As war rages, workers think outside the cubicle

Offices buzz with updates from TV, Web sites, radios

War In Iraq

March 21, 2003|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

For many workers everywhere, leaving their worries at home was almost impossible yesterday.

Priscilla Eaddy stopped several times in between gathering paperwork to check her computer office e-mail for news alerts on the bombing of Iraq.

While chatting with a client by telephone in his Inner Harbor office at Ferris, Baker Watts Inc., Randolph Brinton logged onto CNN's Web site and the banner headline, "More Targets Hit," flashed across his screen.

And about 200 entrepreneurs at the African American Business Forum stopped for a moment of silence to pray for U.S. soldiers during opening remarks at the conference in the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

With office televisions set on 24-hour news networks, radios tuned to news stations and computers surfing newspaper Web sites, talk of the American attack on Iraq traveled from cubicle to cubicle yesterday as somber workers took time to stay abreast of the war.

"I didn't sleep last night," said Eaddy, 44, an administrative assistant at American Skyline Insurance Co.'s downtown office on Redwood Street. She has two 21-year-old cousins serving with ground units in Kuwait. "I'm a little stressed this morning, mostly because you just don't know what's going to happen over there. So I've been waiting for my e-mail to flash any breaking news.

"Even without my cousins there, knowing that other people have wives, husbands, sons, daughters ... the whole gamut there, I'm crying already," Eaddy said.

Anxiety and distraction

From tears to business-as-usual to quiet concern, the start of the war Wednesday night had a palpable effect on offices everywhere by the time the work day began. Employees gathered around television sets and office kitchens to discuss missiles, casualties and Saddam Hussein.

Mindful of such distractions, many chief executives said they were more worried about the anxieties felt by their people. Many human resources departments said they are prepared to help discuss employee emotions during these stressful times.

While work did not come to a complete stop anywhere, it did take a pause for war.

"It's just a period of high anxiety and high level of distraction," said Diane Morello, vice president and research director at the Connecticut-based advisory and research firm Gartner. Morello specializes in work force management and people issues. "They are worried about the economy and the world. The war adds more acuteness to that concern.

"First of all, war itself is very disturbing," Morello said. "Compounding this is the general anxiety that people in the United States have been feeling since Sept. 11. They're concerned about themselves. They're concerned about their families. It's a highly sensitive time and companies need to recognize that."

American Skyline's chief executive said he makes it a point to tour the office and speak to his 60 employees every day. He also brought in the fire and police department to hold four employee seminars on how to deal with emergency evacuations.

"We started doing that after 9/11 to help with evacuation plans," said Earnest E. Hines, president and CEO. "But with all the talk of war, it's become even more necessary. We wanted to let our people know we're trying to help."

Employee safety

Worker productivity was the last thought on Brian Ocheltree's mind. He was looking for the U.S. Coast Guard ship that anchored itself in the middle of the harbor after Sept. 11 for port security.

"I haven't thought too much about the economics of all this," said Ocheltree, chief executive of e.magination network in Tide Point. "I worry more about employee safety. Economic interruptions pale by comparison."

For some, news of the war slowed work down considerably. All was strangely quiet on the trading room floor at Ferris, Baker Watts. Normally, at this time of year, the NCAA men's basketball tournament would dominate a set, but yesterday, all TVs were tuned to news channels.

With one eye on stocks and the other on CNBC, traders were waiting for the market to react.

"It hasn't been busy this morning," said John R. Boo, senior vice president and director of Nasdaq trading. "The markets are down right now, but I think everyone is waiting to see what's going to happen. Whether we'll make a more serious move into Iraq. If it's quiet there, it'll stay quiet here.

"The war is not a major distraction, but it is a topic of conversation, comparable to the NCAA tournament," Boo said. "But you know, I've noticed there's no talk about the tournament this year. There's been much more about the war."

War before basketball

Even businesses that bank on March Madness every year found themselves catering to war requests.

In Cockeysville at the Coliseum Sports Bar and Grille yesterday, about 35 percent of the bar's 96 televisions were turned networks reporting on the war - instead of all of them blasting early games between North Carolina State and California, Gonzaga against Cincinnati and Holy Cross vs. Marquette.

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