Storms make the oak grow deeper roots ~ George Herbert
Climate change, we hear about it on the news and how it’s affecting our environment. We see how it’s drastically influencing average temperatures. We notice records breaking for natural disasters including floods, droughts, forest fires, hurricanes and tornadoes. These extreme weather changes require major adjustments from the people who are being affected by them.
Last Friday, most Ottawa-Gatineau area residents were gearing up for their weekend. In the afternoon, concerning notifications started popping up on phones and elsewhere that a storm was approaching, one that could result in a tornado. Some employers may have allowed their employees to leave a bit early to avoid the anticipated torrential downpour that was being reported on the news. With that permission to start the weekend prematurely perhaps some co-workers and friends connected for a quick cocktail before heading home. Others may have squeezed in some errands before picking up the kids from school. Then, rather suddenly, things got real.
Social media feeds were crowded with pictures of the rare but potentially deadly tornado howling outside along with others experiencing the sudden flickering of lights. Residents became aware that this wasn’t just a warning … the shift from a few heavy raindrops to a full-blown tornado was all too close to home … and the places where we work.
I don’t think any of us imagined that by Saturday morning the city of Ottawa would be surrounded by the chaotic debris of devastation. With more than 300,000 people initially affected, and over 147,000 residents without power for several days, this storm had disrupted a thriving city in just one night.
Although I was one of the lucky ones who was not impacted directly by the tornado, I know many who were not as fortunate. And this got me thinking about how businesses, managers, and other leaders will proceed in the months and potentially years that it will take for their employees to recover from such a traumatic event. Even the employee who didn’t lose their home in the storm can experience a massive hit financially, and emotionally. (Note, a similar argument can be made for employees who have faced ‘personal storms’ caused by illness, injury, domestic violence, separation/divorce, etc. that have a profound impact on their lives.)
For example, we can empathize with the single parent who lives paycheque to paycheque and isn’t sure how she/he will be able to cope after having to throw away two weeks’ worth of groceries that spoiled during the extended power outage. It may seem like a minor inconvenience to some, but for many, throwing out even a weeks’ worth of food is a significant financial loss that causes disruption within their household.
Similarly, many Ottawa residents who work in the core of the city rely on the transit system. The extra time that they will spend navigating the detours and road barriers may make their daycare drop-off and pick-up much more difficult to squeeze into a normal weekday. Sometimes these “little” problems are actually not so minor when you consider how many employees will be affected. Their daily routine is now fraught with change, and their workplaces may or may not be prepared to support them.
People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel ~ Maya Angelou
From what I know about employee engagement and workplace culture, I understand that not treating your employees and co-workers well during these pivotal times will erode and undermine the existing relationships and employees’ feelings of commitment toward their workplace. Since climate change doesn’t seem to be going away, extreme weather events may become more common. These events create unique opportunities to improve workplace climate.
Here are 5 things to consider to make your workplace climate more compassionate and compatible with the fallout associated with climate (and other difficult) changes:
1. Revisit emergency preparedness plans in your workplace. For instance, what if the tornado had happened during working hours, on your premises? You should have basic plans and procedures in place to make it as safe as possible to weather the storm and resume operations afterwards.
2. Do you have any built-in redundancy? By this, I mean, are there employees who are trained in a secondary role so that they can cover for others who may be absent? Knowing more than just one role is also helpful from an internal capacity and career development perspective.
3. When co-workers and/or employees face unexpected challenges, such as the fallout from a natural disaster, it’s important to have realistic expectations of when they can get back to work. This goes beyond the logistics of finding transportation after their car has been totalled in a tornado. Employers should be aware that an employee might be negatively affected because of the recent trauma, along with financial worries and disturbed sleep, etc. This recent Globe and Mail article on Creating a Psychologically Safe Workplace includes some worthwhile resources including steps to take as does this previous blog on Do’s And Don’ts – How To Be Mindful Of Mental Health In The Workplace.
4. Are there any self-imposed or artificial deadlines that can be extended? Can you consider offering some paid or partially paid time off to attend to repairs and negotiations with insurers, etc?
5. Is there a way to be flexible in permitting employees to do more work from home, especially in the short-term while they’re organizing appointments with insurance adjusters and contractors who will take care of repairs, etc.?
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Do you need help navigating the world of work? Contact Dr. Helen today for a free and confidential initial consultation by phone, email, or via direct message on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. If something urgent comes up, she’s also available by a voice or video on Magnifi, an expertise-on-demand app.
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