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CMF Helps Offices Face Fears After Tragedy

As Congress slowly gets back to its legislative routine, the Congressional Management Foundation is reaching out to Members and staffers as they adjust to a new kind of normal in the wake of the shootings in Tucson, Ariz.

The main message: Talk.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan group on Wednesday is scheduled to hold a webinar, primarily with Congressional district and state directors, to offer tips on how top staffers can manage their offices and address the concerns of their employees following the Tucson tragedy, President and CEO Brad Fitch says. The webinar will not focus on security — the CMF is leaving that to the Capitol Police and other security officials — but rather will offer aides advice on building a cautious, but not fearful, workplace culture.

Proper communication is among the most important things office managers can do to ease employee fears, says Dawn Haag-Hatterer, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management. Bosses should tell employees that “we’re here to support you, and the best way to support you is letting you know, ‘Yes we do care,’” she explains.

“Our jobs are to help them work through that and say, ‘It’s OK you have concerns.’” she says. “‘It’s OK. I’m here to help you get the resources.’”

Haag-Hatterer, who will take part in the webinar, says managers should be sympathetic to any worries staffers might have about attending public events following the tragedy. Taking steps such as letting staffers know law enforcement will be on hand or providing a list of emergency contact numbers ahead of an event are proactive ways to ease fears, for example.

“Hopefully, people are going to start feeling more comfortable, as this doesn’t happen every day,” Haag-Hatterer says. “We’re not to that point where it’s an everyday occurrence, and that’s what we have to keep reminding people.”

The CMF isn’t the only Hill group offering support. Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel announced in a “Dear Colleague” letter last week that the Office of Employee Assistance also is providing help, including on-site counseling and referrals to other resources.

Not only staffers are feeling the ramifications of the tragedy, Fitch points out. While many aides have decided to keep a stiff upper lip when it comes to work, their families have their own anxieties. “Your husband kisses you on the way out the door in the morning and worries about you all day,” Fitch says.

The CMF suggests Members or their top staffers hold a conference call with families to address those worries, Fitch says. The organization also is urging office leaders to communicate with their employees and outline the rules and conduct training with staffers on how to deal with difficult constituents.

Don’t forget to involve the office’s interns, Fitch points out. “It’s just one of those things that they are seen and not heard,” Fitch says.

Haag-Hatterer cautions that it isn’t management’s purpose to provide an overabundance of information, however.

When there were concerns over the H1N1 virus, for example, many workplaces just offered too much information. “They provided the Purell, [put] the hand sanitizer around, and they put posters up. But several of these guys, they went overboard. It was a barrage of e-mails and communication,” she says.

Managers should aim to make sense of all that information, Haag-Hatterer says.

“Everybody is pretty much well-informed via the other communication channels,” Haag-Hatterer says. “It’s not HR’s job or management’s job to do … the media’s job. It’s our job to point people in the right direction.”

Clinical psychologist Sandra Wartski says it’s also important to allow people to work through the crisis in their own way. Congressional aides shouldn’t be afraid to step away when the shooting coverage becomes overwhelming.

“It’s all around you, all day long,” says Wartski, who also will participate in the webinar. Make “sure you just get away, [make] sure you get back to your normal routines, involving good exercise and good eating and good sleep.”

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