Providing grief relief in age of mass shootings

Las Vegas City SunsetThe headlines rang out early Monday morning as many of us were preparing to leave home for work: DEADLIEST MASS SHOOTING IN US HISTORY. Coffee. IT WAS MADNESS. Toasted bagel. 50+ KILLED, MORE THAN 500 INJURED. Orange Juice. THERE WAS BLOOD EVERYWHERE.

Sunday night at the highlight concert of the Route 91 Harvest Festival, 64-year-old Steven Paddock smashed out two windows in his 32nd floor suite at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and rained down terror on the 20,000+ unassuming concertgoers at the festival below. To date, the death toll has risen to 59, with more than 527 injured victims.

Due to the sheer number of those affected, we are all likely to know someone who was in attendance or affected by this tragedy in some way. As the nation mourns with the families of those who lost loved ones, employers are wondering what they can do to assist their employees in the healing process.

Support the grieving process
First, support the grieving process and acknowledge that everyone grieves differently. We live in an era of the 24/7 news cycle. Employees receive news over morning coffee, on the drive into work, and as they check their social media pages for the latest baby pictures. There is no escaping it—the news is everywhere. To that end, create safe spaces at work where employees can discuss their thoughts and feelings. Perhaps it is in the break room or around the water cooler or a dedicated room in the building for talking about tough issues. Wherever it is, embrace the fact that employees will want and need to discuss these issues with their colleagues.

Show you care
If your company lost an employee or had an employee injured in the attack, send a companywide e-mail expressing your condolences and offering your support. Connect with your employees in a positive way, and let them know you have staff, either HR personnel or grief counselors, on standby to assist them in sorting out their feelings.

Get to helping
While it is nearly impossible for everyone in your organization to get to Las Vegas to assist in the aftermath, create opportunities for employees to provide assistance to those affected. Whether it’s a company-sponsored blood drive, food drive, or writing notes of encouragement to first responders or victims, just get to helping.

Ramp up your EAP
If your organization has an employee assistance program (EAP), you’re already halfway there. Remind employees by e-mail that the program is available for their use, and be sure to include the website and telephone contact information. If your organization doesn’t have a standardized EAP, consider implementing one. These programs provide great benefits to employees seeking not only grief counseling but also debt-relief counseling, money management, and lifestyle and fitness management services.

Work on leniency
It’s likely that for the first several days after a national tragedy, employees will be less productive at work. Prepare for this and expect a lag as employees come to terms with what happened.

The most important thing to remember is that the workplace often serves as an extension of an employee’s identity, as it’s at work where some of our closest personal relationships and social interactions are born. Just as employees would grieve and reconcile tragedy in the comfort of their homes, they are likely to bring those issues to work with them. Be cognizant and open to these feelings, and aim to support your team as they wrestle their way back to normal.