Critical Incident Response for Managers: What You Need to Know

Posted on October 29, 2015 by Shawn Friday, MEd, LPC, CEAP

A group discussion during a Critical Incident ResponseA “critical incident” is an unexpected and traumatic event having the potential to deeply affect an individual’s psychological well-being and ability to do their normal work. These traumatic events may occur at the worksite and involve situations such as a serious workplace accident/injury, robberies or assaults, bomb threats, or death (accident, suicide, homicide). Critical incidents may also occur outside the workplace and impact employees deeply. Examples of these types of events include terrorist acts, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, robberies or assaults, car accidents or a death.

Often these events will cause some type of disruption for affected individuals. Symptoms may be physical (e.g. fatigue, nervous energy, back or neck pain, digestive discomfort, headache), emotional (e.g. anxiety, anger, guilt, irritability, feeling “on-edge” or “keyed-up,” or flashbacks), behavioral (e.g. insomnia, nightmares, appetite changes, withdrawal from others, conflict with others, drinking or drug use), or cognitive (e.g. poor concentration, intrusive thoughts or images, confusion, thoughts of death or suicide). The effects of a traumatic event may show up in the workplace as lower productivity or other performance problems. Fortunately for most individuals suffering a traumatic event, symptoms will not become severe and will dissipate over a few weeks. In some cases however, an individual is unable to function normally and may need assistance with getting back on track.

Critical Incident Response

A Critical Incident Response (CIR) is an onsite presence of a consultant who meets with groups and/or individual employees to provide “psychological first aid.” This is frequently done between 24 hours and a couple weeks after the event (most often within a week’s time). Interaction in a CIR is voluntary and gives employees a chance to emotionally process the traumatic event and learn how to tap in to their natural resiliency to recover as soon as possible. A CIR is tailored to an organization’s needs when provided by VITAL WorkLife, and a common approach is for a consultant to go to the worksite and conduct a group session (usually at least 45 minutes, but sometimes as long as a couple of hours). After the group session, the consultant can be available for 1 to 1 meetings with employees who wish to have individual support.

The main goals of the CIR are to:

  1. Help reduce levels of post-traumatic stress and tension.
  2. Assist participants with tapping into their natural resiliency and learn strategies to help with recovery.
  3. Reassure participants it is normal to have some struggles/symptoms and most people will recover in a relatively short time frame.
  4. Allow the consultant to assess individuals and identify those who may need additional assistance (such as Employee Assistance Program services, counseling or medical intervention).

Strategies for helping your employees cope with and recover from a Critical Incident:

  1. Consider utilizing Critical Incident Response services from VITAL WorkLife if the Critical Incident occurred in the workplace or affected a large percentage of employees. These interventions will help minimize disruption to employees (including work performance), help prevent problems from worsening, and allow those with significant/severe symptoms to be identified and helped further. Bringing a consultant to the worksite in this way helps employees see the organization is concerned for their well being.
  2. Provide information on accessing support services through their EAP.
  3. Be prepared to repeat information to employees. They may have difficulty processing compared to before the incident.
  4. Listen to those who want to share thoughts/feelings about the event. Don’t force people to share, but be available to listen.
  5. Be compassionate and polite, even if some individuals are being difficult.
  6. Remember, and help others to understand, there is no right or wrong way for an individual to respond to a traumatic event. Reactions, and the timing of those reactions, will vary. Don’t tell people how they should act, think or feel.
  7. Don’t give simple reassurances like “everything will be all right.”

We can help.

If you think a Critical Incident occurred in the workplace, contact us at 800.383.1908 and speak with a Senior Consultant about how to respond. The opportunity to provide a Critical Incident Response and benefits for you and your employees is available through your Employee Assistance Program.

If an individual employee experienced a Critical Incident, feel free to contact us for advice or assistance – and encourage the employee to also contact us and take advantage of their EAP benefit through VITAL WorkLife.

Call VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908, 24x7x365, for the support you and your employees need.

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