Recent events in Dallas, Orlando and Baton Rouge have left many managers wondering what to say or do while at work. Tragedy, whether due to a natural disaster or manmade, creates an aftermath that affects everyone, everywhere, including the workplace.
Ignoring howare feeling after such events is not a good option. Employees will be talking about the event, with or without you. This is your chance to make sure the conversation doesn’t distract from long-term.
What can and should company leaders do? The good news is plenty of options exist.
Talk to HR beforehand
Especially if the events involve situations that tend to ramp up emotions, schedule time with your human resources advisor before you talk to employees. It is important to think through what you’ll say and how you’ll say it. Your goal is to calm emotions, reassure those who are feeling unsteady and let employees know you care.
In the case of smaller offices, consider holding a brown bag lunch, a breakfast meeting or some other opportunity for employees to gather and share their feelings and experiences.
You can also use such meetings as an opportunity to educate employees about recognizing and reporting suspicious activity, employee assistance programs (EAP) resources and other support your company may offer.
If an event occurred in close proximity to your business, consider bringing in a counselor to talk to employees in groups or individually. Grief counseling may be needed if your office has experienced a team member’s suicide or a loss due to natural disaster.
Review safety procedures
Particularly after a violent incident takes place in a similar business, employees may come to work worried about their safety. Now is the time to remind employees of your company’s security procedures.
This is especially important if an event occurred geographically close to your business or in a similar type of business. For example, if you own a chain of nightclubs, the shooting in Orlando probably hit your employees hard.
If you don’t have official safety processes in place, it’s time to build some. The U.S. Department of Labor offers a comprehensive guide to preventing workplace violence and warning signs of danger in the workplace.
Also, consider asking your local police department to run a workshop on what to do in the event of an active shooter situation. For liability reasons, this should not be a workshop you run yourself.
Plan for less productivity – for a time
Think back to 9/11 and how much work you got done that day. It’s important to recognize that in the immediate aftermath of a significant event your employees probably won’t be terribly productive.
The overwhelming feelings of sadness and worry that follow such occurrences distract us all and make us less productive at work.
Your job as a leader is to give employees time to process their emotions and then get back to work. Depending on the incident and your company, that may be one day or a week. Consider whether you need to move deadlines or let employees go home to be with family. You also could allow employees to gather around televisions or live stream emerging events.
Ask for input
Assume that your employees are acutely aware of what is and isn’t safe about their workplace. One excellent way to remedy security issues is to ask what employees would change. If you ask, you’ll have to implement changes but you’ll also get a safer work environment for your efforts.
You and your employees are also likely to want to do something. Support those who want to hold a food drive, clothing drive or other fundraiser, but make sure employees don’t feel compelled to participate or give money.
Unfortunately, it seems that tragic events are becoming more frequent. Company leaders can make a positive difference in helping employees cope with the myriad emotions generated by such incidents.
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