How to mentally prepare for a crisis in the workplace

(BPT) – Recent events in the news have reminded us that unexpected, dangerous and stressful situations can happen anywhere: on the street corner, at the grocery store, and in the workplace. While these situations are often chaotic, there are steps you can take to mentally prepare yourself to handle them better, whether you are an employee, a business owner or manager, or a bystander.

David Levine, senior vice president of Optum’s Employee Assistance Program and an expert in workplace crisis response, says that anyone can take steps ahead of time to prepare themselves and their workplace to better handle a tragic or emotionally disturbing event. He offers a few suggestions anyone can try, starting today:

* Evaluate your purpose – Those who feel they are a part of something bigger than themselves tend to exhibit higher levels of resiliency after a tragedy. Workplaces that encourage volunteerism and community involvement, promote work-life balance and encourage an individual’s sense of family are positioned to nurture resiliency.

* Find ways to manage your stress – Stress can contribute to a host of health issues and can impact the way your brain works. During extreme situations, your brain moves away from abstract thinking, making even simple tasks – eating, sleeping, and solving basic math problems – difficult. If you’re already in the habit of doing things to help you cope with everyday stress, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, or a hobby, that will put you at an advantage for dealing with a sudden crisis. It’s also important that you don’t turn to unhealthy habits as a way to cope, such as the use of nicotine, alcohol or drugs.

* Examine your relationships – Close relationships with family and friends can be invaluable at times of distress. Those with strong support networks tend to manage these challenges better and recover more quickly. By working to strengthen these relationships now, you’ll have a strong support system in place to lean on in times of crisis.

For a business owner or manager, Levine says it’s important to develop a crisis response plan and make sure you are familiar with its details so that in times of need, you can respond quickly and calmly.

“When developing your response plan, consult with crisis experts or your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider to help design a plan that fits your workplace, including a strategy for providing counseling services to employees after a crisis in order to reduce the long-term effects of mental or emotional trauma,” he says. “When tragedy strikes in the workplace, the response of leadership is critical to ensuring that employees remain healthy and productive.”

Levine says leaders should focus on remembering the “ACT” crisis communication process: “Acknowledge, Communicate and Transition.” He says this process has been found to be helpful for individuals and organizations as they recover from a stressful situation.

* Acknowledge and name the incident – Be visible and available, and use real language that specifically describes what occurred. Acknowledge that the incident has impacted the team and you. This action can align leaders with their employees and reduce the likelihood of creating an atmosphere of blame and stagnation.

* Communicate with compassion and competence – Employees want to know that leadership cares about their safety and well-being, and is capable of leading effectively in the wake of a crisis. During these difficult times, employers and managers must “know their stuff” when it comes to the logistics of responding to a crisis, but also be able to communicate in a compassionate way. Other colleagues or a crisis expert could be helpful in providing guidance as leaders prepare to talk to their staff about what happened.

* Begin to transition – Convey an expectation of recovery to help those who are impacted make the transition to viewing themselves as a “survivor” rather than a “victim.” Communicate flexible and reasonable accommodations as people progress back to “normal” life at work. Some employees will be able to immediately function at full productivity; for those who take longer to get back to normal, you can help hasten their recovery by assigning tasks that are familiar and short-term.

In business, the power of planning is a well-documented key to success – and Levine says it’s no different when it comes to responding to a workplace crisis.

“While operating through a crisis will never be an easy task, taking these steps now will help make the situation – should it arise – more manageable in the future.” He adds, “Whether you’re an employee, manager, or bystander to a crisis, following these steps, along with knowing about your employer’s critical incident policies, EAP and other support resources, will help you manage the unexpected.”

For information on emotional health and dealing with crisis, visit

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