Supporting Employees in the Wake of Violence
How Employers Can Help
Witnessing violence in person or through news coverage can cause psychological distress. Employers can support employees in the wake of traumatic events by being sensitive to individuals who may experience anxiety, and by providing practical information on how to talk with children during difficult times.
Address Heightened Anxiety at the Workplace
News of a tragedy, especially one that took place in a workplace setting, may create anxiety at the workplace. Employers should consider reminding employees about the availability of mental health supports, including the employee assistance program (EAP), as well as protections in place concerning physical safety. Managers may want to show extra sensitivity during this time, and be on the lookout for workers who may be having strong reactions to this tragedy. If a manager suspects someone may be struggling, they should check in with them, ask them if they are okay, offer support, and—if appropriate—encourage the worker to reach out to EAP for additional assistance.
Tips for Talking to Children
Employers may also wish to consider sharing information with employees on how to talk to children who may have been exposed to violence.
The American Psychiatric Association encourages parents to be ready to talk to your children in an age-appropriate and reassuring way:
Create an open and supportive environment where children are comfortable asking questions. At the same time, it's best not to force children to talk about things unless and until they're ready to do so.
Give children honest answers and information. Children will usually sense, or eventually find out, if you're "making things up." It may affect their ability to trust you or your reassurances in the future.
Use words and concepts that children can understand. Gear your explanations to the child's age and maturity.
Be prepared to repeat information and explanations several times. Some information may be hard for a child to accept or understand. Asking the same question over and over may also be a way for a child to ask for reassurance.
Encourage Seeking Help
Employers can play a powerful role in reducing mental health stigma by fostering environments that encourage people to reach out for help when they need it, while also offering access to insurance benefits and EAP. Normalizing help-seeking for mental health (at a level similar to other common health issues) and reminding employees about confidentiality practices will help employees understand that it’s truly okay to access care for these issues.
Many leading employers are successfully addressing mental health by incorporating it into their overall health and wellness strategies. They are leading the way in terms of reducing stigma, collaborating with health vendors to improve quality, improve disability management process, and more. The Partnership is proud to be able to share examples from these corporate leaders, including Caterpillar, Delta Air Lines, DuPont, H-E-B, Pacific Gas & Electric, PPG, and Sprint. We encourage you to learn from these employers, and consider how your company might improve its approach supporting employees in the wake of violence.
Turnkey Programs for Employees
The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health offers two programs employers can use to increase awareness about mental health and encourage people to reach out for help when they need it. Both resources are free and are designed to work seamlessly with existing health and wellness programs, including the EAP.
The ICU Program is an awareness campaign for the workplace designed to decrease the stigma associated with the topic of mental health, and foster a workplace culture that supports emotional health. Its core component is a five-minute video that uses the analogy of an Intensive Care Unit to explain how people with a psychological/emotional injury or illness may require help from one another. ICU teaches employees how to identify the signs of distress and appropriately connect with coworkers who may need support.
Right Direction is a creative educational initiative designed to reduce stigma about depression and motivate employees and their families to seek help when needed. Numerous employers have implemented Right Direction, including Zappos.com, Kent State University and OCLC. Right Direction offers employers turn-key, customizable communication tools—posters, tip cards, content for intranet sites, and PowerPoint decks—to implement a robust campaign at the workplace. Right Direction is a joint effort of the Partnership and Employers Health.
Violence in the Workplace by R.S. Schouten in Mental Health and Productivity in the Workplace: A Handbook for Organizations and Clinicians, edited by J.P. Kahn and A.M. Langlieb. Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2003.