While most employers already have critical incident response plans in place for their U.S.-based operations, they're not nearly as common at other global locations; however, they're an important component when it comes to providing employees with the help they need, says Dave Levine, senior vice president of PPC Worldwide, Optum Health’s global employee assistance program.
To provide an effective critical incident response plan, there are a certain principles that should be included. Communication should be delivered in the same language that employees speak, and assistance should be available 24 hours a day, Levine says. Local management also needs to be involved. While a centralized corporate location may offer virtual support, there must be people in place who are trained to lead employees through whatever disaster may occur at a local level.
“Management needs to be engaged,” Levine says. “If they have a crisis and management knows nothing about who to contact, what number to call or email address to write, or if they’re not even briefed and on board with this in the first place, that’s going to trickle down and no help will likely be rendered.”
But employers should also look at deeper issues, such as cultural differences, Levine says. Although U.S. employees tend to be more open to employee assistance programs, this isn’t always true in other countries. In some countries, admitting to stress or trauma could suggest those employees are not handling it well, and an employer should know the cultural values in order to tailor an effective employee assistance program.
When the earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Japan in March 2011, many clients of Optum's global employee assistance program needed help for their employees in Japan. Levine says that Optum knew that offering assistance to people in the Japanese culture couldn’t be approached in the same way that it would in the United States. In Japan, the work force focuses on resiliency and would be hesitant to accept a trauma response program because it conveys weakness. Levine and his team instead framed the trauma response as resiliency training for personal development, which was widely accepted by the Japanese work force.
The Japanese work force also places a high value on organizational hierarchy, and that made it especially important to receive support from local management, Levine says. Without local managerial support, the Japanese employees would not have participated in the resiliency training.
“Once managers were on board and gave permission to employees to talk and share their experiences, then it worked like a critical incident debriefing would in the U.S.,” Levine says. “If we had barged in there promoting trauma response without specifically focusing on that manager to give permission to others to participate, it would have been a pretty flat service.”
By having a critical incident plan in place, employers are in a position to increase productivity but not just because they are helping employees return to work sooner, Levine says. With an employee assistance plan, employers are in a position to improve employee engagement and loyalty. An employee assistance plan shows that an employer values its work force; thus, it boosts morale throughout the workplace.