How to Help Staff Cope With Disaster-Related Stress and Anxiety

Recent hurricanes, the Las Vegas mass shooting, and the California wildfires might have your workforce on edge. Here are a few tips for helping them cope.

From Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, to the mass shooting in Las Vegas, to the wildfires that are currently ravaging Northern California, disasters seem to fill the news every day. And these disasters and tragedies can affect your employees in different ways, even if they were not directly impacted.

“Because people spend the majority of their waking hours at work, then some of that is obviously going to spill over in the workplace,” said Dr. David Ballard, director of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence. “Even though it might not be something directly affecting that organization, it’s affecting people that are working there, so it does have implications.”

Ballard shared a few ideas for how organizations can help employees cope with any extra stress or anxiety related to these recent events:

Acknowledge and normalize reactions. People react to disasters differently. Some will have strong feelings that affect their ability to focus on their work, create tension in interpersonal relationships, and generally just put them on edge, while others might not feel traumatized at all. “It’s important to acknowledge that people are having a variety of reactions to this—and that it’s normal to have any number of reactions to this,” Ballard said.

Promote employee assistance programs. EAPs often give employees access to mental health professionals free of charge. “Following a crisis is a good time to put out some reminders, [such as] ‘Hey, this resource is available at no cost to you,’” Ballard said. He also added that it’s imperative to give clear instructions for how to access these programs. He noted that some organizations in the past have invited an EAP counselor onsite for a day or two, to make the service more readily available to employees. In addition, these EAP counselors can make referrals if the employee requires further mental health services.

Remind staff about self-care. “When people are stressed out, it’s really easy to forget to engage in those self-care activities or to feel like you don’t have time, because you’re too stressed out, ironically, to do the things that will actually help you,” Ballard said. To that end, the organization can remind its workforce about the importance of eating healthy, getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, exercising, getting up and moving around through the day, and maintaining social connections.

Connect staff with ways to help. Even if the disaster or tragedy didn’t hit close to home, organizations can connect their staffs with ways to help from afar. For example, “sharing information with employees about how they can volunteer, help, or donate to the response of whatever the crisis was,” Ballard said. In addition, they can also connect staff with local organizations that are responding to the event. “After the mass shooting, there may be a gun violence prevention organization in the local community that could use some volunteer help or donations,” he said.

By investing in employees and offering them resources to manage stress, Ballard said organizations are not only doing the right thing for their workforce but also for their business. “[I]t will help the organization function better; it will help people in the organization be more resilient when crises do occur; and it will create an environment where it’s a good place to work—where people want to come to work—and that helps you attract and retain top-quality workers,” he said.

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Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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