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June 1, 2022
The Aftermath: Supporting Employees After a Tragedy
Written by: Espyr
The nation is reeling from the most recent tragic event – a mass shooting resulting in the death of 19 children and 2 adults. The devastating Uvalde tragedy added to disturbing events that have received increased media coverage and scrutiny in recent years. Unfortunately, these events affect everyone, even if they aren’t directly involved. Headlines about violence cause stress and anxiety for people, leaving them with questions and concerns. In the workplace, this is contributing to employees’ worsening mental health. It’s no secret that mental health challenges are common among employees at all organizational levels. According to one mental health study, seventy-six percent of employees, on average, experienced at least one symptom of a mental health condition in 2021. Although these statistics are unsettling, the good news is employers are focused on helping struggling employees. During times of turmoil and crisis, it’s crucial for company and HR leaders to check in on their team members, encourage them to prioritize their mental health, and offer new and available resources to show employees support.
Acknowledge the Tragedy & Employee Stress
Everyone can relate to the loss and grief that follows a national or global tragedy. It’s important to acknowledge the situation immediately, but don’t dwell on it. Instead of just partaking in the grief, let the staff know what plans you have to help them in this time of great sadness. Be genuine and sincere in your approach. Empathize with the employees and explain all available resources to help them cope with the stress.
In the aftermath of a shooting, you may want to ease the staff’s fears by addressing the policies and protocols you have in place to protect them from something similar happening in the building. If enhanced security measures are needed to make your staff feel comfortable, now is the time to explore this and what you plan to do to remedy any weaknesses.
Highlight Your Company’s Mental Health Resources
Use this opportunity to provide your team members with a comprehensive refresher on all the accessible mental health resources. Make sure they know how to contact human resources and how to get help. Depending on what resources are available, you may want to consider offering additional resources in the aftermath of tragedy, such as wellness time off or mental health days. Consider bringing in counselors to lead group and private counseling sessions if possible. Ensure everyone knows what resources are available, how they can access those resources, and who to talk to when they have questions.
The American Psychological Association provides a variety of resources to help people cope with the stress of a mass shooting. These can be beneficial to share with employees as they offer tips and strategies for empowering communities and talking to children.
Additionally, immediately after a tragedy, you may want to consider extending all non-critical deadlines and allowing employees to go home to be with their families. If the event was geographically nearby, consider allowing employees some extra time off to volunteer in the community or be with loved ones. Although you want to be flexible, there is great value in returning to a routine. Reestablishing structure and resuming a regular schedule makes it easier for some employees to manage and cope with trauma,, according to experts.
Consider Employees Who Might Be More Affected Than Others
Everyone responds differently to tragic situations and crises; therefore, some will naturally be more affected than others. Depending on your proximity to the tragedy or its type and scope, it may have directly impacted your employees, their relatives, friends, neighbors, etc. For example, if the tragedy was racially motivated or targeted young children, consider that groups like minorities or parents might be affected more profoundly or differently than some employees or management. You’ll want to allow space and time for those employees to have discussions amongst themselves or with leadership if they wish to. Special listening sessions are another option to provide a chance to support the employees most affected. While you want to be compassionate to the employees who may be most directly impacted or can relate the most to the tragedy, be careful not to single anyone out or call undue attention to anyone based on their status as a minority or other demographic category.
Check-In and Follow-Up
Intentionally check in with your employees and staff regularly. Today, checking in on and building a rapport with employees is more critical than ever. The pandemic, economic uncertainty, war, mass shootings, and other global issues and tragedies take a heavy toll on mental health. You want to ensure your employees feel seen and heard, especially in times of high stress.
Continue to remind the staff of available resources and options if they need assistance. If possible, have department managers schedule one-on-one meetings with their team members. Private meetings give managers a chance to discuss any follow-up questions or concerns the employee may have and review the company’s mental health benefits in greater detail. Ensuring your employees feel safe, seen, and heard during these difficult times will build a culture of mutual respect that will allow for better support structures and ultimately lead to better employee retention and relationships.
A Message from Our Leaders
Like you, we at Espyr were devastated to hear about the tragic and senseless shooting in Uvalde. However, during times like these, we must focus on the health and wellness of ourselves and those around us. If you feel you are having difficulty processing the events in Uvalde or are otherwise interested in seeking support or help, please don’t hesitate to do so. Below, please find a list of resources to help cope with grief and loss, and what you can do for yourself and others in the wake of this tragedy and others like it.
- APA resources for coping with mass shootings, understanding gun violence
- American Counseling Association – Coping in the Aftermath of a Shooting
- Sandy Hook Promise – Help for Victims and Survivors of Gun Violence
- Everytown for Gun Safety