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Working: In times of tragedy

I think most people here today, you got up this morning and your heart just goes out to the people of Boston and people that are directly and personally effected by yesterday’s events. It’s hard, if not impossible, to think about yesterday’s tragedy without thinking of all of the things that we’ve had to endure in our recent past and continue all the way back to 9-11 where we’ve just been profoundly affected by these national events. For most of us today, we had to get up, get ready to go to the office, and continue to perform our everyday tasks in the face of heavy hearts and thoughts that might be other places. We’re not thinking about the spreadsheet that we’re looking at, the document that we’re working on, or the call we’re about to do. It’s just hard to think and execute on the mundane and trivial things when you’ve got something like this going on in the country. So I think particularly as a manager, a leader, or team member, you should keep a few things in mind today and the days to come.

It’s in times like these it’s important to be sensitive to the people most affected by this and the extended network of those people, some of whom may be in your office. The Boston Marathon attracts people from all over the world and it’s not hard to believe that somebody in your office was there, had family there, had a friend there, and was touched in some way personally by this. I think that it’s very important to recognize that in some way if you know that it is happening. You need to provide an environment that allows people to step forward if they want to acknowledge some sort of personal connection to this so that you can make allowances for that person.

This is a difficult time for people in this country because it makes people call into question their safety on a daily basis and makes them call into question the types of choices that they’re going to make. Here in DC we’ve got a lot going on this weekend. There’s going to be heightened security and there’s going to be a lot of extra thought put into what you may or may not do this weekend on the basis of what happened at the Boston Marathon. So I think that it’s something that we have to recognize is going to be a presence in our lives for some time to come. As such, we need to be very conscious of its effect on potentially the people that we work with. You need to let people be given the opportunity to put themselves in that camp so we can give them that extra consideration around things. This can be done by just a simple matter of saying, “I recognize that something terrible has happened in the country and I want to make sure that everyone here, our hearts, minds, and thoughts go out to the people of Boston. If anyone here needs some time or wants to talk to me about a situation that they have with regard to that please feel free to do so and if there’s anything we need to do to accommodate that just let us know.”

Something that simple that allows people to either opt into the opportunity to have a little bit different interaction on the basis of this tragedy or opt out. It’s very well possible that somebody does have a personal connection but they have too many different emotions going on right now to want to deal with it in a public way or with the team. So by virtue of that and them not saying anything, it’s a tacit sort of way of putting out there that they don’t want to have that discussion and you can respect that as well. I think it’s best to lead with something like that as a manager or leader so that you give people the opportunity to opt out because some people are just going to want to be left to their own devices. I think you want to have the infrastructure in place to care for people when they need it as they need it but you also need to be respectful of people’s wants and desires. Those are my thoughts. I’m very curious what other people have to say on this topic, ways that they’ve dealt with things. I know that in this area in Washington DC 9-11 shaped a lot of the thinking around it and I’m curious what other people think.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Good post, Joshua. It’s always an awkward conversation to talk about this kind of thing in the office…but we need to do so – it’s how we heal and help each other through it.

Amanda Parker

Joshua, Thanks for sharing. I had posted a discussion before realizing your post. I’ve been very distracted since the event and there’s been no acknowledgement by my supervisor or anyone in the office to give the types of opportunities you describe. It’s comforting to know there are managers out there that DO consider the psychological health of their team and employees.

Joshua Millsapps

Thanks for the kind words. My mother has always said problems don’t go away because you don’t talk about them. Part of healing is acknowledging pain.

Henry Brown

Excellent post…

IMO, this is the primary reason that there are very few good supervisors…

Good supervisors need to be aware of events that may affect different staff members differently and react accordingly.

Carol Davison

During 9-11 I was afraid like everyone. I even ran down the street in terror when someone said there was a bomb. I ran to my organization’s warehouse and watched people jump from the towers and the buildings fall. A young intern asked “Are we supposed to come in tomorrow?” I looked around and realized that I was a the high grade. Gently, I said to her “If you don’t feel like coming in, please call in.” More strongly I continued “But I’M going to be here.” It turns out I couldn’t get home and had to sleep at my sister’s. We gave a young woman a ride home to the room she had been renting for just a few weeks. As I watched her walk up to her empty house it took all of my will not to yell out “You can come to our house!” Now I wonder if I should have. The next day I asked my sister to drive me to the train. She was afraid and said “Stay home. Don’t go in. We can go to the mall.” I said “I HAVE to go in. Otherwise the terrorists win. Even more so, your children need to see me go in.” And I did. When I got to my office, everyone was already at work. Go Navy!