FSU researcher: employers can minimize hurricane-related stress
by Barry Ray
Florida was pummeled by four major hurricanes during last year's hurricane season. Those four storms proved tremendously damaging—and intensely stressful—for millions of Florida residents. Unfortunately for many, that stress only seemed to increase when they returned to work.
Dr. Wayne Hochwarter
As the 2005 hurricane season begins, a Florida State University professor is examining how such hurricane-related job stress is manifested, and is offering advice for minimizing its harmful effects on those at work following a hurricane.
Wayne A. Hochwarter, an associate professor of management in FSU's College of Business, along with graduate students Mary Dana Laird and Robyn Brouer, developed a program of research to determine how hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne affected the stress levels of Floridians as they went back to work after the storms. The results were consistent throughout the state:
Stress like this will lead employees to suffer from burnout, which can cause a variety of health and psychological maladies, Hochwarter said of his findings. "Also, because of the number of hurricanes that employees in the state experienced last year, they became increasingly anxious and then began to feel overwhelmed. Interestingly, a number of organizations I have visited in the last few months were beginning to experience the same level of anxiety even before this year's hurricane season began. The uncertainty has a paralyzing effect on individuals because they just don't know what to expect."
His research also indicates that there are ways to minimize the effects of hurricane-related job stress. For example, such stress had a lesser influence on health and well-being when:
"It's important for employers to proactively prepare for hurricane season and anticipate the needs of their employees," Hochwarter said. "The best thing employers can do is keep the lines of communication open and allow employees to play an active role in preparing the organization for hurricane season."
In particular, he said, employers can reduce hurricane-related stress among their employees by having a detailed hurricane recovery strategy in place so that employees will know that they still have a job, as well as understand procedures for dividing workloads, taking time off or receiving help.
"Preparing for hurricanes is often discussed as boarding up buildings more quickly, or developing better evacuation plans," Hochwarter said. "The fact remains that most people unfortunate enough to experience a hurricane have to return to work. My research indicates that it may be fruitful for organizations to address stress-related consequences for those who are returning to the job before, during and after the hurricane."
Data for Hochwarter's research was gathered from three sources: an exclusive sample of individuals employed in various industries across the state, a manufacturing organization in Central Florida, and a refuse removal firm in North Florida. All respondents reported being affected by one or more hurricanes.
Hochwarter will present a report on his findings at a conference of the Southern Management Association in November.
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