Supporting staff with the fallout of terror attacks

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There are ways to help staff cope with feelings about events they seemingly have little control over

Most of us are likely to have experienced some kind of emotional response to the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, and the devastating Grenfell Tower fire. Some people may suffer anxiety and stress even though they were not directly involved.

Within seconds of a violent event we are bombarded with images on our phones and television, while social media will be saturated with hundreds of opinions. No wonder we all get anxious.

Our workforce contains staff from all faiths and backgrounds – one in eight Touchstone employees are Muslim – and we work with BAME communities across West Yorkshire. Many have seen or experienced a rise in hate crime that started after Brexit, and escalated following the most recent terror attacks.

The Manchester Arena bomb affected us all hugely. Not only was the attack close to home, but also many staff have young children. I have a 12-year-old daughter and felt cold just thinking about the loss of so many young lives.

We do not expect employees to leave their personal feelings at home, but actively encourage and support them to talk at work about the events, and how these affect themselves and others.

As we head towards the summer holidays many employees may be more anxious about possible terror attacks. Here are some of the ways we help staff to cope with their feelings about events over which they seemingly have little control.

  • Lead from the top. Senior managers let employees know that they understand and offer support. We ask staff if they’re OK and we genuinely mean it. Our chief executive Alison Lowe sends an email to all staff immediately after an incident that is likely to affect them. She keeps them very personal and recognises issues of culture and faith. After a van driver drove into worshippers leaving a London mosque Alison’s email acknowledged that the atrocity happened during “the blessed month” of Ramadan. Muslim staff thanked her for recognising how they felt after the attack.
  • Use internal communications to encourage debate and offer practical tips. Our operations director Arfan Hanif turned to Yammer to urge staff to switch off television and social media as a means of helping alleviate feelings of panic and fear.
  • Give staff permission to talk about these tragedies and promote a culture where colleagues actively support each other. Look for differences in people’s behaviours; for example someone who is a quieter than usual, or who seems deeply affected by an incident. We use peer support in the communities where we work, and do the same in the workplace.
  • Listen to employees’ ideas and act on them. Two of our administrative staff suggested a minute’s silence following the Manchester concert bombing and everyone took part. As a result of staff concerns about increases in racial hate crime we developed our ‘Islam, Islamophobia and Mental Health’ training course in partnership with MEND (Muslim Engagement & Development) and feedback from more than 25 staff from diverse backgrounds.

While we can reassure staff that such attacks are thankfully rare, there may be some employees who simply cannot cope. As a mental health charity Touchstone is able to offer in-house help such as talking therapies. Many mental health charities run employer initiatives to help organisations support staff with anxieties, stress and other mental health issues, and Mindful Employer provides some useful guides for employers.

Kathryn Hart is HR director at mental health charity Touchstone

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