Traumatic events happen: Know when to call your Employee Assistance Program

Czachary-meyeralling your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) after a critical incident can make a huge difference in helping employees get back on their feet and minimizing workplace disruption. But do you always recognize such an incident when it’s happened?

Some traumatic, or critical, events are obvious — fires, tornadoes, storms, workplace accidents. In other cases it can be difficult to judge whether, and to what extent, employees have been affected. Those events include: an employee suddenly dies, an employee’s spouse commits suicide, a shooting occurs at the local mall, rumors of pending layoffs or a merger are spreading.

Here are some questions to consider when deciding whether a situation may, in fact, be a critical incident:

• Were employees in danger, or did they believe they were in danger?
• Did an employee suffer serious injury or die unexpectedly?
• Did the police, fire department or other emergency workers respond?
• Has the event been called a “crisis,” “tragedy,” “catastrophe,” “disaster” or “terrorism”?
• Has there been media coverage of the event?

Evaluating employee reaction is critical, too. Here are some telltale signs among employees that may indicate they’ve been affected and that you should contact your EAP:

• Difficulty concentrating
• Declining productivity
• Higher absenteeism or attrition
• Employees appear uncomfortable or express feelings of being overwhelmed
• Increased concerns about personal safety
• Irritability, anger, tearfulness
• Complaints about loss of appetite, headache, shivering or rapid heart rates

If managers notice any of these reactions, it’s important to acknowledge and address them in a non-judgmental way. Reach out to your EAP, too. The EAP critical incident team can help you assess the situation and develop a plan to support employees and return the workplace to its normal level of productivity.

For more guidance on what to do when a crisis strikes, read our white paper on critical incident response.

Hear a critical incident response coordinator describe her work in a video available on our website.

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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