9/11 What has changed

first_img9/11 What has changedOn 10 Sep 2002 in Personnel Today Many leading figures predicted that September 11 would trigger a permanentchange in the relationship between employers and staff. One year on, Nic Patonlooks at five key areas and asks how much has changed?Workers and political and business leaders will pause this week to rememberthe estimated 3,000 people who died as a result of September 11. For employeesaround the world, the shock of the attacks on the World Trade Center andPentagon struck deeply. Whether it was flinching every time a plane flew lowoverhead or taking a deep breath as the lift whisked them up to their high-riseoffices, the memories of that day were never far from the surface. The view of many during the immediate aftermath of September 11 was that theworld would never be the same again. There was also a belief that its eventswould permanently change the world of work. Employees would re-assess their work-life priorities, what they wanted outof work and their relationships with their managers, while on a practicallevel, people would no longer be so willing to fly on business andorganisations would become far more security conscious. But, a year on, has any of this actually happened? At least one senior HRexecutive of an organisation that lost hundreds of employees in the Twin Towersbelieves not. “There was a change in people’s attitudes for about three orfour months, but now it is pretty much the same as before,” he says. “There will be a memorial service for staff that were lost, but I donot think September 11 fundamentally changed the company at all.” The intense grief and reluctance to travel have dissipated, explains MaxReid, senior vice-president of HR at US video and data broadcasting businessPanAmSat. “People’s values and priorities are influenced by these horrificexperiences, but do not deter their will to accept, adapt and move on. Theworkplace is much the same today as a year ago,” he says. But others are more optimistic that the attacks have led to changes thathave either already become embedded in workplace culture, or will be in thefuture. Personnel Today examines five key elements of the working environmentto see if the significant changes predicted last year have come true. Meaningful work In the aftermath of September 11, organisations were told they would need torethink how they motivated their employees. The events of that day left manyre-assessing their lives and careers. A survey by career consultancy Penna Sanders & Sidney published twomonths after the attacks found that nearly two-thirds of workers said theywould change career if they could, with one in eight wanting to change to amore personally fulfilling, worthwhile or meaningful job. “People want to sit down more and talk about their future. They want totalk about whether they are on the right track. HR has borne the brunt of thoseconversations,” says Steve Harvey, group director of people, profits andculture at Microsoft UK. “The use of mentors has increased markedly sinceSeptember 11,” he adds. It has also been recognised that if you want to get more out of yourworkers, you have to offer them something meaningful in return, says PaulPagliari, HR director at Scottish Water. “It is an emerging trend, but it was there before September 11,”he says. The difficulty in all this has been the economic impact of September 11 –knocking an already fragile US economy badly off track, with all the globalimplications for jobs and incomes that brought with it. Dave Patel, manager for workplace trends and forecasting at the Society forHuman Resource Management in the US, points out that worries over stockmarket-linked pensions and job security have made it less likely people willargue for a change of role or to downshift. “If there had been a much stronger economy, people may have felt theycould make those changes. But job security has played a huge part in preventingpeople from doing that,” he says. Leadership Five weeks after the attacks, a MORI poll revealed that 85 per cent ofemployees did not feel a strong confidence in their employers’ leadership,compared with 68 per cent prior to September 11. Delegates at the CIPD’s 2001 national conference in Harrogate, which tookplace at much the same time, heard Robert Kaplan, professor of leadership atHarvard Business School, explain that employers were now going to have toinvolve staff much more in the aims of their businesses. One of the changes wrought by September 11 has, indeed, been a re-assessmentamong employers of the importance of human capital, says SHRM’s Patel. “Everyone talks about the fact that their biggest economic asset istheir people, but unfortunately, it takes something like this for people torealise it really is true,” he explains. “CEOs are beginning to pay attention to the importance of HR,” headds. “They will lose the employees they need to lose to get through thetough times, but they pay far more attention to weeding out the lowerperformers while keeping the talent,” he adds. Microsoft, for instance, has been encouraging managers to speak to employeesto explore the relationships and psychological contract between them.”Most leaders never say ‘here is what we want, here is who I am and what Ido’,” says Harvey. Some even believe there is a direct correlation between the fierce anger ofordinary employees to the corporate scandals of Enron, WorldCom and others, andSeptember 11. The greed of bosses seen to be cashing in as the scandals broke has jarredwith the dignity and courage of the rescue services and ordinary employees onthat day, argues one anonymous HR manager in California. “To juxtapose the recent Enron-type scandals against the heroism ofSeptember 11 is telling,” Harvey explains. Lance J Richards, managing director of US HR consultancy Suddenly Global,believes there has also been a greater recognition in the US that the world isa small place and business leaders have a prominent part to play within it. “HR has an obligation as the leaders and managers of human capital tohelp people understand what globalisation means and how to manage itcorrectly,” he says. Work-life balance While demands for more work-life balance were gaining momentum well beforeSeptember 11 – indeed, legislation on the issue will come into force next year– the attacks have proved a catalyst for change, according to flexible workingspecialist Flexecutive. Karen Janman, Flexecutive’s director of consultancy, points to a surveycarried out with the Work Foundation that discovered half of HR professionalsare now implementing flexible working policies – three times as many as before.Since 1997 there has been a 16 per cent per year increase in people workingone or more days a week at home, says Peter Thomson, director of the FutureWork Forum at Henley Management College. “It was a trend that was comingalong anyway. September 11 gave it an additional boost and extra credibility.It is no longer just for pregnant women or the disadvantaged,” he says. SHRM’s Patel agrees: “The biggest issue before 9/11 with distanceworking was not so much whether it was possible, but the whole culturalperception of it and how to manage it,” he says. “There was a viewthat if you cannot see them, are they really working?” After the attacks, there was a lot of concern over whether it was safe to goto the office or, as in Manhattan, whether it was even possible to come in atall. “People started to do distance working and established some sort ofrecord, and that began to ease those cultural perceptions,” explainsPatel. Around 25 million workers in the US now work from home and the figure isrising all the time, he adds. Tough economics and scepticism have been the main counter-trend. A poll inJune by recruitment company Working Options found 93 per cent of employeesthought their company’s commitment to change was purely lip-service. And a study by the Institute for Employment Studies this April, found that,even where companies were encouraging better work-life balance, workers wereoften reluctant to take it up, fearing it would damage their career prospects. But Scottish Water’s Pagliari believes September 11 has helped lift thestigma surrounding flexible working, and people are now more prepared to askfor such benefits. In July, the company ran a recruitment drive for 140 top positions and madesure each one was considered in terms of work-life balance and flexible working.”We are going to take an interest in your being here, but we are notgoing to reward you for presenteeism,” Pagliari says. Travel The economic malaise gripping US airlines is stark evidence of the change inattitude towards air travel since September 11. In August, United Airlines saidit was threatened with bankruptcy and US Airlines has already gone that way.American Airlines axed 7,000 jobs. The number of domestic flights in the USduring August was down 8 per cent compared with the year before. In the UK in May, British Airways – which cut 7,000 jobs in the wake of theattacks – published figures showing it had lost £100m over the past 12 months,compared with a profit of £150m the year before. Yet a report in March by American Express found that 73 per cent of businesstravellers had not cut their work-related travel during the previous sixmonths, and just 8 per cent had moved to videoconferencing as a substitute. So, what has actually changed? Immediately after September 11, the business travel market did freeze, butthere was quickly a recognition that face-to-face business needed to continue,with the message promoted through clever advertising campaigns by, amongothers, British Airways. “It’s not that people are afraid to fly, but that businesses haveretrenched. Go, EasyJet and Ryanair are all flourishing, it is business classthat is suffering,” says Thomson. People are much more likely to think about whether they actually need to geton a plane, agrees Microsoft’s Harvey. Many Microsoft staff now have webcamsand access to video links. “We have become much more cautious about peopletravelling,” he says. But predictions that conferencing technology would fill the gap appear tohave been over-optimistic, argues Bill Quirke, director of SynopsisCommunication Consulting. “Global organisations are going through a lot of change but some thingscannot be done at a distance. It has not been a full pendulum swing,” hesays. For many, videoconferencing is still too primitive and cumbersome to be aviable alternative, with teleconferencing, e-mail and simple telephonetechnology more popular. Another new trend is that organisations now carefully monitor how manyexecutives they have in the air at any one time. “If there are going to be more than six employees travelling on aplane, we know about it,” says Vance Kearney, vice-president of HR atOracle Corporation. Todd Beamer, one of the heroes of the hijacked airlinerthat crashed in Pennsylvania, was an Oracle employee. “It has not returned to normal, but how much of that is due toSeptember 11 and how much is due to trying to be economic with travelexpenditure? That is the question. The telephone conference call has becomepart of the business process as much as e-mail. It is now a daily tool oflife,” he says. Security Security, not unsurprisingly, was at the top of the agenda for manycompanies on 12 September, with urgent reviews taking place around the country.Yet, a couple of months later when the Work Foundation looked at the issue, itfound that just half of employers with disaster planning strategies would beable to locate their staff in the event of critical business data beingdestroyed. Even more worrying, more than half of the 285 HR professionals polled saidthey had not undertaken a crisis simulation, with 40 per cent never having heldpre-crisis training for their staff. Despite this, organisations are now looking closely at disaster planning interms of people – who they have, who they need and where they are – rather thanjust recovering IT or lost data, believes Thomson. “There is anopportunity for the HR profession to be leading in this, but I am not sure theyare,” he says. In the US in particular, there is now much more use of biometric devices,such as retinal ‘fingerprint’ scans. There are many more background checks, anda far tighter regime on contractors and vendors, says SHRM’s Patel. Employers are also much more focused on cyber security. In June, for instance,US investigators warned that al-Qaeda could be preparing to hack into computernetworks to disrupt electricity, telephone systems, dams and nuclear powerstations. For companies such as Microsoft – very much symbolic of the US and as such aprime target for terrorists – September 11 was a grim wake-up call, admitsHarvey. “The terrorist attacks made us realise that if our building hadbeen hit, we would have been exposed,” he says. Security at the company’s UK operation – which employs 1,500 staff – is nowmuch tighter, with perimeter fencing, a confidential waste system, a reductionin the number of entrances, and after the anthrax attacks that followedSeptember 11, the post is handled off site. Security passes are worn 100 per cent of the time, with the idea thatsecurity is much stricter outside but once inside, more relaxed, he says. But Mayuri Vyas, director of consulting at the Work Foundation, warns thatinevitably, 12 months on, people are less vigilant. “For the first sixmonths there was a huge impact, for the next three it was still highly visible.But in the past three or four months things have practically reverted back tonormal.” There is also the issue of whether, after an initial flurry of enthusiasm,plans are being followed through. Russell Walker, director of InternationalHuman Resources at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt LakeCity, admits that while discussions were held on refining disaster andemergency plans after September 11, “there does not appear to be as muchfollow-through on those topics as I would have expected”. But he adds: “We are much more security conscious than before. Theopen, free atmosphere that used to exist in our office locations has beenreplaced by controlled access checkpoints and other restrictions.” Suddenly Global’s Richards agrees that even in the US, memories can beshort. “If we are not careful, we could roll back to a very nice,couch-shaped complacency without too much trouble.” Oracle’s Kearney points out that, for a global organisation, security anddisaster planning issues never go away. If it’s not September 11, it’s Kashmir,or even Potters Bar, where Oracle lost an employee in the train crash. “The days when companies were physically placing their entire workforcein one location are gone. Part of the drive to working at home or flexibleworking is that even when people are at a physical location, our highestoccupancy is normally 70 to 80 per cent,” he explains. Oracle lost a British employee in the Twin Towers and, including Todd Beamerin the Pentagon plane crash, four altogether. “We already had thepolicies, but the difference has been the involvement of the HR function withfamilies. There has been a much more personal engagement between the HR functionand the bereaved families,” he says. World trade: Will HuttonThe future of globalisationStock markets may be of little use in helping entrepreneursbuild businesses – they are too myopic for that – but they are great signallersof collective judgements. If prices are rising as crazily as in the latenineties, that means our animal spirits are up. If they are falling, as theyhave done so rapidly over the past three months, it is a sign of newdespondency. It isn’t September 11 that has put globalisation at risk orchanged its dynamics; it is what the stock markets’ collective fall is tellingus, and how that in turn is beginning to create an economic slowdown, and evenput a break on the pace of globalisation, that makes the markets so fearful.The markets have been hit by two massive events. First, theastonishing scale of overstated profits made by corporate America during thepast few years, highlighted by the infamous accounting scandals. Second – lessobvious, perhaps, but no less important – the fear of war against Iraq andconsequent destabilisation of not just the middle East, but of the principleson which the post-war era have been built.The Bush administration’s willingness to consider a landinvasion of Iraq is a direct consequence of September 11, and the reasons arewell rehearsed. I doubt there will be a full-scale land invasion, but to saveface Bush may do something equally dangerous. And it is this unilateralism andrefusal to submit to a framework of international law, that spooks the markets.Globalisation has progressed so fast and thoroughly because ithas not been imposed by the US. It has developed as it has due to a frameworkof trade treaties, international accounting and legal standards and willingnessby all players to submit to the judgements of the World Trade Organisation orIMF. Once a new rule is in place – that the US can and will do what it wantswhen it wants – one of the pillars of globalisation falls. We are then movinginto a new world in which the law of the jungle holds, and the markets don’tlike what they see.It is this combination of the consequences of September 11 –the new aggressive unilateralism of the US and the synchronised collapse of allmajor world stock markets – that makes the future so difficult to predict. Of course, it may look very much like the present. Or we couldbe embarking on a period of international instability coupled with fallingprices and stalled western economies that puts globalisation itself at risk.The jury is out, and the truth is nobody knows what will happen next – but theoutlook is not bright.Theeconomy: John PhilpottCounting the costEven though the horror remains vivid, the mundane task of counting theeconomic cost of what happened in New York last September must still beundertaken. The immediate period following the terrorist strike was one ofunderstandable despair. But the US and world economy were both in poor healthwell before the Twin Towers were destroyed. The main cause was the fallout from the abrupt reversal of the IT boom ofthe late 1990s. The latest figures from the US Commerce Department show thatthe world’s biggest economy contracted by 2.2 per cent during the first sixmonths of 2001, and by a further 0.3 per cent in the third quarter, draggingdown the rest of the world economy in its wake. The events of September 11 were therefore an additional shock to an alreadyfragile situation, propelling the aerospace, airline and tourism sectors intothe same tailspin experienced by IT and telecoms in 2000. Indeed, the sad irony is that the tragic events in Manhattan and Washingtontriggered global cuts in interest rates that might otherwise have been delayed,thus stimulating activity rather than depressing it. But the cuts, coupled witha ‘live for today’ attitude on the part of consumers, helped propel a USrecovery by the end of 2001 into 2002, and helped to pull the UK and eurozoneeconomies along in the process. Recent growth has been more subdued, with weak consumer spending andbusiness investment, but this mainly reflects the stock market fallout fromcorporate accounting scandals such as Enron and WorldCom – names that willalmost certainly figure larger than Osama Bin Laden in the annals of economichistorians. Despite this, the HR world may nonetheless come to place more significanceon September 11 than economists. People management is as much about psychologyas economics, yet at the very time US workers were seeking security, many werefaced with redundancy. US employment dropped by 1.4 million in 2001 and the unemployment ratereached 6 per cent by spring 2002. It will be interesting to see how thisaffects the psychological contract, and US workplace productivity, in comingyears. UK people managers have fared relatively well by comparison. Majorredundancy programmes have certainly caught the headlines and put strain on thepersonnel professionals involved. But less attention has been given to the factthat many employers hoarded labour during the economic downturn, enablingpeople managers to think positively about the best way to develop workers,rather than how best to discard them. The terrorist attack has, however, cast a shadow over employee relations asworkers re-evaluate life priorities. Office gripes and management reports nowseem less important, with obvious implications for attitudes towards work-lifebalance and total reward. Whatever the economic impact, therefore, September 2001 might eventually beregarded as the month the 21st century actually arrived in the workplace. John Philpott is chief economist of the CIPD Case study: PricewaterhouseCoopersalmost a case of ‘business as usual’When the planes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, CliveNewton, global head of HR at PricewaterhouseCoopers, was attending an executivemeeting in Philadelphia. Like many, he was stranded as all aircraft were grounded. The priority wastracking down where people were and finding out if there were any casualtiesamong the company’s 160,000 staff, who work in 152 countries. Counsellors weredrafted in within a day of the tragedy. In the event, the company lost people in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon andon the planes that day. “It was traumatic, but people recovered really quite fast,” hesays. “After the initial shock, there was recognition that in many of thecountries we work in there has been terrorism for years. The reaction of manyother countries was ‘why are you getting so excited? We have been living withthese problems for decades’. That was a pretty salutary message when you arerunning a global business,” he adds. In the weeks that followed, predictions of a huge reduction in global travelseemed correct, with many people afraid to fly. But, although travel has fallenoff, there was also a rapid understanding that business still has to be done,and the main practical change is longer check-in times. The company encouraged people not to travel if it was not essential, but decisionswere left to individuals. Newton says there has not been a substantial increasein video-conferencing, which was found to be primitive and complicated.Teleconferencing is the preferred choice. New technology such as internet-based voice messaging was also found to workeffectively. “That was a bit of a discovery, we now use it widely,”says Newton. After the attacks, the HR department spent a lot of time talking toemployees and their families to ensure they were comfortable with overseaspostings and were aware of the security implications. A team of people in each of the international area in which the companyoperates looks after employee movements and, in particular, checks securityalerts for each country. “They know who is travelling where. If someonebooks a ticket to a sensitive area, an alert is sent,” says Newton. There is also a website that helps employees assess whether it is safe totravel to a particular country. The impact of the events of September 11 were obviously huge, but around theworld a company such as PWC will regularly have to deal with the deaths ofemployees caused by events such as car crashes, or, less frequently,kidnappings and acts of terrorism. “When this happens you have to move very fast. You have to be able totalk to the families and your staff and make sure you get the resources youneed very quickly.” Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos.last_img


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