Stress and Anxiety Under the Volcano

The recent volcanic eruption in Iceland, threatened the prospect of a larger stress management agenda than anything I had ever known.

My colleague Alex, a young English nutritionist, was in a particular hotel, on the Palm Jumeirah, when the astonishing news came in  –  ‘no flights to Northern Europe until further notice.’

That was the blanket ruling that was suddenly applied when the volcanic ash-clouds appeared to present a hazard to any jet aircraft in flight.

In Alex’s case, it set off two sharply contrasting feelings. One was the sheer wonder of being trapped in this holiday Paradise, with every luxury on hand and a water-park and interactive dolphin-bay for her children to play in.

The other, of course, was profound stress and anxiety about the likelihood of a prolonged crisis  –  who would pay for all the extra hotel accommodation and food, plus the serious issue of interrupted schooling.

At least they were not suffering the additional stress effects of having to sleep in an airport lounge for an indefinite period. Also the initial response from those able to help, was most generous. In the event, Alex’s airline guaranteed them a flight home and the hotel extended an immediate line of credit. It transpired, apparently, one of the hotel’s Managers came from the very town in China that had just been wrecked in an earthquake, which rather put her own problems in perspective. Both he, and all the other staff, went out of their way to give reassurance and moral support. And before they eventually flew home, they had received three offers of somewhere to stay on, if necessary, in Dubai  –  a city where they knew nobody, so these were just friends-of-friends, basically strangers, doing their best to help in a crisis.

Change Management challenge

Now that the crisis is over, it is of course heartwarming to reflect on these gestures of human kindness and corporate support to customers.

But while the crisis continued, with no indication as to when it would end, as a stress management specialist, I was suddenly having to merge two of my familiar specialities of Change Management and Crisis Management into a temporary, single agenda.

Many of my clients suddenly found themselves with senior staff unable to return to work; scheduled meetings postponed, overseas trips having to be cancelled and, in the case of at least two of my corporate clients – urgent material supply deliveries that were normally airfreighted in from Europe, having been cancelled.  Consequently, various contracts had to be delayed and penalty clauses for non-delivery examined carefully.

Suddenly all the issues of corporate change and work related stress were in the front of managers’ mindsets, everywhere. My theories of change have usually been explained in terms of fairly slow evolutions, over months or years  –  perhaps a national telephone network switching over from analogue to digital, or a traditionally male-dominated boardroom acclimatising to women directors. But now we looked like having to handle nothing less than an overnight recession.

However, many employers appeared to be responding to this challenge in a sensitive way. A poll of 600 of the UK’s leading employers shows that 51% were paying employees, in full, for the lost days, 23% were paying half, and 27% were counting them as paid holiday.

This small sample of what could have been a much bigger emergency seems to confirm that when some people are plunged into a serious crisis, others who are able to help tend to observe that ethic that says “If you can, you should.”

Do you have strong views on this aspect of work related stress?

Then give us the benefit of your experience of stress and anxiety.

Key points about the travel shutdown

  • The airline shutdown gave a glimpse of a possible world crisis
  • The situation could have sparked massive need for corporate change
  • The emergency showed signs of bringing out a co-operative spirit

[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

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