When Disasters Strike: Your EAP Protects Your Business and Your Team

Paige Heller By Paige Heller

The recent back-to-back hurricanes and wildfires on the West Coast magnify the need for all businesses to have a well-developed crisis response plan. Organizations are faced with twin needs in disaster situations – supporting employees and getting back to business as quickly as possible. Fortunately, companies with a strong Employee Assistance Program (EAP) have a powerful partner that can help address both needs.

Fail to Plan = Plan to Fail

In the perfect scenario, HR managers and the leadership team will work with the EAP provider well in advance to develop a proactive crisis plan that can be launched as needed. During a disaster, a compassionate and timely response from management can make the difference between a workforce that feels valued and the inception of a potential secondary problem such as erosion of employee trust and loyalty.

To minimize potential negative impact, BHS offers our EAP customers a consultative approach to building a comprehensive crisis plan well before it’s ever needed. BHS is also available as a resource when disaster strikes. “The outside perspective we can offer allows us to identify danger zones or possible gaps in a crisis response protocol. And, when a situation is unfolding, the EAP can equip managers with the tools they need to take immediate action in a crisis,” explains BHS Vice President of Clinical Services, Meghan Stokes.

In the Moment Support

No one is immune from the effects of disaster events, from the CEO down to front line staff. As the EAP staff is often based in another location that wasn’t impacted by the disaster, they can focus on meeting the needs of the workplace and employees during and after a crisis event.

And, as an outside resource, your EAP team can serve as an information hub and provide in-the-moment support for employees when your office has no power or internet access. In the days leading up to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, trained BHS consultants reached out to local contacts to confirm and update resources that would be needed once the storms began. As a result, when employees called the 24/7 support line, BHS Care Coordinators were ready to provide the information needed to take action. Arming staff with the tools they need to take action in this situation is extremely powerful as it provides them with the opportunity to take back a bit of control in an unpredictable event.

Employee needs will vary after a disaster, depending on each unique situation. Some may need help finding temporary housing while others need to find eldercare for a parent or simply need emotional support. And, those employee needs can continue for weeks following the event as is the case in both Texas and Florida. By having a strong partner, your management team can rely on the EAP to continue to provide local resource referrals to employees in the aftermath of the storm.

It’s OK, We’re Fine!

Even if your organization is based far from the site of a disaster event, your employees could still be impacted. The 24/7 ongoing news coverage of the recent hurricanes was hard to escape, with stories overwhelming every news outlet and social media. As a result, some people were having flashbacks or suffering from anxiety as they recalled previous events such as Hurricanes Sandy or Katrina, which also had devastating effects on the communities they impacted. Or, they simply felt powerless to help or worried over friends and relatives who were in those areas.

Often, employees just want someone to listen and validate their feelings, a role that BHS Care Coordinators are well-trained to handle. Conversely, supervisors may be uncomfortable fulfilling that role within your organization. The BHS Support Line is the ideal resource for this exact situation. A manager can express concern for the individual without having to provide a solution or inadvertently creating a bigger problem. Well-trained managers can use BHS Performance Consultants for free and confidential support with supervisory issues or concerns.

Communicate Early and Often

While the answer to many employee questions is often “Go talk to HR,” a crisis situation may make that impossible or inconvenient. Communication is perhaps the most important element of being ready for a crisis. At minimum, every employee in the workplace should know the EAP phone number and what services are available. And, if you have prepared a crisis response plan, be sure to provide regular training to those who have assigned responsibilities.

In the case of an impending storm, an email reminder to all staff with a reminder of the free EAP service can be invaluable. Should your office be closed or without power, the EAP can be a resource when employees are unsure of how to solve immediate problems. Even when the storm is over, the EAP can continue to provide support.

Remember to utilize all of your communication channels to reiterate the message. A combination of email, text, social media, phone calls and even posts on your company website will allow you to reach out to employees.

“Flexibility and a caring response are so important when dealing with employees after an event such as the recent hurricanes. Not only is it the right thing to do, it will also have long term benefits of increased loyalty and reduced turnover,” continues Stokes. “Knowing that they have a place to sleep and someone to provide emergency childcare when schools are closed go a long way toward preparing employees to return to work in a timely manner, ready to resume their responsibilities.”

Does your EAP provide trained professionals who are available to support you both before and after a crisis? If not, get in touch.

Paige Heller

By Paige Heller, BHS Supervisor, Clinical Services

As Supervisor for Clinical Services at BHS, Paige continuously applies her expertise in clinical counseling to addressing various types of situations that can occur both inside and outside of work, from everyday events to crisis management. Overseeing a team of experienced, licensed clinicians, Paige is devoted to providing proper care and attention to the needs of BHS participants.