June 21, 2018

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Advice to HR Managers

During crises, the priorities are for personal safety and mental health. Unresolved personal crises that may arise from events can not only disrupt performance at the given moment, but can be sufficiently traumatizing as to cause long term declines in performance and loss of effective staff.

People first and foremost need access to current information, so there may be a need to relax policies to allow more radio or television usage in common rooms and at workstations. Should individuals require a few additional personal telephone calls to reassure themselves of the safety or location of loved ones, that is also a key consideration. It is appropriate to continue some controls provided that you specifically communicate to managers and supervisors that they must exercise judgment where rules would normally be strictly prohibitive of such activities. Greater judgment and flexibility should be allowed and specifically explained to be allowed at the commencement of a crisis or at escalation points. Clearly any local disasters require the greatest flexibility and often specific cancellation of work for one or more individuals or at least the provision of absolute discretion to them to determine whether to continue working or leave to attend to emergency matters. The key question is mental health. What may be a minor crisis for one person may have enormous psychological impact on another.

Crisis is not a time to use the argument, "if I let you, I'll have to let everyone...." Rather it is a time to be prepared to explain that everyone is different and one person needed special support. Others will appreciate that they would want the same options. At the same time, remember the basic rules of personal privacy when explaining your reasoning to others.

Team members need to know enough to understand that an absent member had a crisis, had to leave or make a phone call and that you provide such support automatically when it is explained and is urgent and appropriate. They do not need to know the details from management, but can be asked to find them out from the individual in question when they return or at an appropriate time. Of course, it is best to prevent or correct rumors when possible. When letting someone leave it is appropriate to say, or ask, if you should advise others of the reasons.

That way the individual can say yes or no, tell them or don't, and you can tell others if they requested the reason not be given out until they have a chance to resolve matters. Even if you can't give a specific detailed reason at the moment you can indicate it was a crisis and later facts will bear you out and validate your decision to allow flexibility to one person and not others.

It is critical for supervisors and managers to be reassured that these are the procedures so that they aren't concerned about being penalized if they relax rules in reasonable ways. Most people want to do the right things, but sometimes fear for their own position if they ease up. They need to understand they will also get support and approval for acting reasonably. Ideally this will always have been the policy, but an approaching or on-going crisis is a key time to reinforce such principles for anyone new to the workplace or to management responsibilities.

-Dave Crisp