Responding in Times of Crisis: Providing Psychological First Aid
RESPONDING IN TIMES OF
AID” TO EMPLOYEE
A TRAINING FOR HARBORONE
BRANCH MANAGERS AND
2008 FINANCIAL INSTITUTION ROBBERY RATES
Although precise statistics have not been released, a
spike in the number of bank robberies nationwide for the
4th quarter of 2008 is likely.
This is not unusual during economically challenging
times, experts say, bank robberies typically increase
when the economy is sluggish.
Add the holiday season to the mix, typically the time of
year when the highest number of bank robberies occur,
and final numbers for 4th quarter 2008 robbery rates
could equal one robbery approximately every 20 minutes.
What we know about workplace
critical incidents like robberies
1. Not all robberies are alike: Some are relatively
quiet, involving just one teller who receives a note -
- while others are more hostile (even violent) and
may involve numerous (or all) workers in a branch.
2. Not all employees are alike: Individuals vary
widely in their capacity for resilience to stress and
traumatic events. For example, some workers may
have previous exposure to robberies; while others
may have physical or emotional conditions which
will affect their reaction(s) to such events.
The importance of social support
While these two factors indicate that responding to
employees after a robbery may require a case-by-case
approach; there is a large body of research that
indicates social support can reduce occupational
stress, enhance health, and buffer the impact of
Work-related sources of support can reduce the
post-robbery potential for harmful effects by providing
appropriate levels of comfort, information and
resources. Managers, supervisors and co-workers
can all be effective in reducing the negative impact of
stressful and traumatic events.
The critical incident stress response
When a robbery occurs, employees are likely to
feel a variety of emotions; these include shock,
fear, anxiety, disconnectedness, and even anger.
The time span of these emotions may continue for
days, weeks, months -- although typically these
feelings become less intense in frequency, duration
Given that bank employees typically return to the same
environment where the robbery occurred, some may
experience a ‘triggering effect’ when they encounter
Survey results: How has the robbery affected
your ability to be productive on the job?
Not all will quickly return to normal
Indications of a lingering stress response:
Perceived reduction in workplace safety
Difficulty concentrating; increased mistakes
Irritability with fellow workers and customers
Increased absenteeism and ‘presenteeism’
Decreased overall productivity
Increased workers compensation claims/costs
Human capital resources
As managers and supervisors, some of the
primary responsibilities entrusted to you within
the realm of human capital resources include:
Employee health and safety
Monitoring performance and productivity
Reducing risks to the organization
‘Psychological first aid’
Psychological first aid is an application of early
critical incident/crisis response suitable for use
by non-mental health professionals.
Relying on a strengths-based perspective, it
involves providing a basic level of support and
information to victims immediately following a
It is designed to reduce the initial distress of
traumatic events and foster coping abilities.
Ways to help employees cope
First priority: Make sure everyone is safe – visual
staff inspections are just part of a complete picture.
Expressing your concern by engaging/inquiring
directly of each employee as to how they are doing
will help gauge their state of mind and the level of
their stress reaction.
Keep in mind the potential variety of individual
responses and range of emotions in such events –
avoid judgmental language or labeling of anyone’s
particular responses, the initial focus should be on
checking in with each individual and reassurance.
Before the crisis responders arrive
Provide employees with: a) factual information,
and; b) an appropriate level of detail about the
incident, their level of safety, and what to expect.
Discuss immediate expectations, including work
and leave schedules, to allow employees to have
this information when they notify families and
friends of their status.
Provide general information about the common
emotional responses to a robbery: anxiety and
inability to sleep – emphasize that these feelings
are normal and will usually ease with time.
What’s a normal/abnormal response?
Minor physical symptoms Hyperarousal (Overactive)
Trembling; fidgeting Argumentative
Nausea, vomiting Rapid-fire speech
Mild diarrhea Jokes inappropriately
Teary-eyed Making endless suggestions
Dazed Jumping around, multiple activities
Panic/Flight reaction Shock/Depression (Underactive)
Attempts to flee premises Vacant expression
Loss of judgment Unusual lack of emotional display
Uncontrolled weeping Standing/sitting without moving or
Overly repetitive speech
Before employees depart the scene
Maintain communication with individuals to
assess their status as appropriate.
Setup a communications plan to allow employees
to communicate with management for updates,
and each other for support, etc.
Before employees leave the premises, it may be
wise to determine if their ability to drive or make
their way home is impaired. If so, offer any
assistance as needed.
Encouraging the use of services
Inform employees that a EAP representative/mental
health professional will be conducting an initial
debriefing session (and provide date and time if
Strongly encourage all employees (not just those
present during the incident) to attend.
For those unable or unwilling to attend the initial
debriefing service, make certain they understand that
additional counseling services are available now and
will continue to be provided through the EAP.
Furnish EAP contact information to employees (and
family members as appropriate).
Helping families & friends cope
Often, the families and significant others of bank
employees lack factual information about what
happens in a typical bank robbery and the risks to their
loved ones. Their misunderstanding of such events
may be based on TV programs or movie plots.
One suggestion is to encourage employees to
communicate to their family and friends in a reassuring
manner about the reality of their working conditions.
(This could be done either in response to an event to
allay fears, or before an event to prepare families.)
3rd Qtr ‘08 Financial Institution Robberies
Modus Operandi in 1,358 total reported violations
Demand Note Used 764
Firearm Used 378
Other Weapon Used 8
Weapon Threatened/Not shown 595
Oral Demand 757
Injuries during Robberies Deaths during Robberies
Customers 3 Customers 0
Employees 18 Employees 0
Law Officers 0
Law Officers 2
Providing ‘psychological first aid’
When victims want to talk, be prepared to listen.
When listening, focus on patiently hearing what
speakers are trying to say.
Respond in ways that address immediate goals
and how you can be of assistance. Speak slowly,
clearly and calmly. Clarify answers repeatedly as
Update victims and others as new information
becomes available. Inform them of available
resources and how they can access them easily.