Remembering 9/11: What Companies Can Learn About Addressing Crisis

On the 11th day in September 2001, when 19 hijackers took over four West Coast-destined planes, 2,977 people, ranging from 2 to 85 years old, died. 

Three hundred and forty-three were FDNY firefighters, 23 NYPD, and 37 were Port Authority officers. An attack that experts say cost approximately $500,000 to plan and execute resulted in the $123 billion economic loss the first four weeks after the first plane crashed.  

Nineteen years later, younger employees may hardly remember the attacks, others can recall every detail of the day and may have even lost loved ones as a result. Addressing the event that changed America’s national security, industry and morale is important in ensuring your workforce knows that even as time passes, our country will never forget those who lost their lives on 9/11.

Response to Sept. 11 offers insights into crisis communication — wisdom your organization can continue to glean nearly two decades later. Here are three ways to address 9/11 in your workplace in 2020.

Focus on employee morale.

In a 2002 issue of the Harvard Business Review, author Paul A. Argenti wrote about the importance of employee well-being and morale. Argenti explained that before businesses contemplated how to reassure customers and investors, they must prioritize their workforce. These lessons apply in 2020, especially as we face a different crisis: COVID-19. Check in on your teams, especially on the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. Encourage reflection. Success begins from the inside and starts with employees feeling supported and heard.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), support in times of crisis help employees perform at their best. “A wealth of research shows that a supportive work environment enhances health and well-being, especially during times of crisis,” the APA states.

Offer resources beyond your own internal communications.

Post-traumatic stress and other anxiety reactions can affect many in the wake of a crisis. Those with vivid memories of 9/11 might feel those traumas reignite on the anniversary. Make clear any resources your company may offer to help them cope with the difficult day.

In regard to addressing crises, the APA says, “Professional mental health counseling from a qualified professional should also be made available and encouraged but should not be mandatory.”

As a result of COVID-19, many companies have offered resources to employees in the form of wellness-tracking and support apps — technological offerings not nearly as available in the early 2000s. Kaiser Permanente introduced the myStrength app during the COVID-19 crisis and Marriott recently introduced the meQuilibrium app as well. These resources available to employees gained traction as a result of the pandemic, but are positive tools moving forward as well.


In the early 2000s when the fear of further foreign attacks on the U.S. was palpable, employees wanted to be sure their leaders could communicate with them when crisis hit. “Whether natural or man-made, disasters often disrupt normal flows of communication,” Argenti wrote. “Phone lines and power lines may be destroyed. Computer networks may go down. Groups of employees may be stranded or isolated. This was certainly the situation many companies faced after 9/11.”

Although technology is more effective nearly 20 years later, communication through various channels is still important — and the fear of disaster continues to loom in this volatile global environment. Since most employees are likely still working remotely as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, now might be the best time to get creative with how you might want to reach out to them to discuss the anniversary of 9/11 and the emotions that come with it. Video chats, webinar-like presentations or inter-company forums are all positive platforms to engage in discussion.

Share ways your company has adjusted to crisis-response in a post-9/11 world and discuss how new technologies have affected your crisis plans. Though most organizations are unlikely to directly suffer terrorist attacks, plans that address how to respond to crisis and violence can quell uneasiness and help employees feel equipped to handle uncertainty.

“Involving employees in emergency planning is critical to foster a sense of control, which is essential for employee well-being and productivity,” the APA advises. “Encouraging employees to establish back up plans for themselves and their dependents could further enhance well-being.”


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