Presently, COVID 19 has immersed all of us in a global critical incident, creating a massive rippling effect, among all our systems. I’ve been involved in many critical incidents, none with the reach, or depth that this one has. From an EAP CIR perspective, we are or will be involved in many ways over a long period time. I do not have all the answers, but I do now the process of resilience is a universal concept that will require flexibility, creativity and cultural sensitivity.
Today and the Near Future:
We tend to think of EAP CIR as an intervention once the initial crisis has subsided and safety has been somewhat restored. Today and in the near future, however, we are in the emergency response stage. Priority is supporting operations focused on medical safety first, psychological safety second. As such, we should be thinking about utilizing the principles of Psychological First Aid (PFA) and its goals to increase levels of safety. Implementing techniques and strategies that allows us to get stress relief for periods of time allowing us to recharge ourselves over the long haul. PFA can be delivered through both telephonic and video* platforms. For some workplaces, like hospitals, creative application of EAP crisis intervention can offer assistance to front line health teams.
*Many mental health providers have created video access on the fly. Be mindful of HIPPA requirements and adequate infrastructure to support video appointments. In some of my previous trainings I outline challenges of video CIR and discourage the routine use of this for critical incidents. However, now is the time to be creative and if it can work, then we have found a role for it.
We can help define effective strategies for all the main issues presented by the issues of today- Illness management, stress and anxiety, loss and adjustment to new routines (work from home, childcare etc.), loss of job, life. In addition, consultation with managers should not be interrupted, with emphasis placed on continual informational updates from trusted sources that address employee health and also as it relates to specific workplace missions.
Again, onsite support is not an option, but access is and should be encouraged. The universal loss of jobs will help one emotionally accept their disposition. How the message is delivered (compassion) is always an important element in mitigating the impact. With plans for financial safety nets in development at the time of this writing, managers need to consider the realistic application of this so that promises are kept in a timely manner. Identifying those who already have vulnerability within their life at the time of their job loss may face this as a crisis point where behavior becomes emergent. Ask leadership who they may have concerns about.
Flattening the Curve
The curve will flatten, and this will become a point where considerations of restoring traditional workplace operations begin to surface more realistically. Help managers think this through with the same guidelines of medical safety first. Flattening the curve does not mean risk is reduced. Risk is reduced when there is a remedy or vaccination. Nonetheless, planning about the return is a necessary exercise. Do not think that everyone will embrace the readiness to return. On the positive side, organizations who were forced into this teleworking arrangement may have found some benefit to this and being operationally feasible for the long term.
Return to Work and the Perception of Safety
The call to return to work will imply that it is safe to return. Managers should think about what if they activate the return to work call and then an employee contracts the illness at work. Let the ramifications of that sink in. Even under the safest of circumstances, there will still be some employee concerns about safety. The perception of fear still exists. If it takes some several more days to adjust, this should be acceptable.
Dissemination of information will continue to be important and if it has been a staple throughout the incident, the message on safety priority will become rooted and tracked over time. Consider a staggered return to work approach.
Having an onsite EAP professional for the return to work may also be an important element in creating the perception of safety in the workplace environment. This means that EAPs will also need to determine if it is safe to send EAP CIR specialists on site. Questions will have to be asked. EAP CIR professionals will be relying on your information to determine this. Each EAP CIR professional needs to assess their comfort with this potential risk.
I do not know the answers to many of the questions and issues that are challenging each and everyone of us. I only know of a resilient process to help us get through it. There are personal decisions for you, for your family and the clients you work with to make. Some creative actions:
Assess the level of risk, to yourself and others, then make a decision.
Engage, fumble through, and experiment with electronic means to social connection.
Have a Zoom meeting with family members.
Attend a virtual happy hour.
Embrace the added family time and connection with significant others.
If you are optimistic in nature, continue to be.
If you are spiritual, find a way to preserve and enact your faith.
If you are a problem solver, get data.
“If I only had the time to…”, maybe you have that time now!
Avoid overstimulating yourself with 24-hour news information and media content. Blend it with non-news entertainment.
Communities are starting rally. Lend your voice and participate.