Info-Stress at Work During Boston’s Real Time Tragedy

Note: This feature originally ran in Huffington Post but I felt it was important to share here to.

Did your work stress go up a notch when you learned of the Boston bombings? How many were glued to iPhones and computers, absorbing the images and sounds of terror? Hi-tech devices and the Internet deliver it in real time. In an evolving workplace culture courtesy technology, a dip in attention can happen in an instant upon breaking news, and potentially linger for hours or days. Arguably, it’s an external workplace stressor that we’re not talking enough about.

In a galvanizing feature on CBS Sunday Morning by correspondent Martha Teichner, she articulated the impact of real time technology as Boston’s tragedy came to us vividly in the moment, with social media carrying the torch of instant information.

As Teichner said in her story, “It ended with applause … and a Tweet … the week from hell in Boston. The awful sad surreal events playing out like a multimedia horror show, starring terrorism and technology.”

Boston is not the first breaking news story to take our breath away. We know it will not be the last. But as mainstream media backpedaled with conflicting stories coming out of Boston in the hunt for the bombers, and the social media stream followed suit, the sensory overload went to a whole new level. Who went scrambling to check Twitter updates against the word of trusted network anchors, only to keep checking your email and the Internet?

It was frustrating, nerve-wracking, stressful, and scary; and I had the day off from tracking the news. I didn’t even have to focus on work. How about your colleagues, employees or even your manager?

Perhaps one of your colleagues was more interested in the devastating Midwest flooding or the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. A trifecta of tragic news. As I am a firm believer that we don’t leave our hearts and compassion at the door of the workplace, I can’t imagine employers failed to notice the serving up of humanity’s ills via the many media portals. Question is, did they notice the reactions of their workers to the flood of pain?

We are human beings at work. Sometimes delicate times call for a slight reminder. Managing one’s intake of information under such circumstances is directly related to what I call the new APR in the workplace: the attention, productivity and resilience of talent. And when such dramatic news events such as the Boston bombings appear, it’s a knock to the APR of the workforce.

Here are five tips to reduce the work stress in the face of breaking news:

Acknowledge the event: Ignoring such a traumatic event only keeps feelings bottled up. From quick acknowledgement emerges a human level of concern.

It’s okay to talk about it: There will be consistent water-cooler discussions in the wake of such disasters, it’s just human nature. But be aware of being consumed by those conversations.

Be sensitive to the feelings of coworkers: You may or may not know if a coworker is personally affected by the tragedy.

Limit your info-intake: Checking on the latest developments is a time waster. In real time, the story changes in a flash. If your work decisions or immediate personal life aren’t impacted by having that information, limit your intake.

Take time to digest, rest and build resilience: When disaster first strikes, there could be an immediate plummet in attention. Be easy on yourself and workers. For some, a few moments of breathing, contemplation or downtime can go a long way toward processing the event.

After that, whether at work or at home, engaging in resilience-building activities can help reduce such external sensory stress. Meditation, exercise or just listening to some calming music can flip your energy and mind to a more grounded view, and away from absorbing the tragic drama into your own life.

What guidance can you share for those at work, when faced with such emotional chaos from external sources?