It pays to be prepared


Following the hurricanes that have ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast for the past three years, it's stating the obvious to suggest that any business owner or leader with even a modicum of common sense ought to have contingency plans in place to deal with another disaster.

But now, a Florida State University researcher has revealed that sensible planning also has a big impact on employee health, wellbeing and engagement.

Wayne A. Hochwarter, an associate professor of management in FSU's College of Business, conducted a study one month prior to the 2006 hurricane season in which he asked over 600 employees from a variety of organisations to discuss their organisation's hurricane-preparedness programme.

He found that more than half of employees thought that their organisation was prepared and had a plan in place if a hurricane was to hit.

Meanwhile, almost four out of 10 felt that their organisation would not suffer much down time after a hurricane, while almost half knew their role in the restoration process.

"Oftentimes, companies put plans in place without communicating them to employees, which is largely a waste of time, energy and other resources because employees simply don't know how they should be implemented," Hochwarter said.

"What was striking in this research was the influence that proactive planning had on worker attitudes and willingness to help on a day-to-day basis."

The effects of hurricane preparation on employee attitudes were substantial, he noted, including significantly higher levels of job satisfaction and a greater willingness to do things beyond what is expected by management.

And hand-in-hand with the perceptions of greater control brought about by being prepared came more enthusiasm and a greater willingness to work harder than expected, more compassion for others and greater feelings of support from the organisation.

Employees in organisations that had plans in place even displayed lower levels of depression, Hochwarter found.

"There is a misperception that planning for a hurricane has value only if one hits," Hochwarter said.

"Certainly, nobody wants a hurricane, but I think it's important for companies to know the benefits to planning beyond simply dealing with the traumatic event."

He suggested that planning is important because it opens lines of communication, increases employees' feelings of importance, and builds camaraderie.

Involving employees in the process also goes a long way toward reducing the "us versus them" mentality that pervades many organisations, Hochwarter said.