Magazine article Training & Development

The Crying Game

Magazine article Training & Development

The Crying Game

Article excerpt

How can you help employees deal with grief and trauma in the workplace? This practical, quick-response model really works.

"John was catching a quick nap in his chair in the company lunchroom; at least, I thought he was asleep," said an employee of a California-based firm. "When I went over to wake him, he was dead. For a minute I couldn't think what to do, but then someone called 911. None of us had ever had anything like that happen to us before. We were really shaken up."

Experiencing violence or loss in the workplace can upset employees and disrupt their performance. Organizations can prepare for such events by putting a trauma plan in place.

Setting the stage

Suicides, heart attacks, AIDS-related deaths, terrorist activities, and deaths by accident and homicide are all facts of modern workplace life. Whether an employee dies on or off the work site, colleagues are shocked and saddened. Many exhibit perfectly normal behaviors that nevertheless can temporarily disrupt business.

It's true that the loss of a co-worker seldom affects people's personal lives as profoundly as the loss of a family member. But the emotions are just as real. Co-workers may not be aware of the deep connections among them until something happens to someone on the team, and then they may not know how to appropriately grieve at work.

Internal or external human resource professionals can help prepare an organization for violence or loss by putting trauma procedures into place and by providing guidelines for employees to follow in the aftermath of trauma.

A recommended approach to dealing with organizational loss and violence was developed by Jeffrey Mitchell, a pioneer in trauma management. This quick-response model not only supports employees in a humane and effective way by addressing feelings and reactions, but also facilitates the rapid normalization of work activities.

The model for providing on-site intervention after a traumatic event or a loss is an educational model, not a therapeutic one. It requires the internal or external HR practitioner to

* be on site within 72 hours after a traumatic event

* be prepared to teach the principles of critical-incident management, including physical, emotional, behavioral, and mental reactions

* be skilled in group facilitation

* be able to make recommendations about ongoing employee support.

Do not schedule a debriefing for employees on the actual day of the traumatic event (or on the day of the funeral, in the case of a death). Most employees will be unaware of the ramifications of the shock until later. They will need time to surface feelings and reactions and - especially after workplace violence - to reconnect with people and restore a sense of control and order to their lives.

Hold debriefings at the work site, in a room that is comfortable and allows some privacy. If a large number of employees are involved, use a team to conduct the debriefing, or have employees meet in small groups at staggered times. Take as many days as they need. Within a day or two after the first meetings, follow up with their managers and make any further recommendations.

Facilitating the debriefing

The debriefing serves both a teaching and a support function. These sessions shouldn't be conducted by just anyone. It is crucial for the debriefer to be properly trained in providing this kind of intervention. (For information about where to receive such training, contact the American Red Cross or the International Critical-Incident Stress Foundation, 410/730-4311.)

Begin the session by asking employees what they experienced at the time of the event or loss. For example, if the event was a robbery, ask them to discuss where they were, what they heard, and how they felt at the time. If a colleague has died after a terminal illness, encourage them to talk about the point at which they learned of his or her treatment or noticed his or her diminishing capacities. …

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