How Do Deal With Traumatic Situations


How should a manager deal with employees at the time of a trauma?


Wanting To Help


Dear Wanting To Help:

The nature of the trauma (how severe, how immediate, how many people are directly or indirectly affected) will likely guide the response. The following thoughts are not the advice of a psychologist or psychiatrist, so they should be not considered professional advice. They are simply thoughts about what often is effective in a workplace.

1. Accept the fact that if there has been a traumatic situation, work will be affected to at least some degree. There will be more conversation about it, and employees will be much less likely to focus on work. However, work still must be done. Achieving a balance between dealing with traumatic responses and getting work done, is often the biggest challenge for managers.

You don’t want to seem heartless or insensitive, but still, the business goes on and customers and clients expect to have their work done, or a product must be produced.

A manager will most likely find it helpful to talk to each individual, if the size of the group makes that possible, and let them know of the manager’s concerns for them and the rest of the team. During that conversation (which can be brief) the manager should remind the employee of the specific work that will be continuing and how important that work is. Often simply acknowledging there there are reasons to lose focus but asking employees to stay focused on work, is a good mental challenge for them, and gives them a goal.

2. It is usually best to keep employees focused on steady, sure and routine work. There is almost no point in expecting or asking for creativity, future planning or similar thought processes, when the minds of employees is very much on what is happening right now.

3. If the issue is a severe one, managers should consider if there are options for having professional assistance available for employees.

Managers are not psychologists or psychiatrists and should not give advice that purports to be the best thing for an employee to do. (It might not be the best thing for that employee.) But, anyone who is a caring person can offer to listen and let the employee know that someone cares.

4. If the entire workplace has experienced a traumatic situation, the manager is likely experiencing it too. So, the manager should ensure that he or she is doing all that is possible to deal with it effectively as well.

A good guideline for most of us is to get as much rest as possible, eat healthy and stay focused on the stable aspects of life. In other words, keep the foundations of a happy life strong, no matter what else is happening.

5. Don’t expect that everyone will feel a need to be treated special or that everyone will even feel the same negative, unhappy or stressful feelings. Many people fall apart quickly while others use crisis times to gain and show strength. Some people are hectic on the outside but doing fine inside while others are fine on the outside and falling apart on the inside.

And, some people will use a traumatic situation to excuse poor behavior or performance, while others will be dependable no matter what.

That just reminds you that there is no one way to deal with employee trauma. The best you can do is be aware of it and help individuals find individual solutions. Your role still is to work with and through others to achieve the mission of the organization.

A traumatic time doesn’t go away overnight or even in a week or two. But work must be done and the role of the manager is to ensure that happens, while keeping a strong team and supporting individuals in the way they need it. I hope this is helpful as you deal with the situation in your own workplace. Best wishes.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.