On Monday, a terrorist bombing killed at least 22 people, including children, and injured at least 59 more people who were attending an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England.
Office Life

4 ways smart people cope at work after a terrorist attack

On Monday, a terrorist bombing killed at least 22 people, including children, and injured at least 59 more people who were attending an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England.

It is Britain’s deadliest terrorist attack since 2005. On Tuesday, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May raised the threat level from severe to critical, a level which means that another attack is believed to be imminent.

If you were like me, you stayed glued to news alerts and updates, you read heart-wrenching tales of parents searching for their children, you learned about the lives of victims as young as eight years old. The magnitude of tragedy can be overwhelming.

The days after a terrorist attack like this, it’s normal for your heart to feel heavy, for your mind to wander elsewhere.

There are extensive guides on how to talk to children about terrorism, and some of their recommendations apply to working adults.

1. Validate your employee’s feelings

The worst thing you can do is to not allow your employees to talk about the news. It’s already on their minds and not allowing them to talk about it feels like you’re dismissing their normal emotions of grief and anger as irrational.

For both children and adults, if someone says “I’m scared,” don’t reply with a provably false statement like, “there is no reason to be scared.” Instead, say, “you have every right to be scared.”

That’s the advice clinical psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen has for children that applies to adults: “when you hear fears, normalize their feelings.” It’s okay to be scared in a scary time.

2. Highlight human resources available

Managers in the workplace can also validate employee’s feelings by highlighting mental health resources available and telling employees that if they need a space to talk, they’re available.

One U.K. human resources official emphasizes making sure staff can have a confidential space to vent their feelings and concerns.

“If anyone is feeling distressed about any issues, including terror threats, we have a 24-hour confidential counseling service they can phone to get support,” HR director Sally Hopper said about the service London Legacy Development Corporation offers.

3. Have difficult conversations

These are sensitive moments when everyone’s emotions are running high. It can be easy to get defensive about your opinions but remember that not everyone shares them. Instead of speaking on behalf of a nation, speak on behalf of yourself.

For these difficult yet productive water-cooler conversations, Money magazine recommends using statements like “from my perspective” or “This is a reaction I’m having” to be respectful of your colleagues’ differing beliefs.

“Where the conversation turns risky, though, is when people are looking for a solution to the event,” David Maxfield, vice president of research at VitalSmarts, said. That’s not something any employer or employee can answer.

4. Take a break from news

With social media platforms, news push notifications, and 24-hour cable news cycles, it’s easy to tune in to the latest developments and viral horrors at a moment’s notice. Video loops of panic on cable television are not always informative; they can be exploitative, and they can exacerbate negative feelings. Try to be mindful of what news you’re consuming and when you choose to do it.

By endlessly repeating people’s worst moments on screen, these videos of graphic violence can perpetuate trauma’s symptoms: creating a world where there is no beginning or end to the horror and you can never attain closure from it. A 2014 study found that daily exposure to violent news caused emotional and physical distress.

The journalists in the study who watched violent video footage as part of their jobs were likely to become overly sensitized to violence or desensitized and numbed to it, neither of which are healthy reactions.

You can stay informed without being overwhelmed. Make time to turn off the TV and log off of Twitter. Take breathers, hug your loved ones, and remind yourself that you’re not defined by this one moment or terrible event. We’ll get through it together.