Tips for Moving Past a Tragedy and Getting Back to Productivity at Work
When tragedy strikes — terrorist violence, massive forest fire, tornado, hurricane or a 50-car accident on a major highway — human nature kicks in to overdrive and humans naturally do what they can to deal mentally and emotionally with the crisis.
The logical part of the brain dissects the timeline, like an amateur journalist or Sherlock Holmesian sleuth: what happened, when did it happen, who was there, where did the tragedy occur, why did something like this happen and how in the world did humans allow the tragedy to occur? Emotionally people walk the tightrope of could have, would have and should have, seeking to balance their lack of control over occurrences with their inherent belief that they have an effect on the world.
In the aftermath of tragedy, as humans struggle to comprehend, work still has to be done. Businesses must still operate. Money still moves. The stacks of paperwork still pile up on the corner of the desk.
No company wants to appear uncaring in the wake of a tragedy that has touched their employees deeply, but lost man-hours can be frightening to a business. In addition to employees directly affected by the event who will need personal time to deal with their circumstances, there is lost work time due to employees discussing the tragedy over the tops of cubicles, scanning social media for updates or tuning in to national news in the lobby.
How can a business owner or manager assist its employees during a crisis and what can they do to help everyone to return to productivity as quickly as possible?
Show Your Humanity
- Exhibit Emotion – A manager might think she is helping her employees by remaining calm and stoic, but a lack of emotion in the face of profound tragedy sends a message to employees that they should check their feelings at the door, or worse, that their manager is completely unfeeling. As the manager, allow yourself to show the gamut of emotions you’re feeling. Sharing the grief, shock and anger that you are all feeling will help everyone to know that it is possible to work even through heavy emotions.
- Listen Attentively – It might seem like this is a job for a psychotherapist, especially if you have lost an employee or one of your employees has lost a loved one, but your listening ear might be what they need most. Don’t be afraid to say the wrong thing, listen attentively and interject in a natural way when your own emotions bubble up as the employee tells their story. One of the biggest fears for an employee returning to work after a tragic event is the fear that nobody can relate or will understand why they can’t get back on the horse immediately. By allowing the employee time to establish their new normal, the manager is encouraging the employee and team to heal.
- Be a Work Family – In the same way that a family gathering at a wake can draw strength from each other by talking and sharing happy recollections, work families too can benefit from gathering after the storm passes. Allow employees to discuss the tragic events with each other and gently bring them back to focus as needed. Organize opportunities, such as a potluck or brown bag lunch, for employees to join together as a community. Participate in a community event together such as a blood or food drive.
Connect with Your Team
When large-scale tragedies such as weather events occur, they often bring with them the rapid buzz of busy signals or the familiar, “all circuits are busy” messages. Employers will still need a way to connect with their people—especially if headquartered in another state—to assess which employees have been affected. Forward-thinking companies will have multi-faceted plans to make contact.
- Telephone Tree – Establish a good, old-fashioned telephone tree so that everyone knows in advance who will call whom and to whom they will report back with information.
- Company Website – SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) recommends that “Any company with an operating web site can create an online space for employee communications. If a web site does not have password-protected communications already, consider adding that capability.” The company website is an excellent place to disseminate information quickly regarding closures, temporary housing for employees, how paid time off works and what emergency assistance might be available such as paperwork for disability or death claims.
- Emergency Twitter Group – Each employee will need a Twitter account for this option, but short messages and photos of damages can be easily exchanged via a Twitter group to reach the masses very quickly.
- Leave Policies – To the business, the show must go on, however, a compassionate employee may want to take time off work to assist an affected relative or to help deliver aid to those in need. Under normal circumstances, normal business practices dictate employees not be granted random leaves of absence. Following tragedy, overly strict adherence to policy can cause a company to appear uncaring, or tarnish the company’s image in the community.
- ADA accommodations – Additionally, according to SHRM, “Employees who are physically or emotionally (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder) injured as the result of a catastrophe may be entitled to reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or corresponding state laws.”
- Telecommuting – If the business offices have been damaged or routes to the office are closed, it might be necessary to expand telecommuting policies to any employee who is able to connect and work remotely.
“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability,” said Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox. Her remarks are on point in the face of disaster or tragedy as well.7