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This week "critical" for Wellington companies

Disaster experts say this week is critical for Wellington companies

August 21, 2013

A team of University of Canterbury (UC) disaster experts say this week is critical for businesses in Wellington and Marlborough.

UC business organisation researcher Venkataraman Nilakant says that the heightened levels of anxiety following last Friday’s 6.6 tremor will have significant implications for workplaces.

Associate Professor Nilakant’s team of researchers explored the dynamics of workplaces following the Canterbury earthquakes.

``The fact that the seismic events are ongoing, in a way that can seem random and unpredictable, is likely to increase stress levels among workers. People are uncertain as to what will happen next.

``Last Friday’s events in Wellington and Marlborough occurred during work hours and that can bring added anxiety as people go back to work, away from their family and their home environment.

``We found that the way employers respond to this situation is critical. When a manager is able to acknowledge the anxiety that workers are feeling, and respond in a way that is supportive, this can lessen the strain and build trust.

``However, when managers ignore workers’ heightened emotions, because they don’t know how to respond or don’t care, then this can be harmful to the employment relationship.

``Workers still bring their concerns to work. Being at work can be good for restoring a sense of routine and normality. However, the workplaces that acknowledge the underlying stress usually do better in maintaining the engagement and commitment of their workers. People are willing to do more if they know their company understands their situation.

``Prolonged exposure to a major and unpredictable source of stress, such as continuing aftershocks, significantly affects physical and mental health. We found that workers felt more exhausted and disengaged from work months later, compared to immediately after the earthquakes.

``When workplaces adopted a long-term approach to staff support, rather than just the period immediately following the disaster, this contributed to the wellbeing, engagement, and performance of their workers.

``The Canterbury events showed that team leaders were key players as they had frequent interaction with workers. If those leaders have emotional literacy then the worker sees the company as supportive.

``However, where a company’s corporate base is outside of the natural disaster area, then you are dealing with people who may not fully understand what it’s like to live and work amid the ongoing trauma.’’

UC’s Resilient Organisations group has released information for employers and human relations staff which is available on their website: http://www.resorgs.org.nz/.

Professor Nilakant says they have been working with and helping key people in Wellington who are closely connected with businesses.


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