Coping with Tragedy

Manager: ‘How can I tell this awful story?

Shock and Pain 

When the manager arrived at the worksite on Monday morning some employees had already heard that Wendy ( a pseudonym)had taken her own life the evening before. The news spread like wildfire and so did the gossip. Her cubicle spontaneously became a shrine and centre of grieving for her colleagues:  recent photograph, flowers, rosary beads,

The department was caving in with grief. The manager was asking herself, “How can I tell this awful story?” The soul-searching questions were uttered openly, such as: ‘How could she take her own life?’ ‘Why didn’t she reach out to us?’ “Were there signs that we missed that we neglected to pay attention to?’

In an instance like this the presence of structure and leadership is needed.  If left alone the dark hole becomes an abyss. The EAP responsibility is to move quickly to support supervisors and managers so they begin to have their own needs met for comfort and nurturance, and be better able to reach out to support their workers.

 

Consulting with the EAP:

A good communication plan should offer facts to eliminate gossip, and describe what steps the company is taking to comfort the family. It might also include announcements of a Debriefing session, a memorial service, where to send cards and flowers to the family. Frequent and timely communication is paramount.

Resuming normal business operations is a tricky and delicate issue. It must be done in such a way as to honour the loss of the deceased and allow co-workers time to grieve, while striking a balance for meeting the needs of  the business. Nothing can sour a workforce and lose goodwill faster than the words from management, ‘it’s back to business as usual’ shortly after a death, as if nothing had happened.

An intervention like this is applicable for other traumatic loss in the workplace. However, it is important for the manager to understand and anticipate a range of emotional responses.

 

Further Assistance

For further information and support please call 622-6594 your EAP Provider, Elder Associates Limited. In addition you can download an online booklet entitled:

“A Managers Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace: 10 Action Steps for Dealing with the Aftermath of a Suicide.” (http://bit.ly/mgrsui) Also, a two page fact sheet:

“Recovery in the Aftermath of Workplace Violence: Guidance for Supervisors.” (http://bit.ly/afterviolence)