When Tragedy Strikes in the Workplace


Editor’s note: You may wish to read “Preparing for the Unthinkable” first and follow this with "Helping Employees React After a Tragic Event."


Guidelines for Managers


1. Reach Out To Employees

  • Acknowledge the tragedy
  • Provide opportunities for togetherness
  • Organize a diffusing session.
  • Accept all feelings (don’t cheerlead or argue)
  • Respect individual differences
  • Wander around and ask “How are you?”
  • Don’t forget all the victims, including family members and those “off-site”

2. Protect Employees From Further Harm

  • Protect from media.
  • Clean up.
  • Meet physical needs.
  • Protect employees from blamers.
  • Don’t overprotect and don’t give false reassurance.

3. Keep Employees Informed

  • Provide information about what has happened; what the company is doing; what the company will do; what the system is doing; and how the family is coping.
  • Acknowledge any lack of information and explain when information will be available.
  • Information should be timely, honest and understandable.
  • Provide regular “briefings.”

4. Organize Chaos

  • Take time to develop a simple plan.
  • Ask for help from employees -- they want to help.
  • Delegate tasks according to employees’ strengths.
  • Maintain a normal business routine.
  • Ask for outside help.


5. Reinforce Strengths in the Workplace

  • Listen for strengths.
  • Support reminiscing.
  • Support “saying goodbye” rituals.
  • Support employee grieving and remembrance activities.
  • Point out what employees did right.
  • Provide comforting information about the family.
  • Thank employees for their help in managing the crisis.
  • Reinforce “positive thinking” when it comes from employees.
Courtesy of Trauma Intervention Program of Portland/Vancouver, Inc.


A 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 Exploredance.com, 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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