Is your company emotionally prepared for traumatic events?

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By Colin Grange, Clinical Director of EAP and Well-being provider, LifeWorks

We’ve seen unprecedented terror attacks in the UK and Europe this year and the UK’s terror threat level remains at the second highest level of severe, meaning that an attack is highly likely.  In response, employers have been reviewing or introducing security procedures to enable them to support their staff if they are impacted by a terror attack.  Crisis and business continuity planning is of course not new.  Any well managed business should have plans in place to ensure the business is protected and stays operational in the event of a crisis and that staff are physically safe.

There is a foreboding shift however in what types of crisis companies now have to prepare for as experts warn we’re facing a completely different level of terrorism.  Consequently, business continuity planning today must now include support for the psychological and emotional needs of staff exposed to trauma and distress.

Giving the right support is key to reducing long-term emotional damage. Although the majority of people will return to normal after a period of recovery, for some there may be an impairment in their capacity to cope with everyday life and some may even develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Companies need to prepare a continuity plan which includes support that not only covers how to deal with employees’ emotional and psychological needs as an incident unfolds, but importantly, how to support and reassure them in the days/weeks after an incident.

A clear procedure as to how the organisation will internally deal with a traumatic event, particularly, how managers will guide and support staff is critical.  Staff will initially turn to them and as such managers should be educated to deliver psychological first aid. Companies have a duty of care to protect the psychological as well as the physical health of their staff, and this should be considered nearly as important as physical first aid training.

Such training should focus on what is a normal response to abnormal events, how to support staff during and immediately after an incident, the signs and symptoms of post-trauma and how to support staff appropriately in the days and weeks after an incident.

External professional trauma counselling should also be made available so staff don’t have to wait for NHS services to become available.  This can be through an EAP provider, (employee assistance helpline) plus there are various charity helplines.

As with all crisis management, the better prepared companies are, the better the outcome.  Providing timely and appropriate psychological support after a traumatic event will significantly improve the outcome for staff, reducing the chances of long lasting damage.