How do you ensure business continuity following a critical event?

Traumatic events in the workplace definitely make an impact on people. Even if they were not physically present at the scene of the incident, people are affected by it. “In addition to the occupational health and prevention advisor, the employer also plays a crucial role in the well-being of employees after such a critical event. And also in the degree to which productivity and performance suffer,” says Bart Vriesacker, psychosocial prevention expert at Mensura.

Employees are your human capital and the foundation for a successful enterprise.  When they are affected by a traumatic event – such as the attacks in Brussels on 22 March 2016 – that base is shaken to its core. Your employees are more anxious, find it hard to concentrate, or take unwise decisions. You need to remain vigilant and take measures to ensure the well-being of your employees and your company.

How does a traumatic experience affect the business continuity of an organisation?

Bart Vriesacker: “Every critical event produces different types of victims: primary, secondary and tertiary. In a car accident, the driver and passenger(s) may be the primary victims, for instance. Eyewitnesses are secondary victims. Those who did not see the accident, but do feel connected to the people involved are tertiary victims.

After the attacks in Brussels on 22 March 2016, we were all (at least) tertiary victims. And it had an indirect negative effect on our business performance. A traumatic event (and the accompanying feelings of doubt and insecurity) leaves traces. Employees are less able to perform well, impacting the entire company by association.”

In practice, what can the employer do if a traumatic event occurs?

“Companies can protect themselves against a critical experience and its consequences by establishing a specific procedure. It states, for example, who informs employees, who is responsible for providing care and support to victims, and so on. This makes sure they are indeed more or less ‘prepared’ for the chaos following a critical incident.

During the first 24 hours following a traumatic event, it is paramount that an employer should meet the basic needs of its employees. It should organise a relief centre where victims can gather and get something to eat and drink. Ideally, they should be able to share their thoughts and emotions.

Continued vigilance is however crucial. For example, employers should remain alert to signs of difficult processing, such as reactions of anxiety, difficulties concentrating or periods of forgetfulness. An alarm bell should also sound if an employee isolates himself or herself more from colleagues than before.”

Which role do the occupational physician and prevention advisor play?

“In addition to the employer, the occupational physician and psychosocial prevention advisor are indispensable. As a medical professional, the occupational physician is there for all the staff and a person they can confide in. He/she consults with the prevention advisor who arrives on site at the earliest 24 hours after the critical event. That’s because it is more helpful to talk to a psychologist after a night’s sleep. Taking into account the sector, region and impact of the event, the prevention advisor also provides an approach designed to reduce the risk of ‘paralysis’ among the employees.”