By Nancy Shriner  | Employee Assistance Report

The recent mass shooting that took the lives of 58 people and wounded another 480 country music fans in Las Vegas shook America. Over time, as with all similar tragedies, the repercussions of that horrendous event will create a ripple effect, negatively impacting victims and their families for a long time.

The victims at the southern tip of the Las Vegas strip were mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. Many, if not most, also were employees. In fact, media reports profiling the innocent victims whose lives were lost in Las Vegas often included comments from employers who stepped up to praise their lost or wounded workers and support their families.

Sadly, the events of Sunday, Oct. 1, drove home the importance of EAPs in helping surviving coworkers and families cope with the aftermath of a horrible tragedy. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily take such a dramatic event to require support for employees when a coworker dies. It could be a heart attack at an office desk, cancer, or perhaps a car accident. It could be anywhere at any time, because every day people die, and the odds are high these individuals are in the workforce.

Disruptive Event Management Arrives

In the 1980s, Dr. Jeffery Mitchell and Dr. George Everly coined the term Critical Incident Stress Debriefing. The concept was designed to prevent or reduce post-traumatic stress for police, fire, and other first responders. For many years, EAP staff used that same terminology and applied parts of that same concept to our responses.

Recently, EAPs began using the term disruptive event management (DEM), a term that more broadly encompasses some of the reasons employee assistance professionals are called on-site in a post-trauma situation, such as the death of an employee, serious accident on the job, violent incident or natural disaster.

For example, an EAP could be asked to have a counselor on-sitefor an incident that occurs out of state, or in a different location other than the company’s headquarters. Massively tragic events such as the
Las Vegas music festival or Orlando nightclub shootings, for example, also could negatively affect employees in various locations who may have friends or relatives who were injured or killed in these tragedies. EAP clients could request a counselor on-site to support their employees, even in some cases when they may not have been directly impacted other than what they saw through the news media.

DEM entails delivering a customized response to worksites impacted by any event that disrupts employees’ ability to work. In the case of an employee death or trauma, the central focus is to provide support to leadership and employees by helping to create a culture of psychological safety, decreasing stress, and acknowledging the employees’ reaction to the loss or devastation. This support results in less absenteeism, with a quicker return to the same level of functioning as before the event and continued productivity.

The overriding idea is people have a right to lead productive, meaningful lives, which means providing an objective, timely, and thorough response that helps with the human side of recovery.

Employee Deaths Drive EAP Involvement

It may surprise you that among common disruptive incidents, the biggest reason our firm gets involved is due to employee deaths, which account for 70 percent of clients’ requests for help. As we are all aware, not just the elderly or the very ill die; often death is unpredictable.

When an unexpected death occurs, it’s important that leadership acknowledge the event and freely share the information that they have with employees. Today’s social media can move information quickly, but not always accurately. Experience has proven that facts can reduce fear for employees. Certainly, it makes sense for employers to consult with their EAP regarding next best steps to support their staff through this loss.

Most of all, it’s good to remember that these scenarios can be very fluid, there is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution or response, or way of presenting the best possible strategy following an employee death. Some employee deaths come after a long illness, and co-workers have had time to grieve this potential loss. Other natural deaths are sudden and unexpected, and some deaths are a result of a tragic accident or situation. The impact to co-workers as well as the organization is likely very different. EAP counselors are able to adjust their strategies to the needs of a client. Flexibility is crucial.

Leadership’s Role in Managing through a Disruptive Event

When a tragedy strikes, employees look to leadership for direction. Leaders must present competence and compassion. An empowered leader demonstrates the seriousness of the loss, an awareness of the impact to the organization and its workforce, while also communicating an expectation of recovery.

It is important that whatever loss or trauma has occurred, it is acknowledged by leadership with transparency and accurate facts. The trauma or loss should be named with language that is specific. For example, if there is a fatality, don’t be afraid to use the word death. Effective leaders acknowledge the personal impact as well as the effect on the organization, and most importantly, recognize the loss and devastation to the team members. Leadership should communicate an expectation of recovery while recognizing that the workplace will be flexible with reasonable accommodations as people progress back to work as usual.

Planning, EAP can Help

A critical incident or death of an employee is traumatic on many different levels. Yet, death is a fact of life. With proper planning and a strong EAP-driven program in place, employers can meet the challenge of helping their workers and families deal with their grief and its impact on the workplace.

Most of all, it’s important that leadership be prepared and plan for this kind of event. Because if it hasn’t happened yet, it certainly will. And at a time when something as traumatic as the death of a co-worker occurs, employees are looking to leadership for direction and support.

Health Advocate has received a Bronze award from the Digital Health AwardsSM  for our new online member experience. The website and mobile app both enable members to access all of their Health Advocate services in one place, seamlessly connecting them to experts and resources to help them get the information and assistance they need to navigate the healthcare system, access care and improve their health.

The member website and mobile app are available to all Health Advocate members online or via both the Apple iTunes and Google Play stores.

The Digital Health Awards, which is held twice yearly, features 80 categories; Health Advocate was recognized in the Mobile Digital Health Resources category. A panel of 26 experts in digital health media served as judges and selected gold, silver, bronze, and merit winners from nearly 400 entries.

The Health Information Resource CenterSM (HIRC), organizer of the Digital Health Awards, is a national information clearinghouse for professionals who work in consumer health fields.

By Bert Alicea | BenefitsPRO

When tragedy strikes, a quick response is critical. And that includes organizations with employees impacted by the situation. Experiences with recent and ongoing examples, such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, wildfires in the western U.S., and a number of other natural disasters, demonstrate the need to act fast, which requires having a plan in place before something happens. While it is impossible to be fully prepared when something like this happens, organizations can turn to their employee assistance program (EAP) for support helping employees recover and create a path forward.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there were 102 disaster declarations in 2016, ranging from severe storms and flooding to fires and tornadoes. It should come as no surprise to learn that we are on track to exceed that number in 2017. Each of these natural disasters carries a hefty price tag for federal and local governments, businesses and individuals. For example, damages from Hurricane Irma alone are estimated to cost between $20 and $40 billion.

There is only so much organizations can do to prevent the financial cost in the face of one of these catastrophes, but partnering with an EAP in the aftermath can help address the emotional toll on employees.

The initial response

Immediately following a disaster, the first priority is survival and ensuring people have access to the resources they need, including food, fuel, electricity and shelter. Before psychological needs can be addressed, EAPs ensure employees have the resources necessary to begin reestablishing some sense of normalcy. An EAP can serve as a hub, connecting people with essential resources and services such as the Red Cross, emergency services, government relief organizations, food banks and more.

While EAPs cannot always be physically present immediately following a disaster, many can provide telephonic support to aid organizations and their employees. By understanding what people need most and helping them access those services, it is possible for the EAP to relieve some of the overwhelming feelings many people experience during these difficult times. In addition to connecting people with necessary resources, EAP psychologists and trained counselors can offer emotional support during this phase, including:

  • Talking to a licensed clinician about the situation
  • Strategies to help with the adjustment period
  • Help with anxiety, stress, how to talk with kids
  • Tips to stay positive and productive

Psychological support

Following the initial phase of immediate recovery, the EAP can provide the second line of defense, stepping in with psychological first aid. Within a few weeks of an event, if not sooner, most EAPs can have people on site to provide critical incident response to organizations and their employees.

At this time, the EAPs can shift the focus toward emotional and psychological healing. Counselors will work with employees to focus on addressing how the disaster has impacted each of them. For some, this will be a challenging road. If they have lost loved ones or their homes, getting back to normalcy may not be feasible, but a trained EAP expert can help them develop a plan and take steps to create a new normal and begin improving one day at a time.

While this is the time to more fully address psychological needs, the physical recovery does not stop. Experts and specialists with the EAP can help ensure people know where to go for help to start the journey to get back on their feet:

  • Locate temporary or permanent housing
  • Arrange school and child care transfers
  • Find government relief organizations
  • Access local and community agencies
  • Connect with insurance, legal services, tax relief, and others

Preparing for a natural disaster

Organizations can only do so much to prepare for the unexpected. EAPs have witnessed many incidents and can leverage lessons learned to help others know what tools to put in place in advance should a natural disaster or other critical incident impact their organization or employees.

Building a disaster recovery plan is essential to responding quickly should something happen, including the steps organizations will take immediately following the disaster and in the months to come. It is important to consider where the EAP fits, including when to access their services. The EAP may not be the first call an organization makes, but it should be close to the top as a critical resource to help and support employees.

By partnering with their EAP, organizations can utilize their expertise and understand how the EAP can help support recovery efforts if a natural disaster occurs.

When a natural disaster or other tragedy occurs, EAPs can partner with brokers and consultants to address their clients’ needs. By having previously established relationships with EAPs, as well as other resources and professionals, brokers have the ability to quickly connect their clients with experienced expertise and support when they need it most or are unsure where to turn.

Looking ahead to 2018, consider proactively contracting directly with an EAP to retain disruptive-event management support services for clients in the event of a natural disaster or other tragedy that could occur in the workplace.

By having these services available and on standby, brokers can step in and address immediate needs for any of their clients. This is especially beneficial for smaller clients who may not have an EAP, but will still need assistance should a potential disaster or other critical event occur. Contact your EAP to determine if they offer a specific critical-event support program for brokers.

Organizations cannot predict when a natural disaster will affect their employees, but their EAP partners can be instrumental in preparing and addressing these tragic incidents to ensure employees have the support they need.