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How to Respond to Critical Incidents in the Workplace

Stress related symptoms and productivity problems may surface immediately or may not surface for employees for many weeks following a critical incident.

Behaviors that may be present immediately or over time:

  • Vigilance and jumpiness
  • Concentration problems
  • Fatigue
  • Need to re-establish control
  • Irritability: people being short with each other
  • Talking – recounting experiences many times over
  • Phobia for “dreaded areas” (could be parking lot, car, etc.)

Avoiding secondary reactions:

Employees exposed to traumatic events are particularly vulnerable to secondary reactions, which occur when there is a perceived lack of expected support and/or rejection by co-workers, management, friends, family and community agencies.

How to respond:

  • Be tolerant of a wide range of individual responses among employees and each other.  Encourage acceptance and sensitivity among individual members of work groups regarding these different responses
  • Be visible and available to employees
  • Allow for continuing need to talk, share and compare events.  Allow employees to communicate about their feelings and what’s been helpful for them.
  • Tolerate non-harmful shows of emotion: tearfulness, anger, expression of guilt.
  • Create/Support activities that re-establish a sense of control.
    • Allow people to set goals and determine priorities that do not negatively impact operations
    • Let people decide what, if any, physical re-arranging of the environment would help
    • Allow people flexibility to “pace” themselves in returning to work
  • Seek consultation from EAP on worrisome employees, including those who are disruptive.        


© 2005 Partners HealthCare System, Inc. All rights reserved.

If you would like to talk to a Partners EAP Consultant for assistance in responding to trauma in the workplace or to discuss employee or workplace concerns please contact Partners Employee Assistance Program at

In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.

This content was last modified on: 02/04/2009

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In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.

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