Crisis Recovery: Help for Coping with the Aftermath

Posted on April 30, 2015 by VITAL WorkLife

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Crisis such as natural disasters, workplace accidents, homicides, suicides or the death of a co-worker are traumatic events that may leave their mark not just on the people directly affected, but also on those who witness or know people affected by the incident. The emotional toll associated with critical incidents involving death, serious injury or threat to one's physical integrity can last anywhere from two days to four weeks.

"It doesn't just go away," notes Sarah Prom, manager of Solution Delivery for VITAL WorkLife, "You can see it manifested in many ways, most noticeably in the way employees relate to each other, accompanied by increased sick days and PTO. When people aren't coping well or showing up for work, productivity suffers."

The Manager's Role

Your employees need your support and understanding in the aftermath of a crisis—but mostly they need time to process the event. It's important you resist the temptation to brush the incident under the rug or force a return to normalcy. It also helps if you educate yourself about the impact critical incidents can have on your employees—and are aware of symptoms that indicate they may be under extreme stress.

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, there are numerous signs and symptoms of crisis-related stress tend to fall into four categories: physical, emotional, cognitive or behavioral. The list below is not exhaustive but will help you to identify workers who are exhibiting stress reactions.

Physical Symptoms Cognitive Symptoms
Fatigue Uncertainty
Chills Confusion
Unusual thirst Nightmares
Chest pain Poor attention
Headaches Poor decision-making ability
Dizziness Poor problem-solving ability
  Poor concentration or memory
Emotional Symptoms Behavioral Symptoms
Grief Inability to rest
Fear Withdrawal
Guilt Antisocial behavior
Apprehension and depression Increased alcohol consumption
Intense anger Change in communications
Irritability Loss or increase in appetite
Chronic Anxiety  

Most of these symptoms are normal in the aftermath of a crisis and should go away after a few weeks—but they can be alarming to individuals and managers alike.

It's your role to provide support and encouragement—and acknowledgement that it may take time for those affected to return to doing business as usual. Listen to your employees' concerns but resist the urge (if you have one) to play the role of therapist or counselor.

If you see that your employees are struggling with any of the above symptoms, you may want to enlist the help of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Helping Employees to Cope: How Your EAP Benefit Can Help

If you have concerns about how your employees are reacting to stress related to a crisis, your EAP benefit can help.

Your EAP benefit includes unlimited telephone consultation—available 24/7 by calling 800.383.1908. Your benefit also includes free face-to-face counseling with master's- and doctorate-level professionals.

Employees whose symptoms are unusually severe or last for a prolonged period may be experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Your EAP counselor can help you make a determination whether that employee needs to be referred as part of a non-punitive performance improvement plan.

"Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for struggling employees is insist that they get the help they need to address behaviors that negatively affecting their performance at work," says Prom. "In most cases, the process of correcting those work-related behaviors can also have a positive impact on other areas of their lives."

In addition to telephonic and face-to-face counseling, your EAP also offers a suite of onsite Critical Incident Stress Management services designed to help you and your reports deal with the aftermath of crisis situations.

"Trained facilitators have the ability to ensure that everyone feels heard and included," says Prom. "They can also help you identify employees who are struggling and could benefit from additional support."

Helpful Online Resources for Members

The VITAL WorkLife website offers our EAP Members helpful tools and information designed to help managers and supervisors understand and address the crisis related stress:

  • Coping With Traumatic Events: Advice for Managers
  • Individual's Reactions to Death in Service: When a Co-worker Dies
  • Stress Management: Ways to Cope
  • Stress Management Primer
  • Stress in the Workplace
  • Stress at Work: Tips to Reduce and Manage Job and Workplace Stress (6 parts)
  1. To access these articles, go to VITALWorkLife.com and click on member login.
  2. Enter your username and password, and click "Submit".
  3. Click on the words "Click Here" on the third option down: "Click Here to learn more about and access our online resources."
  4. In the shaded box that comes up, click on "Click Here" once more to go directly into our Work & Life Resources.
  5. Under "Working," pull down to "Workplace Safety" and explore the articles in the category "Managing Stress."

Pathways to Well Being

Call VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908

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