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Dealing with a Personal Crisis at Work

As a manager it is never easy to know how to respond when there is a personal crisis affecting one of your staff. It is even worse when one of your staff has an accident and is terribly hurt or even succumbs to their injuries. It is also difficult for an employee when one of their loved ones dies suddenly. This can be a trying time for their co-workers as well. Our first reaction might be to shy away from a personal response to such a crisis and try to maintain a sense of normalcy in the workplace. That may be part of the solution but there’s much more that can and should be done.

Brian W. Pascal
People bring their emotions and often their problems with them to work. In the case of an employee who has lost a close family member or spouse, they will not only need time and space to deal with their grief, but they will also need support and assistance from management. Other members of the work team may also need some guidance from their manager.

Supporting the worker in crisis is probably the manager’s most important job. You need to ensure that you check in personally with the worker who has suffered a loss to offer your condolences and to see if they need anything right away. They probably won’t, except for some time and space and those are easy to deliver.

As they get ready to return to work, it would be a good idea to try and meet with them before they actually come back and monitor their early engagement in the workplace. There may be some emotional days and times when they are unproductive and may need to go home early. If that can be accommodated, it is probably for the best. Let the employee grieve in their own way. It is a process and will take as long as it takes. Resist the urge to hurry them along.

Managers should also keep an eye on their co-workers through this period. An emotional co-workers may be triggered by the events happening around them about the loss of a spouse or child and may need their own mini timeout. As many employees as possible should be allowed to and encouraged to take part in any funeral or memorial service. It may be just as important for their emotional health as the employee who has suffered the loss.

There are also some important administrative steps that management can take to help a workplace where an employee has gone through a difficult time. Health Canada actually has some suggestions that include recognizing that the weeks following a traumatic event may be less productive and requesting that pending deadlines be delayed or assigned to another group. Asking for additional temporary help with administrative work may also be beneficial for both you and your work team.

When the crisis involves the death or serious injury of a co-workers, special assistance may be required. In this case, all of the workers will need some form of support. When given the opportunity and time, most work groups will look after each other. There are natural leaders and nurturers within the team who know far better the right thing to do or say to help the workplace move forward.

If this death or serious incident occurs in the workplace, there will also be a need to look after the formal and administrative measures like accident reporting and critical incident stress debriefing for anyone directly impacted by the incident. In this situation, even more so than others, it will be necessary to ensure that all employees who are even indirectly impacted are given the support they require to deal with their reactions.

None of these situations are easy. As much as we’d like them not to occur on our watch, we will have to deal with one or more of these crises during our career. We must ignore our first reaction which is to say and do nothing. We must be the workplace leader that our employees expect. If we do this, we will earn the trust and respect of our colleagues, subordinates and superiors. Dealing with the hard stuff is not one of our most pleasant tasks as managers, but it may turn out to be the most rewarding.


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