Management

A Bittersweet Anniversary

CU executive recollects close call on Sept. 11, the date of her wedding anniversary.

September 11, 2011
KEYWORDS anniversary , trade
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On her 35th wedding anniversary, Sharon Brimmer will watch television and cry. Then she and her husband will meet their two sons and daughter in law for dinner.

It’s a vast improvement over her 25th anniversary: Sept. 11, 2001.

Brimmer, controller for Pinnacle Federal Credit Union in Edison, N.J. served in the same capacity for Xcel Federal Credit Union, Secaucus, N.J., which had a branch office on the 39th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

The day started like any other, marked by gorgeous weather. Brimmer recently dropped her children off at college, and she looked forward to meeting her husband for an anniversary dinner that night.

Sharon Brimmer
Sharon Brimmer

Brimmer was the first person at work that day. The credit union’s CEO at the time, Jim Wisnieski, was attending a meeting in Albany. Some employees were on vacation, others were traveling, so there were eight people in the office.

Shortly before 9 a.m., the building shook, knocking pictures off the wall and sending debris past her window. Initially, Brimmer thought there might have been an earthquake, or an explosion in the cafeteria five floors above her—never suspecting a plane had just crashed into her building.

“I don’t know why to this day, but I told the secretary, ‘Get out,’ ” she says. “We were in the back of the office, and by the time we got to the front, someone had told the tellers to leave.”

Brimmer locked the door and began her descent, forgetting her pocketbook and cell phone in the process. Halfway down the stairway, she heard an announcement telling people to leave the building and stay to the right so firefighters could make their way up.

“I didn’t see anyone who was severely injured,” she recalls. “Some people had burns, but nothing terrible. We walked all the way down the stairs and a female police officer told us, ‘Don’t look up and walk north.’ So, of course, we all looked up and I did see the fire—still not realizing it was a plane.”

While walking north with thousands of others, Brimmer and her co-worker began to hear more information, but it didn’t seem plausible. They were 10 blocks away when the first tower came down.

“Someone said the trade center came down. To me it was unbelievable: How could the trade center come down? That’s when I realized how lucky I was. Someone was watching over me.”

Brimmer wasn’t hit by debris, although one Xcel Federal staff member was, suffering minor injuries. The employee, a New Jersey resident, wasn’t familiar with the area and walked the wrong way.

With public transportation shut down and bridges closed, Brimmer and her co-worker tried to get a hotel room. All were booked. That’s when they saw television coverage of the terrorist events, including the attack on the Pentagon.

“That’s when everything clicked that this was an attack on the U.S.,” she says. “I never thought there was such evil in the world. We heard there were boats going to New Jersey [where her co-worker lived], so we decided to go. We wanted to get out of Manhattan.”

Brimmer says she was numb leaving Manhattan, remembering a blur of sirens, helicopters, and police officers bearing machine guns. On the boat, a stranger lent her a cell phone so she could call her husband.

“I never got home that night, but I managed to speak to my kids and my mother. My mother had to hear my voice—she didn’t believe I was ok.”

Next: Living a fuller life

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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