Traumatic events test employers’ ability to respond

Zachary MeyerWould you know how to respond to your employees’ grief following the death of a co-worker? A work site closing or reduction in force? A community tragedy?

Traumatic events like an employee death are sources of workplace disruption, triggering emotional and even physical reactions among co-workers and managers alike. Employees may be shaken and unable to concentrate on work. Productivity may suffer.

Handling such situations quickly and empathetically can burnish your organization’s standing. Failing to acknowledge the sorrow could have dire consequences.

The smart thing to do is to reach out for help by using resources such as your employee assistance program (EAP). EAPs offer critical response services that can provide guidance and support for employees and managers following a critical incident. Last year, 57 percent of employers’ calls to the Optum™ EAP for critical incident response services were related to employee deaths — the No. 1 reason.

An EAP professional with critical incident response experience will assess a situation and suggest ways to communicate the availability of EAP services for employees.

Depending on circumstances, the EAP may also provide on-site assistance by licensed clinicians who are trained in critical response. These professionals provide the opportunity for managers and employees alike to share their feelings, either in groups or alone, and help them realize that their reactions are reasonable and not unusual. Their job is to listen, comfort, and recommend counseling resources, if appropriate.

A traumatic incident is one of those moments that can define your company. EAPs can help ensure that you do the right thing for your employees.

  • For more guidance on what to do — and what not to do — when a crisis strikes, read our white paper on critical incident response.
  • Listen to a critical incident response coordinator describe her work in a video available on

–Zachary J. Meyer

About the author

Zachary J. Meyer is senior vice president of employee assistance and well-being programs at Optum. He has extensive experience in developing and managing employee assistance, work/life and well-being programs that increase workforce productivity and resiliency.

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