· News

The worlds turned upside down but dont panic

The events of 11 September an attack on one of the worlds most prominent workplaces have caused bewilderment and confusion for everyone. How can you continue to work normally at a time like this? Stefan Stern spoke to three experts on good management practice during traumatic times

Gareth Jones, visiting professor at INSEAD and founding partner, Creative Management Associates

I was in New York two weeks after the events, and it was quite an amazing scene. Some people were clearly struggling with post-traumatic-stress disorder. You need counselling for that to avoid chronic mental health problems.

But in this situation there are some very pragmatic things you need to do. In London and other big cities, were quite used to the levels of security required, its almost routine. Some international clients of mine have been less inclined to travel recently.

You have to be measured about this. The forces of continuity are in fact enormously strong its a tribute to the world economic system in a sense. There is an onus on business people after 11 September to maintain their activities. It could be a benign effect of globalisation.

The routine structure of work can help us. We focus on the discontinuity after events like these, but after a time we go on as normal. Business has carried on in Northern Ireland for these past 30 years. The world keeps on going. Management needs to acknowledge that the world is a dangerous place, but be measured about it in tone, and avoid panic.

Mike Emmott, senior adviser, CIPD

We know that sudden change breeds uncertainty, which is damaging to relationships in the workplace, damaging for trust and commitment. The scale of change can have a lasting effect on staff.

In times like these you have to make sure your communication is as open and honest as possible. If people dont believe you there is no point in communicating at all. It is more important to be accessible when things are difficult. Open lines of communication enable you to find out about rumours that may be around, so you can do something to correct them.

The hopeful message is that good teams maintain their performance even when times are challenging. Effective leaders make their teams feel confident that they can cope. They maintain a pride in what they are doing. A measured kind of realistic optimism encourages people that they will manage.

Peter Shepherd, development tutor, Roffey Park Management Institute

This is a real issue on a practical and philosophical level. First, employers have to make sure safety of their people is paramount. Employees need to know that their interests are being taken to heart. People working in the City, for example, or in high-rise offices are bound to be much more aware of the risks involved.

But on a more profound level people will be asking themselves big questions about the work they do, and whether they are using their time well. The events were really a wake-up call putting the whole planet on notice. Is there more to work than this? is a question people will ask themselves.

Workplaces are communities. And these events force us to think about our relationships with each other, and our understanding of cultural differences. I would like to think that we will start to think harder about the way we handle difference. Before 11 September we took a lot of things for granted.

We can only contemplate difficult situations like these for so long. After a time we suppress these thoughts. But some things cannot be the same again.