Supporting and addressing mental health after a workplace violence incident

How to help employees recover from trauma and feel safe again

Supporting and addressing mental health after a workplace violence incident
Mia Barnes

After the initial shock of a workplace violence incident, people may struggle to cope mentally and keep up with work responsibilities due to the trauma. It’s essential to have support systems to ensure employees feel safe again and return to work.

Communication after the incident

As a first step, employees must hear from someone soon after the incident. You may not have all the details, but acknowledging the tragedy and offering support going forward makes a difference.

If you are a team leader or manager, gather everyone and encourage them to contact a family member or friend for support. Ideally, a loved one should pick them up from work and take them home.

Ensure someone is caring for the distressed. Beyond physical medical care, a trained mental health practitioner or counselor can help people begin to process what has just happened.

It’s also good to send an email or message on your company’s messaging platform. Let people know that they can take time off if they need it and offer support.

Offering support

A workplace trauma study conducted by Mental Health Research Canada showed that 38% of respondents felt their trauma still impacted them, while 48% felt they had recovered. Everyone will process the event differently. That means it is essential to offer support and resources for mental well-being:

  • Have a meeting: Facilitating a meeting or group discussion with employees can provide an atmosphere that makes it easier to discuss the way forward.
  • Be compassionate and empathetic: You want to have compassion and empathy toward their feelings and offer your support. Lead the conversation with how you feel. Your vulnerability will help them feel more comfortable.
  • Be proactive with suggestions: Some people may need time and support but hesitate to ask for it. Some people might feel better continuing work after a day. Present a complete list of options, including paid time off, flexible work hours, postponing deadlines and shifting priorities. 

Keep an open door policy and schedule check-ins with those who want to. That way, employees can approach you if they need more support or want to take a different approach to their work during this time.

Returning to normalcy

Although people may need time to process the incident and rest, returning to normal is also essential. Beyond keeping up with responsibilities, it will also help them cope with stress, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. It will also help them to feel like themselves again after experiencing trauma.

After each conversation, see what mental and emotional support resources you can direct them to. Some may want to seek counseling, and others may want to have check-ins or discuss it in a group setting.

You may also need to give updates on any legal or ethical issues around the incident. When it’s time to do this, ask yourself how you can do it in a way that supports people’s mental well-being. Limit meetings to less than an hour and check in with people before providing information.

Make accommodations for people who may be feeling heightened anxiety. Some reasonable accommodations for anxiety include a flexible schedule, modified breaks and designated areas for rest.

Accommodations will give team members time to ease back into work without feeling overwhelmed and pressured to always be at their best.

Supporting yourself as a leader

After a violent workplace incident, you will face challenges that require patience and self-compassion. As much as you support your team members and look for resources to ensure people are coping well, you must do the same for yourself. Self-care and peer support are fundamental parts of leading and supporting others. Practice self-care and let yourself rest or take breaks when you need to. You could also ask another leader to help you with the load. When you feel like you need help, ask for it.

Supporting mental health 

Recovery after a workplace violence incident is stressful emotionally and mentally for everyone involved. By offering support and being proactive with solutions, you give employees the space to take care of themselves and cope with what has happened.