Every year at this time many employees and employers, not to mention customers, providers and clients, find themselves deep in the recesses of a cyclic psychological slump, and they don't know why. I would speculate that this year will see a dramatic increase in the symptoms of these winter doldrums, variously described as the blues, melancholia, clinical depression and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Being bummed out, dispirited, down in the mouth, unhappy and gloomy has been part of the human condition ever since our ancestors crawled out of their loincloths and donned animal skins to keep warm.
Tragedy used to be part of everybody's lives. For our grandparents, life itself was a "vale of tears." But for everyone born after WWII, life was a "cabaret," and many of these people lived their entire lives without feeling the sting of tragedy. Bad things still happen to us, but we are generally equipped for these losses. Once in a while (viz the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001), however, the ancient human condition emerges from its primordial ooze, and something beyond ordinary human loss occurs. We are traumatized and jolted and then reawakened to how fragile our lives are.
So devastating and long lasting are the effects of extraordinary loss that it has finally been given a name and a diagnostic category of its own: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). No gobbledygook, no euphemism and no psychobabble can conceal the fact that this is one of the saddest human disorders. Misery and suffering is universal. Many, but assuredly not all people, display the telltale traits of PTSD for months and years afterward. Many relive the trauma in dreams or in disturbing flashbacks. Many steer clear of anything related to the trauma or have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Many can't focus and are easily startled; others become passive and are constantly anxious. Many become anesthetized to life and feel disinterested and separated from others.
It is said that time heals all things. Does it? Some wounds heal, and others don't. Many victims do not recover briskly, while many of us spring back with resilience. Others are more brittle and beyond consolation. And, sooner or later, they will all show up at your cash register.
So, what does this all have to do with business and management? Everything! Your ability to stay attuned to the societal underpinnings affecting your bottom line will put you in a better position to weather the storms of fluctuating, seismographic market changes not yet apparent, but, nonetheless, lurking in the shadows of a war-time economy.
Be prepared to listen more attentively to your customers' complaints. Encourage your workers to walk customers gingerly and thoughtfully through their questions. Seize the opportunity to forestall any semblance of discourtesy and rudeness. You may be the next PTSD victim. And that's no way to start out the New Year!