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Workplace Trauma – How to Help Employees Cope

NOTE: The opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of Shortlister

When employees experience workplace violence and no proactive protocols are set in place by employers, the health and well-being of the population are at stake.   Nearly two million U.S. workers will become victims of workplace violence each year, according to the National Safety Council.

Violence is tragic and costly – lost work time, legal fees and a drop in productivity occur.  According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a perception exists that only construction and law enforcement industries experience workplace violence.  This is very far from the truth; data shows healthcare professions experience more workplace violence injuries than all other industries

Employers cannot prevent violence, but they can learn how to navigate a critical incident in order for employees to feel safe, maintain focus and resume productivity.

Critical incidents are defined as any event or situation that creates a stressful impact that inhibits or strains individuals their ability to function.  Tragedies such as death, serious injuries, or life-threatening situations are defined as critical incidents. Major reorganizations and layoffs are also included— they are unplanned and disrupt the workplace.

The National Safety Council advises managers and safety professionals that every workplace should develop a policy on violence that includes employee training, creating an emergency action plan, conducting mock training exercises with local law enforcement, and adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence.

Since leadership within an organization may not know what to do—they often are affected by a tragic event—having a plan set in place in case of a workplace trauma offers great knowledge during crises.

Using a critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) following a traumatic event as part of an overall recovery plan, leadership will be able to effectively support and respond to their employee population.  A CISD is not a medical intervention; it is a specific, small group, supportive crisis intervention process after the event. It can last several hours or periodically be held and run over the course of several days, depending on the nature of the event.

The goal is to help employees reduce stress and return to normalcy.  Making reliable, on-call and educational resources available through a trusted employee assistance program (EAP) will multiply the odds in an employee’s favor to improve their health and well-being.   Individual and family support services, EAP referrals to services and crisis counselors and pre- and post-incident education can also be included.

alone-man-person-236151Traumatized workers tend to focus on survival, not long-range plans. Some signs to look for from employees who may be traumatized include:

– Shock                – Irritability               – Irrational Thinking

– Denial               – Confusion                – Difficulty Concentrating

– Anger                – Poor Sleep               – Anti-Social Behavior


It may take a long time for employees to return to a pre-event state of productivity and well-being after experiencing workplace trauma.  The goal of leadership is to provide a sense of safety and encouragement while keeping lines of honest, supportive communication open.  Then, the workforce will be able to experience a rebuilding of trust and resiliency that, in time, can grow.


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Article By Jane Wolfe, MSW, ACSW, LICSW, DCSW


HMC HealthWorks is a total population health management company headquartered in Jupiter, Florida, that partners with employers, brokers, unions and TPAs nationwide.  Chronic condition management, behavioral health, wellness and EAP/Work-Life programs are part of a larger portfolio of health management services available to clients and tailored to their needs.