Supporting your team after traumatic events

The recent tragic events in Westfield Bondi Junction have shaken the retail industry, not just in Sydney but around the country.

Obviously, the people from our sector most impacted were those front-line team members working at Bondi Junction last Saturday, but the random nature of what happened means that others in our sector may also be feeling some level of stress or anxiety.

As we begin to process what happened, it is important to recognise that the process for dealing with this trauma will be different for different people at different times. A very wide range of emotions are normal and natural reactions to an incident of this nature, and may include feeling shock, scared, upset, overwhelmed, angry or numb.

Our response to incidents like this is influenced by many factors and previous life experiences. Some people who were not directly affected may have a stronger stress response than people who were in the centre on Saturday.

So, while it is critically important that we support staff who work at Bondi Junction as they return to the workplace, it is also important that we recognise that other people who work in our sector across the country may also need support in coming days and weeks.

Here are some ways you can support your teams:

  • Connect them with support services. Most members would have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and making sure your teams understand how to access these services is critically important. For members without an EAP, we’d suggest that you direct your team to government and community support services like Beyond Blue, Lifeline and Head to Health – none of which require a GP referral. Remember that front-line managers are not counsellors and may also be dealing with their own trauma.
  • Individual support: Talk to your team members about who would be comfortable returning immediately and who would like a little more time? Ask them about what can be done in store to make them feel safe. Make sure that your frontline managers and team leaders have the support they need to have these conversations.
  • Peer-to-peer support: Can we convene a space and a time that brings the team together to talk collectively about what we’ve all experienced? Can this be facilitated by a mental health practitioner or an agency specialising in psychological first aid, like Australian Red Cross or the EAP . It may be helpful to bring the team together to connect over what has occurred. Remember that some people will want to talk and others won’t, so we shouldn’t be forcing anyone to talk if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. An important focus of this conversation is identifying the social supports and coping strategies staff can draw upon at the current time.
  • Team check-ins: Check-in on an ongoing basis about how the team is feeling. Is there anything else that we might need to do to adapt our support offer?
  • Regular updates: There will be conversations and reviews in place in response to the incident. Keep your teams informed about any changes to safety procedures.
  • Flexibility: Be prepared for last-minute requests to reduce shifts or change work schedules. This could be because team members are feeling overwhelmed or attending appointments to help process their experiences, so we suggest some flexibility.
  • Commuting: Public transport can add additional stress for people impacted by trauma. Is it possible to add additional resources to support team members getting to and from work? What are the considerations for any late-night trading hours? Is there resource to pay for taxis and other forms of transport?
  • Recognition and appreciation: Take some time to recognise the strength and resilience staff have shown by simply turning up. It can make staff feel seen and that the business appreciates their efforts.

 

It is also important as a duty of care to staff to recognise if there are any causes for concern. Noting changes in an individual’s behaviour that persist over time can prompt the identification of where further support is needed. Our partners at Beyond Blue have complied some things to look out for:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, numb or detached.
  • Unable to focus or plan ahead.
  • Constantly tearful.
  • Intrusive memories, bad dreams or trouble sleeping.
  • Replaying the events over.
  • Having a ‘short fuse’ or a feeling of being agitated.
  • Drops in mood for a long period of time.

 

We know it’s a difficult time for our industry and social media plays an important role in sharing information. We encourage our members and their teams to reflect on the consumption of information about the incident. Over exposure to the details of the tragic event can be distressing and harmful. Consider limiting the engagement with the content. Remind staff that switching off or limiting information from social media doesn’t mean you don’t care.

With the spread of misinformation, we can encourage staff to set a dedicated time to read updates from reputable news sources. This can stem the flow of content and encourage staff to process the events in their own way.

 

“Beyond Blue offers its deepest condolences to anyone impacted by the Bondi Junction attack. Events of this nature can challenge our view of the world as a safe and predictable place – this can be unsettling and make us feel very vulnerable. Please know that there is no right or wrong way to feel in response to Saturday’s attack.

“It can help to get through shocking and tragic events by staying connected to friends and family, and focusing on the acts of courage, compassion and humanity that happened on the day. If you want support in navigating your thoughts and feelings remember Beyond Blue is available 24/7. We are ready to talk when you are.”

– Dr Luke Martin from Beyond Blue. 

 

Finally, while we work with Beyond Blue who have some high-quality resources and support services available, there are several places you can signpost to for additional support.

Beyond Blue: Call 1300 22 4636 or chat online, or look into the News Access for Small Business Owners program for tailored support program aimed at supporting mental health of small business owners. You can find more information here.

Lifeline: Call 13 11 14, text 0477 13 11 14 or chat online.

Head to Health: Call 1800 595 212 or go to headtohealth.gov.au for free, confidential mental health support without a GP referral.

NSW Mental Health Line: Call 1800 011 511 for mental health advice and assessment available 24/7, with specialist staff who can speak to anyone affected by the incident.

Kids Helpline: Call 1800 55 1800 or chat online.

MensLine Australia: Call 1300 78 99 78.

 1800RESPECT: Call 1800 737 732, text 0458 737 732 or chat online.

 13 Yarn: Call 13 92 76.

 

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