How to Help Employees Cope with Distressing News
Effective leaders encourage people to express feelings and steer them to help when needed.
When horrific events happen — even an ocean away – the news can deeply impact your team’s mental well-being and spirit at work.
Of course, distressing events in the Islands can be especially painful because they involve our aunties, cousins, friends and neighbors.
It can be tough to get through the workday after learning about a tragic event. The opposite can also prove true: Our jobs can provide an outlet to work through difficult emotions.
Instead of remaining silent or trying to suppress the sharing of feelings at work, effective leaders acknowledge and encourage expression of human emotion. When confronted with distressing news, start by adopting these practices throughout your company.
1. Check In with Employees
Talk to your direct reports individually to see how they’re doing. Begin your one-on-one conversation by asking them if they know about the incident or anyone impacted. Even if they’re not directly connected to someone affected, they may still experience acute stress from simply being exposed to the news.
If colleagues open up, validate their experiences by listening and asking questions. Simply acknowledging that it’s OK to talk about it can help people feel comfortable sharing what’s on their minds.
Don’t minimize or dismiss their feelings. Avoid responses like, “It could be worse!” or “Everything happens for a reason.”
Also refrain from trying to fix the problem or prescribing a solution. Even if you have firsthand experience in a similar situation, don’t assume what worked for you will work for others. While sharing your experience may help, avoid centering the conversation on you and provide a safe space where employees can feel heard.
Depending on the incident or proximity to your company, you may want to schedule a meeting with your larger team to discuss what the organization is doing to keep employees safe.
2. Offer Support
Distressing news impacts everyone differently, and some employees may need more support than others. Your team may not know what type of support they need or the options available to them.
If they aren’t forthcoming about their needs, offer something specific, like a mental health day or information about your employee assistance program. Specific offers make it easier for someone to accept help. Managers should be aware of the resources available to their teams and be able to direct employees to get the help they need.
3. Empower Employees to Act
We often feel helpless when faced with big crises or social issues, but there are ways to make a collective difference. Providing your employees with channels to make an incremental contribution can ignite a sense of purpose and power.
You may consider matching employee donations to nonprofits or sponsoring volunteer days to contribute to causes that align with company values.
While some companies avoid talking about issues that don’t relate directly to their businesses, a new generation of talent wants their voices heard and wants to work for companies whose values and actions align with their own. Meeting those desires can fortify their loyalty to the business.
Column Expert: Linda Goto, HR Training and Development Manager, ProService Hawaii