Address business continuity

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 18 April 2008



Nowlan, K. (2008), "Address business continuity", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 7 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Address business continuity

Article Type: How to ... From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 7, Issue 3.

Practical advice for HR professionals

Kate Nowlan is based at CiC.

It is still the case that many organizations pay more attention to the practical aspect of their business continuity planning than the people side, yet all managers know that their people are the most valuable asset they have and paying attention to “human continuity” is therefore a crucial part of an effective plan. Staff who are trained at all levels to recognize psychological and emotional effects of a crisis in the workplace will be well positioned to prevent absenteeism and low morale and impaired work performance that can follow traumatic incidents. Simple training modules on key psychological issues should be offered alongside practical tabletop exercises so that HR teams can provide effective support to managers and staff when a crisis hits. The following five areas should be addressed when creating a business continuity plan.

1. Psychological impact of traumatic incidents

Do not underestimate the powerful effect that a trauma can have in the workplace. A trauma does not have to be a major catastrophe, such as a terrorist attack or full-blown onset of avian flu; many unexpected events can seriously unsettle staff and divert teams from normal productive working life. For example, the sudden death at work of a respected colleague can increase stress levels significantly. Staff may be reminded of tragic instances in their own lives, absenteeism may increase and there may be a marked increase in addictive disorders (drinking, binge eating, drug abuse, etc.). Staff may be unable to sleep properly and anxiety levels may be high. Performance at work is often seriously affected and team morale shaken. Managers need to keep a very watchful eye on changed behavior patterns in their staff.

2. Managerial responsibility

Managers have a choice in how they react to a crisis. They may want to turn away from the emotional fallout and hope that employees will pull themselves together and recover without their intervention. They may be badly affected themselves and therefore hesitate to support their staff in an area where they feel particularly vulnerable. If, however, they have been well trained in what to look out for and how to spot symptoms of stress they will be in a much stronger position to carry out their managerial tasks. Managers have a responsibility to support the mental well-being of their staff after a crisis and to be clear in how they provide an immediate response. Telephone, face-to -face and group interventions may be needed.

3. How to support people recovery

NICE the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which is part of the UK’s National Health Service[1], has issued guidelines that recommend “watchful waiting” after a traumatic incident, but this does not mean inaction on the part of the manager. An empathic managerial listening ear is essential for those who feel vulnerable after a shocking experience and although it can sometimes feel that it is not enough just to listen, there is no doubt that those employers who encourage their staff to talk openly about their experience at the right time are the employers who will make their staff feel safe and enable swift return to productivity. It is a great help for managers if they have an employee assistance program in place with a 24-hour helpline and trained counselors ready to talk and listen and signpost staff to appropriate sources of support.

4. Leadership in a crisis

Do not always assume that line managers and directors will be the best leaders in a crisis. Those involved in the 9/11 terrorist tragedy were very soon aware that the real leaders in the heat of the moment were the people on reception desks and not the directors who were out of the office. Ensure when drawing up the business continuity plans that staff at all levels of the company who have appropriate skills are nominated as key personnel. Train leaders in issues like breaking bad news so that they are aware of how to handle sensitive issues and deliver difficult information. Prepare managers for such things as talking with the media, linking with police family liaison officers and communicating with families of affected employees.

5. Tips for managers

Be ready to support and listen after the crisis. Take small signs seriously watch for mood swings and changes in behavior in your staff. Look out for altered team behavior as well as changes in individuals. Encourage open feedback but do not force early debriefing. Watch and wait. Respect confidentiality. Use electronic communication as well as face-to-face and keep staff up to date with the situation as this decreases anxiety. Ensure clear cascade of telephone numbers so that all staff know where to turn for support. Insist that training modules for psychological awareness are provided when business continuity exercises are offered. Remember that human continuity lies at the heart of any effective business continuity plan.

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About the author

Kate Nowlan is chief executive of CiC, a UK-based provider of employee assistance programs. She has worked as a corporate psychologist and psychotherapist for the past twenty years and has a particular interest in supporting those who have been exposed to traumatic experiences in the course of their working lives. Kate Nowlan can be contacted at:

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