WEDNESDAY, APRIL 16, 2014

The 'not so quiet' before the storm: FSU study of Florida workers confirms employee pre-hurricane fears

image of Hurricane Katrina over the Gulf of Mexico, 2005

Recent uneventful hurricane seasons have done little to calm Florida workers’ fear of hurricanes, according to a new study by Wayne Hochwarter, the Jim Moran Professor of Business Administration at the Florida State University College of Business.

For his study, Hochwarter surveyed approximately 600 full-time Florida workers prior to the onset of the 2013 hurricane season and found these workers had levels of anxiety comparable to those reported in years when hurricane season was more active. For example, one-half of the individuals surveyed admitted they were worried about the impact a hurricane would have on both their home and work. Thirty-four percent indicated that even the thought of a hurricane scared many of their co-workers and 33 percent indicated individuals in their company tended to be on “pins and needles” right before the onset of hurricane season.

“In recent years, businesses have been told to expect several impactful hurricanes, but even when reality doesn’t match these predictions, employees remain fearful of what may be lurking around the corner,” Hochwarter said. “These fears are particularly intense for employees who directly or indirectly experienced hurricanes in the past. 

Hochwarter’s research also indicates that hurricane-related apprehension trickles into other aspects of work and home life, causing significant stress in both of these areas. Compared to less nervous employees, individuals who indicated heightened levels of anxiety over hurricanes reported:

•Lower rates of concentration at work
•Less willingness to work extra hours
•Greater concern that work and home lives would become imbalanced
•Reduced eagerness to provide constructive suggestions to improve work
•Decreased levels of passion for work

Hochwarter also conducted interviews to determine how organizations could best manage hurricane-related anxiety and found that a number of common themes emerged. He explains them with what he calls the “Three S’s of Survival.”

Strategy. Organizations must have a thoughtfully developed and effectively articulated safety plan in place that is understood by all employees.

Support.  Companies must provide employees help, empathy and encouragement to deal with anxiety occurring at both work and home.

Security. Organizations need to help employees develop the peace of mind needed to work without distraction and the knowledge to know that they can manage hurricane consequences on the home front as well.

“For the most part, organizations that were attentive to the Three S’s dealt much more effectively and proactively with employee apprehension,” Hochwarter said. “Also, many business leaders reported that doing so was beneficial to their organizations year-round, not just during hurricane season. It’s just good practice in the long run.”

Hochwarter’s research is being prepared for publication.