Can Freud Get His Job Back?

How many Freudians does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to change the bulb, and one to hold the penis … I mean ladder! Although Sigmund Freud isn’t exactly famous for his sense of humor, he actually liked jokes – in fact, he wrote a book about them, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. But he probably wouldn’t have liked that one. Freudian psychoanalysis was one of the great innovations of the 20th century, and only 50 years ago, it was a mainstay of mental-health care. But since then it has gone from a medical and cultural institution to the punch line of a mildly dirty joke told by psychiatry residents. The members of the American Psychoanalytic Association today treat fewer than 5,000 patients in the U.S. How did the treatment Freud called the “talking cure” fall from grace? And now that it has fallen, can it get up again?

For almost a century, Freud’s followers have treated his techniques like Holy Scripture. Now they are being forced to update his theories to compete with new drugs and new therapies, even if it means using methods that would have been unthinkable to their patriarch. At the same time, post-Freudian psychotherapists are figuring out that the old master still has something to offer the science of mental health: an understanding of the human mind and its many malfunctions that’s richer, fuller and more exciting than anything invented since.

In their time – the early decades of the 20th century – Freud’s ideas radically and irrevocably changed the way we think about who we are. He both explained the human mind and made it more mysterious. One of Freud’s key insights was to divide the mind into the conscious and the unconscious: he showed us that beneath the surface banality of everyday thoughts and gestures lurk subterranean caverns of forbidden longings that reach all the way back to our earliest childhood memories. Freud’s therapeutic technique, psychoanalysis, was an intellectual exploration of those depths, where patients could confront their deepest, darkest desires. If they recognized and overcame those repressed desires, the theory went, they could return to the surface with a calmer, healthier mind.

By the 1920s, psychoanalysis had become wildly popular in America (a country Freud visited only once and hated). Jazz age sophisticates held “Freuding” parties at which they told one another their dreams. Samuel Goldwyn, the movie-studio magnate, offered Freud $100,000 to write a love story that Goldwyn could turn into a motion picture. (He was rebuffed.) But Freud died in 1939, and the golden age of psychoanalysis lasted only until the 1950s. By then competing psychotherapeutic theories and approaches had begun to spring up, among them ego psychology, self-psychology, the object-relations school, interpersonal therapy and existential therapy. All revised Freud, and some rejected him outright.

Cognitive therapy is one of the most virulently anti-Freudian strains of post-Freudian therapy, and it has become one of the dominant approaches to therapy today. It was pioneered in the early 1960s by the psychiatrist Aaron Beck, who was trained as a Freudian but – in classic Oedipal fashion – rebelled against his master. Beck dismissed Freud’s ideas about the subconscious as so much scientifically unverifiable cigar smoke. In their place he crafted a quick, pragmatic therapeutic approach that dispensed with abstract theories and focused on results. Cognitive therapy attacks such symptoms as anxiety and depression by “coaching” patients on how to think about their lives more clearly.

Not only did Beck reject Freud’s idea of the unconscious self, but he also abandoned the formal reserve of the classic Freudian analyst. Freud believed the analyst should be as neutral and silent as possible. That way, Freud theorized, the patient can project personalities from his or her past onto the analyst and relive past conflicts right there on the couch. Freud called this process “transference.” Beck and his followers aren’t interested in transference. Instead cognitive therapists talk back to their patients, pointing out their misconceptions and advising them on how to see their lives more clearly.

Cognitive therapy is everything psychoanalysis isn’t: simple, quick, practical, goal oriented. “There’s this mystique about psychoanalysis,” says Judith Beck, daughter of Aaron and herself a leading cognitive therapist. “Psychoanalysis is esoteric and creative and interesting, and the psychoanalyst holds himself up as the expert who interprets what the patient is saying and has all the answers. It’s kind of the opposite in cognitive therapy.” Cognitive therapists tend to follow the same basic script for each session, so the treatment is remarkably standardized. It’s also remarkably effective; research shows that when it comes to treating depression, cognitive therapy works as well as drugs like Prozac. And though it’s not quite as quick as antidepressants, the results last longer after treatment stops. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, used together, cognitive therapy and antidepressants can help 85% of patients suffering from chronic major depression.

Written by Lev Grossman

The American Psychoanalytic Association (APSAA)

It will not be business as usual for America’s corporations as they approach the first anniversary of September 11. Members of the business community, from leaders to entry-level workers, need to be attuned to the possibility of delayed psychological and behavioral consequences following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Traumatic stress reactions and other anniversary phenomena, particularly in New York, may be much more widespread and varied than anticipated, advises corporate psychoanalyst Kerry J. Sulkowicz, M.D. Reactions to September 11, 2002 may include any of the following:

  • Fears about going to work or engaging in business travel
  • Fears about being in tall buildings
  • Difficulty concentrating on work.
  • Irritability, startle responses or increased anger on the job
  • Increased alcohol and drug abuse
  • Absenteeism due to physical illnesses, as expressions of underlying stress
  • Impulsive or inappropriate business decisions
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior, including harassment at work
  • Depressive reactions, including delayed survivor guilt

According to Dr. Sulkowicz, who worked closely with corporate leaders immediately following the attacks, business people tend to use denial and immersion in work to avoid unpleasant feelings, but these defenses may not hold up in the coming weeks. Corporations should expect a wide range of reactions – some obvious, some subtle – in individuals and in groups. This may also vary depending on such factors as proximity to Ground Zero, knowing someone who died on September 11, the type of business, and differences in corporate culture and individual personality.

What can be done? Business leaders need to be aware of possible symptoms of September 11 anniversary reactions, actively look for them in their employees, and allow everyone in their organizations an opportunity to talk and reflect on their experiences in personal ways. Dr. Sulkowicz, a Principal at Katzenbach Partners LLC in New York, warns that pathological reactions go underground and affect business productivity if emotional responses are ignored or discouraged. Experts in group dynamics and trauma can be helpful in working with senior management and human resources professionals to anticipate and coordinate organizational responses. And managers, while maintaining high performance expectations, need to be particularly tolerant of these reactions in the time surrounding September 11.

In The Lead: Companies Hire Psychotherapists To Focus on Emotional Impasses

Tolstoy’s observation that “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” also applies to companies. And as in families, businesses run into problems when communication breaks down and damages relationships.

A new generation of management consultants, trained as psychotherapists, is making its way into corporate offices. Unlike traditional consultants who try to analyze and improve a company’s business strategy, these consultants focus on emotional impasses at work – from competitive executives who waste time undermining each other’s work to autocratic bosses who squash employees’ initiative.

“People’s ambitions, dreams and egos are all involved at work yet they are supposed to act as if none of this affects their own or their company’s performance,” says Roger Brunswick, a psychiatrist and co-founder of Hayes, Brunswick & Partners, a New York consulting firm. The result is a lot of unacknowledged emotional static that hurts productivity. “Sometimes I’m amazed any work at all gets done,” Dr. Brunswick adds.

Although looking at emotional factors in a workplace is not new, the focus is now on specially trained therapists looking at a broad range of relationships rather than individuals’ problems.

Dr. Brunswick and his business partner, Gary Hayes, a psychologist with a background in international affairs, don’t investigate managers’ marriages, for example, or ask about their parents. “The patient is the company,” Dr. Brunswick says.

Often, a problem for which one manager gets blamed is actually the result of friction between that manager and his boss or his peers. A human-resources executive at one financial-services company had been judged too deferential by his boss, the CEO. Dr. Brunswick learned the executive had plenty of ideas but was frightened to share them.

“We got into this discussion about how enraged he got when the CEO was dismissive of him and how the only way he could deal with his anger was to shut up and become deferential,” he says. Dr. Brunswick suggested the executive try a more direct approach with the CEO.

“We agreed that only in the movies does someone come up with the perfect one-liner at the right time — and it is all right to revisit an upsetting situation, to go back to the CEO after he has been dismissive and say ‘I didn’t like what you said to me,’ ” says Dr. Brunswick.

Initially when the executive did that, the CEO told him he was being too sensitive. But the executive persisted, saying, “Maybe that’s so, but I don’t like to be treated that way in front of my peers,” Dr. Brunswick says. The result: The executive feels a lot less angry and the CEO sees him as a stronger player.

To untangle emotional bottlenecks at work, Dr. Brunswick and Dr. Hayes try to talk to everyone involved and to attend meetings to see the group in action. They did this when working with an executive at a consumer-products company known as technically brilliant but arrogant and autocratic. He had a temper, but his colleagues fueled his anger by never delivering what they promised.

In meetings with the group, Dr. Hayes and Dr. Brunswick observed who made the most promises and excuses and who said nothing at all. Finally, at a meeting where the group was setting goals they asked: “How are you going to actually do this because the last time it didn’t work out?”

After blaming each other, the group finally mobilized as a team. They confronted the executive in a constructive way and began working together toward their goals.

What emotional problems do companies face the most? Kerry Sulkowicz, a psychoanalyst who also runs the Boswell Group, a consulting business in New York, notes two common problems: unhealthy narcissism, which occurs when leaders become so self-involved they can no longer listen to others, and obsessive styles of management.

At one company, a senior executive was so bogged down in minutiae he never had time to think ahead or set broad strategy. Dr. Sulkowicz encouraged the senior managers who worked with him to stop accommodating him. Rather than call goal-setting meetings, for example, he encouraged them to get together to brainstorm.

By the time Dr. Sulkowicz is hired, many companies are in crisis. At some, senior executives are embroiled in bitter squabbles or are no longer speaking to each other. “Yet they’re surprisingly open to my point of view and very motivated to change,” says Dr. Sulkowicz. They know their careers may depend on it, and they appreciate having someone to talk to.

“The higher you go in business, the lonelier it gets,” he adds.

Top executives also face conflicting challenges in today’s tougher business climate, which adds to their stress, says Dr. Hayes. One of his client is a marketing executive who must meet very tight deadlines while also proving she is a statesmanlike leader. “She’s been alienating colleagues by pushing the deadlines,” he says, “and her only choice in the short run may be taking extra time and working even longer hours to reach out to these people and win their understanding.”

Written by Carol Hymowitz

Workplace: Counselors Waylaid by Outsized Task

atherine Masterson arrived at the armory on Lexington Avenue and 26th Street in New York at 6 a.m. that first Saturday after the terrorist attacks and spent the next 14 1/2 hours counseling grief-stricken families of the victims. She especially remembers how she coaxed a 9-year-old girl who had lost her father into talking about her feelings by giving her two stuffed kittens, one wrapped in bandages and the other wearing a Red Cross uniform. 

All day, a TV screen with the banner ”America Under Attack” was blaring the news, and at 8:30 p.m., Dr. Masterson, a 46-year-old psychologist who had been volunteering her time, realized it was time to go home. ”I heard the word ‘war’ one too many times,” she said. ”I started to cry.” 

As she was leaving, her Red Cross supervisor, Lewis Perna, stopped her. ”He said: ‘You have to take care of you. What’s your plan? How are you going to deal with the feelings that you’re carrying around right now?’ ” she recalled. ”He made a point of sitting down with everyone going off shift.” 

At times, counselors need counseling themselves. Professionals who help people cope with depression, stress and other psychological conditions have long recognized that they are just as vulnerable to emotional stress as any other group, which is why therapists are required to have supervisors until they get their license to practice and why many continue to see therapists afterward. But the strain on the profession in New York since Sept. 11 is without parallel, as large numbers of psychologists struggle to guide people through ordeals that surpass in scale anything they have previously encountered. 

”People experience it as something called ‘emotional flooding,’ ” said Kerry Sulkowicz, a psychoanalyst who spent time talking to survivors and relatives of victims of Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost several hundred employees. ”The flooding has to do with being inundated with so many horrible stories that after a while it just has an overwhelming effect on the listener.” 

As a result, Dr. Sulkowicz said, some counselors develop the same physical symptoms, like anxiety or difficulty sleeping, that afflict their patients. 

Dr. Masterson acknowledges that she is doubly frazzled — first by the attacks she witnessed from her 14th Street apartment, second by all the stories she has heard from victims’ relatives — and that she needs help in coping with her anxieties. That help came first from Mr. Perna, her Red Cross supervisor. ”He made you feel like he was in there with you, present emotionally,” she said. 

Back home on that Saturday night, she called family members in New Jersey and spent two hours talking with a neighbor. Then, because she was having trouble sleeping, she took a sleeping pill and went to bed. 

Her quest for relief did not end there. She has also looked for succor from her long-time therapist. ”I need somebody for my own stuff,” she said. ”My need for her is stronger now. I saw the planes crash. I saw the towers come down. We all need to tell our own stories.” She has cried in those sessions, she says, but her counselor has helped her come to grips with her emotions. 

The flood of emotions coming at her ranges from extreme shock to eerie calm. One woman who lost her husband and was waiting for both sets of parents to arrive in New York from Europe wanted to know whether to comfort them or let them comfort her, Dr. Masterson said. 

”She was really struggling with this need to be strong,” she said. ”She was sitting alone, and you could see she was as tight as a knot. She told me that she didn’t need any help, so I backed off. Then she started engaging me in a conversation about how the counselors cope with this,” she continued, and that led to a more open discussion. 

What made the woman so memorable was her determination not to cry or seem weak. ”She was so afraid to let anybody in,” Dr. Masterson said. 

The events last month were challenging even to experienced psychiatrists because, as volunteers on the front lines of a mass tragedy, they had to deal with strangers, not familiar longtime patients. 

”How do you introduce yourself?” asked one frustrated psychiatrist, who requested anonymity. ”Do you introduce yourself as a therapist or a psychiatrist or a volunteer? If you introduce yourself as a psychiatrist, it creates the idea that something is seriously wrong,” which is an idea that someone who may be suffering perfectly normal grief does not need weighing on them, he said. 

Rather than turning to any formal debriefing mechanism like that offered by the Red Cross, though, the psychiatrist said he called a colleague that night and discussed ways to meet and work with people. 

Residents at New York University’s Department of Psychiatry have been meeting in groups once a week to talk about bothwhat they have been doing and how they are doing, said Bella Schanzer, a chief resident. 

Initially, the discussions focused on people’s sense of frustration that there seemed to be so little they could do to help. ”We were all revved up to be doctors, to really help,” she said, but in the days after the attack very few patients came to meet with them when they waited at various hospitals, the medical examiner’s office or the armory. 

As more and more people began to meet with counselors at the family crisis center at Pier 94, conversations have shifted to concerns about how the psychiatrists can protect themselves from all their patients’ traumas, Dr. Schanzer said. 

It was hardest to keep some sense of distance when she spoke to a middle-age man who escaped from the 89th floor of one of the towers, because he was initially worried about being able to get on an elevator ever again or to go back to work, she said. ”It struck me because it’s not the obvious” tragic loss of friends or loved ones, Dr. Schanzer said. ”I realized this could be any of us. It could be me.” 

Identifying with patients is complicated because many therapists were affected by the tragedy themselves, said Carol Bernstein, director of the residency program at New York University. 

Even people who knew none of the victims but watched the attack unfold on television have suffered, she said. In a sense, because of the immediacy of the images and the sense of fear, luck, guilt that many people in the city and around the country feel, she said, ”We are all at ground zero.”

Written by Jonathan D. Glater

Hope Checks Out of the Pierre

Walking into the Pierre ballroom, the crowded and chaotic headquarters for the families of missing Cantor Fitzgerald employees, psychiatrist Kerry Sulkowicz braced himself for a moment, stopping to read the agonized flyers taped to the walls. “It’s overwhelming,” he murmured, pointing to a father-and-young-son photo with a heartbreaking plea for information: “Daddy, please come home.”

The scene in the room on Thursday afternoon was a primal outpouring of grief: hundreds of people crying, hugging each other, milling around, passing along the latest frightening rumors, jumping hopefully at the sound of cell phones, their faces collapsing moments later in disappointment. Then the crowd quickly hushed and gathered around two televisions to watch Cantor Fitzgerald’s chairman, Howard Lutnick, being interviewed on ABC by Connie Chung. As Lutnick broke down on air, weeping as he talked about the 700 staffers missing and presumed dead, the entire room collapsed sobbing.

Sulkowicz, a 42-year-old with rimless wire glasses, a dark suit, and a nurturing expression, was in the ballroom for a second day as an unpaid volunteer, recruited by a fellow psychiatrist. He wandered around to make himself available, but few people wanted to talk. He understood their reluctance. “If they talk to a mental-health professional, it means confronting their sense of hope,” said Sulkowicz, a faculty member at the NYU Psychoanalytic Institute. “They want to believe in a miracle, that people will be found.”

A priest walked up to a microphone to offer his prayers, a calm, sad voice amid the tumult, inviting anyone who wanted religious comfort to see him. Here in this elegant ballroom, the site of so many glamorous weddings and conferences, and a celebrity-studded Al Gore fund-raiser a year ago, dazed and red-eyed men and women, who looked like they’d slept in their clothes, bumped into each other as if sleepwalking. Incongruously tuxedo’d waiters padded silently among them, passing out water and soft drinks. As if being set for a grand dinner, the round tables, covered in starched white cloths, had numbers on them, but the special horror was that these were the floor numbers — 101, 103, 104, 105 of 1 World Trade Center — where Cantor Fitzgerald staffers had worked. For family members, this offered the simplest way to find the relatives of the guy down the hall or at the next desk from their own missing.

On the television, the talking heads were interrupted by a news bulletin: Rescue workers were being evacuated from a dangerous area. Moments later, in the ladies room, two women fell into each other’s arms. “There are hot spots in the wreckage,” said one woman, weeping. “There is no hope.”

Everyone in the room was wrestling with their own tragedy. Even Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist with a private practice who also consults for Wall Street firms, was in mourning for a missing friend, but had volunteered because he wanted to reach out to others. “Therapists aren’t immune,” he said. “The paradox is that the people who are trying to help are deeply affected.”

He had brought a prescription pad, in case anyone needed anti-anxiety drugs or a sleeping pill. “You want to do something, and you know there’s not a whole lot to be done right now,” he said. “Over the coming days and weeks, people are going to need a lot of help. We all need to talk.” As he spoke, his cell phone rang: It was the chairman of another major company, a consulting client, asking Sulkowicz to come in and counsel his staff and make psychiatric referrals.Sulkowicz specializes in executive clients who fancy themselves “masters of the universe.” Until Tuesday, he says, they obsessed over are-my-bonus-and-office-big-enough? Now that world has literally crumbled. “This is going to change people’s perspectives on what they’re doing it for,” he remarked. “People were in denial about how safe their lives were, they had a total sense of invulnerability.”

Written by Meryl Gordon

The American Psychoanalytic Association (APSAA)

Kerry J. Sulkowicz, M.D., President of The Boswell Group, LLC, has volunteered his services to corporate chief executives in helping companies directly affected by the disaster cope with the psychological aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center.

Dr. Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, is the founder of The Boswell Group, LLC, a Manhattan consulting firm that advises business leaders on psychological aspects of management and corporate culture. As a business consultant, Dr. Sulkowicz brings together his expertise in the psychological effects of trauma on groups and individuals, with his in-depth knowledge and experience of the business world.

Several points are crucial for CEO’s to bear in mind when guiding their companies through these extraordinarily difficult times:

  • All businesses and all employees, whether directly involved in the attack or not, will have psychological reactions. Wall Street firms and financial services companies may be most affected.
  • Running a complex business organization may come intuitively to a CEO, but responding to a crisis of such magnitude and with such severe psychological consequences may not be a natural extension of the CEO’s leadership skills.
  • The quality of leadership and the interaction between a particular company’s unique corporate culture and the effects of the disaster may be the crucial determinants in how the company weathers the disaster.
  • CEO’s, precisely because of their position, may be the least likely to receive emotional support and guidance from within the firm, and need to be particularly attuned to their own emotional states in order to better care for their employees.
  • Senior management is no less vulnerable to post-traumatic reactions than other employees, and may actually be more susceptible to using various forms of denial as a maladaptive way of coping. Managers may become particularly stressed because of their need to take care of others.
  • Employees at all levels of the organization need to be able to speak openly about their personal experiences of the tragedy; failure to do so will result in much greater psychological morbidity over time.
  • Employees should be offered liberal and easy access to mental health services upon request. Managed care restrictions on care should be lifted.
  • Long-term consequences of the crisis need to be monitored in terms of potentially damaging effects on morale, corporate culture, capacity for risk-taking and innovation, hiring, relations with foreign companies, leadership succession, etc.

Dr. Sulkowicz writes and speaks frequently on the psychology of management and leadership. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Industry Standard and other publications.

He can be reached directly at 212 737-1542, or by email at kjs@boswellgroup.com.

Five Questions for Kerry J. Sulkowicz: As Many Ways to Grieve as There Are Desks in the Office

Tomorrow, many people will be returning to work for the first time since last week’s terrorist attack, and they will be carrying the burden of the horrible things they have seen on television or perhaps in person. The psychological state of employees affects how they approach work, and how managers handle the situation can make the adjustment easier or harder.

Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist, runs a small management consulting firm that has advised companies coping with difficult transitions. As a volunteer, he counseled employees, family members and friends at the crisis center set up by Cantor Fitzgerald, an investment firm that may have lost several hundred employees in one of the World Trade Center towers.

JONATHAN D. GLATER

Q. What are the challenges when employees return?

A. There is a sense of disbelief, a sense of unreality about what has happened. People may appear disconnected emotionally from events. That may be translated into people looking spaced out, very anxious, fearful, easily startled, depressed or sad and tearful. People may develop substance abuse problems or such problems may worsen, and some people may engage in suicidal or self-destructive behavior.

Another common thing that people ought to be alert to is physical symptoms, whether that’s gastrointestinal problems, diarrhea, insomnia, headaches or other aches and pains. Another reaction may be denial — people may think they can go back to business as usual, and that is false. This is not business as usual.

It is crucially important to allow people, if they wish, the time and the space to talk about their feelings, about how they are processing this experience. And this doesn’t need to be done just once, because people are going to be reacting to this in their own individual ways for a long time to come, and I mean weeks and months. One meeting on Monday is not going to be enough. That’s just a start.

Q. How can employers reassure and motivate workers?

A. It is reasonable to say, ”We are doing everything we can to ensure the security of our company, or our office building, or whatever the environment is, and we are going to cooperate with all of the authorities in beefing up security or whatever is necessary.” We don’t want to be in a state of denial.

The leaders in organizations need to set the example both in terms of trying to resume work in as regular a way as possible but also to set the example that resuming work and trying to return to productivity is inconsistent with trying to deal with emotional pain this has caused.

I would try to have high expectations of employees, but reasonable expectations. What’s reasonable? I don’t know — nobody has been through this before. I don’t think it’s a matter of managers having to really push all that hard to get employees to work hard, because most will want to return to work. It makes them feel more productive and counters feelings of helplessness that so many people feel.

Q. Should employers set up volunteer drives?

A. A volunteer drive is an excellent idea for several reasons beyond the obvious — the obvious being that there are a lot of people who need help. It also helps the employees who were not directly affected to feel like they’re doing something useful and active, rather than being passive.

Anybody who was not directly affected is susceptible to feeling guilt that they survived and others didn’t, so doing something active, whether it’s making donations or donating food, services or blood, helps address that feeling.

Q. How can employers prevent discrimination against Arab-Americans or Muslims?

A. It’s normal to be angry at what happened and to look for somebody to blame. If people express anger, I wouldn’t in any way want to squelch that.

On the other hand, managers should discourage an angry moblike response that labels entire ethnic or religious groups as responsible. If that happens, somebody needs to express the voice of reason and say that these are terrible people who did very terrible, awful things. We don’t know who, but it’s certainly not a race. It’s a group of people, it’s a highly organized group of terrorists, but not an entire ethnic group. That distinction needs to be made clear.

Q. How tolerant should supervisors be when workers say they are unable to work?

A. Very tolerant. I wouldn’t let the conversation end there, but this is really hard on people. This is trauma of the biggest sort, and I would not respond cynically to anyone saying that they feel incapacitated.

People’s reaction to trauma is determined by their personality and life experiences prior to the trauma. Two people at adjacent desks may experience what happened completely differently.

Someone who has experienced trauma early in life or someone who has a pre-existing mental illness may be more vulnerable. Managers may not know about that kind of history.

If someone needs help, they should get it. There are lots of mental health professionals in New York City who are doing amazing things right now; that help is available.

It may be helpful to bring mental health workers to talk to groups of people on site. Employers should not hold back on providing these support services, or else the consequences will be very severe in the long run, in terms of long-term mental health problems. This is not a time to scrimp.

Written by Jonathan D. Glater

Five Questions: As Many Ways to Grieve as There Are Desks in the Office

Tomorrow, many people will be returning to work for the first time since last week’s terrorist attack, and they will be carrying the burden of the horrible things they have seen on television or perhaps in person. The psychological state of employees affects how they approach work, and how managers handle the situation can make the adjustment easier or harder.

Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist, runs a small management consulting firm that has advised companies coping with difficult transitions. As a volunteer, he counseled employees, family members and friends at the crisis center set up by Cantor Fitzgerald, an investment firm that may have lost several hundred employees in one of the World Trade Center towers.

Q. What are the challenges when employees return?

A. There is a sense of disbelief, a sense of unreality about what has happened. People may appear disconnected emotionally from events. That may be translated into people looking spaced out, very anxious, fearful, easily startled, depressed or sad and tearful. People may develop substance abuse problems or such problems may worsen, and some people may engage in suicidal or self-destructive behavior. Another common thing that people ought to be alert to is physical symptoms, whether that’s gastrointestinal problems, diarrhea, insomnia, headaches or other aches and pains. Another reaction may be denial – people may think they can go back to business as usual, and that is false. This is not business as usual.

It is crucially important to allow people, if they wish, the time and the space to talk about their feelings, about how they are processing this experience. And this doesn’t need to be done just once, because people are going to be reacting to this in their own individual ways for a long time to come, and I mean weeks and months. One meeting on Monday is not going to be enough. That’s just a start.

  
Q. How can employers reassure and motivate workers?

A. It is reasonable to say, “We are doing everything we can to ensure the security of our company, or our office building, or whatever the environment is, and we are going to cooperate with all of the authorities in beefing up security or whatever is necessary.” We don’t want to be in a state of denial.

The leaders in organizations need to set the example both in terms of trying to resume work in as regular a way as possible but also to set the example that resuming work and trying to return to productivity is inconsistent with trying to deal with emotional pain this has caused.

I would try to have high expectations of employees, but reasonable expectations. What’s reasonable? I don’t know – nobody has been through this before. I don’t think it’s a matter of managers having to really push all that hard to get employees to work hard, because most will want to return to work. It makes them feel more productive and counters feelings of helplessness that so many people feel.

  
Q. Should employers set up volunteer drives?

A. A volunteer drive is an excellent idea for several reasons beyond the obvious – the obvious being that there are a lot of people who need help. It also helps the employees who were not directly affected to feel like they’re doing something useful and active, rather than being passive.

Anybody who was not directly affected is susceptible to feeling guilt that they survived and others didn’t, so doing something active, whether it’s making donations or donating food, services or blood, helps address that feeling.

  
Q.How can employers prevent discrimination against Arab-Americans or Muslims?

A. It’s normal to be angry at what happened and to look for somebody to blame. If people express anger, I wouldn’t in any way want to squelch that.

On the other hand, managers should discourage an angry moblike response that labels entire ethnic or religious groups as responsible. If that happens, somebody needs to express the voice of reason and say that these are terrible people who did very terrible, awful things. We don’t know who, but it’s certainly not a race. It’s a group of people, it’s a highly organized group of terrorists, but not an entire ethnic group. That distinction needs to be made clear.

  
Q. How tolerant should supervisors be when workers say they are unable to work?

A. Very tolerant. I wouldn’t let the conversation end there, but this is really hard on people. This is trauma of the biggest sort, and I would not respond cynically to anyone saying that they feel incapacitated.

People’s reaction to trauma is determined by their personality and life experiences prior to the trauma. Two people at adjacent desks may experience what happened completely differently.

Someone who has experienced trauma early in life or someone who has a pre-existing mental illness may be more vulnerable. Managers may not know about that kind of history.

If someone needs help, they should get it. There are lots of mental health professionals in New York City who are doing amazing things right now; that help is available.

It may be helpful to bring mental health workers to talk to groups of people on site. Employers should not hold back on providing these support services, or else the consequences will be very severe in the long run, in terms of long-term mental health problems. This is not a time to scrimp.

Written by Jonathan D. Glater

This Labor Day, Make a Toast – to Yourself

It’s Labor Day weekend  time to kick back and enjoy! That is, if you can turn off the cell phone, pager, and the laptop long enough to enjoy the barbecues, weather, and department store sales.

And according to results of several polls culled by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., most of us can  and will  do just that. Most of us are satisfied with our work and our play, says Karlyn H. Bowman, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Does this mean the rat race is over and the time crunch has been decompressed?

Not for everyone, she says, but a substantial 80% of people in a 2000 survey said their bosses are very or somewhat accommodating about their need to balance work and family, and a 1999 poll found that nine of 10 workers were satisfied with the flexibility of their hours.

Bowman discussed people’s attitudes about work and leisure at a recent press briefing. “All the polls show stability and job satisfaction over time,” she says. “When asked, ‘would you take the same job again without hesitation?’ 64% said yes in 1977 and 68% said yes in 1997. That’s remarkable stability over a 20-year period.”

Job dissatisfaction is typically more about a person’s stage of life than the job per se, Bowman says.

“Younger workers tend to be dissatisfied because they are on the low-end of the totem pole in terms of earning and dual earners with young families are satisfied with their jobs, but not their amount of leisure time,” she says.

Recent surveys suggest that when people are asked if they would rather have more time or more money, they say more money, but when choices are quantified  a week’s vacation or a week’s salary  they often opt for leisure, Bowman says.

“When vacation started to become available to the American middle class after the Civil War, most people used them for work of a different kind such as religious or charitable endeavors, but today we are appreciating leisure for itself,” she says.

In fact, 40% of the people polled said that leisure is what it’s all about  and the purpose of work is to make it possible to have leisure time to enjoy life, up from 36% in prior years.

Still, not everyone is content. Some people may not feel that they have enough leisure time  but that could be a function of their choices, says New York City psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Kerry Sulkowicz, MD, who is also the president of The Boswell Group LLC, a management-consulting firm in New York City.

Despite what the polls may say, Sulkowicz says, “People do labor a lot on holiday weekends, and there seems to be an increasing trend toward that. Our cultural attitudes toward work seem to be changing, and there is less emphasis on valuing time with family or at home relaxing and greater value on working to exhaustion. People seem to take a perverse pleasure in not taking vacation.”

More and more, he tells WebMD, people are taking work home and finding it more difficult to justify taking a break. “It’s bad because people need time away from work not just to recharge their batteries so they can work better, but because there is more to life than work.”

His Labor Day prescription for workaholics?

“Turn off the cell phone and other forms of electronic communication and enjoy golf and smell the roses when walking between shots,” he says, before it’s too late.

“I see many people in my practice who have gone pretty far professionally and have terrible regrets about missing out on their children’s childhood or whatever things might be sources of pleasure outside of work,” Sulkowicz says. “You just can’t get that back.”

Written by Denise Mann

Money and Business/Financial Desk: New Economy, Same Harassment Problems

Almost from the moment she started her new job as a software engineer at Juno Online Services Inc. in 1997, Lori Park had been intrigued by the tall and wiry Matthew Battles. After they met at a party, they wound up in a hip-grinding dance in the wee hours of the morning at Au Bar, a nightclub on East 58th Street in Manhattan. Over the next couple of weeks they ate meals together, went to museums and got to know each other.

But the young man with the long blond hair was not only a friend and not just a colleague — Mr. Battles was a senior vice-president of the company. As they decided how intimate they would become, the propriety of an executive dating an employee became an issue.

”He said if I don’t get involved in a relationship with him he can be like my No. 1 fan in the company,” said Ms. Park, recalling their conversation. ”If I date him, then he won’t be able to help me out at all.”

But in the insouciant world of Internet companies, where old economy conventions were disdained and rule books rejected, office romances and other corporate taboos flourished. The medium itself, the Internet, commingles the intensely private with the openly public, and this idea suffused the relationships that developed among high-technology workers. Many believed that they were building a new world, with new ways of doing things, and with that conviction came a sense that many of the old verities — about management techniques as well as office protocol — no longer applied.

But less than two years after Ms. Park began dating Mr. Battles, she sought redress from this new world and sued him, as well as her former supervisor, Mark A. Moraes, and Juno itself, for $10 million. It was one of the first publicized sexual harassment suits against an Internet company, and it shocked the industry because harassment, sex discrimination and retaliation were supposed to be diseases of the old economy. The new economy was supposed to be better for employees, but in some ways it turned out to be worse.

In her suit, filed in November 1999 in the State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Ms. Park alleged that Juno created a hostile work environment in which Mr. Battles and other male supervisors considered women to be ”sexual objects,” discussed which female employees they wanted to have sex with and referred to others with vulgar terms such as ”slut” and ”whore.”

Juno’s lawyers denied these charges in a written response to Ms. Park’s subsequent demand for arbitration. They also contended that Ms. Park herself routinely indulged in profanity and sexually charged language.

At the peak of the Internet boom early last year, disgruntled new economy workers rarely tried to settle differences through the courts. They simply quit and got a couple of job offers from other start-ups as they walked out the door. ”People wanted to get on with their jobs, and in a red-hot economy they could,” said Garry G. Mathiason, a partner with Littler Mendelson, an employment-law firm based in San Francisco with no stake in the case.

If a woman went to the trouble of hiring a lawyer to formally protest her treatment, said Mr. Mathiason, a check for $10,000 or $15,000 might have been issued, apologies made and the matter closed. But this year alone, Internet companies have already shed more than 80,000 jobs, according to the outplacement firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. As new jobs became harder to find, former employees began to couple claims of wrongful termination with unequal treatment, harassment and other charges.

Littler Mendelson, which has represented more than a thousand Internet-related businesses, estimates that two out five managers at such companies will be the targets of lawsuits in the coming years, twice the rate of the managers of bricks-and-mortar businesses, mainly because they didn’t have the policies and procedures in place to handle employee complaints.

Although many Internet businesses tried to limit their liability by requiring workers to sign employment contracts agreeing to settle disputes through arbitration, some still wind up in protracted legal battles. In Ms. Park’s case, the court compelled arbitration because she had signed such an agreement at Juno. But the suit nonetheless dogged the company for a third of its existence: from just after the company first sold its stock to the public in May 1999, to its recent announcement that it planned to merge with another Internet service provider, NetZero Inc. Juno would not say if settling the suit was a condition of the merger.

This summer, the suit was finally settled for an undisclosed sum between $75,000, the figure offered by Juno, and $300,000, the amount demanded by Ms. Park before negotiations began.

Ms. Park’s suit was ”resolved without any admission of liability or concession by any of the parties,” according to Terri Ross, a lawyer who represents Juno. Although none of the parties was allowed to comment on the case once settlement talks started, Ms. Park had earlier described her experience with the company and her relationship with Mr. Battles. Several interviews with her over the course of almost a year show how this young couple, who grew up with the values of the women’s movement, came to be involved in charges of sexual harassment, and how Ms. Park was at the center of many forces — management inexperience, a new old-boy network and rampant office intimacy — that to one degree or another ravaged the Internet industry.

Ms. Park came to Juno at the end of 1997, lured by a salary of $70,000, a signing bonus of $25,000 and the promise of a year-end bonus of perhaps $20,000 — all told, more than twice what she had been making as a software engineer for Sun Microsystems Inc. at its site in Chelmsford, Mass. At that time, Juno had been providing free e-mail to people without Internet access. She was hired to help write the server software needed to enroll paying customers in the company’s new Internet-access service.

As part of the free-spending Internet culture, Juno put her up in what she described as ”this really huge, nice apartment” on West 86th Street and Broadway in Manhattan while she looked for a place of her own. Less than two weeks after arriving, Ms. Park, who was then 23, celebrated her good fortune by throwing a party; among the guests was Peter D. Skopp, a Juno senior vice president who had interviewed her for the job. Mr. Skopp brought along Mr. Battles, who was then 24.

When the party broke up, Ms. Park and several guests went to Au Bar. She said she started dancing by herself and was joined by Mr. Battles, who began ”dirty dancing” with her.

”I just stood back from him and I said, ‘You are so bad,’ ” she said. ”And he was like, ‘No, you are so bad,’ and I was like, ‘No, you are so bad’ and I said, ‘You are a senior vice president’ and then he like ran away.” Mr. Battles, she said, left the club. Mr. Battles did not respond to requests for an interview. According to his Web site, he is currently in Mexico City studying Spanish.

Nonetheless, she continued to see Mr. Battles, and the two became romantically involved. There were half a dozen couples in the office, and the president and chief executive, Charles E. Ardai, dated and later married a woman who had worked there. Juno’s corporate policy only prohibits managers from dating employees they supervise. Ms. Park, a programmer, never reported to Mr. Battles, who worked on the business side.

To understand how a consensual relationship wound up in a sexual harassment charge, it helps to know how Ms. Park viewed harassment. She said she thought Anita Hill was lying about sexual harassment during her testimony at the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas in 1991. Ms. Park was 17 then, and said she did not believe that sexual harassment existed. She said she had not experienced it growing up near Lansing, Mich., or later while studying at Harvard.

In fact, Ms. Park said she didn’t think she had experienced sexual harassment at Juno until she read a sexual harassment complaint filed by a former Juno employee, Lisa Bongiorno. It was then, Ms. Park said, that she realized ”the same thing had happened to me.”

In August 1999, Lisa Bongiorno, a former marketing manager at Juno, filed a $10 million lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan against the company, claiming she was pressured into having sex with a vice president, Jordan S. Birnbaum, and then fired when she stopped sleeping with him. Juno said Mr. Birnbaum no longer worked there, and Mr. Ardai, the chief executive, declined to be interviewed for this article. But on the Web site of The Industry Standard, a magazine about the new economy, and in Glamour magazine, Mr. Ardai has been quoted denying this allegation. Neither Ms. Ross, the lawyer for Juno, nor Robert Levy, who represents Ms. Bongiorno, responded to requests for interviews. The case is in arbitration.

Reading the complaint’s depiction of a hostile work environment and descriptions of retaliation educated Ms. Park about harassment. At the time, Ms. Park no longer worked at Juno and was negotiating a settlement with the company because she felt she had been forced out for ”being a woman in a man’s role,” she said.

Ms. Park’s sexual harassment charge against Mr. Battles and the firm arose after a more protracted struggle she’d had with her former boss at the company, Bruce Zenel. Mr. Zenel managed a technical group of four, and then five programmers, of whom Ms. Park was the only woman.

She said that almost from the start he would look over her shoulder and tell her what keystrokes to make. ”He would like try double-checking every little thing,” said Ms. Park.

Ms. Park said she thought her work was more closely scrutinized than that of the male programmers. ”I’m telling you, I never messed up,” she said. As time went on, she said, Mr. Zenel stopped inviting her to meetings with the other programmers, and did not give her technical specifications on a timely basis, although she needed them to do her job.

Mr. Zenel did not respond to requests for an interview. He has since been promoted to vice president at Juno. Lawyers for Juno, in their response to Ms. Park’s charges filed with the American Arbitration Association, said she had ”received supervision appropriate for a junior programmer with limited work experience,” and acknowledged that she ”was not included in some design meetings,” and ”was told that she did not have strong communication skills.”

Mounting research on the failure of women to thrive at work indicates that they have good reason to be concerned about the kind of communication problems that Ms. Park experienced.

In her book ”Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women,” Virginia Valian, a psychology and linguistics professor at Hunter College, wrote, ”A woman who aspires to success needs to worry about being ignored; each time it happens she loses prestige and the people around her become less inclined to take her seriously.”

SEEKING advice on how to resolve the problems with her supervisor, Ms. Park said she turned to Mr. Battles, who told her that the technical area preferred to resolve problems on its own, without involving other departments such as human resources. She then sought guidance from Mr. Skopp, the senior vice president who had hired her. But Mr. Skopp, she said, acknowledged that because he and Mr. Zenel were friends from graduate school at Columbia University, it was hard for him to be impartial. (Mr. Skopp did not respond to requests for interviews.)

As communications with Mr. Zenel deteriorated, Ms. Park said she sought help from Merrily Sturcke, the head of human resources. Initially, Ms. Park said she had resisted Ms. Sturcke’s suggestions that Ms. Park meet directly with Mr. Zenel, fearing he might retaliate against her. But in December 1998, she agreed to participate in a meeting with Ms. Sturcke, Mr. Zenel and Mr. Moraes, who was Juno’s executive vice president of technical services.

During the eight-hour meeting, when Ms. Park tried to argue that she was treated differently than the other members of the team because she was female, she said Mr. Moraes demanded to know, name by name, whom she was accusing of discrimination. Ms. Park was ”harangued and abused” at the meeting, according to the complaint.

In their response to her arbitration demand, lawyers for Juno said there was frustration on both sides during the meeting because of Ms. Park’s ”continual refusal to accept that her role in the department was that of a junior programmer and her failure to accept responsibility for failing to follow the work directives of her supervisor.” They also said that the human resources department and her managers investigated her ”speculation” that the ”complained-of treatment” might relate to her sex, but concluded that it did not and that ”she received direction and compensation commensurate with her status as a junior programmer.”

The length of the meeting shows how underdeveloped Juno’s human resource procedures were, experts said.

”Anybody who is skilled in H. R. would tell you that any part of that kind of arrangement was dead wrong,” said Mr. Mathiason, the Littler Mendelson lawyer whose firm represents employers. ”Putting the two antagonists in a room, putting them there together for eight hours, just invites all kinds of claims.” Such an arrangement, he said, could easily lead a judge or jury to conclude that the manager became angry at the employee for bringing the charge instead of patiently and dutifully conducting an investigation.

Such situations demonstrate the inexperience of young managers, said Kerry J. Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist and president of the Boswell Group, a consulting firm in Manhattan that often advises young entrepreneurs who are having difficulty managing their staffs. ”Without understanding the tools of leadership, the managers adopt a very authoritarian style like the way adolescents, who are feeling very insecure, become bullies,” he said.

At a meeting the day after that marathon meeting, where they were supposed to design a better way of working together, Ms. Park said Mr. Moraes yelled and snarled at her.

In its response to Ms. Park’s demand for arbitration, a copy of which was made available to The New York Times, Juno rejected her characterization of this meeting, saying that she and Mr. Zenel, who also attended the meeting, had a constructive dialogue about how they would work together in the future.

By this time, another employee might have given up and left, but Ms. Park felt she had done nothing wrong, and saw the issue as one of equal opportunity. Her mother, Carol Park, encouraged all three of her daughters to take calculus in school because she herself had been afraid to take it. She gave Lori, the eldest, a halter-top that said ”Anything boys can do, girls can do better.” Lori Park said she became accustomed to competing in mathematics, mechanical engineering and computer science, areas traditionally dominated by men.

Following the December meetings, Ms. Park scored a 2.8 in her year-end review, lower than her midyear review of 3.0. ”They made a special new category for me called ”Relationship with Management” and I got a special low score on that. They said I was a technical superstar but I have such bad behavior problems,” said Ms. Park, who interpreted the review as retaliation for her complaints. She requested a transfer out of Mr. Zenel’s programming group and said she was demoted to the mail-server group. In the arbitration documents, Juno’s lawyers denied that this was a demotion and said she received a negative performance review because ”her difficulty interacting with her co-workers and her continual refusal to follow her manager’s instructions was a drain on management resources.”

Perhaps the Juno environment sent mixed signals about her expected contribution. By putting her up in an expensive apartment on the Upper West Side, casually attending her party and becoming very friendly with her, senior managers seemed to give the impression that she, a subordinate, was welcomed among the decision makers. While Juno officers, like those at many other Internet startups, sported the image of an egalitarian organization, Ms. Park saw it as a rigid, even club-like hierarchy.

Her ordeal strained Ms. Park’s relationship with Mr. Battles because she said she increasingly saw him as part of the hierarchy that no longer wished to hear about her problems. ”He thought they were treating me badly, but he didn’t do anything about it, and it was his responsibility as a senior officer to do that even if it is his girlfriend,” said Ms. Park.

Just after 1999 began, Ms. Park said she wanted to break up with Mr. Battles, but feared she would be fired if she did. The way Ms. Park saw it, women at Juno who ended relationships with co-workers — who were often senior to the women — had to leave. Mr. Battles’ previous girlfriend had left the company, and there was Ms. Bongiorno, who had been fired.

When she asked Mr. Battles whether she would lose her job if they broke up, she said he told her, ”You know you’re not in the club like I am.” She said she tried to meet with the human resources representative several times to tell her about her fears, but was not taken seriously. In its response to Ms. Park’s charges, the company asserted that Ms. Battles ”never influenced or sought to or threatened to influence Juno’s personnel decisions concerning” Ms. Park, and that she never complained of sexual harassment. The couple broke up in the spring of 1999.

When Juno first sold shares to the public, the stock opened at $13 and fizzled to $11.64 at the close. That evening, staffers gathered to mark, if not celebrate, the event at Citron 47, a bistro on West 47th Street. Ms. Park said she asked Mr. Battles to leave the party and escort her to his apartment to retrieve some of her things. Outside the restaurant, she alleged in her lawsuit, he dragged her down the street, punched her in the stomach and slapped her. In its response to her demand for arbitration, Juno said that Ms. Park was intoxicated and had provoked the incident by ”verbally and physically assaulting” Mr. Battles.

Ms. Park filed an assault complaint with the New York City Police Department, but did not press charges. When asked if there were any witnesses to the incident, Ms. Park said she was trying to find a waitress at the restaurant.

After the incident Ms. Park said she started taking the antidepressant Paxil, which had been prescribed by a psychiatrist she had been seeing, to reduce her anxiety. That spring, she said she lost 13 pounds.

Ms. Park’s personal and professional worlds were wrapped up in Juno. When they unraveled, she again sought a solution to her problems from the firm. She said she met with Mr. Ardai, the chief executive, and told him she was being driven out of the company. She said they discussed giving her a year of severance pay if she would quit and Mr. Ardai asked her to have her lawyers get in touch with the company’s lawyers. In a subsequent meeting with Mr. Ardai, she said she informed him of the alleged assault by Mr. Battles.

”He said that it wasn’t clear that I should have told him and that it does not really relate to Juno,” Ms. Park said. ”I said I disagree.”

Ms. Park said Juno offered her only $10,000, instead of the year’s severance she had discussed with Mr. Ardai. She refused the offer and filed her suit.

Ms. Park said she first embraced the culture of Juno because it was filled with young people she thought she could trust. During her last interview with a reporter before settlement negotiations began, she said that she regretted getting involved with Mr. Battles, but was proud of her effort to stand up to the company. ”If I don’t stand up for myself,” she asked, ”who else will?”

Since her experience, Ms. Park said she had been informally counseling other young women who believed they had encountered harassment and discrimination at work on how to build a legal case against their employers.

Written by Susan E. Reed