Emotional and Mental

Critical Incident Aftershocks Can Be Pervasive

Information for the Manager and Supervisor 

There’s a tendency for everyone affected by a critical incident at the workplace to try to “carry on as usual.” It’s a normal response, but usually not the best one. Companies that make it clear to employees that things “aren’t as usual” are less at risk for serious consequences. In fact, the aftershocks of a worksite critical incident can be pervasive and long-lasting if not dealt with effectively. 

If the situation isn’t addressed quickly, disorganization and even mental illness, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can occur. Symptoms may include withdrawal, inability to sleep or concentrate, low tolerance for stress, and even severe psychosis. 

The background of each person within the workgroup affects the outcome of a critical incident. For example, the suicide of a coworker might trigger another employee’s suppressed memories of suicidal thoughts. For others, death may resurrect painful, unresolved feelings about other personal events of loss and grief. 

Hurt, anger, sadness, and guilt are common emotional reactions to a critical incident. Typically, people also look for someone or something to blame for the event - and may place that burden on the victim, themselves, the management or the organization. This can result in guilt and anger, directed inwardly or at others. Survivors sometimes feel guilty that they survived the incident. This is known as “Survivor’s Guilt.” 

One major consequence of a critical incident can be a disruption of an employee’s normal support network on the job. This can occur when an employee turns inward, isolating themselves and refusing to talk about the event. 

Management may react to a critical incident by denying its impact on employees and the company. Employees may respond with anger if they don’t feel the support of management. This anger may also then be directed at other employees who are felt to be aligned with management. 

The manager or supervisor of the critical incident victim may be especially at risk for stress due to the pressure to be in control of the situation. Managers and supervisors also need to take care of themselves during and after a critical incident. Best Care EAP is a valuable resource for you as well as your employees. 

An important first step is to recognize that no matter the outside appearance, work life does not go on as “normal” after a critical incident. A critical incident deserves special consideration and planning. 

Please call Best Care EAP for more information on how to effectively respond to a critical incident in the workplace. 

To schedule your confidential appointment, call (402) 354-8000 or (800) 801-4182, or send an email.

Source: Update. Volume 7, Number 2.