In light of the terrorist attack in Paris on November 13th, and now the workplace massacre in San Bernardino, I released a press release in Europe and a blog post on Huffington Post offering employers guidelines on handling employee apprehension in the face of modern terrorism.
I’d also like to address this issue here with a replay, more or less, of the H-P piece.
In my estimate, employers must remain alert and responsive to the potential “emotional aftermath” among employees of such events. These can cause considerable trauma and anxiety for workers, and employers have a role to ensure that the workplace remains a venue of safety, security and open discourse in a subject that is disheartening and scary.
Employers are encouraged to understand that, at a time like this, the employer-employee relationship will be strengthened, affirmed, or ruined.
Mental Health International has compiled the following guidelines to help employers manage emotional distress among employees, especially where there is a perceived threat to public safety:
- Employers should make arrangements to allow employees to discuss traumatic events at work, either in small groups, one‐on‐one with managers, or with professional counsellors.
- Employers should reassure employees that measures to protect their safety have been taken. Any security measures that are put in place at work should be explained clearly and with sensitivity by management.
- Managers should be trained to deal with signs of anxiety in their employees at work. This may be expressed by appearing preoccupied or “distant,” to more overt expressions of apprehension regarding future plans, overnight trips, or upcoming vacations.
- Working parents may wish to stay close to their children in the aftermath of tragic events. Employers should respect and accommodate such employees in these circumstances, allowing them to leave work early to pick up their children from school, or the flexibility to keep very young children at home from daycare should they wish.
- Working parents should receive suggestions for communicating and comforting their children, in order to provide assurance for the days after an attack or event on the scale of Paris.
- Employees should also be allowed time off to consult with the teachers and schools their children attend: What are their kids being told there? Are trauma counsellors available for children displaying anxiety and fear?What, if any, special security arrangements are being put in place? How are these being explained to the children? If a child becomes upset for reasons unclear at school, what steps will the teacher take, and will parents be contacted? These are things that will be on parents’ minds.
- The key to mental comfort for employees is the connection that they have to friends, co‐workers and families. Employees absent due to illness or injury should be contacted by their manager to see how they are doing, whether they need anything, and to be invited to work to be part of any conversations happening there, should they be able to.
- Similarly, employees with elderly or disabled parents should be encouraged — not merely allowed — to get in touch and visit with them. This gives that person a connection through which to voice, reflect upon, and understand their own worries, and how those worries can be calmed.
These accommodations should not constitute one-off reactions to a particular event, but form part of workplace relations, and I encourage employers to incorporate this thinking into their organizational processes.
The shocking images relayed by the media on the night of the Paris attacks will remain in the public consciousness for some time. Employers should take proactive and preventative action to support the mental well-being of their workers and seize upon this opportunity to strengthen their relationship with their employees for the future.
Feel free to share this article with others, to spread the important message of addressing emotional trauma in the workplace.