Becoming the Eye of a Storm
Many of us have been in disasters, mishaps, or upsets during our lifetimes and careers. Currently, adverse events and circumstances pop up all over and in wide variety: natural disasters such as wildfires or hurricanes, large of small accidents, incidents, and failures in the built environment, adverse social and personal events and stresses such as violence or political and economic crisis, or top management reorganizes, bringing closings, merging of locations and departments, and new people and policies. Events and episodes like these evidence themselves as threats or disruptions, costing time, energy, and sometimes good will. FM has to respond effectively from the first moment and carry through. Temporary or permanent changes will be afoot, and people don’t usually like change.
Change – now even organizational change is changing. Incident response remains an FM priority, but business continuity is becoming a widely accepted strategic theme with objectives to implement and considerations at every stage of response, recovery, and adaptation. FM and other organizational areas collaborate to prepare and test plans and competencies to make the best of bad situations. Bodies of knowledge and proven practice have emerged for these purposes. Organizations just need to learn, plan, practice, and evaluate. Problem solved?
No, not necessarily. What if, after a while, things aren’t going well? Frustration, then resentment, lack of trust, and communication breakdown show up, after things progressed well at first. People become angry and suspicious. Productivity drops and morale dips. Managers spend more time with employees trying to discern and help, but irritability increases and solution focused behavior decreases. What could be the problem? To a surprising degree, it may be personal, but difficult to recognize and challenging to surround and reverse.
After adverse events, people individually and together are vulnerable in ways and at times difficult to predict, least of all to themselves. Their changed circumstances are uncharacteristically demanding and stressful. Events and incidents that bring harm and force change can affect anyone with a stake in FM. Surprisingly strong effects can show up some time after the event. The two authors, who are usually aware, alert, and professional, have been touched this way in person. One of us – first responder, military pilot, veteran of a handful of small companies, and consultant to others – noticed weeks after hurricane Katrina wrecked his home, business, and town, that his cognition was less complete and reliable than he expected and needed as he lead an NGO to recover. “Katrina brain” was widely experienced as a delayed effect that continued long after that hurricane. The other author, despite knowing the possibilities, became enervated and discouraged more than a week after working an especially debasing sexual abuse case. Both kept producing to meet responsibilities, but with experiences that, remembered now, reflect reduced astuteness.
Our surprising (to us) reactions reflect a growing understanding of behavior and characteristics after trauma, and are the subject of our next blog. We will make a case for being ready to dial down the contributions of staff, providers, tenants, officials, clients, customers, executives, or even yourself, as part of contingency planning to support business continuity. The situation that we refer to is not just fatigue from overwork and stress. Rest and recreation can relieve that. This goes deeper, less predictably, and calls for awareness and management as a risk.
So keep a sharp eye when in the eye of a storm, and even sharper after the storm has passed.