34 employees dead in tragic arson attack

It's said to be Japan’s worst case of mass killing in decades. How should HR handle such a violent tragedy?

34 employees dead in tragic arson attack

Leaders around the world, including Apple Inc’s chief executive are mourning a tragic event in Japan, with many offering their condolences. The hashtag #PrayforKyoAni is trending among netizens.

Last week, about 34 employees at Kyoto Animation were killed in a tragic arson attack, with 9 others in critical condition at the hospital. It’s said to be Japan’s worst case of mass killing in 20 years.

Police have just obtained an arrest warrant for the suspect and plan to charge him on arson and murder allegations once he recovers. The suspect is currently being detained and treated for serious burns at a hospital.

According to broadcaster NHK, majority of the victims at the animation studio were in their 20s and 30s. Company president Hideaki Hatta confirmed many of the victims were young and new employees. The studio had about 160 employees.

“Some of them joined us just in April. And on the eighth of July, I gave them a small, but their first, bonus,” said Hideaki Hatta. “People who had a promising future lost their lives. I don't know what to say. Rather than feeling anger, I just don't have words.”

Local media reported the suspect had torched the studio as he believed his novel had been plagiarised by them. However, Hatta said he had “no idea” about any plagiarism claim prior to the attack.

READ MORE: Disgruntled worker jailed after setting workplace on fire

According to Nippon TV, the suspect had doused the area in gasoline, shouted “die!” and set the place ablaze. Hatta said the building is so badly damaged by the fire that it must be torn down.

NHK quoted police investigations that victims tried to escape the fire by running to the rooftop. However, smoke had spread so fast that victims were too overwhelmed and unable to open a rooftop door.

The company issued a statement saying that the tragedy had left them at a loss.

“All of these people were our talented, precious colleagues. Both for us here as well as the animation industry as a whole, this is a huge blow,” the statement said.

In such a violent tragedy, how should HR respond? HRD spoke to Rob Wilson, CEO of Employco USA, who has been in the HR and risk management field for over 30 years.

READ MORE: How can Singapore firms remain vigilant against workplace attacks?

  1. Put emergency guidelines in your handbook
    According to Wilson, organisations should have steps in place for how to handle any form of workplace attack – just like they do for safety drills.

  2. Offer grief counselling if appropriate
    Heading back to work is likely to be both frightening and surreal for anyone involved in an act of extreme violence, said Wilson.
    “A grief counsellor can be an invaluable resource when it comes to processing these emotions,” he said.

  3. Consider offering a limited work schedule
    “Where possible, allow employees to personalize their own schedules in the week following a tragedy,” Wilson said. “Maybe it is advisable for the workday to be short and limited. Look for ways to cut stress from employees’ plates.”

  4. Find a project to help bring peace back to the workplace
    Whether it’s planting a garden, collecting cans for a food drive, or setting up a memorial, Wilson urges employers to find a way to bring employees together under a common cause.

“Bring a sense of togetherness and community spirit back to the fractured workplace,” he said.

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