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Guide to Helping Employees Immediately after a Critical Incident

What to do First

  • Relocate all employees from the trauma scene to a safe area as soon as feasible.
  • Provide employees with necessities such as water, tissues, food, etc.

Behaviors You May Observe

Employess may be:

  • in a state of shock
  • Crying and perhaps unable to stop
  • Angery and frustrated
  • Withdrawn and isolated

How to Support Employees

  • Be willing to say nothing. Just being there is often the most supportive thing you can do to help.
  • Be aware that employees will have mixed emotions. These are normal reactions to the critical incident.
  • Allow all employees to express any reactions to the critical incident.
  • Answer any questions employees may have.
  • Provide these suggestions: avoid alcohol and caffeine; rest; relax with breathing exercises; increase support from family and loved ones; drink plenty of water.
  • Call the Faculty, Staff and Student Assistance Programs (443-997-7000) to request crisis response services.
  • Give FASAP’s phone number (443-997-7000) to those employees who feel they need additional support.


Suggestions for What to Avoid

  • Avoid statements like, “I know how you feel” or “Everything will be all right.” These statements make some people think their feelings are not understood.
  • Do not attempt to explain why the incident happened. Your explanation may not be believed and may negatively impact your relationship with the employee.


Suggested Management Responses after the Critical Incident

  • A supervisor should be well aware and understanding of the normal reactions to trauma and stress.
  • The supervisor should be alert to behavioral changes, and consider consulting FASAP about next steps.
  • The supervisor may choose to be temporarily tolerant of reduced performance or increased time-off, but he or she must use such tolerance carefully and not create resentment in other employees.
  • Although some employees may need time off to work through their problems, productive work is historically a "healer" of emotional damage.
  • The supervisor can reduce the effect troubled employees have on others by structuring some time for "talking it out" via a defusing or debriefing from FASAP, eliminating the need some have to "dump" their troubles on other employees.
  • Productivity is still the supervisor's key responsibility. Employees need to know the organization expects the employee to continue to function, and to regain acceptable performance levels.
  • The supervisor should respectfully confront employees with unacceptable work behavior, regardless of the cause.
  • The supervisor should report all threats of violence to the Safe at Hopkins. If immediate safety is a concern, contact Security or 911.
  • The normal steps of good management govern such confrontations, even if trauma related.
  • It may be difficult for managers to determine how long an individual will need to recover from a traumatic event. However, your job is still to manage outcomes and productivity.

If you find yourself struggling with an employee weeks to months after a workplace crisis, please call the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program for consultation. FASAP has specially trained clinicians who work with managers and human resources/labor relations professionals on these issues. Services are available, 24 hours, 7 days a week by calling 443-997-7000.