Supporting employees affected by a natural disaster

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July 6, 2021 | 2 min. read

 

An employee affected by a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, may need support from you as a manager. Whether your employee has suffered injury to himself or a family member, seen others injured, or has had property damage, here are ways to offer support.

 

Understand how people may be feeling

Part of your role as a manager is to be attentive to the needs of your employees. Learn to recognize when someone is struggling or may need professional help. You are in an excellent position to recognize changes in an employee’s behaviour or performance that could suggest that the person needs help. The more attentive you are to employees’ needs, the more you will help employees and the organization get through challenging times.

 

If an employee was directly affected by a natural disaster, understand how he or she may  be feeling. Respond sensitively to survivors’ emotions and needs. People who have been through a natural disaster may feel like they’re on a roller coaster as they experience a confusing range of emotions–fear, survivor guilt, anger, shock, and sadness. Survivors may struggle with these feelings or with panic reactions and exhaustion for weeks and months following a traumatic loss.

 

Respond compassionately and professionally. Let them know that whatever they are feeling is OK. You might say, “People who go through this type of disaster often feel this way.” Refrain from giving advice as you may not be aware of what the person needs to hear. Express your sadness: “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I’m sorry for what happened to you.” Don’t expect your words to be perfect. Your empathy and presence are what matter and people will be able to feel your sincerity and desire to help.

 

Your empathy and presence are what matter and people will be able to feel your sincerity and desire to help.

 

What you can do

If your employees have been directly or indirectly affected by a natural disaster, here are some guidelines:

 

Acknowledge that this may be a difficult time, especially for employees who experienced a direct loss. Don’t assume that everyone is OK. Expect that people may not be quite themselves for the next few weeks or even longer. Some people may struggle to concentrate and stay on task.

 

Stay up-to-date on company policies and know who employees should contact for information. An employee who is dealing with a loss or who was directly affected by a natural disaster may have urgent questions about pay, benefits, insurance, medical leave, relocation, and other issues. Staying up-to-date on company policies and checking your company website will enable you to provide answers without delays and quickly address an employee’s uncertainty and anxiety. Talk with your human resources (HR) representative if you aren’t sure how policies might apply to your employees.

 

If your company could be directly affected by a natural disaster, be sure that you understand your corporate emergency communications plan. Let employees know in advance how and when they will be contacted with updates and instructions.

 

Offer employees flexibility to deal with the practical aftermath of a natural disaster. An employee who has suffered a loss may have to deal with hospitals, insurance companies, contractors, or federal agencies. This is time consuming and usually stressful. Talk with your manager and HR about what accommodations you can make to help them get through this demanding time. Sometimes employees can’t get to work and sometimes an employer has to temporarily shut down. Find out when working from home may be a possibility, as well as flexible work arrangements or leaves of absence.

 

Know what resources are available. Most people who have suffered a loss need more support than their managers alone can provide. Make sure you know what kinds of resources are available through your organization so that you can provide the information quickly (or use the resources yourself) when the need arises. If your company offers an employee resource program or a confidential employee assistance program (EAP), learn about the available resources and how to discretely refer an employee. Most people really value a manager who demonstrates a sincere caring about their wellbeing.

 

Make time available for employees to share feelings and thoughts in meetings or on-site support debriefings after a natural disaster. Even if no one on your immediate team is directly affected, chances are that someone has a friend or family member who is a victim or survivor. Sometimes, just providing a forum for people to chat with one another can prove healing. It can also be helpful for teams to work together to offer constructive help to disaster victims–a money- collection or blood-donation drive can give people a sense of empowerment and a sense that they are helping.

 

Urge any employees who exhibit unusual symptoms of stress to seek help. If someone shows signs of unusual distress, is irritable, seems uninterested in work, or is unable to concentrate, urge the person to seek help through your HR department or EAP. Again, as the manager, you may be in the best position to notice when someone’s behaviour changes.

 

Sometimes, just providing a forum for people to chat with one another can prove healing.

 

Take care of your team

Take extra steps during this time to care for the people you manage and to maintain a sense of balance and normalcy.

 

Support people by pitching in and lending a hand. Help out during crunch times or when people need assistance or support with a task or project.

 

Encourage group members to reach out and help one another. Make sure people have the tools, information, and resources they need to get the job done.

 

Help individuals and the group keep priorities in focus. Provide direction and support as needed.

 

Finally, remember that pulling together is one of the best ways to move forward during difficult times. Helping yourself and others will remind employees that they work for a caring and supportive company. Once the traumatic event has passed, employees will remember all of your ongoing efforts on their behalf.

 

This information is provided by LifeWorks (formerly Morneau Shepell), the largest Canadian-based Employee and Family Assistance provider in the country and the provider of CDSPI’s Members’ Assistance Program (MAP). We encourage you to visit workhealthlife.com for more resources and support. Available services vary by region. Use of MAP services is completely confidential within the limits of the law.

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