Coping with Disaster

Posted by on Nov 1, 2005 in Success!Ezine For You



E. Carol Webster, Ph.D.
Original Copyright © 2005

This is a time when there seem to be no shortage of disasters – from hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks to major acts of violence – that play out before our eyes across the nation on television, in our cities, or perhaps even on our jobs. These phenomena make it difficult to feel safe and, thus, provoke all kind of emotional and physical reactions. As a manager, you must be mindful of this and be particularly sensitive to the fact that these types of events can take their toll on your staff even if they have not personally been the victim of such destruction. You must do this all the while wrestling with your own reactions to these same stresses and the possible need to recover from the crisis yourself if you have been a direct victim.

  • Re-Establish Routine Swiftly

As quickly as possible, try to re-establish routine for yourself and your employees so that there is some degree of return to “normalcy”. There are so many unknown factors going on in the aftermath of a crisis that it helps to have some things be predictable. If you normally have a meeting in the morning, try to keep that schedule in place if you can. If the coffee pot is normally perking when the office opens, dust it off and get it working again. It can be the little things that help your staff feel that life is settling down and that some of the uncertainty and chaos has ended. This goes a long way to restoring some sense of calm.

  • Adjust Your Expectations

Your employees will not feel like themselves, nor will you. Things will still feel a beat off so don’t look for perfection. Even though you may normally have a very high performing team, they are likely to be preoccupied about their own problems and may be just going through the motions at work. It’s hard to fully concentrate and excel at tasks when you’re fearful of what might happen next or have very tangible problems you have to fix at home before you can breathe a little easier. It’s wisest to adjust the performance goals for right now or skip them altogether temporarily until the workplace gets back to normal.

  • Be Flexible

While restoring order, routine and predictability in the work setting is important, try to remain flexible about some things. This is not the time to enforce the “no personal calls at work” rule or the ban on Internet surfing. Your staff needs to connect with family members and friends to assure themselves that all is okay. They also may need to procure tangible goods and services in order to get home and hearth back together again. For some, the magnitude of the problem may cause such preoccupation and need for time that taking leave or using flexible scheduling may be the best solution. For many, however, just having a little time to investigate options and make calls may do the trick. Provide information that helps your employees understand the latest status of the crisis and helps them to solve their problems. Allow the break room television to stay on, for example, permit radios, and schedule periodic meetings to share information and for “hand holding”. This goes a long way in allaying anxiety and helping everyone to cope.

  • Time Will Be Needed for Healing

Recovery from disasters takes time. The workplace will feel different, and you will feel different – period. Call upon the resources of your company EAP and encourage your staff to make use of its services or other community resources. If you see that things are not settling down and getting back to normal, or if your EAP’s resources are limited, retain the services of a crisis management consultant. Many times these individuals are psychologists who specialize in disaster recovery and debriefing employees after critical incidents that occur both on and off the job. Their staff can help you tremendously and prevent the type of workplace meltdown that can occur following events that traumatize and disrupt the lives of you and your employees.


About the Author:

Dr. E. Carol Webster is a clinical psychologist consultant in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
She is author of the book for those dealing with the stress of success ―
Success Management: How to Get to the Top and Keep Your Sanity Once You Get There,

The Fear of Success: Stop It From Stopping You! ―
the book to help you overcome fears that may be holding you back in your life and career
The Private Practice of Clinical Psychology in: Voices of Historical & Contemporary Black American Pioneers
To contact Dr. Webster visit online at or call 954.797.9766.

E. Carol Webster, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychology Consulting
Mailing Address: 7027 West Broward Boulevard, #262  Fort Lauderdale, FL 33317

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