Any kind of traumatic event in the workplace can have devastating consequences for an organisation and for its employees; after all, we go about our business never expecting to encounter such difficulty. So, an extreme event often triggers an extreme response, which has the potential to compromise productivity and revenue.
Critical incidents are sudden and unexpected events, outside of normal human experience and, as such, have the potential to overwhelm individuals, impacting on their capacity to respond in a balanced way. Having said that, individual responses will vary, depending on levels of resilience and based on an individual’s perception of the incident and past personal experiences.
Critical Incident Support is provided in the form of a debriefing procedure that aims to work with complex human emotion in an attempt bring some normality into and abnormal situation. Traumatic events are shocking and it is the initial shock that triggers a sense of mental and physical paralysis. It is often tempting for an employer to want to draw immediate support, but experience suggests that the most effective support in the immediate aftermath of an event is that of colleagues, those who are known and familiar to those who have been affected. For those more heavily impacted, it is important that they are enabled to get home safely, where they can be supported by those closest to them.
A state of shock may compromise an individual’s capacity to engage in the debriefing process and it appears that it is more helpful to consider onsite support by an external provider somewhere between 24-72 hours following the traumatic event. Having said that, immediate support should never be ruled out where employers are struggling to manage a very difficult situation.
Once onsite, the Critical Incident Responder will work with those impacted through group and/or individual participation. Group participation can be particularly helpful in that it is an opportunity to share feelings and emotions that are normal and common in such situations and so, hopefully, reduce a sense of isolation for an individual. One to one participation may be helpful for those reluctant to engage in a group session, perhaps because the event has triggered particularly painful memories, which is often the case. The responder’s role is both supportive and educational, enabling those who have been affected to utilise appropriate resources and strategies to help them to readjust to an abnormal situation.
There follows a period of watchful waiting during the following few weeks, allowing those involved to go through a phase of re-integration, where they are able to make sense of what has happened and to integrate it both mentally and emotionally, to the extent that they feel safe again. However, should symptoms persist or escalate over a prolonged period of time, more structured support may well be indicated in the form of counselling.
JR Corporate Health blogs cover topics such as management support, supervision, psychological support, critical incident support and wellbeing in the workplace.