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Boston Employers Try to Return to Normal
 

By Bill Leonard  4/25/2013
 
A week after two bombs disrupted the Boston Marathon, and a wild shootout and extensive manhunt shut down the metro area, employers in New England’s largest city face a daunting challenge: returning to business as usual.

Although many people are eager to get back to work, there’s no denying that Boston’s population has been rocked to its core, and it could be a long time before workers begin to feel safe and secure again. HR professionals throughout the region say they have a duty to rebuild a sense of security and provide employees the support they need.

Many employers in the Boston area took steps to rebuild employee confidence after the bombings by increasing security at their offices.

“We did increase the security presence in our lobby,” said Christine Lahey, vice president of employee relations and HR services at Liberty Mutual Insurance, whose office is just a few blocks from the bombing site. “While I don’t think we really face an elevated threat, the extra security provides some peace of mind for employees.”

Lahey told SHRM Online that her top concern, now that the imminent threat of terrorism has subsided, is making sure employees feel comfortable at work.

“We are letting employees know the company’s EAP [employee assistance program] is available and that we have counselors on-site if people need to talk.”

Other HR professionals agreed with Lahey and were taking similar steps at their companies.

“We have sent out messages that help is available through our EAP. We also have had some counselors on hand for group EAP sessions,” said Sarah Shulz, vice president of organizational development and workforce planning at City Year Inc., a nonprofit education-focused organization based in downtown Boston.

Shulz wasn’t sure how many of City Year’s nearly 200 employees had used or were planning to use the extra counseling services.

“It’s really tough to say or even track something like this because we do have to ensure the privacy of anyone who seeks counseling,” she said. “But I have heard from quite a few people who said they appreciate and are comforted by the fact these services are available.”

In addition, Shulz has told City Year staff and volunteers that she has an open-door policy and everybody is welcome to come by and just talk. The key is to find ways that help people heal, she said, adding that HR has an important role to play in the healing process.

“Very often we, in HR, are sounding boards for our organizations, and I always encourage people to come by to ask questions and talk about their concerns,” she said. “So it seems only natural that my department provides a place where people can feel comfortable to come and just talk.”

Lahey agrees with Shulz, observing that talking about the ordeal can be therapeutic.

“It’s only natural that people will want to talk about what happened,” she said. “And surviving an ordeal like this can bring people closer together. So whatever we can do to encourage this interaction will probably make Liberty Mutual stronger in the long run.”

Some businesses are setting aside areas in meeting or break rooms where employees can gather.

“We had one of our meeting rooms set up just so people could have a place to go and check out the latest news and talk about what was happening,” said Karen Uretzky, human resource manager at Numeric Investors LLC.

Once the initial shock of the attacks passed, Uretzky said, employees’ emotions turned to anger.

“Those terrorists killed and injured our friends and family and stole our holiday [Patriots Day],” she said. “They also took our sense of security from us. So we must fight and get that back as quickly as we can.”

Uretzky said most of her co-workers in the small investment firm with 77 employees shared the same anger and frustration about feeling powerless to do anything.

“When it first happened, my first thoughts were about the safety of friends and families and my co-workers, of course. After I knew everybody was OK, then I began thinking about what we could do to help. I think it’s only natural in a situation like this to want to help any way you can. It’s an important part of the healing process to feel like you’re doing something.”

She hit on the idea of buying lunch for the Boston Police Department and discussed it with Numeric CEO Michael Even.

“The police really did a wonderful job and were right there in the thick of it all week long,” she noted. “I thought if we could just make a gesture to show our appreciation, then that would do a lot to boost morale.”

Uretzky sent a companywide e-mail asking who wanted to donate to the lunch. The response was immediate—and nearly overwhelming—and she quickly had more than $620 in donations. She called the Back Bay precinct of the Boston PD and learned that a favorite lunch spot for cops is AK’s Pizzeria in South Boston.

“The person I talked to at the Back Bay precinct told me that they weren’t supposed to accept offers of free lunches from citizens,” Uretzky said. “So I asked, ‘What if a bunch of sandwiches were just delivered to the precinct? Would you turn that down?’ And the reply was, ‘Probably not.’ ”

Other HR professionals said workers throughout the Boston area are eager to help and contribute.

“We’ve heard from numerous employees asking if we were planning to donate money or organize some sort of volunteer activities,” said Nancy Stager, executive vice president of human resources and charitable giving at Eastern Bank Corp. “Right now we’re in the process of assessing who needs the most help and the best place to send donations.”

Stager added that the family of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old who was killed in the bomb attacks, are customers of Eastern Bank.

“So they are part of our banking family, and we will be looking for ways to reach out and help them,” she said.

Stager’s comments show that HR has a role in helping businesses direct donations and relief efforts to the right recipients after disaster strikes. Within hours of the Boston bombings, dozens of newly established charity websites—with names like bostonmarathondonations.com, bostonmarathonvictimfund.com and bostonmarathonattack.com—appeared.

While there are no indications that these sites are involved in any fraudulent activities, watchdog groups including the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Scambook and Charity Navigator recommend donating to well-known and established groups like the American Red Cross or the Boston’s Children’s Hospital. The One Fund—Boston, newly established by the Boston Mayor and Massachusetts Governor offices, is one exception to this rule, sources said. After the bombing attacks, the BBB published guidelines on how to choose a charity and donate wisely.

“We always caution our employees after a disaster not to fall prey to a donation scam,” said Stager. “We always try and find the best places to donate and make sure that our donations get to the people who are in need.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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