Feb 27, 2017 12:18 PM
As a manager or human resources professional, your employees are looking to you for leadership when a traumatic event occurs at your workplace. Who can you look to?
No one ever wants — or expects — the worst to happen. But sadly, some things are out of our control:
- The death of an employee, at or outside the workplace
- An injury-causing accident at work
- Natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, or wildfires
- A workplace shooting
- A robbery
(The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Response mentions a few more examples in this helpful article.)
Without a timely, well-organized response, any of these events can throw a company and its workforce into chaotic disarray. Confusion, fear and anger run rampant. Morale drops, productivity declines and your company’s reputation with customers, partners and potential new talent can take a serious hit.
That’s not to mention potential legal liabilities, lawsuits or expensive settlements.
How can your company survive the initial shock of a traumatic event? How can you restore an environment in which employees feel safe?
For many companies, the answer is their employee assistance program (EAP). So it’s no surprise the U.S. government, in its manager’s handbook, “Handling Traumatic Events,” mentions employee assistance programs 21 times. “Critical incident response” is also one of the three high-value EAP services mentioned in our article from earlier this year.
How an EAP Can Help During and After a Traumatic Workplace Situation
A workplace trauma calls for a sensitive, cool-headed and, most of all, timely response.
As a supervisor or HR team member, you may find yourself reeling from the effects of a crisis along with the rest of your team. You may have difficulties making decisions or forming a response plan. You may need help managing your own stress, as well as that of your employees.
This is when an EAP proves its true worth.
Here are four ways you should expect your company’s EAP to provide support when the worst happens. If you don’t trust your current vendor to provide these, it might be time to consider other options. If your company doesn’t already have an EAP, these are good starting points for a complete EAP shopper’s checklist.
Quick Access and Timely Responses
When a traumatic situation occurs, time is of the essence. The sooner you can take control of the situation, the less damaging it will be.
It should go without saying that your EAP should respond as quickly as possible. In some cases, this may mean sending a team of specialists to provide employee counseling and other face-to-face services. In others, you may need a counselor available to provide expert advice to managers and executives over the phone.
As you evaluate EAP vendors, find out exactly what sort of access they provide. Most claim to offer 24/7 availability. But some stretch the definition of “24/7” beyond recognition, simply providing an automated phone service that requires callers to respond to a series of prompts. Other vendors hire an external service to answer calls and triage issues for follow-up.
This isn’t the kind of support you can rely on when the unimaginable occurs.
True 24/7 access to an EAP provider means immediate connections to specially trained, master’s level clinicians and other resources who can help you and your employees start dealing with a traumatic incident almost as soon as it happens.
A Specialized Team With Workplace Experience
It’s not just your company’s EAP vendor that matters when a traumatic event occurs, but who your EAP sends to help. Most EAP vendors have specialized teams trained in incident response techniques. But incident response is only part of the equation.
To be truly effective, EAP responders should be prepared to serve as the focal point of your company’s recovery efforts, managing communication to support efforts between and among HR and management teams and coordinating activities for maximum efficiency.
To be able to do this, you EAP’s response team should understand how your workplace operates:
- How departments are structured
- Who reports to whom
- How employees access information
- Industry and staff demographics
- The Ability and Willingness to Work With Your Company for as Long as it Takes
The effects of a workplace trauma can linger for weeks, months and even years after the immediate crisis has passed. It can smolder deep within your team’s collective consciousness, flaring up from time to time to disrupt business, sow discontent among employees and squash productivity.
A good EAP vendor knows this and will continue to provide support and guidance as your organization works to regain its equilibrium.
LifeMatters, for example, works with its customers to address recurring issues that might arise after a traumatic event, and to organize memorial ceremonies and anniversary observances after a traumatic event to help employees heal. It is not uncommon for these events and services to occur up to a year after an event and longer in some cases. Our trauma response specialists stay connected to the affected organization throughout the recovery period, checking in as needed to ensure consultation and services are provided when needed.
Traumatic situations are, by their very nature, chaotic. You can try to plan for certain situations, train team members to respond certain ways, create contingencies and backup plans, but when it comes down to it, there is no standard response to trauma. Every crisis is different. A decisive response always requires a certain amount of thinking on your feet.
The same goes for your EAP. When you are evaluating your EAP options, ask prospective vendors for examples of situations in which they demonstrated flexibility and improvisation when dealing with a traumatic event.
What Else Should You Ask EAP Candidates?
Unwavering support for your company during the worst of times is only one of the areas in which you should measure the value of an employee assistance program. How else can you determine if your current EAP or prospective EAPs are worth the investment?
For a guide to choosing your company’s next EAP, follow this link for a free copy of our 11-point checklist, “Time to Change Your EAP Provider? Key Qualities to Look for in your Next EAP.”