The recent volcanic eruption in Iceland threatened the prospect of a larger stress management agenda than anything I had ever known.

My colleague Alex, a young English nutritionist, was in a particular hotel on the Palm Jumeirah when the astonishing news came in — ‘no flights to Northern Europe until further notice.'

That was the blanket ruling that was suddenly applied when the volcanic ash-clouds appeared to present a hazard to any jet aircraft in flight.

In Alex's case, it set off two sharply contrasting feelings. One was the sheer wonder of being trapped in this holiday paradise with every luxury on hand and a water-park and interactive dolphin-bay for her children to play in.

The other, of course, was profound stress and anxiety about the likelihood of a prolonged crisis — who would pay for all the extra hotel accommodation and food, plus the serious issue of interrupted schooling.

Additional stress

At least they were not suffering the additional stress effects of having to sleep in an airport lounge for an indefinite period. Also, the initial response from those able to help was most generous. Alex's airline guaranteed them a flight home and the hotel extended an immediate line of credit.

Now that the crisis is over, it is of course heartwarming to reflect on these gestures of human kindness and corporate support to customers.

Many of my clients suddenly found themselves with senior staff unable to return to work; scheduled meetings postponed, overseas trips having to be cancelled and, in the case of at least two of my corporate clients — urgent material supply deliveries that were normally air freighted in from Europe, having been cancelled.

Suddenly all the issues of corporate change and work-related stress were in front of managers' mindsets, everywhere.

A sensitive way

My theories of change have usually been explained in terms of fairly slow evolutions, over months or years — perhaps a national telephone network switching over from analogue to digital, or a traditionally male-dominated boardroom acclimatising to women directors.

But now we looked like having to handle nothing less than an overnight recession. However, many employers appeared to be responding to this challenge in a sensitive way.

A poll of 600 of the UK's leading employers shows that 51 per cent were paying employees, in full, for the lost days, 23 per cent were paying half, and 27 per cent were counting them as paid holiday.

This small sample of what could have been a much bigger emergency seems to confirm that when some people are plunged into a serious crisis, others who are able to help tend to observe that ethic that says, "If you can, you should."

Key points

  • The airline shutdown gave a glimpse of a possible world crisis.
  • The situation could have sparked massive need for corporate change.
  • The emergency showed signs of bringing out a co-operative spirit.

The author is a BBC guest-broadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international stress management and employee wellbeing consultancy based in London. Contact them for proven stress strategies -