Helping Employees React After a Tragic Event

Editor’s note: You may wish to read “Preparing for the Unthinkable” first and follow this with “When Tragedy Strikes in the Workplace.”

By Steve Sucato

Give all employees “the facts” about the incident. This is best done in person, but can be done through any proven effective communication system (e-mail, memo, phone call).

Helpful hints about breaking the news

  • Keep employees together if possible and in an area they are familiar with.
  • Give the same information to everyone — don’t try to “sugar coat” it. Use the words dead or died, rather than euphemisms like “passed on” or “passed.”
  • The news should be given by someone whom the employees are familiar with, like a company manager or director.
  • Tell them what happened.
  • Tell them how it happened (if known).
  • Provide status of victim(s), how they are doing.
  • Provide information on police investigation, e.g., what the police are doing, if applicable.
  • Explain what the company is doing to help the employee(s), victim(s) and/or family members.

Once the news has been given, allow for individual grief reactions.

  • Acknowledge: “This is a very difficult time for the organization and for each employee.”
  • Allow time for employees to talk about their feelings.
  • Acknowledge the incident in internal company communications (newsletters, meetings, etc.).
  • If incident involved a safety issue, explain what is being done for their future safety.
  • Acknowledge everything that the employees “did right” during and after the incident.

During this time, someone should:

  • Protect employees as much as possible from being re-victimized by the media or others  who may want to take advantage of the situation.
  • Educate employees about how to cope emotionally after a traumatic event.
  • If a death occurred, plan on a concrete way of remembering the deceased (plaque,  planting a tree, memorial fund).
Courtesy of Trauma Intervention Program of Portland/Vancouver, Inc.

Steve SucatoA former dancer turned writer/critic living in Ohio, Steve Sucato studied ballet and modern dance at the Erie Civic Ballet (Erie, Pa.) and at Pennsylvania State University. He has performed numerous contemporary and classical works sharing the stage with noted dancers Robert LaFosse, Antonia Franceschi, Joseph Duell, Sandra Brown, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. His writing credits include articles and reviews on dance and the arts for The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), The Buffalo News, Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.), Pittsburgh City Paper as well as magazines Pointe, Dance Studio Life, Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher, Stage Directions, Dance Retailer News, Dancer and webzines Balletco, DanceTabs, Ballet-Dance Magazine/Critical Dance, and, where he is currently associate editor. Steve is a chairman emeritus of the Dance Critics Association, an international association of dance journalists.


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