© Courtney Potter

When Tina Czysz heard the tone of her project manager’s voice, she knew something was wrong.

One of Greenscape’s project managers was on the other end of a phone call she received as she sat down at her desk to start her day at 7 a.m. on March 30, 2016.

“He was in panic mode,” says Czysz (pronounced Chez.) “He was somewhat in shock because he had received the phone call from one of the employees that was in the vehicle.”

The employee was in a truck carrying four other Greenscape employees that had been in a violent accident on the way to a job. At the time of the call, the details were sketchy and there was the possibility that an employee had died in the wreck. Czysz told the project manager to meet her in front of the office so they could go to the scene together.

“Instinctually, I was already up and grabbing my coat and going out the front door while I was on the phone with him,” she says.

As the human resources director, it was part of Czysz’s job to be the lead on a situation like this, except this isn’t a situation you wake up in the morning anticipating.

When they arrived at the scene, it looked like something out of an action movie – fire trucks, ambulances, police officers, flashing lights and sirens were everywhere.

According to media reports, Greenscape’s truck was travelling on N.C. 540 when it veered off into the median, hit a bridge railing and went off a steep incline, landing in a creek. The truck was engulfed in flames. (Editor’s note: The accident is still under investigation and Greenscape can’t release the current status of those involved.)

“There was a couple of us there who were on scene who I think probably spent the majority of time just basically trying to process it,” says Daniel Currin, Greenscape president and CEO. “She was immediately in action, communicating with the officers on the scene, getting the information they needed, finding out about medical stuff and getting that information to the EMTs who were taking guys to the hospital.”

Assess the situation.

Czysz’s first instinct was to run down, jump in the truck and save them.

“There were people holding me back,” she says. “And, of course, I’d never interfere with EMS and stuff like that, but I just went running to the cliff and I really think my body wasn’t going to stop. It was just going to run down the cliff and be able to hold their hand, make eye contact with them, hear their voice, just see them.”

But her superhero instincts had to be suppressed because she first needed to do some real world human resource work. After speaking with police, it was confirmed that one employee was killed in the accident while the four others were severely injured.

Czysz had the emergency contact information for the employees and would have to notify the families of the accident and focus on the support the families of the injured would need.

“I have to deliver the news and the person on the other end suddenly is in panic mode because I cannot reassure them that they’re going to be OK,” she says. “I’m not a doctor and I can only deliver the news and then assist in the ability to make sure that the support system is there.”

After she left the scene and was driven to the hospital, Czysz started calling the five families.

As difficult as it may be, Czysz says when you have to deliver news like she did, you can’t operate emotionally.

“Work the hardest you can to not operate in the emotional side when you’re delivering the news,” she says. “Be empathetic but not emotionally driven. The more grounded you can stay with empathy, the better purpose it serves because it’s not an easy task. And that’s exactly what I did.

“And then also knowing your place. Sometimes in these situations, with your best intentions, you want to offer support, and it truly is about gauging what those individuals need because there are times, not in this particular time, but there are times when this type of situation poses a defense mechanism in individuals, and you become the blame.

Czysz had to balance keeping her emotions in check and showing empathy when notifying the families of her co-workers about the vehicle accident.
© Courtney Potter

“It’s very important to always be one step ahead in gauging what those individuals need, not to overcompensate, but also not to undercompensate.”

That night, Czysz didn’t sleep. She had to focus on how the company would move forward.

Except, while everyone was reeling from the tragedy, Czysz had to turn her attention back to a business problem the company was already scrambling to solve when the accident happened. The 25 H-2B workers expected to arrive in April were delayed and the company had no details on when they’d arrive.

Work, but no workers.

The accident had left an emotional scar on everyone at the company, but as callous as it may sound, it also left them with five fewer employees at the start of the season.

That’s in addition to the news the company received a few weeks prior: that Greenscape would not be receiving its 25 H-2B workers as planned on April 1. And the company had no idea when they would even land in North Carolina.

With the emotions from the accident still fresh in her mind. Czysz had to continue to focus on filling the 30 positions to keep customers happy.

Fortunately, she had hit the ground running when they got word a few weeks prior to the accident that the workers would not be showing up on time, so at least there was a foundation in place to finding workers.

“I ran as many blanket ads as I could,” she says of the work she did before the accident. “Came in early, stayed late, worked weekends to capture as much of the labor force as I could on their terms, running more bigger, structured, open-type interviews and just extending the courtesy of whatever it took to get it done to bring people in here.”

She also reached out to local resources like the Jobs for Life program, Step-up Ministries, Durham Rescue Mission – “all the partners, as I like to call them, that help mentor and foster development in individuals who are seeking the opportunity to better themselves to get gainful employment,” she says.

Once she got people in for an interview, she had to take advantage of anyone in the company who could help with interviews and empower them to make decisions on hiring.

“It’s coaching and helping make sure they have the right interview questions and they’re gauging employees for the right fits of what we’re trying to bring on here as team members, teaching them the sides of interviewing that are just technically but culturally important,” she says.

She went over what you can and can’t ask, what you should ask and what you should be looking for. But most importantly, she taught them to drive home how physical the job is and that there may not be a scheduled end time every day.

“It’s really trying to find the individuals who are passionate for that outdoor work and who are aesthetically driven by the results that they see because that has to outweigh the fact that I’m getting a paycheck every Friday,” she says.

“Otherwise, the first time they miss dinner or the first time they can’t go hang out with their friends at 6 like they used to do, it becomes burdensome.”

Handling grief.

The training and recruiting she did before the accident provided a foundation for the managers. She had 25 workers lined up to be trained, which she would have to leave to the managers to do.

For the next two weeks, Czysz would only focus on the accident, spending time in the hospital rooms and homes of the employees involved in the crash, arranging phone and Facetime calls between them and co-workers, and keeping the Greenscape team updated on the status of the injured employees. She also expressed the company’s gratitude to the first responders and put them in touch with the victims.

“(I made) sure that updates were delivered in the very beginning obviously on a daily basis and then once things started to level out a little bit, on a weekly basis and so on. And to this day, I still give updates on a monthly basis,” she says.

Keith Updyke, Holly Springs branch manager, says he and others at Greenscape asked her throughout the process what she needed, but were careful not to jump in and try and take over. Rather, they let her know they were available to help and let her facilitate from there.

“I feel like, over time, she certainly became worn down from the emotional aspect of dealing with this for so long” he says. “Someone who repeatedly puts themselves in that situation with employees that are seriously injured and families that are uncertain about what’s going on. They are all very emotional and she was in the middle of that from day one. All we could do is offer our support to her.”

Though she did bring grief counselors into the building and offered prayer time, Czysz also made herself available to workers.

“I’m not a professional grief counselor, but I certainly can offer perspective on things and help people feel when they just want to get it out,” she says. “I offer a sounding board and I offer a no-judgment policy when you speak to me as an individual.”

Some employees just wanted to know the details.

Czysz, pictured here with branch manager Keith Updyke, left, and Jason Buehring, Director of Assets & Purchasing, relied on the leadership team to help with the H-2B problem while she focused on all aspects on the accident.
Photo courtesy of Greenscape

“I would say it’s a 75/25 ratio; 75 percent just need to be able to process it and they need help doing that,” she says. “And then there’s 25 percent that actually want you to give them the details and help them because it helps their mind stop wondering how did it happen, what did it look like.

“So, they needed those pieces to be able to gain some closure to it. So that’s always a good tool to let those individuals know that that’s available to them.”

Settling down.

Czysz is still working through aspects of the accident, along with updating current employees on the status of the survivors.

Eventually the H-2B workers arrived at the end of June and early July. Of the 30 positions, Greenscape was able to fill about 80 percent with domestic workers, and Czysz says about 100 people cycled through those 30 positions.

“Tina, more than anybody, understands what our business does and whether H-2B fails, she didn’t say ‘Well, I did my part.’ She understands that these trucks have to roll and we need people to do this work.”

Through both challenges, Czysz says the simple acknowledgement from other Greenscape employees that they could help went a long way in keeping her from being overwhelmed. “Believe it or not, that may not sound like much, but it really is,” she says.

Currin says the accident was the most overwhelming leadership experience he’s ever seen, and one he couldn’t imagine getting through without Czysz’s help.

“There was no job description for what Tina did,” he says. “She was the reason we got through it, specifically as gracefully as we did.”