How EAPs can help employees to manage the impact of trauma
In the wake of last week’s terrorist attack at Manchester Arena and the subsequent heightened threat to the UK from international terrorism, individuals are naturally struggling to come to terms with the news of this event and the impact it has had on so many innocent lives. Many of these individuals will be employees who, regardless of the shock and trauma they may have suffered from witnessing, hearing about or being connected to the events in Manchester, will have continued to go to work and manage their emotions and mental wellbeing as best they can.
Here, Neil Mountford, chair of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association, discusses the impact of trauma on individuals and how services such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) can help individuals to manage in such testing times.
Those involved, directly or indirectly, in incidents such as the attacks in Manchester, may be profoundly affected by their experience and for their employers, it can be difficult to know how to respond. Yet providing support in the wake of incidents such as this can help an individual to make a fuller and faster recovery, whilst failing to do so can lead to prolonged absence or presenteeism which can impact on productivity, engagement and morale across the business.
In most cases people will experience immediate trauma in a similar way: initial shock and possible sleeplessness, with low mood, tearfulness and flashbacks for the first two to four weeks. This is quite normal, and an essential part of the psychological healing process. During this stage, support should primarily be practical, ensuring an employee is safe, physically well and has friends and family around. In most cases, after 28 days an employee will be feeling significantly better, and their functionality and mood should have mostly returned to normal.
Often, people affected by trauma may not be forthcoming about what they are going through, but there are indicators that further assistance may be required. Physical appearance and behaviour talk volumes about a person’s state of mind, and ongoing indicators of stress or depression in the wake of trauma may indicate that further action is necessary.
Signs of stress include irritability or short temper, changes in appearance (for example, wearing worn or creased clothes, reduced attention to shaving or make up), altered habits, poor timekeeping, uncharacteristic talkativity or withdrawal. If these indicators continue for longer than four weeks, it suggests that the person may need further help in dealing with their situation.
If you believe somebody is experiencing trauma, there are different ways to get support.
More than 14 million working people in the UK are estimated to have access to some form of EAP, giving individuals the opportunity to talk with a professional adviser, therapist or counsellor in a secure, confidential and non-work environment.
For employees who are affected by a traumatic event, the around-the-clock most telephone helpline or online EAP resources can enable them to get some reassurance about the way they’re feeling and access short-term counselling to help them work through their experience. Often, EAPs can also facilitate for specially trained trauma counsellors to come into the workplace at short notice and in person, depending on the services available for a specific EAP provider and the needs of the affected employees.
As well as providing support for employees, EAPs are also particularly useful for line managers who can benefit from consultancy and support, giving them the opportunity to access coaching on, for example, how to recognise the symptoms of trauma and how to approach an employee they think may be affected by a traumatic event, as well as delivering day-to-day support to give line managers the confidence to offer effective support to their employees, as well as helping them to understand what is appropriate support for an employee in crisis or distress.
Importantly, an EAP can also advise the line manager on how to make a referral to the EAP to enable an employee to access the most relevant services and support available.
If you don’t have an EAP, there are other ways to offer support. Psychological assessments from occupational health providers help to establish clearly what an employee needs, and can assist in finding support via the NHS or specialist charities. Mental health charity Mind also, for example, offers wide-ranging and specialist support, including for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Guidance and advice on where to seek urgent assistance and information, as well as support services for victims, witnesses, family members and those directly affected by the Manchester attack can also be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/manchester-attack-may-2017-support-for-people-affected.