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Plan for the unexpected — before it’s too late
Plan for the unexpected — before it’s too late
By Pauline Krutilla, MS, CEAP, Director, Aurora EAP
 
Sadly, stuff happens. If a crisis of any kind should occur that affects your workplace or your employees, having a plan in place will pay untold dividends. Employers need to be prepared to respond at any time. Crises or critical incidents include unfortunate events such as:
• Death of an employee (including suicide) or serious injury
• Crimes, accidents or robberies
• Fires, floods, tornadoes impacting the workplace (or employees)
• Incidents of workplace violence
• Other stressful events, including company layoffs, downsizings or closings
 
Traumatic events affecting workers can cause workplace disruption and loss of productivity. Businesses are often unequipped to grapple with the aftermath of such critical incidents— unless they have planned ahead. Once something unexpectedly happens, leaders must scramble to find the resources they need to help employees cope with trauma, while trying to keep (or restore) the workplace back to normal.
 
Develop a Crisis Management Plan
Managers should be prepared to respond immediately and effectively. How leaders respond during the first critical hours after an incident occurs offers tremendous opportunity — and serious perils. The incident and its aftermath will not simply fade away, if company leadership decides to ignore it. Employees will go through a reactive process – either with leadership or without.
 
Your EAP can help
Tapping into resources offered by your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can provide expert guidance and support following a critical incident. EAP professionals can support both employees and your management team — helping to restore the workplace to its normal level productivity, as quickly as possible.
 
Assessing the situation objectively; providing guidance
EAP professionals can objectively assess the current situation and make recommendations on how the employer should be responding. Depending on the type and severity of the incident, the response team from the EAP may include psychologists, social workers, therapists and professional counselors trained in critical response.
 
EAP responders may offer to conduct sessions with individual employees or groups of employees, to discuss the event and offer coping strategies. Group sessions may be most helpful in supporting those employees who were directly impacted, with assurances that absolute confidentiality will be honored during these sessions.
 
Employees should be given an opportunity to share their feelings, if they are comfortable doing so. Depending on the situation, workers might feel the need to vent feelings of anger, guilt, sadness and other emotions. They may express various thoughts (“I’m so shocked”) or be in denial (“I can’t believe that this happened” or “Why did this have to happen?”).
 
Sharing information; ‘normalizing’ the situation
EAP assistance can help employees realize that their reactions and feelings are totally understandable and normal, given the current circumstances.
 
For example, in the case of an untimely death or suicide, talking about the event, using clear language and including the person’s name and accurate facts about the situation can be helpful in dispelling rumors around the workplace.
 
Offer ongoing support
The EAP can arrange for additional support resources such as individual counseling (either telephonic or face-to-face) or recommend mental health evaluations, if needed. Providing a calm, but caring, response to the situation helps set an atmosphere where the trauma of an incident is openly acknowledged and managed — rather than simply being ignored.
 
Research indicates that employees take fewer sick leaves, have a lower rate of turnover and gain a greater sense of loyalty to their company after an effective crisis intervention in their workplace.
 
Where to start?
Having a plan of action is the first step an employer should take toward properly managing trauma in the workplace. Developing a Crisis Management plan will help you know beforehand how to respond and what actions you can take to be supportive. Your leadership team should be aware of your organization’s plan and know how to access it, should an incident occur. Demonstrating caring and compassionate leadership in times of crisis presents a unique opportunity to build trust, loyalty and company cohesion, but only if you are prepared to face the challenge.
 
Pauline Krutilla, MS, CEAP, is Aurora’s Director of EAP. For more information, please visit AuroraEmployerSolutions.org
 
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