Critical and traumatic incidents are, by their very nature, unpredictable and in most cases unavoidable.
As a business, it is important to understand the powerful impact they can have on your personnel and their families and have plans in place to allow you to react appropriately and protect your organisation.
Critical incidents that affect employees can come in a number of guises, from workplace accidents to natural disasters. Each incident is unique and the traumatic effects can be as varied as the events themselves.
However, there are some things you can do to ensure you are properly prepared to support your employees and protect your business should trauma strike.
Having a Crisis Plan in place is vital. This plan should focus on:
- Minimising the reach of the incident and the number of individuals exposed to it.
- Preventing the possibility for further associated events.
- Organised and robust psychological support for those involved or affected.
- Investigating the causes and preventing repetition.
Employee’s psychological reactions to traumatic incidents are likely. They will most commonly affect those involved primarily with the event; however, this can easily spread to colleagues and family close to them. It is important to understand that reactions are not always immediate and can require attention for months, even years, after the event.
A critical incident can overwhelm employees and cause considerable distress. It is normal to have an emotional reaction to such an event. Typical responses include; recurring thoughts of the event, general anxiety, feeling ‘on-edge’ or restless, volatile moods, fatigue and disturbed sleep. Employee distress is not always noticeable and, left unchecked, can continue to harm the individual, their performance and general employee wellbeing.
These reactions should always be assessed and attended to by qualified psychological practitioners – your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) should have a robust critical incident service involving specialists in immediate debriefing and ongoing counselling.
In organisations and departments where such incidents are likely, employees should be given training on the above psychological impact of traumatic events. Preparing individuals for the expected reactions can help to build resilience and create a culture of knowledge and understanding in the team that allows for more effective response to and defusing of critical trauma.
Preparation can be as simple as the development of supportive relationships between employees and between employees and management, allowing them to better support each other in the aftermath of critical incidents. Preparation can also help to solidify your workplace crisis plan, establishing the process for involving debriefing experts and how to use them. Furthermore, an awareness of critical incidents and their traumatic effects can better equip employees to recognise potential events before they occur; allowing them to either be prevented or have minimal impact.
As an EAP, CiC respond to each incident on a case by case basis in order work best for those affected and those involved in supporting them. Those working to help the individuals involved, usually HR departments, are supported throughout the management post incident. Crucially, we organise follow ups months after the event in order to assess the emergence of post traumatic stress symptoms.
In conclusion, critical incidents can be any event that is unexpected, overwhelming, frightening or prolonged. Every incident is different.
Emotional reactions to such events are normal and can affect a wider population than those immediately involved.
Having a crisis plan in place, suitable EAP support and trained individuals in each department can help minimise the ongoing damage a critical incident can cause.
Harry Key, March 2017