Handling workplace tragedies
Sometimes you need professional help when your practice experiences a tragedy, but there are some things you can do to help your staff recover.
First, keep the office routine going as best you can.
"This is not a good time to make any reorganization," says Dr. Robert Kaplan, of Kaplan Consulting & Counseling in Beachwood, Ohio.Kaplan, who is a clinical and forensic psychologist, suggests employers keep things as stable as they can after a traumatic event. Don't start any new projects and don't make any major changes for at least six to eight weeks, he says.
Offer social support through a group meeting or, if someone has died, a memorial service in the office, Kaplan says.
"Let your team know how you feel," says Karyn Gavzer of KG Marketing and Training, a consulting firm that specializes in veterinary practices. "You're human too. Acknowledge the shock. Otherwise the team will assume you're just worried about the business and getting work done. Clearly, it's more than that."
Go ahead and plug into that feeling of family, says Rory Fisher, Director of Human Resources at AAHA.
"No matter how large your practice is you can still generate that kind of caring environment," Fisher says. "It helps you pull through tragedies when they arrive."
Listen. And when you do talk, tell employees what resources are available to them instead of telling them what they should do, Fisher says.
Everybody grieves differently — some will cry in the office, others will have a poker face. So don't judge somebody just because they're stoic, Gavzer says.
Find out if the practice has access to a grief counselor. Often, an employee assistance program rider (which would include access to a grief counselor) can be added to life or health insurance policies for free, says Fisher.
And be ready to use it if the staff is having a hard time coping.
If employees are crying, sobbing, can't work or focus, it's time to get professional help, Kaplan says.
Kaplan suggests getting a professional trained in "critical incident stress debriefing." This kind of service provides a structured setting for employees to talk about their stress and get ideas for coping. Attendance should be mandatory, but speaking should be optional, he says.
Employers can find professionals in this area by calling their local American Red Cross chapter, mental health center, United Way or an employee assistance program. Kaplan serves as co-chair for the Mental Health Disaster Team for the American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland.
Don't dwell on it for too long, Fisher says. At some point, get away and make a positive re-direction of your energy.
"It's a horrible loss and all of the feelings of grief and anger are very real, but it helps people enormously to focus their energy in a positive way," Gavzer says.
Find some way to help or honor the person they lost, Gavzer says.
Consider planting a tree or a memorial garden in their name. If the employee had pets, maybe the practice can adopt the pet or find a good home for their pet.
To honor an employee who was murdered by her husband, the Caring Hands Animal Hospital chose to offer free services to a local women's shelter that allows women escaping domestic violence to bring their pets with them.
"So many people stay in abusive homes out of fear for what will happen to the pets," says Dr. Jeffery Newman, one of the owners of Caring Hands Animal Hospital in Arlington, Va. "There aren't very many shelters that allow pets period. We plan to be very involved" with this shelter.