Helping employees after critical incidents

Occasionally, employees are exposed to traumatic experiences. Here, experts offer advice on handling the aftermath.

Helping employees after critical incidents
quo;Critical incidents” may be rare but they can occur in any workplace and some HR managers may find themselves ill-prepared to handle the aftermath, should the dreaded situation arise.
Experts at AccessEAP, an organisation dedicated to enhancing workplace wellbeing, said there are measures employers can take after a critical incident – such as armed robbery, assault, arson, threats of harm, accidental injury, or death – to support employees and reduce the chance of prolonged trauma.
  1. Put their sense of safety first 
Ensure that employees are removed from danger or further exposure to distressing circumstances. Reassure them and keep as calm as possible. It is important to react immediately after the incident and ensure that all members of staff receive support as soon as possible.
  1. Acknowledge the seriousness of what has occurred 
Make sure they understand their distress is normal and to be expected, given the circumstances. Help to put them at ease. Clarify worker’s questions and any concerns they may have, and encourage workers to talk about what has happened. 
  1. Understand what support they might need to help them recover 
Ask them what is going to assist them, for example contacting a family member or friend or seeing a counsellor. Assist them in getting this support. Often speaking to someone who is completely objective and understands what you are going through without judgment can be very helpful.
  1. Promote a return to normal routine 
Emphasise those things which are reliable and stable in their life and where possible, encourage them to maintain usual routines. A sense of safety and security is re-established simultaneously with the sense of routine and normality that is possible under the circumstances.
  1. Monitor and follow-up 
Reactions can vary between individuals, so be aware of changes in people’s work performance or attendance at work over time. It is possible for responses to develop over time and follow-up support may be required for some workers or groups.

 Client services director Marcela Slepica said managers should also expect each employee’s reaction to be different, although shared some common responses:
  • A heightened state of anxiety
  • Being more aware of potential danger
  • Not wanting to return to places that are reminders of the incident
  • Distressing memories of what happened
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
“The important thing for managers to understand is that these are normal reactions to an abnormal event,” she added. “These responses are usually temporary as people find ways of coping.”
“People who witness critical incidents can also often experience feelings of guilt and helplessness, believing they could have done more to help or to prevent the situation,” explained Slepica. “Often people will initially experience shock and disbelief, and so their reactions to the event will only emerge after a period of time.” 

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