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Protecting Your Most Important Asset During Disaster: Your Employees

“Rewarding Reads” is a space for articles and personal essays meant to be thought-provoking and informative for human resources professionals, from sharing the “human” perspectives on workplace issues to book reviews of business titles we find inspiring. Have an essay or blog post to share? Contact us at workspan@worldatwork.org.

The question of how to help employees after a disaster is becoming terribly common, and the need for an answer is nothing less than urgent. In recent years, there have been many natural disasters impacting major metropolitan areas that are home to thousands of businesses and the hundreds of thousands of employees that make those businesses run.

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There also has been increased recognition of the many Americans who are living paycheck to paycheck, unable to navigate unexpected hardship and loss.

The ripple effect of today’s tragedies is both personal and economic, with any given incident taking employees out of the workforce and leaving individuals and families with what feels like insurmountable stress and uncertainty.

The big storms, which are becoming more frequent, come to mind all too easily: Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in Houston. Superstorm Sandy’s unprecedented damage across a swath of the densely populated Northeast. Hurricane Maria’s deadly impact on Puerto Rico — a disaster that is, tragically, ongoing.

But disaster, of course, comes in all forms. In California, disaster means fires, mudslides and earthquakes. In every corner of America, disaster also has come to mean mass shootings — at events, at work, and most unbearably, in schools.

On the most personal level, a disaster may be a cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, a devastating financial event, or the need to care for a family member in dire need.

In every case, those closest to the victims want to help. Colleagues and employers are first in line in their desire to offer financial support, but complexity of the implementation of the assistance is frustrating and can paralyze well-intentioned efforts. Employers have had little choice but to provide financial assistance that isn’t ideal from a tax perspective.  And the burden of deciding which employees get how much assistance is a recipe for second guesses and heartache at best … and a risk for lawsuits at worst.

A new solution comes from the charitable community partnering with the private sector to provide efficient and meaningful help to employees impacted by tragedy. A social enterprise, specializing in providing humanitarian assistance, has formed to apply the expertise of charitable professionals to this urgent need of business.

E4E Relief was born out of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the fervor of support from colleagues and leadership to provide aid to the individuals and families of the tragedy. Nearly two decades later, E4E Relief is growing, driven by the heart of innovative and caring colleagues in a collaboration between charitable experts from Foundation For The Carolinas and business leaders.

So far, E4E Relief has partnered with more than 50 employers to administer almost $50 million in charitable relief (in the form of grants) to hundreds of thousands of employees. It does the research and the vetting of the need, taking the excruciating decision process of “who gets how much” out of the C-suite and putting that into the hands of charitable professionals. The elimination of internal bias is good from both a humanitarian and a business perspective.

The solution is the ultimate disaster readiness plan. It is sustainable, equitable and confidential, and its most important fuel is from employees themselves — they want to help their colleagues in need, and they happily contribute from their own paychecks to do so. For younger generations of workers, this desire to have an immediate and tangible impact is a deeply held value that requires an outlet.

It can be hard to accept how common disasters are in today’s world, and how quickly these events can devastate a community, a family and an individual. We wish to feel less helpless, and more empowered to help — especially when those impacted are employees, colleagues and friends.

While we remain powerless over disasters, the business community is becoming empowered in this new, modern ability to deliver relief that is charitable, professional and effective. It is good for employees, good for business and good for the heart.

About the Author

Holly Welch Stubbing 

Holly Welch Stubbing is acting CEO of E4E Relief and executive vice president and in-house counsel at Foundation For The Carolinas.


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