On the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks against the United States, we are reminded that crises — such as the recent shootings at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and the Empire State building — will continue to impact employees and their loved ones. Even if employers don't have office locations near affected areas, employees may still feel connected to the crisis: 20 percent of Americans knew someone who was hurt or killed in the September 11 attacks. 

Coping with tragedy together for improved productivity & retention

On the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks against the United States, we are reminded that crises — such as the recent shootings at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and the Empire State building — will continue to impact employees and their loved ones. Even if employers don't have office locations near affected areas, employees may still feel connected to the crisis: 20 percent of Americans knew someone who was hurt or killed in the September 11 attacks.

The emotional stress caused by these incidents affects us as individuals, but it's important to remember that individuals make up your business and determine how smoothly it runs. While many employers are now focusing on preventing these situations in their own workplaces, it's crucial that leaders also form a plan for addressing crises when they occur.

The business impact of crises


Experienced professionals in the employee-assistance industry recognize September 11 as the central event that changed the Employee Assistance Program field forever, according to Sharon O'Brien, vice president of Employee Assistance Program (EAP)/Work-Life Operations for Ceridian LifeWorks. "The horrors of that day and its long aftermath revealed to employers the importance of EAPs and the value of one of their core competencies — solid crisis management services that keep people calm and help them develop coping skills to manage what are normal reactions to abnormal events," she said. 

EAP leaders also recognize that workplace crises are not always the result of violence. Natural disasters also affect employees' ability to remain productive, as does a robbery, or the unexpected death of a colleague. It is often everyday life events that lead employers to offer crisis management services. 

"Traumatic events may occur, but as an employer you must still serve your customers," said Mary Jane Konstantin, senior vice president of LifeWorks EAP/Work-Life and government services at Ceridian. "You must enable your HR and front-line managers to implement your crisis management plan. This is your reality, and crisis management services help you to manage this reality," she said. 

 
 

Managing crises in the workplace

  1. Recognize that your employees and workplace may be affected by traumatic events and other crises.
  2. Understand how preventing and managing crises can minimize the impact on workforce productivity and foster employee retention.
  3. Prepare managers to work with affected employees in an appropriate manner.
  4. Offer Employee Assistance Program/Work-Life resources to help employees form positive coping mechanisms.Plan to respond quickly to future events with effective crisis management interventions.

 

Janet Ogden, benefit vendor manager at Zions Bancorporation, relies on Ceridian LifeWorks EAP/Work-Life services. "Because we're a bank, we unfortunately have a lot of critical incidents in the form of robberies," says Ogden. "But since we engaged Ceridian LifeWorks two years ago, every critical incident has been quickly and successfully addressed — and that's a big deal in this industry." 

Fostering employee loyalty and retention

For Zions Bancorporation, providing crisis management resources is crucial to fostering a strong relationship between employees and the company. "We want our employees to know that Zions Bancorporation cares about them very much," Ogden said. The company offers as many EAP services as they can to employees at no cost, and has experienced increased retention as a result. 

"Since we've been with Ceridian LifeWorks, I have not heard of any employees who have decided to leave their position at the bank as a result of a robbery. Not having turnover because of a critical incident is a big indicator of how well the program is working."


— Janet Ogden, Zions Bancorporation

Personal crises may impact the entire workforce more than employers understand, in part due to the close friendships between employees, according to Konstantin. "Employees feel emotionally attached to their work families and to their workplace, so helping them feel safe — and taking action to support their mental health during a time of crisis — can go a long way toward helping you retain your valuable employees," she said. 

Crisis management best practices

Crisis or critical-incident management services, often part of a more holistic EAP/Work-Life program, focus on helping companies minimize the risk of further damage after a traumatic event, and on helping affected employees recover and return to work. Employers looking into providing these services should seek out a provider that can respond quickly with resources that specifically address crises in the context of their industry, their organization and its employee population. 

Hal Morgan, director of participant content and communications for Ceridian U.S., described how his team responded to the news that a gunman had opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado this summer. "The incident occurred around midnight, and in a crowded theater — employers had no way of knowing whether any of their employees were affected," he said. "Our team worked in the early morning hours to create communications that specifically addressed the event and that offered various modes of assistance to employees in both English and Spanish. By 7:30 a.m., the communications had been distributed throughout the Ceridian network so that employers would have resources immediately when they arrived in the office." 

Ceridian LifeWorks also delivers about 150 onsite crisis management interventions to employers every month. According to Joseph Utecht, a Ceridian LifeWorks crisis management counselor, Ceridian provided help to the Colorado movie theater's management team — even though the company was not a client. "We know that when this sort of violence occurs, shock reverberates throughout the community. But so does help. So does hope," he said. 

For more information

  • View our infographic on crisis management
  • Visit the Ceridian LifeWorks website
  • Review OSHA's employer toolkit on workplace emergencies