How to prepare your workplace for a traumatic event

How to prepare your workplace for a traumatic event

The daily news is often full of unthinkable events that impact society on a massive scale. Everyone responds in their own way, but many people do their best to acknowledge the situation and move on, taking some slight comfort in knowing that the latest crisis is across the country, or on the other side of the world. But, what about critical events that happen much closer to home?

Personal traumas and their impact in the workplace
Serious small-scale events happen to employees across the country each day. These occurrences — which can be large or small — can undermine an employee’s sense of security and well-being. While not as headline-grabbing as a shooting or a natural disaster, disruptions such as workforce reductions or the unexpected death of a co-worker can bring about responses that, if left unchecked, can grow into long-term problems that impact everyone in the workplace.

Every person reacts to stress or personal trauma differently, making it unclear for a manager what sort of impact these events are having on employees. Here are some signs that an employee, or group of employees, may be struggling to handle a difficult situation:

  • Employee irritability, tearfulness
  • A pervasive sense that employees are overwhelmed with routine tasks
  • Increased absenteeism/presenteeism/attrition
  • Declining productivity

Regardless of the cause, here are a few ideas to help you anticipate how to provide the right support to employees who are dealing with the after-effects of a traumatic event:

Have a communications plan
While you can’t plan for everything, it’s important to have some type of process or plan in place to deal with a workplace-related event. Who will coordinate the response? What types of communication will go out to employees? What outside resources are available? For example, is on-site counseling available through an EAP?

Train regularly for both large- and small-scale issues
After developing a plan, don’t let it just sit in a folder somewhere. Set up sessions with senior-level management on responding and conduct scenarios in which management would need to pull together a response.

Suspend judgment and preconceptions
Each person reacts to a situation differently. One person’s minor annoyance is another’s life-disrupting tragedy. We often have no idea what our employees have been through in the past or what sorts of triggers cause an automatic response. Be patient with yourself and others, and make sure you’re offering support, no matter the situation.

Remind leaders to seek support for themselves
When tragedy strikes, especially one that’s work-related, managers and executives will often work tirelessly to ensure their employees are taken care of. Remind these individuals to make time for themselves and seek the care they need to process what happened.

Remind employees of what resources are available for assistance
Keep in mind that, while some employees will need services right away, it will be important to continue to remind employees of available services for weeks, even months, after the event.

Although you can’t predict the future, putting some parameters in place to help employees deal with workplace-related crises or events can go a long way to ensure that everyone is properly supported in case the unexpected does happen.

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