How to Offer Employees Comfort & Assistance After Tragedy

My life was permanently altered on May 20, 2013. I reside in Moore, Oklahoma, and for a few hours I was unsure if my house was still standing. Thankfully, no harm came to my house, me, or my family. Many of our treasures were not in my storage unit. One of the fortunate ones was us. I’m only three streets away from the area where the deadliest tornado in American history wreaked havoc. I was confined to my house for three days. The national guard and law officers had blocked off my street. Because I did not lose my home, unlike so many of my friends and neighbors, I was left feeling useless and extremely guilty. Looking back, I can see that I experienced both post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt. My trigger is storms, especially tornadoes. When I learned there was a tornado watch in November, which is absurd, I had to deal with a significant amount of increased stress and a great deal of panic last night. Although we are secure, which is important, I didn’t get much sleep.

The recent Paris attacks, a tornado, military personnel returning from active duty, and other disasters like flooding in Austin, Texas, which occurred twice earlier this year, are just a few examples of the horrific life events that occur. It is known as life. We continue living our lives, or more accurately, life continues, sometimes without us. Traumatic events cause stress and panic that never truly go away. It may have psychological and physical effects that we are not always aware of, able to see, or understand.

Perhaps some of your staff have lived their entire lives outside of France. Perhaps a large number of close friends or family members still reside around the area where the atrocities occurred. Perhaps a worker is extremely sensitive and responds to this tragedy in a different way. They are associated with the terrorist attacks in a different way than you are. Maybe it’s been ten years since some of your staff members visited relatives in Paris. That one detail is irrelevant. They have a link. They are going through a life event that has the potential to plunge them into despair or other physical or mental health issues. This needs to be taken into account, and we should think about providing employee assistance days, weeks, months, and even years following a traumatic life event. The right thing to do.

The Importance Offering Employee Assistance in the Wake of Tragedy

Personal tragedy is well, personal. People who are employees of your organization heal, grow and move on at different paces. There is no normal for this kind of thing which is why EAP short for Employee Assistance Program is key.

An Employee Assistance Program is an established process where an employer provides an employee access to resources. The EAP is frequently managed by a third-party business, ensuring privacy and confidentiality. It may be as easy as using a third party with a 1-800 number, and as the HR manager, you should see to it that employees are informed about the EAP and that it is prominently displayed.

While going through a divorce, I used a therapist through the EAP at my place of employment. I simply called the EAP and asked for a referral to a service where I could receive a free initial consultation with the therapist and a discount in order to reduce my stress over money.

Traumatic Life Events Can Trigger Diagnosis Like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Because how we experience and copy with traumatic events, it’s important to have an employee assistance program that is flexible to suit each and every individual’s needs. Diagnoses including PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) impact everyone differently. There is no one size fits all time, program or process overcoming or managing  grief, a personal or life crisis or dealing with a traumatic event like the May 20th tornado of what happened last week in Paris, France. It’s been almost three years since the tornado and 11 years since leaving my now ex-husband and domestic abuser. I am still processing and overcoming events, situations and remembering repression memories. As I mentioned, I am certain I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder although I haven’t been diagnosed medically.

I don’t divulge all of these intimate details about my life and myself to pity you. I say this because it takes time, support, and resources for everyone to get through whatever life throws at them. We all face obstacles in life that we’re working to conquer. Many people aren’t as willing to talk about their personal tragedies and closet demons as I am. Please understand that I in no way view these challenges in my life as personal skeletons. The difficulties and situations I’ve faced in life have strengthened me. Even though I never wanted them to occur, I realize that overcoming these tragedies in my life helped shape who I am today. I’d like to think that you demand tenacity and perseverance from your staff.

This is why I’m thankful that employers offer things like the Family Medical Leave Act, bereavement leave and an employee assistance program. All of these factors, including front-line managers, are useless, though, if a firm doesn’t support its employees. They shouldn’t and can’t pass judgment. They lack the years of medical training needed to comprehend these issues and are neither psychologists or other medical professionals. So that HR and corporate leadership can concentrate on creating a supportive and inclusive work environment that enables us to get the best work and output out of our people, let’s leave the presumptions and diagnosis to the genuine experts.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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