Responding in Times of Crisis: Providing Psychological First Aid


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A professional development presentation for credit union/bank branch managers to assist them in responding to employees and other victims of bank robberies.

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Responding in Times of Crisis: Providing Psychological First Aid

  2. 2. 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.
  3. 3. 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.
  4. 4. 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 workplace trauma.  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.
  5. 5. 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 and intensity.  Given that bank employees typically return to the same environment where the robbery occurred, some may experience a ‘triggering effect’ when they encounter certain stimuli.
  6. 6. Survey results: How has the robbery affected your ability to be productive on the job?
  7. 7. 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  Employee attrition
  8. 8. 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
  9. 9. ‘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 critical incident/emergency/disaster.  It is designed to reduce the initial distress of traumatic events and foster coping abilities.
  10. 10. 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.
  11. 11. 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.
  12. 12. 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 talking  Overly repetitive speech
  13. 13. 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.
  14. 14. 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 available).  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).
  15. 15. 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.)
  16. 16. 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 Perpetrators 5 Perpetrators 7 Law Officers 0 Law Officers 2 Guards 0 Guards 1 Others 1 Total 31 Total 6
  17. 17. 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 necessary.  Update victims and others as new information becomes available. Inform them of available resources and how they can access them easily.