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Iraq

Finding outlets for workers' war anxiety

©Associated Press
April 13, 2003

NEW YORK -- As the war with Iraq dominates the news, small business owners might notice that some of their workers seem stressed or preoccupied or are less productive. Or some employees might be spending more time talking about the war and less time working.

Business owners can find themselves with a quandary: wanting to be sympathetic to employees' feelings, but also wanting them to get their jobs done. Employee assistance professionals say the best way to handle the situation is to help employees find outlets for their anxiety and depression.

Fran Galante, executive director of Managed Care Concepts, a Boca Raton employee assistance program provider, said her company's clients have reported that workers are having a hard time focusing and concentrating. Some are crying for little or no reason. Others are continually on the phone, or are coming in late.

And productivity is down. "That's why they're calling us and saying, 'What do we do?' " she said.

An owner's response will depend on how widespread the problem seems to be.

George Martin, president of CorpCare Associates Inc., an Atlanta EAP provider, said that if many employees appear upset or distracted, a company could arrange for an EAP or a counselor to offer lunchtime seminars or call group meetings. There, workers could receive information about dealing with stress and share their experiences with one another.

Some workers might seem so anxious or depressed that they could benefit from counseling. Many employers will feel understandably uncomfortable about approaching them and discussing such an intensely personal subject.

One avenue is to let everyone in the workplace know there are resources available to help them. When a company has an EAP, it can be done simply by giving workers brochures about the service, or sending an e-mail to everyone reminding them of this option.

Businesses that don't have EAPs can let workers know about social service agencies and other groups that provide counseling or similar assistance.

It still might be necessary to speak to workers one-on-one, particularly if they seem to be suffering, or if their work has been badly affected by their emotional state.

Martin suggests giving employees what he calls an informal referral. That means telling employees "they might consider contacting -- and not as a punitive measure -- a place where someone can confidentially go" for help, he said.

EAP providers say you can start the conversation by gently saying something like, "You seem really stressed out," or, if you want to keep it focused on the job, "You seem to be struggling with your work."

Martin said if there are serious performance issues, a more formal referral might be called for.

Whether you're dealing with one employee or the entire company, EAP providers say it's important to handle the situation with sensitivity. That means never saying to employees, "Hey, we've got a job to do, get back to work."

Paul Frank, a counselor with Behavioral Health Services Inc. in Minneapolis, suggests business owners be patient and let employees have the opportunity to discuss the war and their concerns with one another, even if it does happen on company time and it slows their output.

"People being able to talk things out is helpful. It may mean that they're not 100 percent productive if they're turning around and talking about the war or their child in Iraq," he said. "They may end up being more productive than if they were bottling up and not talking about it at all."

Galante advocates a more structured approach, such as setting up seminars or discussion groups, or allowing employees some time in an organized way to phone friends and family.

But structured doesn't mean heavy-handed. "It's inherent in the organization, in the structure, how the companies are allowing their employees to deal with these things," she said.

Martin said business owners who've had employees sent to Iraq in the reserves need to look ahead to the day when the reservists get back to work. He said it's important to help employees assimilate back into the workplace, and that might mean allowing them to discuss their experiences in the war.

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