Unfortunately, despite your best efforts as an employer, there is no guarantee that an employee will never be exposed to a workplace accident or trauma. How you respond to the resulting challenges, however, can make a big difference as to how they recover, particularly when it comes to their mental workplace wellness.
An incident is more likely to be traumatic when an individual perceives it to be:
Something They Were Unprepared For
Outside Of Their Control
The Result Of Intentional, Malicious Cruelty
Related To A Triggering Childhood Event
Trauma in the workplace could include exposure to the following
Physical Stressors - noise and chaos, a sense of having no control over one’s space, flashing or harsh lights, extremes of temperature, fear for physical safety, and any other adverse physical/environmental conditions.
Stressful Events - death, suicide, grief, accident or injury (to themselves or others).
Organizational Stressors - harassment, bullying, threats, maliciousness, betrayal, chronic pressure, extreme isolation, toxic work environment, unresolved conflict, fear of unemployment, etc.
External Threats - lockdown, evacuation, robbery, fire, etc.
It is common for employees to struggle with their response to the trauma of suffering a workplace accident or injury. Slips, falls, bad injuries resulting from heavy lifting - are just some of the examples of incidents that can lead to a decline in your employee’s mental wellness.
Supporting Employees After A Traumatic Event
Recognize That Each Individual Deals With Trauma Differently
There is a fine line between processing difficult feelings in a supportive environment and being forced to talk about a traumatic event - the latter can lead to re-traumatization that impedes a person’s recovery. Everyone deals with trauma in their own unique way, so while it is important to be open to your employee sharing their feelings, it is equally important not to pressure them if they are withdrawn.
Encourage Them To Reach Out For Support
Ensure that they have access to professional services to guide them through the process of coming to terms with what has happened. Inform them of any organizational or community resources available, and assist them in taking that step if they are not responding proactively.
Help Them To Gain An Objective Perspective Of The Trauma
Feelings of overwhelm, grief, and depression can lead to irrational thoughts, such as notions of guilt, blame, or anxiety at a loss of control. Help your employee to regain a more objective perspective over the event, especially if they feel responsible or have been blamed.
Give Them Adequate Space And Time To Grieve
In the event of tragedy and traumatic loss, it is essential that those affected be given sufficient time and space to grieve, whilst knowing that support is on hand whenever needed. Expect that it will take time for their usual level of motivation to return.
That said, depending on the circumstances, even seemingly minor accidents can pose a risk to an individual’s mental health. It is important to avoid judgment and focus on giving the individual the support they need.
Ask Them What They Need
Rather than presuming and/or telling them what they need, ask them. Many times, additional stress is created by well-intentioned people trying too hard to help an individual move forwards, when what they need most is to feel heard and supported.
Ask Them What They Most Want Their Team To Know
Alongside asking them what they want and need to feel safe at work, ask them what they most feel they need their fellow workers to understand.
Feelings of isolation or judgement can further impede a person’s ability to heal mentally and emotionally, and it can help tremendously to be given the opportunity to feel truly heard and understood.
Show Your Concern For Their Well-Being
Instead of generically asking them how they are, ask them how they are doing today, how are they coping, or how work is going for them. The focus needs to be on the present to keep them connected to what is occurring in the moment instead of reverting to globalized feelings that are harder to manage.
Generally, show your concern by being fully present to what they share with you - offer compassion and solutions where needed, but mostly ensure that they feel heard and cared for.
Be Aware Of Processes That May Become Stressful
When it comes to processes related to workers’ compensation claims, disability, or absence, stress can build and become overwhelming. So, where possible, communicate in person with patience and understanding, ensuring that your distressed employee can clearly comprehend what is happening and feels supported.
Check-In With Them At Regular Intervals
When it comes to their healing progress, their access to professional support and their claims, etc. make sure to check in with them regularly to ensure that they are recovering as best as they can, as well as to avoid any surprises regarding their claim or coverage etc.
It can be hard to understand what is occurring for an individual after an accident or other traumatic event, as every person responds differently. The most important course of action you can take after an employee suffers an injury or other trauma, is to remain patient and compassionate. Ensure that they feel heard and that they feel safe to communicate how they feel and what they most need.
The last thing anyone wants is for a workplace incident to lead to significant mental health challenges, so stay aware, check in with them regularly and ensure that they feel fully supported.