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When Crisis Strikes Your Workplace

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Natural disaster, unexpected, untimely or accidental death of an employee, reductions-in-force, unexplained disappearance, murder, work-related injury or fatality, work- place violence or threat of violence – all of these events or critical incidents have several things in common:

  • They generally happen without warning.
  • They happen in spite of precautions.
  • They generally have a profound impact on an organization’s workforce.

A critical incident is any event that has the potential for overwhelming a person’s natural resilience to respond in healthy ways that allow the person to return to a sense of wellbeing and normalcy. The critical incident becomes traumatic when resilience is inadequate to enable a person to take the necessary steps to restore this sense of wellbeing, normalcy, security, and self-efficacy.


Critical incidents that occur in the workplace, or impact a workforce (such as when an employee dies, disappears or is threatened by violence at the workplace) have the capacity to disrupt productivity, diminish safe work practices due to distraction and distress, and erode team cohesion.

Furthermore, untreated workplace-related trauma may result in costly worker’s compensation and disability claims. Among the reasons to consider offering on-site critical incident response services:

  • Stabilize crisis by acknowledging the significance of event; providing information; reducing speculation.
  • Provide support to allow employees to return to a sense of wellbeing quickly and with as little distress as possible, given the circumstances.
  • Provide education on the typical reactions to stress, healthy coping strategies.
  • Activate natural resilience in employees who will be able to adjust to the critical incident with nominal emotional support.
  • Reduce acute stress symptoms by facilitating therapeutic conversation among impacted employees.
  • Assess the need for and facilitate arrangements of ongoing support for employees who are experiencing more intense or distressing reactions.
  • Reduce productivity loss, distraction.
  • Communicate leadership’s care and concern for employees.
  • Exhibit organizational leadership in crisis (which in itself supports a return to normalcy).
  • Provide management support for impacted supervisors, managers and other leaders who are required to provide leadership to impacted employees.
  • Reduce the likelihood of costly worker’s compensation claims.


Each critical incident is unique; each workplace is unique; each person’s response is unique. The types of interventions that can be provided may be conceptualized as follows, keeping in mind that depending on each unique situation, interventions can be tailored to the particular circumstances:

  • Crisis management briefing – for large or small groups, to provide information about the incident, control rumors, educate about symptoms of critical incident stress, identify resources, instill leadership and stabilize crisis.
  • Defusing – for small homogeneous groups (similarly impacted), generally provided 1-12 hours after an event, to provide information, normalization, lower tension, identify those needing additional support.
  • Psychological first aid – for small homogeneous groups (similarly impacted) or individuals, generally provided anytime after an event, to provide normalization, lower tension, reduce acute distress, provide information of coping, connect with social supports.
  • Grief groups – for small homogeneous groups, post- funeral, to facilitate the group grieving process, pro- vide information on the dynamics of grief and specific ways to offer support to grieving employees and family members.
  • Process groups – for small homogeneous groups, anytime after an event, to facilitate therapeutic conversation among group members, build team cohesion, support and understanding.

A critical incident is any event that has the potential for overwhelming a person’s natural resilience to respond in healthy ways that allow the person to return to a sense of wellbeing and normalcy.


There are times when a supervisor or manager cannot escape the personal impact of a critical or traumatic incident. The supervisor may want to lead his or her team, provide support and make the decisions necessary to bring stability to the workplace, but the impact of the event affects the supervisor’s immediate emotional stamina. As difficult as it may seem, the best outcome for the workgroup may not be achieved when a personally impacted supervisor attempts to provide support and leadership to his or her team alone.

In such a case, it is best for the impacted supervisor to seek additional management support – either from a peer, manager, or HR. In addition, Personal Assistance Services (PAS) is available to provide management consultation, assist in intervention planning and consult with the impacted supervisor or manager on how best to cope with his or her own personal reactions to the traumatic incident while balancing leadership responsibilities.


As soon as practical after a critical incident occurs:

  • Stay calm. Try not to panic; take deep breaths. When we panic, our ability to think clearly becomes impaired.
  • Communicate what information you can to employees; they are looking to you for direction. A vacuum of information is a hotbed for rumors.
  • If you, as a manager, have been significantly impacted by the event, assess your need for leadership reinforcement. You will not be a stabilizing force to your employees if you are reeling yourself.
  • Provide reassurance by acknowledging the impact that the incident has had and inform your employees that professional support will be provided.
  • Pay attention to the immediate physical needs of your employees. Provide them with shelter, water and food, dry clothes or blankets if needed. Provide a mechanism for them to contact family, relatives or friends for sup- port.
  • Provide employees with a safe environment in which to support one another. If available, activate your organization’s peer support team.
  • Call PAS to discuss organizational needs for professional onsite critical incident response services.

When requesting onsite critical incident response services, trained staff from PAS will gather pertinent information and begin the process of planning with you what services will be most suitable to your unique situation. In some cases, immediate onsite response is not possible, because the incident may be under investigation and the scene may be locked down or inaccessible to outside providers.

A variety of electronic informational material is immediately accessible on the PAS website for distribution to affected workgroups and their managers or supervisors. Even if access to a worksite is restricted, educational information and peer support may be a good first step toward activating your employees’ resilience factors that promote stabilization and recovery.

The benefits of developing a peer response team (especially in certain environments) and other steps that organizations can take to manage critical events to achieve a “best” outcome during very difficult times, will be discussed in a future newsletter.


After initial onsite interventions, a PAS clinician will follow up to discuss if additional services are indicated and next steps toward restoring your team to full functioning. Employees who have been particularly impacted and whose stress reactions are unusually troublesome may be referred to PAS for further assessment and care. Throughout the process, you and your organization can rest assured that you are partnering with professionals at PAS who have the expertise to help your workforce return to full health, productivity, and normalcy.

Personal Assistance Services (800) 356-0845


This article is not intended to be construed as legal advice, but is provided as an overview of good business practices. PAS-It-On © 2013 by PAS and HRS, Inc. 9735 Landmark Pkwy., Ste. 17, St. Louis, MO63127-9968  (800) 356-0845Material may not be reproduced without written permission.