In the months following September 11, prescriptions for antianxiety medication climbed 23 percent in The Big Apple. Does your security strategy put your employees in a New York state of mind?
By Daintry Duffy
July 01, 2003 — CSO — We are rapidly devolving into a civilization of nervous nellies. All it took was a smudge of white powder on an elevator button recently to prompt a full-scale evacuation of a building in Delaware. The substance was later identified as sugar from a powdered doughnut. As a nation, we've pinned our hopes for future survival on the frenzied acquisition of duct tape and plastic sheeting. In truth, we've probably all stored up enough canned tuna and baked beans so that, if the worst ever happens, we won't go down without a good case of scurvy.
Even when the warnings seem reasonable enough, rationality often flies out the window
"What to a CSO is an impersonal protective measure, to most employees represents an emotional message," says Ken Siegel, a management psychologist and president of The Impact Group. "There's no such thing as an antiseptic intervention."
To understand the psychological reactions that employees can have to security measures, CSOs will need to become effective communicators and strategists. We talked to psychologists and security experts about various psychological reactions to security and the reasons behind them. Here are some techniques that psychologically savvy CSOs can use to "head-shrink" their security style for success.
Perhaps studying psychological reactions to security might strike some CSOs as a colossal waste of time. After all, how interesting can it be to get inside the minds of people who time and again choose their own last name as a password? Nevertheless, 80 percent of security is psychology driven, insists Rich Maurer, associate managing director of the Security Services Group for consultancy Kroll, suggesting that it's a rich area to mine for improvements in security planning and practice.
To understand how employees feel about security, CSOs must first accept that users' enthusiasm for security measures will wax and wane drastically over time. During periods of great anxiety, their natural reaction will be to say, I'll do anything you want, just keep me safe. In the airports following 9/11, for instance, the tolerance was fairly high for bag searches, long lines and national guardsmen with M-16s casually slung over their shoulders. But people can't sustain that level of anxiety indefinitely, says Dr. Robin Dea, chairman of the chiefs of psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente in northern California. She points out that once people become accustomed to the new level of risk, they start to question whether the security measures really make a difference. "Suddenly that national guardsman starts to look more like a 22-year-old kid with 45 minutes of training with an M-16," Dea says. It just doesn't create quite the same aura of safety.