By |2019-08-29T00:28:50+00:00August 29th, 2019|0 Comments

The Impact of Sudden Earthquakes on Emotional Control

Recently the Central Coast of California and due south experienced a quake.  In Santa Barbara itself, it was relatively mild, but for some including all the way down to Orange County, Calif., it was surprising and seemingly lengthy.  For people who had never experienced one, it was a bit scary and disconcerting.  In conversations with friends, some were frightened and had a sense of loss of control.

So, why talk about earthquakes?   Because they happen without warning and are in the moment.  Some employees, managers and visitors panic, and do not know what to do.  When the Whittier earthquake hit the Los Angeles area, people working in the First Interstate Building panicked, ran down flights of stairs (a no-no) and out of the building….  Not the smartest move.  some were afraid to come back in, and a few decided they no longer wanted to work in Los Angeles….  After that quake, my HR colleagues and I worked with a consultant who suggested we develop a program of management training and counseling to help employees work through fear, anger and in ability to concentrate on work.

Working with Yolanda McGlinchey, the Emergency Services Manager for the City of Santa Barbara, we decided to put together a two-hour seminar on earthquake preparedness and behavioral issues occurring during and after a quake.  We have conducted several preparedness workshops over the years, but never one concentrating on earthquakes. 

The seminar we ran covered why earthquakes happen, how they work, being prepared now for when – what to do, what to have ready for you to take with you, and how to deal with upset employees. 

Because there is no warning, for some, the event itself may cause panic, anger and upset some people to the point of inability to concentrate on work.   Below is a guide for what to do for troubled employees:

Dealing with Employees Troubled due to Trauma

Overview.  What if your community/area suffers a natural or man-made disaster?  It could be a flood, earthquake, explosion, an active shooter or workplace murder

  • Some may have lost homes or businesses in total or in part. Some may have lost a family member or a friend.
  • Some may have friends or families who are experiencing emotional reactions, including a feeling of helplessness, or possibly denial or resentment
  • You may not have experienced a direct impact; however, you may be feeling fearful or sad for others in your community.
  • Or, you may have overcome disaster to the degree that you don’t understand why others are so upset.

What does this mean for you as an employer?

You could have: 

  • Employees directly affected who cannot get to work, no roof over their head, no clothing of their own, and for all practical purposes, have lost everything?
  • Employees who have family members directly affected who are relying on your employee to help them, and therefore causing them to miss work? Or who if they’re at work, they’re distracted and cannot perform at optimal levels?

What are you doing about?

  • Helping them cope so they can concentrate on key work tasks—if they’re able to work?
  • Absences: paid for time unable to work?
    • Pay regular pay for X number of days?
    • Have them take vacation pay?
    • Let them use sick leave?
    • Allow other employees to donate sick leave or vacation pay?
  • Compassionate Leave?
  • Pay advances?
  • Employee emergency loans?
  • Other employees, who want to take up collections, arrange for donated clothing, a place to stay. Will you allow for special collections?

Coaching Managers in Dealing with Unusual Behavior.  

In today’s situation, you need to provide coaching to managers on how to recognize these changes, and then how to deal with them. Consider adding in mandatory visits to EAP counselors as part of your progressive discipline approach. The employee is behaving strangely due to stress, perhaps, but let the counselor make that call. Don’t assume the employee is in control of his/her actions.

Guidelines for a meeting with an employee who is having trouble.

Meeting with an employee face-to-face to discuss a problem is never an easy task. You may be tempted to put off confronting someone who is troubled. Or you will meet with the person but hesitate to recommend counseling. Despite the initial reaction, an employee who is in trouble usually knows it and is often relieved to have the problem out in the open so it can be dealt with. 

If you notice any of the above behaviors, or your employee’s performance is declining, intervene quickly to determine the key issue(s). 

  1. Meet with your employee in his or her work station or office if privacy is adequate. Come prepared with a clear sense of the job criteria and the facts that you wish to address—for example, in the case of excessive absenteeism, have the dates in front of you. 
  2. Focus on specific job performance issues or behavior, not on vague personality or attitude problems, which can easily be denied. Indicate the effect that the worker’s problem is having on you, the workload, and the other workers in your unit.
  3. Hold an unhurried discussion and maintain sensitivity to the employee’s feelings and needs. The manner in which you address your employee in this first meeting will be critical in reducing defensiveness and creating a comfortable environment for communication.
  4. Listen carefully to what the employee says. Be empathetic. Avoid minimizing what he or she is feeling or saying. Your tone should be calm, supportive, and positive. Continue to gently ask questions and listen until you understand fully the nature of the problem, including how it may relate to the disaster that recently occurred.
  5. Be careful not to over-emotionalize what is said. Communicate the facts and discuss the issues. Do not diagnose the problem; ask the employee to make an appointment with Employee Assistance or other behavioral health providers, or offer to schedule an appointment for him or her. 
  6. Continue to be supportive but firm in the message that his or her performance must return to a satisfactory level. Remain calm and firm, always bringing the conversation back to specific on-the-job problems, despite your employee’s excuses, defensiveness, or hostility.
  7. Avoid any diagnosis or labeling of the employee’s problem. Stress that whatever the trouble is, it is the employee’s responsibility to do whatever is necessary—for instance, by using a behavioral health provider—to perform adequately. 
  8. Keep an open door and follow up to ensure that the employee meets with a trained counselor, such as the EAP. 
  9. Emphasize exactly what you expect in order to resolve the problem. Be sure that the employee understands, then get a commitment and monitor it.
  10. Set a definite date—a month from now, perhaps—for your next meeting, at which time you expect marked improvement.
  11. End the interview on a positive note, with your expectation that given the resources available, the employee will start to deal with the problem and work productivity will improve. 
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About the Author:

Kathryn D. McKee, SPHR, is President of Human Resources Consortia, a consultancy specializing in providing solutions to Human Resources issues. Prior to forming her own firm, she was Senior Vice President and Regional Human Resources Director for Standard Chartered Bank, Senior Vice President Human Resources for First Interstate Bank Limited, And SVP Compensation and Benefits at First Interstate Bancorp. Previously, McKee had been Manager, Corporate Compensation; Director, Equal Employment Opportunity; and Director, Management Development at Twentieth-Century Fox Film Corp. She also served as Director, Industrial Relations for Cal Custom/Hawk Division, Orion Industries, and Manager, Corporate Compensation at Mattel, Inc. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of the UCSB Foundation; a Director on the Board of the Fire Service Training Institute, and the Executive Committee of EPIC (Emergency Public Information Communicators). She was 2014-15 Chair of the City of Santa Barbara’s Civil Service Commission, was Foreperson of the 2010-2011 County of Santa Barbara Civil Grand Jury and served as the 2011-12 President of the American Red Cross, Santa Barbara Chapter. She was 1991 Chairman of the Society for Human Resource Management, President of the Laguna Playhouse; Past President of the Grove Shakespeare Festival, The National Human Resources Association, the SHRM Foundation and the Human Resource Certification Institute. She is listed in “Who’s Who in America.” She served as an Executive-in-Residence Adjunct Professor in the CSULB College of Business Management/Human Resources Department and now teaches for the UCSB Technology Management Program and for UC Santa Barbara Extension. She received NHRA’s 1986 Member of the Year, PIHRA’s 1990 Award of Excellence in Human Resources, SHRM’s 1994 Award for Professional Excellence and in 2004 was SBHRA’s Member of the Year. McKee’s publications include How Do We Get There from Here? The Rise of HR: Wisdom from 73 Thought Leaders , HR Certification Institute, 2015; When the Schoolyard Bully Comes to Work; Workplace Violence Prevention eReport; Workplace Violence Institute, 2014; “Leading People Through Disasters: An Action Guide”; 12th Annual Disaster Resource Guide, “The Mouse in the Room”; IPMA HR News “How Prepared are you for When Disaster Strikes?”; the chapter, “Moving as the Markets Move: Planning for Resizing”, published in “Resizing the Organization; “Human Resources: Insurrection or Resurrection” published in the Human Resource Management Journal”; “New Compensation Strategies for Emerging Career Patterns” which was published by HR Magazine and won the distinguished William W. Winter Award from the American Compensation Association. She is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara receiving Senior Honor Key and Outstanding Senior Woman Awards. She completed the UCLA Certificate Program in Business Management, and the Executive Program at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.

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