A critical incident can be any situation in which someone experiences either a threat to their own life or physical safety, or has been affected by the death or injury of another as a result of a traumatic event such as an accident, crime, or suicide. Critical incidents can vary in severity from those unlikely to affect a large group of employees or have less of an operational impact though to more extreme occurrences which impact greatly on employee wellbeing while causing significant operational disruption.
As a manager, you’ll play a key role in supporting colleagues, not only directly after an incident but in the days, weeks and possibly months that follow.
To request assistance and to speak to a trauma specialist, please call our helpline on 0808 801 0808. Alternatively for non-urgent assistance please complete our online referral form
- Ensure that everyone is safe. Immediately after the event, you should contact the appropriate emergency services such as 999 if required, as well as your area manager and/or your HR team.
- Recognise your own feelings. To be able to support your colleagues appropriately, you first need to be aware of your own emotional needs and follow the same guidelines you would advise others to adhere to. It’s really important that you take care of yourself and not just your colleagues.
- Make sure that everyone affected has support. Reassure colleagues that it’s normal for the police or investigation teams to be present on the premises. They may require an interview with you and some of your colleagues so reassure them that this is nothing to feel anxious about. It’s also crucial to hold a briefing meeting with all of your colleagues before they go home to make sure that everyone has a clear idea of what’s happening as is possible at the time, as well as the chance to speak with each other if they want to.
- Meet with individual colleagues and ask the following:
- Have they contacted a family member or close friend to let them know what has happened?
- Do they have the contact details of all support services available to them?
- Do they have a safe method of travelling home? If you’re concerned about them driving home on their own, offer to help them find a ride home with another colleague or a taxi.
If you feel that immediate support would be helpful, you can speak in confidence with one of our trauma specialists who will be able to discuss your needs with you. We can provide a range of services including individual telephone support or, if more appropriate, the option for a Retail Trust trauma expert to visit your place of work to help you and any affected colleagues.
When reporting a critical incident, you can expect an initial telephone consultation to understand more about the incident and how it has affected your colleagues. This will be followed up by access to:
- 24-hour telephone support for you and your colleagues.
- On-site assistance by a specialist trauma practitioner including group or one-to-one sessions incorporating psychological first aid to help everyone affected to:
- Understand how they are feeling and why
- Normalise these feelings
- Understand how they can support themselves and others
- Identify other stressors that can have an impact on their wellbeing
- Understand how they can access individual support (if required).
- In-the-moment support through our confidential helpline.
- Structured support sessions (if clinically appropriate).
- Ongoing access to a range of digital resources on this site.
The ideal time for a trauma specialist to visit an affected site is usually between 48 and 72 hours following an event but the timeline for personalised support will be determined by a Retail Trust clinician.
To request assistance and to speak to a trauma specialist, please call our helpline on:
0808 801 0808 or contact us.
Supporting your team post-incident
After an incident, it’s likely that colleagues will feel confused about how they feel and what they should do. When speaking to your team, remember to remain calm and encourage staff to access support by modelling as many of the following behaviours as possible.
- Try to discourage individuals from being on their own. It is usually better for people to stay at work with their colleagues for a period of time after an incident.
- Encourage colleagues to be supportive of each other, even those who ‘appear to be okay’.
- Show respect to individual staff members who prefer to be quiet by not trying to ‘draw them out’.
- Encourage colleagues to let a friend or family member know what’s happened if they wish to.
- Obtain a clear picture of the incident and communicate only what you know to be accurate.
- Try not to be judgemental and remember that responses can be out of character. If someone becomes angry or aggressive, remove them from the situation and provide them with a private space as quickly as possible.
- Encourage individuals to try to keep their daily routine as normal as possible, and if appropriate to their particular circumstances, return to work the next working day.
- Inform all colleagues – even those not present at the time of the event – of the support services available to them such as HR, occupational health and the Retail Trust. Keep in mind that we also offer help for colleagues’ immediate family members.
- Ensure that the contact details and procedures for internal and external support services are displayed and distributed to all colleagues affected in the immediate aftermath.
What not to do after the incident
- Don’t criticise your staff in any way for their reactions, unless they are unacceptable and disruptive.
- Don’t offer reassurance without having all of the facts such as reassuring a colleague that another staff member is okay when you’re not sure.
- Don’t try and get people to talk about their feelings if they don’t want to. It’s best to let colleagues know that you’re there if they need you, and that they can also access internal and external support if they want to.
In the weeks and months that follow
Once the initial reactions to an incident have passed, usual business priorities will resume. Your colleagues will continue to look to you to support them in the coming weeks, and depending on the situation, months. Your focus will be on guiding your team to return to normal working while, at the same time, being aware of, and sensitive to, the strong feelings that may still be experienced by many. This is especially true for colleagues who have experienced trauma at an earlier stage of life who may not yet have processed it.
To support your colleagues, it’s important that you are both visible and available to them. The following tips have been proven to facilitate a return to usual working practices. Not all will be relevant to every incident and as a manager, you should select only those that apply to the situation you and your team are dealing with.
- Encourage your staff to talk about their experiences whether to colleagues, family, friends or teh Retail Trust. It is their choice as to whom they contact, but it remains crucial that everyone has someone to turn to.
- Remember that not everyone will know about the external and internal support services available to them. the Retail Trust offers free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Wallet cards with our details are available free of charge and are useful to hand out to anyone who may need support.
- Encourage colleagues to stick to as normal a routine as possible; it is a good way for them to recover a sense of control over their emotional distress.
- Encourage colleagues to take care of themselves physically. While some will not want to be given advice, it can be useful to remind them that taking some exercise, eating healthily, getting enough sleep and perhaps seeing their GP for any worrying symptoms can really help.
- Be aware that for some individuals, concentration, problem-solving abilities and engagement at work may be hampered for a time.
- Be aware of the impact of any media coverage concerning the event, particularly in relation to its nature such as a store robbery or accident resulting in serious injury or death. Encourage selective reading as people can become distressed, especially when the media is reporting on the event without all of the facts.
- Where possible, avoid anything that will reawaken feelings of the incident and cause further distress such as sending someone back to work on the same till at which the incident took place, or where they were in direct line of witnessing the incident. If this isn’t possible, try and make sure that on their first few days back at work they stay close to a colleague who was not directly affected. This will give them reassurance and a sense of safety.
- Encourage staff to remember that their colleagues will be experiencing similar feelings as they are, all of which are entirely normal, and in fact, essential in the healing process.
- Encourage individuals not to make any major lifestyle changes or big decisions until they feel back to normal.
- Avoid giving too much attention to the one or two members of staff who seem to be suffering the most – you may not be aware that others are suffering too.
Understanding common responses
- Feeling numb or shocked. For many people, these are their first reactions. There is often a sense of unreality, with typical comments being “It didn’t seem real”, “I can’t believe what’s happened”, “It was like I was dreaming”. The majority of people who have witnessed a critical incident will feel emotionally numb for a few hours, or even a few days. This is normal and it’s important not to interrupt the process.
- Feeling afraid. Fear is one of the most frequently experienced emotions after a critical incident, and its intensity is often driven by the type of event that occurred. For example, in the case of an armed robbery at a till point where the attackers are still at large, colleagues may feel afraid for their personal safety and that of their family. They may also feel frightened that the attackers know who they are and where they live, or anxious that the perpetrators will return and launch another attack.
Be aware that you may want to try to reduce colleagues’ fear by avoiding what they perceive to be risk areas at work. In this example, working on the tills, or returning to their work station immediately after the event may trigger strong emotions or in some cases feelings of panic.
Feeling anxious. Anxiety is different to fear and it can have a long-term effect. Some colleagues may feel nervous, ‘jumpy’ or hypervigilant for some time. Unexpected anxiety can also be triggered by something that reminds them of the incident such as seeing a customer in clothing similar to that worn by the perpetrator or hearing a piece of music which was playing at the time of the incident. Individuals may also have intrusive and recurring thoughts during the day and/or nightmares which not only have a psychological impact, but disrupted sleep patterns can also cause physical illness and lowered performance at work.
Important note: individuals with experience of unrelated anxiety before the event are not necessarily likely to be more anxious than those considered to have a ‘laid- back’ or ‘happy-go-lucky’ nature.
- Feeling tearful. It’s not uncommon for people to cry as a result of their involvement in a critical incident. For many, this is a coping mechanism and is best viewed as an entirely natural way of coping with the experience.
- Feeling angry. It is likely that many of your staff will feel angry. Anger is often used to protect and conceal deeper emotions of distress such as hurt, sadness and fear. Thus, you may witness behaviour related to anger such as a short-fuse or conflict between colleagues. You may also feel angry yourself. Although the anger is caused by the incident, many people are more susceptible to losing their temper in general following a traumatic event and it’s tempting to see this unsympathetically as ‘taking it out on others’. Anger can also arise from seemingly minor incidents at work, including a hectic day or unkind words from a customer. If a colleague is struggling with anger, it’s important to speak with them and signpost them to help, before it harms them or causes disruption in the workplace.
- Other physical signs. Individuals may also experience a variety of physical effects as a result of the event such as heart palpitations, neck and back pain, gastrointestinal problems, or headaches. Processing trauma doesn’t happen overnight so some individuals may also feel very tired and drained, which could continue for some time.
- Apathy at work. Some people may feel apathetic and disengaged after the event and feelings can include a desire not to be at work if the event took place at their store or other usual location. A loss of energy, engagement, motivation and lowered concentration are common in these instances. Some may also struggle to feel the same way about work as they used to in the weeks following the incident.
It is important to remember that most colleagues will experience some or all of the feelings described above, and there is no linear process so while someone might appear to be coping in the first couple of days or weeks, they may struggle later on.
For more information about how the Retail Trust can support you and your team following a critical incident, please call our helpline on 0808 801 0808 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional resources which you may find helpful:
- Coping with loss and bereavement
- What to do when a colleague dies
- Managing stress
- Understanding low mood
- How to manage anxiety
- Sleeping well
- Understanding alcohol.