Managing Tragedy In The Workplace

A friend of mine recently texted me requesting that I write a post about from a managerial perspective of dealing with tragedy in the workplace.  As much as I would like to oblige her, I’m not sure that I know enough about the topic as it isn’t one that I’ve handled much.  However, the more I thought about it the more I realized it’s probably not a topic that any manager has handled much in the workplace.  I have now worked for two theme parks on a day when a tragedy struck in the park and split second decisions had to be made.  The first time I experienced everything as an employee and the second time I was the manager who everyone looked to.

Whenever tragedy occurs there are challenges that will naturally arise and it is impossible to predict how those surrounding the event will respond.  I have learned that employees will all respond very differently and while some will blindly follow directions in shock others will instantly fall apart and be unable to handle any directions they are given.  The most important part of being a manager in general is knowing how your employees best receive communication, but knowing that in times of tragedy their communication reception might change again is something to be aware of.  This is the time when as managers we need to be most aware of the actions of our staff.

Trust me when I tell you that you’ll know in your gut when an employee is about to crack and cannot handle the situation at hand any longer.  Some have a look in their eye while for others it is a sound in their voice, but no matter how they display that the tragedy has affected them you’ll need to recognize that it has indeed affected them.  It is our job as managers to stay strong for our staff and we are the figures that they will look to for guidance and acceptance that it is okay for them to feel affected by what has happened in some way.

Maneuvering around in the aftermath of tragedy is half the battle.

Maneuvering around in the aftermath of tragedy is half the battle.

It’s almost as if you stumbled upon an accident on the side of the road.  There is a good chance that all of those directly involved will be unable to remain calm and look at the situation objectively because they see the faces of their loved ones in trouble around them.  If you are a stranger to those involved then it is easy for you to think clearly and make decisions.  As a manager you are always to be the stranger who can think clearly and make decisions as it might just save lives.  I’m not saying you should become stone, you can still be the tender shoulder that an employee needs at the moment, but you can never lose sight of the urgency of the situation at hand.

In the aftermath of a tragedy your employees will need you just as much as they did in the heat of the moment.  Therefore, it is important for you to know who you can lean on if needed so that you can remain strong for your staff.  Managers are still human and will eventually need to face the same stages of grief as everyone else involved, so knowing who can help you get through the tragedy is crucial.  Realizing that it is okay at the end of the day to be stricken with grief is a sign of a strong manage.  You’re recognizing that you make yourself stronger for your team by acknowledging that you’ll need to go through the same process they are.

I know that there are many affected by the school shooting in Connecticut late last year.  I’ve heard from parents who are afraid to send their kids to school, teachers who are terrified of what could happen each day while they are at work and children who no longer find school to be a safe place.  All three of these groups share one thing in common, they all need someone to turn to for reassurance.  As a manager you might be that person one day and it’s something to consider for the good of your team.

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