Lena Johnson's life hasn't been the same since last October. She gets up earlier, goes to bed later and worries about baby-sitting needs for the first time in years.
By day, she's an operator for American Telephone & Telegraph Co. in New York. The rest of the time she is a 47-year-old surrogate mother to her 2 1/2-year-old grandson whose parents are serving military tours of duty in the Persian Gulf.
Johnson has been managing, but she didn't turn down the opportunity to go to a support group session that AT&T held for employees who are suffering Persian Gulf stress.
"It made me feel much better," said Johnson, who said she used to cry all the time and worry the little boy would forget his mother. "We helped each other in the group."
The last time the nation had a major, protracted war -- Vietnam -- companies stayed clear of their employees' personal lives, anxieties and fears about loved ones.
"Companies then were patriotic and flag-waving, but the war was a polarized political issue. The emotional issues were put in the background," said David S. Harrington, vice president of Human Affairs International, a subsidiary of Aetna Life & Casualty Corp. that manages mental health care for companies.
It's a whole different story this time. The stress and worry of seeing reservists who are colleagues march off to war has mobilized many companies to intervene with support groups, seminars and information campaigns. Some have called in counselors from their employee assistance programs; others have simply encouraged workers to write to their colleagues in the Persian Gulf or to take the spouse of a person in the service to dinner. Some offer a 24-hour employee hot line for the latest information on the gulf crisis.
Harrington, a Vietnam veteran who has counseled thousands of former military personnel, said Human Resources International put together a special counseling program for its corporate clients anticipating that concerns over the war would seep into the workplace and affect productivity.
One reason the stress level in the workplace is higher during this conflict is because the average soldier is older and often has a family, said Harrington.
"These are not the 19-year-olds who served in Vietnam with me," Harrington said. "The impact of their leaving is far more dramatic than what occurred in Vietnam when the nuclear family was concerned about 18- and 19-year-olds ... who didn't have a whole network of relationships around them."
Over the last decade, companies also have taken over much of the responsibility of providing emotional safety nets and mental health care for employees.
A decade ago, it would have been unheard of for American Express Co. supervisors to attend a company-sponsored support group to discuss their feelings about the war and to learn how to manage employees who exhibit unusual or erratic behavior. Yet, days after the war began, 400 American Express supervisors based in Phoenix gathered, shed some tears and went away with a better idea of how to manage the unmanageable: a war.
At Lotus Development Corp., a software company in Cambridge, Mass., free counseling sessions are being offered to employees. The company has set up two types of support groups -- one for employees with relatives in the Persian Gulf and one for employees who are disturbed about the war or have a business associate involved in the conflict. Four sessions have been held with a clinical psychologist to advise employees on how to explain war to their children.
"We're not judgmental about whether the war is a positive or negative event. We just want to support our employees," said Keith J. Peden, Lotus's director of compensation and benefits.
The symptoms of war-related stress, according to mental health experts, are sadness, anger, withdrawal from others, difficulting focusing, headaches, preoccupation and muscular tension.
People who are particularly high risk for these symptoms are those who have close family members in the gulf, those who have served in combat before and those who have been involved in a violent crime, said Jeffery St. Romain, national account management consultant for Human Affairs International.
American PsychManagement Inc., a company in Arlington that manages mental health care, reported a 15 percent increase in calls into its clinical referral line the week the war began. One-third to a half of those serious psychological problems were directly related to the Persian Gulf, said Rick Lee, vice president of sales and marketing for American PsychManagement.
Other employees are simply thirsty for information or hooked on the constant flow of news available to them when they are not at work. Some professional counselors recommend that companies allow employees to tune into important news events to alleviate employees' anxiety. "Realistically, you have to accept that war is a part of our lives now," said Lee. "It has to be integrated into our daily life."