Working Through Tragedy

Working Through Tragedy

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Tragedy affects us all at some point in our lives, whether it is personal, such as a death in the family or national tragedies like 9/11. In either case, it is important to know how to cope with the issue so that you can keep a well-balanced and healthy workplace.

The important thing to remember for both employees and management is that everyone copes differently. Some people are extremely open about the catastrophe in their lives, some keep their emotions locked up inside, while others resort to other outlets such as alcohol or drugs. It is crucial to deal with the event in a safe way and prevent any unhealthy actions. Having an action plan for events such as 9/11 or Katrina is just as vital as having a fire evacuation plan. The same thing goes for personal tragedies —people need to know where they can go for help and what they need to do.

September is recognized as National Preparedness Month, with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) promoting the “Ready” campaign. According to DHS, the campaign encourages Americans to be prepared for emergencies of any nature, at work, home, school or personal and national.

So what can you do when the unfortunate happens? Here are some pointers for a company as a whole and the individual:

Have a Plan and Practice It
This helps people know what to do and how to react when an emergency happens and can prepare you for steps you can/need to take when something bad happens.

Give People Information

In the case of a national emergency, it is helpful to have televisions and radios on hand to keep everyone informed. For personal emergencies, give co-workers and families contact information so they can get in touch in with you if something should arise.


Give Them a Break

People need time to grieve and overcome the tragedy in their lives. Allowing them to cope with the situation in a timely manner prevents mistakes and errors on the job and allows them to come back to work more productive. Don’t expect a co-worker or employee to come back refreshed as if they were on vacation.

Talk About It
Arrange a meeting, designate a time of day for group sessions or reserve a quiet room for people to go and share their thoughts.

Distribute Literature

Make Employee Assistance Program information part of your orientation, keep pamphlets in visible, easily accessible areas, hang posters, etc. Know what your options are and what’s available before an emergency happens.

Do Something

If a co-worker’s family member died, send flowers for the service, arrange a group to volunteer for a national crisis, hold a raffle for donations or charity — people like to help and being a part of something, and doing so often assists with the healing process.

Know the Signs
Tragedies can be an emotional rollercoaster for us. We typically go into shock at first, then a feeling of “unreality” kicks in. You might not sleep well, you have a loss of appetite, you are constantly in a daze — these are all signs that your body is trying to heal itself from the shock. Understand that these symptoms are normal and it is important to take time to grieve so that your body can get back to its old self.

Practicing these and other options helps everyone feel safe and prepares you for when tragedy hits. Being proactive and knowing what to do when your life is turned upside down helps you get right-side up without any more unnecessary burdens.

For more information on your company’s action plans, contact your Human Resources or security department. For additional information on the DHS plan and the “Ready” campaign for your business or family, visit and