The Gush Katif Effect

Sometimes stress caused by betrayal or even feeling isolated and unsupported can be worse than the stress caused by traumatic events.

This may be surprising. It seems counter-intuitive, but let me explain. What really made me consider this was when I heard the story of Gush Katif, a Jewish town that was located within the Gaza Strip. The town was surrounded by their enemies. They were constantly bombarded with Kassam rockets, and when they drove anywhere they often had rocks thrown at their cars. Palestinian militants would try to infiltrate the town to attack them.

Despite all the trauma, the townspeople were amazingly resilient and successful. Possibly because they found meaning in making a stand for Israel, and they felt supported by their country. They even had a sense of control over their destiny, because they had chosen to settle there and not be controlled or intimidated by terrorism. And they did well. They became a vibrant agricultural community that exported organic produce all over Europe.

During the peace process when Israel handed over control of Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005, the Israeli Government forced the evacuation of the town of Gush Katif. Many residents did not willingly leave and were forcibly evicted, and their homes were demolished. The Israeli government housed them for years in temporary pre-fab homes in Jewish communities outside of Gaza. After the evacuation the townspeople were no longer subject to rocket attacks and constant trauma. Surprisingly, the people became less resilient generally. They have more stress related sickness, more heart disease, more unemployment, and more trouble with their youth. Why? No more rockets. They are safe now! It doesn’t seem to make sense. But when I looked deeper into their feelings about what it meant, it started to make sense to me. They felt betrayed by their own government. In their minds they were risking their lives in making a stand for the people of Israel, and then Israel turns around and forces them out of their homes.

It made me think of a colleague of mine who, because of his investigative specialty, had been exposed to trauma throughout his policing career. He was able to handle that vicarious trauma on a daily basis without a problem. He found meaning in his expertise and took pride in his work.

Then an incident happened where he felt he had been treated harshly by management. He perceived that he was being persecuted by those above him. That was the beginning of the end of his career. It led to stress leave, health problems and eventually early retirement. After all the traumatic stress he had endured in his career, it was the organizational stress that finished him.

That is not uncommon in policing. People assume that the stress in policing is the trauma and vicarious trauma that officers experience daily; however some research concludes that as much as 80 percent of stress in policing is organizational stress. It’s the office politics that kills! So it’s not unlike most business environments. And it’s not unlike Gush Katif.

Why is betrayal or abandonment particularly distressing? I think that would take a lot more room than I have here, but for anyone who has experienced it, they know that it can shatter their world views. It can suck the meaning out of life.

This is good for leaders to know. Your people need to feel supported, and when they do they can endure other difficult aspects of the job, even exposure to trauma. If they feel betrayed, unsupported or abandoned, then resilience is unlikely.


Open Door Fallacy

The concept of the “Open Door Policy” is good in theory and an improvement over times when leaders were not available and not approachable. In many cases the concept has gone too far though, and many leaders now think they should always be available.

I recommend closing your door and not taking calls for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. It’s easy to see that by closing your door it will prevent interruptions and increase your efficiency. However there are additional benefits, such as lowering your stress level.

I’ve read various articles that explain how to deal with interruptions by kicking people out of your office in a polite way, or how to hang up on time-wasters without them knowing you’re trying to get rid of them. It’s much easier to avoid those distractions in the first place. Set a standard at your workplace. “Between 11 am and noon everyday my door will be closed and I’m not taking calls.”

Research shows that the more control you have over your work, the less stress you will have. Don’t let other people determine when you will deal with issues. By taking control of this aspect of your work, you will reduce your stress.

There are other ways it will relieve stress as well. It’s all about what you do when your door is closed. The first practical thing is that you will get your work done faster, and we all feel less anxiety when we can check off an item on our list.

Beyond that it gives you time to analyze what else is causing you to feel tense, and you can plan your response to those issues. It will give you time to center yourself, do breathing exercises, listen to classical music, meditate, or any other relaxation technique that you prefer. I just encourage you to pick one and actually do it! It will help you get in flow and achieve your peak performance.

Overcome the urge to always be available. Some guilt-free alone time at work is good for you and good for your business.