What Is Known
1) HT must be placed as an equally high priority as IT when developing a BC/DR/CM plan.
2) A crisis management team must assess the category of incident that has occurred in the workplace, as each type may precipitate a wide range of reactions on personnel. Briefly summarized:
Crisis: A significant disruption from an established level of functioning that results in a systemic decrease in productivity. “Crisis” is used to delineate events that do not result in physical harm to personnel. Examples include layoffs/mergers, reorganizations, long-power outage, bomb scares, strikes, etc.
Trauma in the workplace: An incident in which there has been serious injury or death to an employee(s) while performing his/her job duties. Often, this incident may be witnessed or experienced by other employees. Examples include industrial accidents, medical incidents, criminal acts, natural disasters, etc.
Disaster in the workplace: An incident that results in traumatic injury and/or death to multiple victims, often including significant damage/destruction to property.
Disaster is defined as an incident that is large enough to feel overwhelming to the first responders (police, fire, EMS, etc.) who intervene. Examples include industrial accidents, explosions, vehicular accidents, and fires.
Catastrophe: An incident that results in large-scale traumatic injury and/or death as well as accompanying property damage to a large geographic area. Further, catastrophe implies that the surrounding societal/communal infrastructure has also been affected by the event such that transportation, communication, rescue, medical and other systems are affected. Examples are: earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, geographic contamination, large fires, war, and terrorism.
3) Given the above, there are also several situational factors that influence the impact on personnel.
Warning: Reacting vs. Responding
People respond better when they have had some time to acknowledge an event and to make preparations for its impact. Even in the case of a large scale climatic occurrence such as a flood or hurricane, people have time to get organized and to respond, rather than an earthquake where, often time, all that can be done is to react to an overwhelming and threatening event.
Type of Incident: Act Of Nature vs. Man Made
Even the reactions to a disaster that has resulted in multiple deaths and injuries will vary depending upon the nature of the incident. As examples, a fire that is the handiwork of an arsonist, results in anger, anxiety, security issues, vengeful feelings, etc. A fire that is due to a lightning strike does not result in quite the same level and intensity of reaction, but rather a sense of bafflement at the unfair and often tragic nature of the world. Further, a fire that is the result of poor wiring in an old building may also leave people feeling unsafe; however, this may be rectified by a professional inspection and upgrading of the electrical system
Severity of Incident
Number of victims: Regardless of the type of incident, the greater the number of victims, the more significant the reactions of witnesses and survivors may be.
Age of victims: Certainly incidents that involve children as victims have a far more dramatic repercussion.
Type of injuries/condition of the remains: Tragedies in which victims/witnesses have been exposed to visceral damage or in which the recovered remains are decayed and/or mutilated, may often leave people more vulnerable to emotional reactions.
4) People who experience tragic incidents in their lives proceed through stages or phases of reaction and recovery. Whether it be a workplace reorganization, a layoff, a death in the family, a serious surgical procedure, a personal property destroying flood or any other type of significant crisis, the victim’s reactions differ from day one … week one … month one … and year one. This author divides these phases into five (rough) time frames:
Survival (0-24 hours)
Support (1-8 days)
Adjustment (2 to 8 weeks)
Resolution (2 to 12 months)
Recovery (up to 2+ years)
Often the HT reactions may not become fully evident until the adjustment or the resolution phases. BC/DR/CM plans must include a short-term and long-term perspective when it comes to recovering the human technology.
What To Do
1) Be sure that your BC/DR/CM plan takes into account the most valuable asset in your workplace … the “HT” ... human technology.
2) When possible, remember that the worker might have family members who may be reacting to the incident and thus be an additional source of stress for the employee.
3) Having an employee assistance program (EAP) is strongly recommended. Effective EAPs are a great resource for mitigating the short and long-term effects of trauma and crisis. EAPs are available to provide many of the essential recovery services for HT.
4) Utilize your EAP or outside sources to provide debriefings for the affected staff.
5) Provide educational sessions on stress management.
6) Train supervisors and department heads to recognize the signs and reactions of employees who are having a tough time at different stages of recovery.
7) At times of crisis, supervisors/managers/department heads are also victims of the incident, but must provide support and encouragement for their staff. Often, this may be a daunting task requiring additional support for the supervisory personnel themselves.
8) Extra debriefings or “coaching” sessions for managerial staff are advisable to provide both support and some guidance as to how best to facilitate the recovery of their HT.
9) Have knowledge of your human resource policies and benefits such as: ADA, FMLA, sick leave, disability benefits, etc.
10) Consider having some “event” to acknowledge the month and year anniversary of the event. It could be a memorial service, moment of silence, tree planting, etc.
11) If possible, allow for flextime with regard to scheduling.
Gerald Lewis, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the director of COMPASS, providing EAP, training, and consultation services. Dr. Lewis is an international trainer and consultant. He is the author of several articles and two books on workplace crisis management. He may be reached at (800) 649-6228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.