A Treatment for Terror?

Like most, I was sickened to read the news reports Wednesday morning about another terrorist attack, this time on those working in the Paris office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

450968335As you no doubt know, the horrific act took the lives of 12 people—including the publication’s editor and four of the magazine’s cartoonists—and set in motion a manhunt for those responsible, which reportedly includes two brothers who were already under police surveillance.

Over the years, HRE has published its share of stories on the devastating toll terrorist acts can have on the workplace—and the steps employers might want to consider taking to minimize risks and assist employees and the victims’ families in the aftermath. But while most of those pieces have addressed the impact of such attacks on those workplaces where the incidences occurred, there’s little question (at least to me) that the impact very often extends well beyond the organization itself.  (For many of us, 9/11 is etched in our minds and will remain there until we take our final breath, whether we were in New York, Somerset County or Washington—or not.)

I’m not really sure if the timing here is a coincidence or not (since it doesn’t mention the Paris attack), but yesterday a new Tel Aviv University study linking terrorism to incidences of job burnout over time was posted online.

In the study—led by professors Sharon Toker of TAU’s Faculty of Management, in collaboration with Dr. Gregory A. Laurence of the University of Michigan and Dr. Yitzhak Fried of Syracuse University and Texas Tech University—a random sample of 670 Israeli employees underwent routine checkups at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in 2003 and 2004, completing questionnaires to assess the incidences of insomnia, fear of terror, fear for personal safety, tension experienced in public places, level of workplace support and signs of job burnout. Employees were then followed from 2003 to 2009, completing two additional questionnaires over that period. (The study is being published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.)

Toker reports …

“We found that the higher your levels of fear of terror at baseline, the higher your risk of developing insomnia—and those who were more likely to develop insomnia were also most likely to experience job burnout several years later. Burnout is a direct outcome of depleted resources, so those who consistently don’t get enough sleep report job burnout.”

Of course, Toker explains, managers have an important role to play in promoting interventions for healthy sleep habits, initiating retreats and launching employee-assistance programs. But the research he and his colleagues conducted suggests that their best course of action might very well be to create “a workplace environment that is conducive to a strong social support network … .”

Why? Because, in their study, the researchers found that those who reported support from their colleagues—and not their managers—were less likely to experience insomnia and the inevitable burnout that comes with it than those who didn’t.

In a more perfect world, we wouldn’t have to worry about terrorist acts like those that played out in Paris this week. But as we all know, we don’t live in a perfect—so, for now anyway, I guess we’re confined to look to studies like Toker’s to find more effective ways to minimize their impact.