How Do You Deal With Tragedy?

It was a tough week to be a Canadian last week. On Monday, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was struck by a hit and run driver in a targeted attack. On Wednesday, Corporal Nathan Cirillo was gunned down in cold blood as he stood guard at the National War Memorial at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Canadians watched and listened in horror as gun shots were heard inside the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings, the heart of our government. We watched amazing video of bystanders rushing in, not thinking of their own safety, to help and comfort Corporal Cirillo as he lay dying.

In the days that followed, we heard stories of various reactions – people who were upset and targeting “them”, you know, anyone not like “us”; people who talked about how the so-called person who targeted the Parliament Buildings was upset at the system and suffered for years with mental illness; how the driver of the vehicle that struck Warrant Officer Vincent has terrorist ties and how could “we” have not known this?

It is very interesting to see how people react to these types of tragedies. I’ve seen people that I’ve expect to be strong, break down in tears and I’ve seen strength in amazing places.

How do you deal with tragedy as a leader in the workplace? You may not be directly affected by these tragedies but events like this do affect your employees. Do you talk openly about the incidents and encourage your employees to do the same, knowing that it will take away from their productivity or do you advise your employees to keep working and discuss the events on their own time? Or somewhere in between the two?

Times like this are emotional and trying.  Some find comfort and healing in sharing and talking through the events with others, while other people prefer not to talk about it at all. As a leader, I think encouraging your employees to discuss things if they choose to and offering to be there if they have concerns they are not comfortable discussing in public, is the best way to handle incidents like this. In addition to showing openness in the workplace, I think it also shows understanding and allows leaders to stay connected to their employees. Closing the door and telling your employees not to discuss tragedies only adds to an “us vs. them” mentality and leads to employees seeing a company as cold and unfeeling.

I am sure there are some people who feel that an employer has no obligation to its employees in these types of incidents but I disagree. As an employer and a leader, it does no good to ignore your employees’ well being. Employees who feel valued will be more valuable to their employer.

I am an optimist and hope that we will not see any more of the tragedies of last week, that those who are suffering from mental illness get the help they need and that the world can learn more tolerance but if it does happen again, please remember that your employees will be looking to you for guidance and how you react will have an impact on their lives.

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