EAP Essentials: How Employee Assistance Programs Support Organizations During A Crisis

Mark Sagor



Crisis ManagementA group of employees witnessed a fellow worker fall to his death. He slipped and fell while working on a catwalk high above the production floor. The HR manager who made the initial call for support to the EAP said that some workers were crying openly while others were leaving the plant to go home. The plant manager, who had also witnessed the event, was visibly shaken and was in his office with the door closed. Other managers were, understandably, uncertain about what to do and when to do it.

There is no magic formula and no “one size fits all” solution to apply to such a distressing situation. The last thing a company needs in this scenario is for the EAP to come charging in with some prefabricated “script” for managing the crisis. What a company needs in this moment is for the EAP to immediately make available an experienced consultant to collaborate with the management team. The EAP’s mission is to support and enhance the existing management structure for as long as it takes for employees and managers to stabilize and regain their confidence. The EAP’s objective is to help minimize the amount of disruption to the company’s operations and to the employees’ personal lives.

The EAP brings a variety of tools to help managers and employees in the aftermath of crisis but these tools must be selected and applied with a great deal of flexibility and attention to the specific culture of the company as well as the particulars of the event. Typical interventions might include some of the following:

  • Meeting with company managers onsite to discuss the event and develop a plan for a coordinated company response.
  • Meeting with groups of employees at the company site. The workplace is not typically a place where individuals are accustomed to sharing their most personal feelings so this intervention, while potentially valuable, should be voluntary and implemented only after careful discussion with management.
  • Meeting with individuals at the company or offsite to enhance employee’s understanding of, and skills for managing, their responses to the event.
  • Support for employee family members.
  • Distributing relevant informational handouts to increase awareness of available informational and counseling resources.
  • Telephone follow up calls.

Some of the most effective responses following a crisis come directly from management or from the employees themselves. The smallest gestures of kindness from managers directed toward employees can be quite powerful in the aftermath of a crisis. Bringing employees together for a shared meal or providing them with an opportunity to reach out to the family of the deceased employee can have a very positive effect.

Traumatic events can happen in any organization. The event happens quickly but the aftermath often lingers. These events can be quite upsetting and managers are often uncertain about what to do and when to do it.  A trusted EAP can share the burden of crisis response and work directly with management and employees to help minimize the disruption to the organization and to the individuals involved.