Be it a fire, workplace injury, passing of a coworker, mental health crisis or domestic violence entering the workplace, employers should be prepared to address the trauma that these type of events leave behind. According to Kelly Hultink, Workplace Mental Health Safety Consultant with WSPS, one of the best ways to minimize the psychological impacts of a traumatic event is to have a well-established crisis response plan in place.
Solid planning is key to reducing trauma
With all traumatic events, emotions run high; however, a solid crisis response plan can ease employee panic.
“When you have a plan that has already been vetted and you regularly practice it with your employees, everyone will know what they are supposed to do when a crisis arises,” says Kelly. “That familiarity will give employees some control over the situation and that control will help minimize the trauma.” When people immediately know who to call, where to go, and what to do, they experience less fear and are less likely to question or second-guess their actions.
Kelly goes on to explain that to be prepared, you need to start with a risk assessment. Consider the physical and psychological environments in which you are currently working. Think about the critical events that could happen and the measures you can implement to reduce their impact on staff.
Support employees’ mental health
If a traumatic event occurs, you should not expect people to carry on business as usual. “Employers need to recognize that work will be disrupted,” says Kelly. “And there isn’t necessarily a clear timeline on when you can expect things to return to normal. We need to be patient with people.” Kelly has some ideas to help employers support their staff in the aftermath of a traumatic workplace event.
- Communication is critical. Provide as much information as possible to employees following a crisis situation. Knowledge can help prevent feelings of uncertainty and chaos.
- Validate everyone’s reactions. Our personalities and past experiences play a role in how we react to specific events. Something that may significantly impact one person, may not affect another—and that’s ok. People will react differently, so managers and supervisors should expect that.
- Have professional contacts on hand. Be ready to provide information and contacts for the organization’s employee and family assistance program, along with information for community agencies, such as crisis response lines or child and family services. When someone is in need, you need to react right away.
- Continue to watch for signs of struggle. Not everyone will show signs immediately. It could be weeks, months, or years after the event. If you notice uncharacteristic behaviour, take time to speak with the person about what’s going on. Patience and empathy will go a long way to help someone heal.
- Bring in a counsellor. Sometimes people may not seek out help. However, if it’s readily available and right in front of them, they will accept it. Arrange to have a counsellor onsite and provide the time and space required for people to talk about what happened.
How WSPS can help
Connect with a WSPS Mental Health Safety Consultant to help you navigate crisis support.
- Expect the unexpected – 16 tips to strengthen your emergency response plan
- Safety in 60 Seconds: quick videos on emergency planning
- Emergency Response Planning (eCourse, 1.5 hours)
- Emergency Preparedness for Workers (eCourse, 1 hour)
- Situational Awareness Training in the Workplace (in person, 3 hours)
- Psychological Health and Safety for Workers (eCourse, 1 hour)
Other helpful resources
- Crisis 211-Ontario – access helpful links to share with your employees.