It’s time to make sure you have tools, skills, resources to help workers deal with disaster—whether it’s around the block or across the country.
The mass shootings this past weekend likely have had an impact on your employees. Some may be sad, others anxious or angry. Even when a tragedy doesn’t affect people directly, they often feel pain—either because of their empathy for the victims or because it opens wounds regarding their own experiences. Compassionate leadership during times of tragedy doesn’t just ease suffering; it sets a tone that enables people to recover more quickly from future setbacks. It increases colleagues’ connections and loyalty to each other and helps them see leadership as being on their side. All of this has a positive impact on the culture, atmosphere, and functioning of the organization. Read on for steps you can take to ensure employees feel supported, heard, and empowered in the aftermath of tragedy.
1. Establish a context for meaning. Create an environment where people feel free to express their feelings and discuss their fears, concerns, and even anger. Make sure managers have training to deal with the aftermath of tragedies. They shouldn’t be expected to help every employee, but they should be able to provide some comfort and refer the person to appropriate resources and services.
2. Create a context for action, where employees have clear-cut ways to ease their pain and alleviate others’ suffering. This may mean establishing or promoting support groups or enabling employees to establish projects to collect money or supplies for victims or survivors. Encourage everyone to take care of themselves. Consider offering flexible leave, shift or schedule changes, or other opportunities for them to heal as necessary. If an employee needs more time off, try to accommodate this request. Remind workers about Employee Assistance Programs and resources. Think about expanding pet, music, and other therapy programs to include employees.
3. Lead by example. Openly express your own feelings about the tragedy to show staff that it’s okay to be sad, frightened, etc. When people feel free to express their feelings, they don’t have to waste time and energy trying to ignore or suppress their emotions; and they can get back to work quicker and more productively. At the same time, it is important to set a positive tone. Let employees know that you are in this together and that you are committed to work with them to get through the situation.
4. Be present. While you have to practice self-care, it is essential to be there for your employees. Walk around, talk to people, ask how they are doing, and listen compassionately. Consider bringing in donuts or cupcakes and having weekly check-ins where people can meet and share their feelings and thoughts in a safe, relaxed space.
5. Seek staff input on what they need to heal. They may want something tangible, such as a memorial program, a concert, a blood drive, a contribution to a charitable organization, or a tree planting. If so, try to accommodate this and work with people to get on the road to healing.
6. Consider establishing a “code of principles.” This could include a statement such as “We’re all in this together” to remind employees that you are on their team and that their emotional and physical well-being is important to you.
7. Enable employees to volunteer. Consider the possibility of giving employees time off to volunteer. Even if the volunteerism isn’t directly related to the tragedy, it can help people feel less helpless and more involved. Sometimes just doing something positive can help people heal.
8. Empower employees through education and training. Offering opportunities such as active shooter training can help employees feel more secure that they and others in the company are prepared to deal with disasters and emergencies.
9. Enable bottom-up ideas. Give employees at all levels a chance to be heard and to suggest ideas, activities, programs, and projects. You might be surprised at the innovation and leadership that result.
10. Be prepared. Don’t wait until disaster happens close to home. Realize that the shootings in El Paso, Dayton, Las Vegas, and Orlando can touch the lives and hearts of people in Minnesota or New Jersey. If an organization is unwilling or unable to support healing wherever and whenever it is needed, employee morale, engagement, and productivity will suffer. Conversely, compassionate leadership can result in a more loyal, connected, engaged, and innovative team.