How to Talk with Your Employees After a Tragic Workplace Event
It matters very little what type of workplace tragedy impacts your employees. It could be picking up the pieces after a tornado, a nearby shooting or the fatal injury of an offsite co-worker, events like these will impact your employees. When the tragedy is geographically closer to your place of business, the impact can be magnified. Events like these provide business owners and managers with the opportunity to demonstrate their leadership and care by guiding employees toward the proper way of coping with difficult times.
Knowing what to say or do may seem like a daunting task, but this article will help you know how to provide the comfort employees need while encouraging the productivity your business requires. What should you say? What should you avoid saying? What should you do? What should you avoid doing? Here are a few ideas to help your people cope with the situation and return to productivity as quickly as possible.
(Before implementing any of these suggestions, your HR Director or Provider should be consulted. Discuss with them whether or not these suggestions are right for your specific situation.)
1. Provide safety and security for everyone.
The first priority when faced with a workplace tragedy is to establish your place of business as a safety zone for all workers. Make certain all scheduled workers are present and accounted for, that the site of the event is secured. Evacuation of the facility may be necessary, if so, do not hesitate to do so quickly and safely.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate
It is vital that you inform the employees of the non-confidential details surrounding the event. When employees are informed, they gain a very real sense that they are valued; and value like this builds trust. Employees will return to being productive more quickly when they feel secure, valued and when they trust that you will keep them informed as detail develop.
3. Choose your words carefully
Immediately following the event, it is important for you to gather everyone together and genuinely express your concern. This is the best opportunity you will have to establish an employee/management dialogue to find out if and how any employee has been personally impacted by the event.
Every worker will deal with the workplace event differently. You could say something like, “We are each responding to this event in our own way. We will all have different opinions of why this happened so let’s all agree to be careful about each others feelings. We are all part of a team and at times like this we need to treat each other with extra kindness and understanding. Let’s treat each other with extra respect for the next few days. It’s important at times like this that we all come together and support one another.” It’s vital that you address hurt feelings and sensitive topics with calm, supportive language that includes rather than excludes.
4. Address immediate needs
If you have a chaplain, this is the time to lean heavily on this person. Your chaplain will have developed relationships with your employees and will be equipped to handle events like these. If you don’t have a workplace chaplain, make certain your employees are reminded about your company’s employee assistance program (EAP). Either your chaplain or the EAP will have access to additional resources and personnel should your employees need group or private counseling sessions.
Workplace shootings are becoming more frequent. Should a shooting take place near your business, your employees will have questions regarding their own workplace safety. Review your security procedures and present these to your employees asking whether or not they detect any potential weakness. Write down any security concerns and assure them you will address these potential issues. Then, refer to item 2 above.
5. Double-check your expectations for your employees
Where were you on 9/11? Just mentioning those numbers brings back a flood of memories for many. How did the events of that day affect your own productivity? How did it impact the people you were working with?
I personally know that my own proclivity suffered for several days following the tragic events of that day. Like others, I was shocked, sad, I got angry, I was confused and was quite unproductive. Most likely you were affect in similar ways.
In light of this thought, you may need to reassess the expectations you have for your employees following a tragic workplace event. You might consider extending deadlines or even encourage your employees to take a day or two to be at home with their families. If the event is large with continuously unfolding details, setting up televisions in the break room and allow employees to watch real-time updates can help re-establish order in the workplace.
As the days unfold, your employees may want to do something tangible to help. This could come in the form of prayer services, a food/clothing drive, or other types of fundraisers. You could even consider allowing your employees additional time for them to volunteer for rescue or support services. As a business leader, you will need to monitor these activities making certain everyone is included but no one feels force to participate or give.
6. Invest in the employees who are overly distracted by the event
Within a few days following the event, most of your employees will return to handling their normal workload. There are always exceptions and those workers who have been severely impacted by the tragedy could demonstrate worry, fear, depression or increased absenteeism. These are the workers who need additional assistance from the managers and owners. The individual should be approached through a private conversation regarding their work performance. Be sure to have tangible records to document the conversation. Refrain from bringing up the subject of the tragic event, and instead allow the employee to bring it up. Should they bring up the subject, it would be a good time to suggest that they seek additional help from someone in their life or your workplace chaplain. If you do not have a workplace chaplain, suggest they seek assistance from a licensed counselor or even call your company’s chosen EAP.
It is never appropriate to allow poor behavior or substandard work performance to continue. Not addressing these issues with the worker is tantamount to condoning their behavior. Handle this situation the same way you would handle any other employee with work related issues. Carefully and plainly separate their performance from the tragic event and thoroughly discuss the production and deadlines they are missing. Each employee is responsible to work through the distractions the event has brought into their lives and figure out the best way they can return to productivity. If they are unable to do this, it may be time for you to part ways.
We all face outside events over which we have no control, and these events often intrude into the workplace in both good and bad ways. Discussing these events is a normal part of the workplace community. But when these events become a focus of workers, business owners and managers must step in to support, guide, train and encourage employees who have been impacted. It’s not a matter of if these types of events will impact your business, it’s a question of when. You can be proactive by scheduling regular times throughout the year for your employees to gather and enjoy the good things about working together.
If you’re interested in more of the benefits a corporate/workplace chaplain can have inside your place of business, please reach out; I’d love to visit with you. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org