Counselors from a Utah firm are helping supervisors deal with workers' stress as a result of the war in the Persian Gulf.

The counselors are warning of changes in behavior as typical symptoms of stress that supervisors need to be aware of and learn how to deal with.The counselors are from the Salt Lake City-based Human Affairs International, a subsidiary of Aetna Life & Casualty Co.

American Express, which has about 6,800 employees in the Phoenix area, has contracted with the company to provide a series of voluntary sessions for its managers and supervisors on how to help employees cope with the shock and uncertainty of the gulf crisis. About 400 supervisors have signed up.

After the sessions, the company will start its own support groups next week for employees and families who want to talk about how the war is affecting them.

Supervisors have had to manage distressed employees while feeling stressed themselves, the counselors said.

"We're all affected, so it's hard to rally and give support when you are feeling those feelings yourself," said Pat Wilson, director of Human Affairs. "We can't just stop business, but it isn't going to be totally business as usual."

Several managers were tearful during the sessions, which started Wednesday, before war broke out, Wilson said.

Wilson said she was especially impressed with the fact that American Express arranged the sessions for its managers. She was first asked to set up the sessions on Tuesday.

Tom Crabtree, a senior counselor, said signs of stress that employees and supervisors may feel include fatigue, headaches, dizziness, crying spells, poor concentration, sleep disturbance, excessive or loss of appetite and increased use of cigarettes, alcohol or drugs.

Supervisors were advised to let employees talk about their feelings, but not to force it.

"They (employees) should be able to ventilate with people they feel comfortable with," Wilson said.

Supervisors need to watch for employees who show a significant change in behavior or performance, she said.

"As supervisors, we need to tell them that we're all having these feelings and, `You're not going crazy,"' Wilson said.

Some supervisors confessed that they don't know how to handle employees with relatives in the gulf who are especially upset, she said.

"They allowed them to go home, which is what we encouraged," Wilson. "But they asked, `What should we do when they come back to work?'

"It's important to be flexible. Perhaps they have to go home for a while or just have a few minutes to sit down by themselves when they're distressed."

Employers also need to be flexible in allowing employees to follow the news closely, counselors said.