FOR SAFETY'S SAKE
December 9, 2002
Presenteeism: Are You All There?
Since 9/11, and more recently with the events in the Washington, DC area, much attention has been focused on workplace trauma and people who are having difficulty concentrating on their normal routines and everyday tasks due to trauma or fear. Still, to many people, work is a therapy of sorts, as it offers a chance to get "life" out of their minds. That's a good news/bad news scenario.
"The lights are on but nobody's home," you or a coworker might say about a colleague whose level of awareness and comprehension in particular areas is thought to be less than optimal.
That coworker who "just doesn't get it" may be moving a bit slower because he is suffering from depression. One quarter of the population will have depression at one time or another. People may take a few days off when a flu slows them down, but few feel that it's valid to do the same when they are mentally fatigued or depressed. They may feel that if they try to take time off, their employer might view that as a negative aspect of their job performance.
Thus, the concept of "presenteeism." One has to understand it and how it may apply to coworkers or the general public. It's a given that work is a sustaining force in many people's lives. If there are family issues, personal tensions, or a loss, it's hard to predict what stimulus during the day will create a response typical of the type which would make others feel the person isn't "all there." The person may not react properly under all circumstances; perhaps not properly avoiding typical hazards of the job, working with less efficiency, or maybe not practicing common courtesies.
If you're out on the street, many of the people there may be showing up for their jobs as a distraction from the misery in their lives. Their recovery "therapy" is working in your outside environment.
The TV business has been subject to a lot of instability. If a person is thinking of that, or exposed to emotionally disturbing news day after day, he may be affected by the emotional aspect of his work.
This reminds me of a conversation I once had with an insurance company representative about trauma. I asked him what would happen if a colleague of his witnessed a murder, and had to face the shock and despair of the victim's relatives and friends. "They would probably be given the day, week, or more off, depending on his or her reaction," he said.
When I asked TV people a similar question, their typical response was that the person may be given a break to get himself back together, but would be expected to return quickly to work. It's the nature of the business. For reasons which aren't very clear, TV people are expected to shield themselves from the trauma they witness. What's being discovered more and more, however, is that few can hide from such trauma. It's called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it's an illness.
We're still at war...remember? We think and feel a bit different about things in our lives, such as survival. We were attacked on 9/11. We have fears that we may not survive, for reasons of which we're unaware. There is nothing stronger than those fears. Does the sight of people of a certain nationality create a reaction within you or others? Will another incident create fear? Are you looking at tall buildings, planes in flight, and guns differently than before 9/11 and Montgomery County, MD? Most likely you are, because you're human, and you're emotionally distracted. With your fears and anger you show up for work to try and get back into a routine and keep on going, just like the person next to you.
Within most of us, and looking at the next guy, all the lights may appear to be on, but not everybody is home. "Presenteeism." Be careful out there.
For more information specific to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and broadcasters, go to www.dart center.org, the National Center For Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at www.ncptsd.org, or the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Alliance at www.ptsdalliance.org.
Mark Bell publishes the ENG Safety Newsletter. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.