtually inundated with calls for debriefings, information sessions on trauma, and support services for employees. In the ten years since then the situation has not radically altered.
"It's more acceptable now to have emotions in the workplace," noted Kristen Nagle of Longview Associates in New York. "Corporations have been more sensitive to the psychological and emotional needs of employees virtually across the board. They know the importance of their support, particularly since 9/11. It's not only about productivity anymore. It's been about doing the right thing."
Corporate support has taken many forms--conferences, counseling services, trainings--on issues ranging from post-traumatic stress to Internet security.
Businesses have begun not only to react, but to respond proactively--giving their employees the tools they need to handle emotional and physical crises.
The Place For Verbal First Aid in the Post-9/11 World
It has been repeatedly documented that the earlier the intervention, the more likely a positive outcome. When a person at work experiences a traumatic event--whether that is a fall, a broken business deal, a heart attack in a fellow employee, or a mass layoff--the quicker we address the fallout from that experience, the better that person will respond. What that means in business terms is a quicker return to work, less rancor, better productivity, and less litigation.
The research literature on PTSD indicates that the way in which we handle traumatic incidents (whether they are personal injuries or the employee is witnessing an incident) at the moment they occur has an impact both on how the employee heals and then deals with traumas in the future.
This is the core principle of Verbal First Aid: What we say at the scene of a medical emergency or emotional crisis is as important as what we do .
Unfortunately, most crises are handled without much consideration of the impact of words. If a person is bleeding, we bandage the wound, but we don't address the fear. If a person's feelings are "hurt," we tell them to "get over it" and get back to work. There is another way, a better way--both ethically and practically--to handle any critical incident.The Right Words to the Rescue: Verbal First Aid
Who would argue that the workplace in America is stressful? There are layoffs, down-sizings, crunches, and closings. People are doing jobs they never imagined doing before. They are forced by circumstance to seek new professions at a time in life when perhaps they had imagined they would be preparing for retirement. To some, stress is too polite a term.
However, medically stress is actually a perception. According to Hans Selye (the Founder of Stress Medicine) it is a byproduct of all we do--waking, sleeping, running, breathing, working, not working. It is a part of life and in proper doses it can animate and inspire us. In too heavy a dose, it becomes toxic.
He distinguishes stress from strain. Stress is the event or the incoming force. Strain is our response. It is the way a person reacts to a situation. It is our receptivity and perception. One person might find something frightening (and therefore stressful) that another person would find challenging (and therefore even exhilarating). It is still quite real, of course. Stress--and the way we "strain" against it or through it--has been implicated in most of what leads people to call their doctors and linked as a major component in back pain, heart disease, cancer, and chronic ailments such as fibro-myalgia.