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EAP emergency response specialist key after workplace violence

After workplace violence occurs, critical-incident response specialists provided by employee assistance programs can provide a safe, directed environment for employees to:

• Let people talk if they wish to do so.

• Identify normal reactions to an abnormal event so people don't panic regarding their own reactions. For example, it is normal for employees to temporarily feel powerless, angry or guilty, or even to blame their employer for allowing an incident to occur.

• Build group support.

• Outline self-help recovery strategies.

• Brainstorm solutions to overcome immediate return-to-work and return-to-life obstacles.

• Triage movement toward either immediate business-as-usual functioning or additional care.

“Think about a bank teller. Tellers make more errors the day after a robbery than the day before,” said Bob VandePol, president of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Crisis Care Network, whose team of counselors responds to approximately 10 bank robberies each day.

The reason for the errors is because victimized tellers usually will have trouble sleeping, they experience diminished appetite, and they will become hyper-vigilant and pay greater attention to their surroundings than to the work at hand, he said.

Fortunately, most people are resilient and only about 8% of victims of workplace violence eventually are diagnosed with pathological post-traumatic stress disorder, said Mr. VandePol, citing research by the American Psychological Assn.

After events of workplace violence, “people quit, they tell off their boss, they get arrested for drunk driving, they hurt their spouse. People also get engaged in self-blame and other blame,” he said.

EAPs and critical-incident response specialists “are there to help people think through the next 24 hours, foster resiliency and to not make a big mistake that hurts them even more,” Mr. VandePol said.

—By Joanne Wojcik

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