A GUIDE TO HELP OWNERS AND MANAGERS SUPPORT THEIR EMPLOYEES
If your store, business, or office has experienced an armed robbery, your employees may suffer from trauma symptoms. In addition, staff not present during the robbery may also have emotional reactions.
In order to effectively support your employees in recovering from the traumatic experience and returning to normal, a business owner or manager needs to know what to say or do to promote healing. As South Africans, we are preprogrammed to believe that a bank or store robbery means someone is going to get hurt. We’ve watched movies or television shows where a robbery takes place and (almost always) someone is shot and often killed. The evening news only reports a robbery when it’s a large or unusual heist OR when someone is hurt or killed. Most other robberies that took place in the city that day are not even mentioned. Even though the vast majority of robberies do not result in injuries, much less death, employees in a robbery often think: “I’m going to get killed.” “I’m going to die.” “He’s going to hurt me.” “He’s going to hurt us.” “My friends/co-workers/customers may get hurt.” “They’re going to kill us.”
Humans have a primitive bio-chemical response for dealing with dangerous situations. This automatic response prepares the body to fight or flee from a real or perceived threat. The fear causes a chain reaction in the brain, releasing chemicals that cause a racing heart, fast breathing, energized muscles, and other physical reactions. In addition, the part of the brain that controls rational thoughts is bypassed. The more an employee thinks he will suffer injury or death, the greater his traumatization. It’s important to remember that everyone responds differently to a traumatic event based on each individual’s coping ability, values, life experiences, personality, support systems, fears, expectations, and beliefs.
Your employees may experience the same feelings at the same times, or one person’s feelings may be different from the others. Ideally, your company should provide the opportunity to meet with a crisis counselor who specializes in trauma recovery. Crisis counseling within 12 to 48 hours after the incident will help the impacted employees to normalize their feelings, educated them about their feelings and other symptoms, and help in lessening (or avoiding altogether) subsequent trauma symptoms. This will cut down on employee absenteeism, lost productivity, attrition, and workman’s compensation claims.
Even if you don’t have access to a crisis counselor, as an owner or manager, there are things you can do to aid your employees’ emotional recovery.
AFTER THE ROBBERY
- Make sure managers, including upper management or the owners of the business, check in with the affected employees.
An important part of recovery for impacted employees is the perception that management cares and supports them through the healing process. Therefore management needs to make their communications to the employee in an empathetic manner. The day of the robbery, managers should call or visit the business to enquire about the well-being of their employees and help put the business back in order. (You may not be able to speak with the employees until after law enforcement is finished with their interviews.)
Your conversation should express dismay that the employee was affected, allow him/her to talk about her experience if he/she wants to (sometimes employees feel “talked out”), encourage her to take care of herself, and offer to be of assistance if the employee needs to talk in the future. Although you might need to discuss time off, in this conversation do not discuss other business. This isn’t the time to ask the employee if he’ll still be able to meet his sales goals. That kind of discussion will only give the impression that you value money over the well-being of the employee.
- Give the affected employees the option to go home or return to work the next day.
Some employees want to return to work right away because that helps them feel more in control. Others may need a few days away from work. Many businesses close for the rest of the day because interviews with law enforcement and their investigation, plus returning the store to order, may take hours. Also the employees may be too exhausted or upset to continue working. Be aware that hurrying employees to reopen the store within a few hours of the robbery may send the message that money is more important than their well-being. Some companies have policies that cover employees in case of a robbery. For example, the company can offer affected employees three paid days off. These days may be taken right away or at a later time if symptoms arise sometime after the event.
- Educate employees about how they might be affected. A robbery may cause emotional injuries to all who experience the incident.
The victim of a robbery may initially experience any or all of the following thoughts and emotions:
- Denial • Disbelief • Shock • Fear • Anxiety • Guilt
- Hopelessness • Helplessness • Anger • Agitation
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