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Terrorist attacks like what happened in Paris can create a lot of tension in a workplace. We ask the experts what companies can do to motivate employees in such situations.

Give a feeling of security

Ganesh Natarajan, vice-chairman and CEO, Zensar Technologies, and chairman, Nasscom foundation

When instances like Paris and Mumbai happen, Ganesh Natarajan says, the first thing companies must do is to give a feeling of security to the employee and at the same time not scare them further. “Companies must constantly remind employees that we are always there for you, but not make it very in-your-face, as it can result in further scare-mongering."

One way to do it, according to Natarajan, is to have open houses where people should be encouraged to talk about their feelings or concerns. “This way we can gauge what kind of support needs to be extended to the issues being raised and the efforts are concerted."

Natarajan feels companies should also collaborate with other companies to find better solutions. “When the issue of women’s security came up a few years ago, all IT companies got together along with the city officials to see how it can be addressed. That way we can come up with a more comprehensive solution," he says.

When companies have a presence across geographies, employees in other regions should also be sensitized on the issue even though they may not be directly affected. The other important point Natarajan believes is to make sure no community in the company feels targeted.

“Companies also should be extra cautious that people from all communities feel comfortable and no one feels alienated. Issues like the Paris attacks can cause polarization and so the message of being an equal opportunity employer should be reinforced and the leadership should make sure they keep driving the message at all times," he said. “I don’t lose an opportunity to talk about the importance of diversity be it gender, nationalities and different communities."

He believes companies should definitely take cognizance of the security issues that are becoming more imminent, and have a strategy in place. “At Zensar, we do a monthly review of cyber security and our HR is also cautious about watching out for disgruntlement among employees," he says.

Extend tangible and intangible support

Jagjit Singh, chief people officer, PwC India

In the wake of a terrorist attack which has affected one or more company employees, the support from the organization needs to come on both tangible as well as intangible aspects, says Jagjit Singh, chief people officer, PwC India, a consultancy firm.

“While on the tangible side, leadership must support business continuity planning and disaster recovery plans through disaster management systems," Singh said. “The intangible support must go beyond policy and focus on physical support and well being of the employees."

In physical support, mature companies usually provide medical or economic help to those who need it and have set guidelines so that the employees know where to get it from. On the emotional side, these companies offer counselling and psychiatric services, which can help them recover from traumatic incidents or aftermath of such incidents. Some of these interventions could be long and may need supervision.

“Typically, this is the time when companies need to kickstart their employee assistance programmes that can help in boosting morale, assure them of support in their hour of need and help in expressing solidarity with those affected by the disastrous events," Singh said. This is about the leadership standing by their people as they cope with the trauma and recover, he said.

Leaders must also ensure they pay attention to personal requests of their employees, in terms of extended leave, relocation or even flexible working hours. This will help an employee to recover better, if she has lost a loved one or suffered any damage during an attack.

While smaller companies and start-ups might find it difficult to have all of these support systems in place, they should ensure they at least have what is necessary for the kind of employees they have.

According to Singh, the most significant thing that companies must focus on is clear communication along with a well rehearsed and documented disaster recovery plan. “The employees must know directly from their leaders and their actions that they will get all the help they need and that the company will take all necessary precautions to make them feel safe," he said.

Need coordinated effort

Amit Nandkeolyar, assistant professor, organizational behaviour, Indian School of Business

In a crisis situation there are some things that are beyond your control, but there are several things that an organization can do to minimize the fallout of the crisis, says Amit Nandkeolyar, assistant professor of organizational behaviour at the Indian School of Business.

There is the need for coordinated effort, so different teams across the organization have to come together to respond to a crisis," he says, adding that co-ordination among teams is important for successful crisis management.

Time, too, is of the essence, says Nandkeolyar. “How fast you react will determine the success too, you cannot wait for days before bringing together a team."

“Composition of the team is also very important. You need people from different backgrounds to be a part of the team so that there are different kinds of knowledge bases and experience to draw upon," he says.

Leadership, is one of the most important things to keep in mind. “Leadership could come from someone in the top management or you can have collective leadership, where the team itself that could take leadership. Leadership is important for people to look up to and feel comfort, for people to see a sense of direction in a crisis," says Nandkeolyar.

However, just having all of these things in place might not be enough, he says. The team needs to provided with the necessary resources and autonomy to respond to the crisis dynamics in the most efficient way and in a timely manner.

In the end, the goals need to be clearly laid down to ensure synergy between different teams and departments that are coordinating the crisis management effort, says Nandkeolyar.

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