It will not be business as usual for Americas 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.