- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Chatter over the latest news relating to the serial sniper has slowed workplace productivity throughout the region, say some workplace analysts.
Workers have spent more time in the office watching television and surfing news Web sites to get the latest information on the shootings. Companies have been forced to be flexible with demands.
"I don't think it's business as usual. I think everyone is consumed by this," said Bill Sparks, president of High Tech HR, a human resources outsourcing firm in McLean. "It's sort of like 'Jaws,' where it's not safe to go back in the water. But we're all in the water."
Words like "malaise," "anxiety" and "nervousness" were used to explain employees' feelings, especially after yesterday's shooting involving a bus driver in Aspen Hill.
At Teqcorner, a provider of flexible office space in McLean, an increasing number of workers have stopped in a common area to watch a television tuned to CNN.
"I have noticed more people stopping by," said site manager Rachel Chegini.
Companies also reported more workers arriving late and leaving early, making more personal phone calls and exchanging e-mails with friends and family members.
"You're going to lose some productivity," said Christina Kominoth, marketing director for Cope Inc., a workplace counseling and consulting firm in the District.
Ms. Kominoth said employers must learn to balance workplace demands with the mental needs of workers.
"The idea that employers actually acknowledge something is going on is important," Ms. Kominoth said. "You don't just want to pretend it's OK."
The National Mental Health Association issued a series of tips yesterday to help employers address worker concerns. Among them:
Educate supervisors and managers about the signs of emotional distress and available mental health resources.
Make allowances in your leave policy.
Encourage employees to express any workplace or commuter concerns.
Bring a professional counselor to the workplace.
Oscar Morgan, a senior consultant with the NMHA, said some lost productivity should be expected during times of stress.
"It's important for the employer to be a little tolerant and a little flexible," Mr. Morgan said. "In the long run, I think it will keep employees loyal to the company."
Not every company has seen lost productivity and nervousness among workers.
"I would say people are pretty much concentrated on work," said Cathy Fawell, director of marketing for Cassidy and Pinkard, a real estate service firm in the District. "There's not a whole lot of conversation [about the shootings], to tell you the truth."
Perhaps the most important move employers can make is to allow scheduling flexibility, analysts said. Yesterday morning, roads across the region were shut down during the height of morning rush hour and many commuters arrived late to work. Meanwhile, many local schools have closed or canceled after-school activities, forcing parents to take days off or leave work early.
More workers also have taken advantage of the chance to work from home or at a telework center.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments says the number of people using 18 telework centers in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs is up slightly.
About half the 440 telework spaces are used on a normal day. Now, about three-fourths of the spaces are used daily. But a direct link to the sniper would be difficult, said Nick Ramfos, a council spokesman. "Some folks might think this is a better alternative for them than waiting at a bus stop or a park-and-ride stop."
Mental health professionals say going to work may be one of the best things a person can do during a public crisis.
"Part of what you need to do is communicate," Mr. Morgan said. "You want to feel like you're not the only one affected."

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