• Be aware of natural responses to trauma and reassure staff that what they are experiencing is natural.
  • Be alert to staff who might be especially vulnerable, perhaps due to past experiences or particularly close involvement with the incident or those involved. Talk to staff individually, and check if extra support is needed.
  • Be present and approachable. People need to spend time talking to each other as they work, and it helps for the manager to join in casually and encourage this by example.This applies to those who were directly involved in the traumatic incident, but also to those who witnessed it or had friends or colleagues involved.
  • Communicate face-to-face with those affected. Informing staff of what has happened, and of unfolding events, needs to be done sensitively and quickly. Managers may wish to convene a 'first thing every morning' meeting for staff in the aftermath of a big disaster. It is best to keep such meetings brief, factual and focused on practical matters rather than emotions. Repeat or update information by email, but don't use this as a substitute for personal communication.
  • Re-establish normal working routines as soon as possible, albeit gently and flexibly, wherever possible. Enable people to talk about what has happened as they work, to avoid any onset of denial. Immediate psychological support is best provided by being with and sharing experiences with work colleagues and friends, rather than being removed to talk to a stranger, however well qualified.
  • Don't automatically send people home or encourage them to have time off. It is far better (ie less likely that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms will follow) if staff get on with routine activities and remain around their colleagues. Even if they get professional counselling, this should be facilitated within working hours, leaving the team and returning to it. All the evidence is that keeping people at the 'coal-face' to encourage and reinforce a normal identity is far better than encouraging people to be seen as 'ill' or a 'victim'. Part-time working is better than not working at all.
  • Keep in touch. In the weeks that follow an incident, GPs may sign people off work on sick leave "to get over it" and occasionally it may be important to do so. However, line managers should keep in touch by telephone, visiting and/or getting colleagues to visit. Encourage a rapid return to work, even part-time, etc. Being back at work among colleagues is normally the best possible therapy for preventing long-term complications.
  • Be aware of cultural differences. A significant number of staff and students come from overseas and our support services are used to dealing with people from different cultures. There are, however, special situations which tend to bring cultural differences to the fore - cultural and religious attitudes to death, disaster and trauma are one area where this is to be expected. Recognise the importance of respecting a range of responses and that special arrangements may need to be put in place. Advice on this can be sought from the Equality and Diversity Office.
  • Give it time. Many people take several weeks to settle down after major trauma. This will require support and patience for a period when staff may not be as productive as normal. Counselling, reassurance, explanation, and general normalisation of the response may be appropriate during this period but most people need nothing more.
  • Accept that normal working will be disrupted for a period after the incident. For some staff, workloads may need to be temporarily reassessed, or less complex tasks reassigned. However, it is appropriate to gently reinstate the boundaries of normal working after a recovery period.

Additional resources

More advice on supporting others through a traumatic incident is available from the Health Assured Managerial Adviceline.