A post I hope you won’t need but should know anyway: Getting through tragic events with your workers
We are all still reeling after not one-but two- mass shootings in the space of a week. While the communities of Oak Creek and Sandy Hook are working to piece back together the feeling of normalcy that will never fully return, you might be in a position to ask “what if” regarding your community and your company. This is a post I hope and pray you never need to read or recall. At the same time I am a realist and whether the event is something like a mass shooting or an unexpected car accident that affects a department, the chances are high that you will face unexpected events that affect the company. Here are some tips that might help you care for your employees and assist them, and yourself, in returning- however tentatively- to typical operations. For this conversation I am breaking the advice down into “before”, “immediately after” and “longer term”.
Have a Call Tree in place: No matter your size company, there should be in place a system that allows you to easily touch base with employees during times of emergencies. Likewise, you should know information about your employees that alerts you to check on them if their partner’s business or children’s school has been effected by an event. There should be people who know and have relationships with every member of your staff and ideally you will develop a culture where these relationships are not entirely restricted to certain departments. As in investing, the adage in relationship and social capital is diversify, diversify, diversify. If you can’t say this about your organization now is the time to invest in cross-relationship processes.
Connect with the Community
Does your organization know clergy from surrounding churches? Does your company know local massage and wholistic health training programs? If not, reach out now as connecting with them after an event may mean your employees have easy access to spiritual and physical rejuvenation when they need it most.
Open dialogue within the company
Communication is key, and of course communication can feed rumors. If you have the ability to speak with the employees affected you should ask them what information you can share company wide, how they might like people to reach out to their families in the next few days, and whether and what information your company is at liberty to share with clients or customers. If you can’t speak directly with the employees affected it is best to confirm within the company that the company is aware and reaching out. There should be a contact designated who can field inquiries from employees and you might establish a mechanism for comments and support to be offered that doesn’t burden the family or employees affected.
Offer tangible short term supports
Homemade meals delivered, a housekeeper or laundry service, a short term stay at a local hotel or car rental for out of town family, a nanny service to allow parents to deal with paperwork and legal matters without distraction, a weekend away to a local resort for the family effected. All of these are incredibly gracious gestures that can help a struggling family enormously as they try to move forward with their lives. The message conveyed should not be one of ‘let’s throw some money at it” but rather “hey, you have a lot to focus on right now, let me help”. While some of these offers may be dismissed, any or all of them can make a meaningful difference when someone is in crisis.
Support the supporters
Pay attention to who on your staff is lending a helping hand, fielding information calls, or contacting next of kin. These folks are likely doing ok when they are doing the tasks that need to be done, but their own personal needs can easily slip under the radar. Offer a dinner out for them or some movie passes. It will be a good reminder that their own personal lives are also worth attending to and may be just the recharge they need to continue to be helpful to others.
Allow people to return to normal, even if you can’t imagine how you would
Within reason allow your employees most affected by the incident to return to their duties as they wish to. Obviously if there is some sensitive or precision duty assigned to that individual a cooling off period might be in order. If you feel a reason to suspect someone’s professional ability folllowing a loss or traumatic incident, allow them to perform less central activities first as a way of assessing how they are handling those aspects. In general, work can be a wonderful and meaningful way of coping with loss. Denying access to the worker role can be damaging for the worker and their colleagues. There is a wide range of normal responses and work is one point on the spectrum of normal.
Be genuine, speak as a person, and if in doubt just listen.
It can be so unsettling to feel you have no idea what to say. That’s ok, accept that there really are no words that can fix the wrong that has happened. It IS unimaginable, it IS unfair, and it ISN’T right. Those are not platitudes, that are just true. Beyond that you will need to rely on your relationship with the employees to know what to say next. If there is something personal you can offer than do it, otherwise just be a presence and ask what they need right now as a worker and as person. Listen to what they say. Do what you can.
Facilitate long term supports
Therapy, housing help, locating a vehicle. There are so many ways that people can use support long after an event occurs. Have a system in place that reminds someone in your organization to check on the needs of those affected 6 weeks after the incident. If another short stay at a hotel is needed, offer that, as it may be helping far-away family be available to offer extra support. If the temporary housing has led to other challenges you might be able to facilitate a better solution. Now that time has passed their may be greater clarity about the needs at stake.
It’s natural to feel unprepared to respond to such events when they effect our employees. But if you think very practically about the needs we all share: food, shelter, safety, and support you can identify very reasonable and meaningful ways to support your employees through the unimaginable.
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor, Entrepreneur, and Diversity Columnist.
All entries posted and archived on this blog are subject to all rights reserved,
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP, 2011-2014