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Crisis, Tragedy, and the Executive Suite

Standard language in crisis response plans for many companies includes providing counselors to frontline employees who may have witnessed a significant accident in the workplace. This is clearly a good idea. Recent tragic deaths of two executives in the energy industry indicate, however, that crisis counseling should be provided in the executive suite as well.

While the executives of the company may not have confronted physical danger as employees who have witnessed an industrial accident, they may be under immense stress because of the pressures that come with a business crisis and the fact that they are the face of the company, even though they may have borne little responsibility for the company’s problems that they are handling. What is often lost in these stories is that many of these executives have spent much of their professional lives and thousands of hours of stressful work building a career for which their executive position is the pinnacle achievement. These executives now find themselves in a situation where their careers and years of hard work may be washed away.

At times, it is easy to stand back and watch a company in crisis and marvel at some of the decisions that are made. However, having advised companies in the midst of crisis, I have more empathy for the executives behind some of these decisions. I have seen executives — due to stress, poor diets, and often not more than four hours of sleep a night — reach decisions that may not be the best. It is clear that these executives are indeed in physical danger because of the crisis in which their company is involved.

The decisions of executives for companies in crisis may determine whether that company even survives. Given how important these decisions are, it is time that, in planning for a crisis, companies consider how they are positioning their executives to make the best decisions possible. It is time to pull out that crisis-planning policy and add a provision for making counselors available to executives under stress. Doing so could save a company. Even more importantly, doing so could save an executive their career and maybe even their life.

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.