Ensure a Management Presence in the Worksite

Managers need to spend ample time with their employees, wherever they may be. Employees at the worksite need to be reassured of management’s concern, and they need to be able to ask questions. Senior management should ensure that immediate supervisors are supported in this role, relieved of unnecessary duties, and not pulled away from their subordinates to write lengthy reports or prepare elaborate briefings

Share Information with employees

Employees will have many questions, and they need the answers — often more than once — if they are to resolve the experience for themselves. Information will develop over time, so information strategies need to be simple and fluid. A notice board at the elevator, or a recorded message on a “hotline” number may suffice for the basics, and a user-friendly system for individual questions needs to be established.

Include Union Leadership (if applicable)

Union representatives can help in reassuring employees after an incident and in getting information to employees.

Bring in Crisis Response Professionals

Before an incident ever occurs, the planning group should identify trained mental health professionals in the agency’s Employee Assistance Program or the community who would be available to respond in the event of an incident. When an incident occurs, involve these emergency mental health consultants as soon as possible. They will generally meet with management first, working down the chain, and then with line employees. Based on what the consultants learn, they will offer services such as debriefings and defusings (see discussion of these processes later in the section) and informal counseling, perhaps in the work area.

Support Informal Debriefing

The formal debriefing doesn’t end the recovery process. Provide opportunities for employees to talk informally with one another when they feel a need to discuss the experience. A comfortable break area and flexibility about break times may be all that is needed.

Support Care Giving Within Work Groups

Keep work groups together as much as possible and try not to isolate employees from their normal support groups at work. Show respect and support for employees’ efforts to care for one another.

Handle Critical Sites with Care

Initially, the site of a violent incident will be secured as a crime scene. After the authorities are finished with it, management needs to be sensitive to a number of issues. It is helpful if employees don’t have to come back to work and face painful reminders such as bloodstains or broken furniture. But on the other hand, the area should not be so “sanitized” that it gives the appearance that management is pretending nothing happened. If someone has died, that person’s work area will be a focus of grieving, and it needs to be respected as such.

Buffer Those Affected from Post-Event Stresses

Effective coordination with the media and timely dissemination of information can help reduce media pressure on those who are the most vulnerable. Assistance with benefits and other administrative issues can reduce the burden on victims and families.

Help Employees Face Feared Places or Activities

Returning soon, if only briefly, to a feared site can help prevent lasting effects such as phobic responses. Having a friend or loved one along, or being supported by close work associates, may make the first step much easier.

Remember the Healing Value of Work

Getting back to work can be reassuring, and a sense of having a mission to perform can help the group recover its morale. But the return to work must be managed in a way that conveys appropriate respect for the deceased, the injured, and the traumatized.

The Critical Incident Stress Management Process

Formal crisis intervention processes for victims of critical Incident such as workplace violence have been used and recommended by mental health professionals for years. One such process, Critical Incident Stress Management, has been pioneered by Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County.


Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) represents an integrated system of services and procedures whose purpose is to achieve several goals:

  • Prevention of traumatic stress;
  • Mitigation of traumatic stress;
  • Intervention to assist in recovery from traumatic stress;
  • Acceleration of recovery whenever possible;
  • Restoration to function; and
  • Maintenance of worker health and welfare.

The CISM Team

A CISM team, generally comprised of mental health professionals and trained peer support personnel, provides a variety of services including:

  • Defusings;
  • Demobilizations after a disaster;
  • Debriefings;
  • Informal discussions;
  • Significant other support services;
  • Individual consults (one-on-one); and
  • Follow-up services.

For the purposes of this discussion, the focus will be on two of the more commonly used CISM services: debriefings and defusings.


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