Two weeks after the terrorist attacks in the US, HR teams are busy
supporting staff and getting business back on track. The Personnel Today team
As the dust settled on the rubble that was the World Trade Center the shock
waves for business went out around the world.
HR has been working hard to tackle the multitude of problems created by the
terrorist atrocity on 11 September. At first, it was thrown into a role of
crisis management – as global HR directors describe (right). But as the
longer-term implications of the attack have unfolded, firms in Manhattan are
determined to confront the logistical nightmare of getting staff back to work.
Relocation and recruitment are on the agenda as employers and staff set out to
prove that the assailants have not won.
Multinationals based in the UK have been concerned with trying to get business
travellers home, and providing ongoing information and support for affected
Lance Richards, international HR consultant based in the US and former
vice-president of HR at Teleglobe, told Personnel Today that the challenges
facing HR are enormous.
He said, "It changes everything – how people travel, how people work
and whether they will want to work outside the US."
Business travel will become increasingly problematic. "HR will have to
set up counselling for employees who do not want to get back on an aeroplane.
Companies will need to recognise that fear."
But Richards believes that companies will continue. "Business travel
cannot stop and terrorists cannot bring commerce to its knees. People will have
to get back on a plane."
Case study: PricewaterhouseCoopers
"The biggest shock is to
discover that we are an organisation with huge feelings for each other"
Global head of HR at
PricewaterhouseCoopers Clive Newton is normally based in the UK but found
himself stranded in the US after the atrocity.
The company had employees in the World Trade Center, the
Pentagon and on the planes at the time of the attacks. Newton, who was clearly
shaken following the incident, described the situation as chaotic as the
company tried to track the staff involved and establish who had been killed.
"The Number one issue was tracking people… The whole
place became bedlam as we tried to track our people," he told Personnel
Newton said he believed PWC had identified the casualties, but
because of the global nature of the
organisation and the amount of business travel involved there are still many
individuals whose whereabouts have not been traced. The company has 160,000
staff working in 152 countries, including 40,000 in the US.
Newton said the company’s top priority was to ensure that staff
were safe, followed by the need to support staff emotionally and tackle the
complex process of communications and helping staff left stranded after
internal flights were grounded in the US.
PWC has employed grief counsellors and set up a helpline for
staff and their families.
"In a situation like this we’ll do anything to look after
our people," said Newton.
The company has set up websites and call lines for people
around the world to find out if their friends and colleagues are safe and to
express their feelings.
Newton said the tragedy had brought people together in the
organisation. "The biggest shock is to discover that we are an
organisation with huge feelings for each other."
Over the past two weeks, hundreds of staff throughout the US
have faced problems finding accommodation and travelling. Newton said many were
embarking on journeys by car of up to 15 hours. There was also an issue about
guiding graduate recruits new to the organisation who were facing travel
Newton said that while staff were distressed by the events, it
had put other morale issues, such as concerns about the US recession, into
"We have got a recession going on," said Newton.
"There are concerns about job security. Suddenly all that has become
irrelevant – people have started to think about bigger things."
Case study: Reuters
"Next to tracking staff, keeping
people informed was most important"
Reuters had to start tracking 18,000
staff worldwide to find out who was at the World Trade Center when the hijacked
planes crashed into the twin towers.
Reuters global director of HR John Reid-Dodick, a Canadian
working in London, explained, "I was in a meeting with the group HR
director when we were informed that the first plane had struck. Our chief
executive convened the incident committee – which deals with major crises —
within five minutes."
The quick reaction meant they managed to get an open line to
the incident committee in the US which remained open until 11pm. "It was
very difficult to get communications through by land-line or cell phone. We
were lucky – we got in early," he said.
Together they identified key priorities. The identification and
safety of staff was top of the list. Not only the US staff in the WTC but those
from Reuters offices in 190 countries who may have been visiting New York.
"We contacted HR directors in Europe, Japan and Asia
Pacific and coordinated with their senior teams to track people who were
travelling," said Reid-Dodick. There were 300 staff in WTC to be accounted
The committee felt that communication was key to stop rumours
and misinformation. Within 20 minutes of the first plane crash, an e-mail went
out to staff about what was happening.
Reid-Dodick said, "In an emotionally volatile situation,
next to tracking staff, keeping people informed was most important."
Personal contact was felt to be essential. Staff in New York
were brought together at their headquarters in Times Square and were addressed
by the chief executive Tom Glocer. And in London and other offices, senior
management walked round the buildings to empathise with staff as they watched
events unfold on television.
"That was hugely well-received," said Reid-Dodick.
The following morning the chief executive spoke live on a
phone-in to European staff. That was taped and put on the intranet for staff to
Frequently asked questions, about travel arrangements for
example, were also posted on the intranet and policies were changed to meet the
With counselling services in New York overwhelmed, UK services
were made available by phone and are being increasingly used.
"It is amazing how this has touched people globally. Every
country has being touched. But we are coping. Situations like this bring out
the best in people."