Fostering Psychologically Safe Conversations in the Workplace Following Tragedy

May 26, 2022

Mass shootings have become a prevalent occurrence in the United States since the tragedy at Columbine in 1999. Just five months into 2022, more than 200 mass shootings have occurred in the United States (Gun Violence Archive). According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety and security are the second categories of basic human needs. With this in mind, it is understandable why people across the nation are worried about their safety and the safety of their friends and loved ones, especially their children, while they are working. Our goal is to provide several ways employers can foster conversations and provide support to their team after a tragedy occurs.

Ask Your Team How They Are Doing

One of the simplest things we can do is ask people how they are doing. Most people suppress their emotions at work and shy away from talking about their feelings. This practice dates back to decades of hearing the adage “check your problems and feelings at the door.” Employers focused on building psychologically safe environments create a safe space for people to express themselves without fear of retribution or embarrassment. People process their emotions differently, which means some employees may not want to discuss their feelings. This is okay. The most important thing is to create a secure space to bond and communicate with your team so your employees know they can speak freely.

Encourage Self-Care

The next thing employers can do to support their employees following a tragedy is encouraging self-care. Within the workplace, one practical resource is to utilize mental health resources such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which are confidential and provide employees with access to counseling, assessments, and referrals for personal or work-related concerns. If employees are not interested in speaking with someone from the EAP, another option is to offer them the opportunity to connect with a private counselor during work hours. Counseling services promote the practice of mindfulness, which is beneficial in helping people focus on the present. Focusing on the present will make it easier to redirect “what-if” thoughts and conversations in the workplace, which are common after moments of tragedy.

Creating opportunities for balance and time away from work is also an essential component of self-care. Work-life balance is hard to achieve for many people in the United States. Some employees prefer to work during difficult times to suppress their emotions. As a manager, it may be necessary to remind and encourage people of the importance of taking time off to rest and reset, which will help to reduce stress levels, and in turn, will boost productivity upon their return to work.

Encourage Employees to Limit Their Exposure to Media

In response to both local and national tragedies, repetitive coverage on media outlets results in a constant reminder of the state of violence in our country and can serve as an emotional trigger for people. If there are televisions throughout your office or lunch areas, encourage your team to limit their exposure to the news. The same reminder may be necessary for exposure to social media as well. Limiting our exposure to news and social media is one of the most challenging behaviors to change because we live in the information age, where people feel the need to be aware of what is happening around them constantly. However, over-exposure to the news can be detrimental to mental and emotional well-being.

Update and Communicate Safety Plans

Finally, we encourage employers to proactively review and update their safety, crisis prevention, and crisis management plans. As we have witnessed in our country, mass shootings can also occur at workplaces. For employers to help their employees feel safe when reporting to work, having a detailed plan will offer a sense of security and ensure preparation in an incident at your workplace. Additionally, encourage your employees to speak up if they see disturbing behavior or hear discussions about an employee wanting to harm themselves or others. Although these topics are challenging to discuss, especially in the workplace, they are necessary.

If your organization does not have an Employee Assistance Program, Crisis Prevention, or Crisis Management plan, our consultants at Compass Business Solutions can help. We also offer customized leadership training to help support managers as they navigate difficult discussions. Contact us at 412.606.3361 or

Compass The Best Direction For Business 

Something extraordinary happens when every individual in a business knows their voice is heard, their commitment is valued, and their contributions make a difference. That’s why the experts at Compass are passionately committed to fueling these fundamental employee needs every day. Focused on maximizing organizational performance, we partner with leadership teams to underscore purpose, drive engagement, and create a routinely rewarding work experience.