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The Impact of Sept 11 on the Workplace

By: Gregory P. Smith

Greg Smith's cutting-edge keynotes, consulting, and training programs have helped businesses reduce turnover, increase sales, hire superior people, and deliver better customer service. As President and founder of Chart Your Course International, He has implemented professional development programs for thousands of organizations globally. Greg has authored eight informative books including Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Transforming Your Workforce from High Turnover to High Retention and 401 Proven Ways to Retain Your Best Employees. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia. For more information, visit www.ChartCourse.com or call (770) 860-9464.


The attack on America on Sept 11 changed our mental landscape regarding how we play, live, worship, and work. We are just starting to recognize the shape and magnitude of these changes and their subsequent impact on the business world. As a management consultant and business analyst, I am concerned how these changes will shape the future of business management.

To capture the true feeling of the workforce, I conducted a worklife survey and asked people to respond to three important questions. First question, “Since Sept 11, what has changed about your life?” Secondly, “What is the most important thing in your life right now?” Over 150 people answered the survey providing revealing comments indicating just about everyone has been affected by this tragedy in some degree. Many of the actual comments from individuals are listed on this webpage www.chartcourse.com/911 . I have summarized their remarks into the following categories:

Putting God first. The old saying “There are no Atheists in foxholes” is obviously true in this case. I would say that 95% said their faith in God has become more important to them since Sept 11 than ever before. One person said, “God has been in my life since I can remember, but I talk to Him now more than ever.” God and the workplace have always been an emotional issue. Does God have a place in the business world? The issue is do we ignore the fact, or should employers begin anew to address the issue of spirituality and the workplace?

The family is the bedrock. God and the family ran neck and neck as the two most important issues in people’s lives. It was clear before Sept 11 as well as after those organizations that focus on the family will have a more loyal workforce and higher retention. Since Sept 11, many working parents are experiencing additional stress and anxiety over their childcare arrangements. Furthermore, antidotal evidence shows many working mothers quitting their jobs to return home with their children. “I don't just hug my child, husband, mother, sister, and grandparents each time we part. I make sure to give them an extra squeeze and tell them I love them,” says one working mother.

Doing what matters most. The crisis on Sept 11 sparked a revivalbe it a psychological revival, but nonetheless a revival indeed. One person said, “I am trying to make sure every step of my day makes sense.....i.e., if I was killed doing my work, would I have been doing something that mattered?” People are questioning how their job relates to what is really important about life. For some workers what they do has become more important than the money they make. This dilemma will grow more intense for employers as the economy improves. During the past year there are a percentage of people who have stayed in their job merely for economic reasonsfor a paycheck. An improving economy and an availability of better jobs will fuel the desire to find a better employer and jobs more in line with individual motivations and personal fulfillment.

Working fewer hours and putting life in balance. Comments surfaced indicating people are no longer willing to give as much time at the office. They are working less weekends and placing more emphasis on their friends and relationships. One manager says, “I encourage my employees to not spend so much time at work, and to spend more at home with their families. When I hear of an employee with a family trouble, I encourage them to take a few comp days and spend time where they need to be.”

People are more appreciative. One woman wrote, “I appreciate what I have vs. worrying about what I don't have. I still hate house cleaning, but today I am grateful I have a house to clean.” Despite the tragedy and loss of life, in many ways people are more appreciative and take their life less for granted.

People are more suspicious. Despite being more appreciative, dozens of people commented they are more wary of their surroundings and more suspicious of strangers. It will be more important for employers to focus on teamwork as well as doing a better job with diversity awareness and employee orientation programs. It is imperative to make people feel not only safe, but accepted, and welcome in their workplace.

The trade-off between personal security vs. innovation. Obviously, people are more sensitive about personal safety. Unfortunately, additional security measures create a feeling of a loss of individuality. In many ways this is a double-edged sword. On one side people want security, and then the result is a feeling of isolation, being out-of-touch, “prisoners in their workplace.” The biggest toll could be a stagnation of organizational innovation and creativity. To compensate, organizations should place more emphasis on social interactions, idea groups, and team activities to fight this loss of individuality.

People are more distrustful. The third question in the worklife survey dealt with trust. People were asked, “Who do you trust more?” and then to place in order seven different job categories. The scorings were ranked in the following order. (1=high trust, 7=low trust) 1) Firefighter/Police Officer 2)Physician 3) Small Business Owner 4) Military Officer 5) Corporate Executive 6) Attorney 7) Elected Official. This last question reflects sentiment based on recent events and demonstrates it will be more challenging for corporate America to establish trust and credibility with the workforce.

© Copyright 2002 Gregory P. Smith

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