Bringing Your Staff Together After a Crisis

Casey Lucius, September 15, 2017

Often a crisis situation, like Hurricane Irma, can bring staff members in the work place closer together.  This was the case after an active shooter stormed a luncheon of county health department employees in San Bernardino in December 2015, leaving fourteen of their coworkers dead.  A tragedy like this can indeed serve as a bonding experience for those who were in the room that day; however, Hurricane Irma may have a different outcome, especially in the work place.  While we all went through Hurricane Irma at the same time and on the same day, we were not necessarily together and each of us experienced it a little differently.  In the aftermath of the disaster, some people are understandably focused on how to care for their children or elderly parents.  Some are busy picking up debris and some are making home repairs.  Others may be attending to more severe loss of a home or a loved one.  Returning to work may add additional stress.  No doubt stories will be shared around the coffee pot or over lunch, but there are certain steps that can be taken to help bring employees together in this post-crisis time.

If possible, make professional resources available to your staff.  After going through a major crisis and experiencing loss, some people may need to speak to a professional counselor.  Even if the company does not directly pay for this service, at least provide a list of resources to your workforce.  This list should include professional counseling or grief services, but could include reputable home services as well.  If you know of people who can fix leaks, repair roofs, trim trees and remove debris, a handy list of names and numbers could be very helpful to your employees and save them precious time.

Provide flexible hours during the initial weeks following this disaster and other crises.  Because of wide spread power outages and schools being used as shelters, Collier County schools will not resume until at least September 25th.  This means many parents will have kids at home for over two weeks.  Many will not have access to childcare but are still expected to return to work.  They will require some flexibility with their hours and it is likely their nerves will be shot, so be both flexible and patient.  Even employees without children will be grateful for your understanding since they too have likely experienced a lack of power, internet, water shortages, long lines to get gas, and limited groceries.  This can certainly create tension at work and at home.

Allow your employees to share their stories.  Make sure they know that it is safe to talk about what happened, without judgment and without watching the clock.  Everyone has a story of where they were and what they were feeling during the hurricane.  Sharing stories with one another is a potent way to create a bonding experience.  Tell them it is okay to take time during the day to talk to their colleagues, share their stories, and listen to one another.  Management should take part in this as well.  Build trust by listening and taking a genuine interest in your staff and what they experienced.  Ask how you can help them and then try to do what they ask.

Finally, manage stress by reprioritizing duties at work.  There are certain things that need to get done on time (like payroll), but many tasks can be put off temporarily.  Stress will negatively impact employees and drastically impede their effectiveness, so if you can take away certain stressors, you will end up with a more effective, productive and positive workforce.  There are many resources on the topic of stress management, but some practical and useful tools include combining tasks and increasing decision-making authority.  Ultimately you want to develop resiliency and emerge from this crisis as an even stronger team.  Healing takes time but you can help your staff and the community bounce back faster by following these steps and then using what you have learned to develop an even more thorough response strategy for the next crisis.

Dr. Casey Lucius is CEO of Launch Learning Systems based in Naples.  She is a former Naval Intelligence Officer and professor of strategic planning.