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How to Assist Employees in the Event of a Natural Disaster

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

Summary: The recent earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria have caused significant loss of lives and psychological trauma, with many individuals concerned about the safety of their loved ones. Employers and leaders should acknowledge the situation and show sincere solidarity with their staff, recognising that business as usual is not possible when staff members are facing a crisis. Companies that ignore the suffering of their staff and customers risk experiencing backlash. Employers should not wait for their employees to ask for assistance, but offer emotional support and training through third-party organisations, diversifying the range of assistance available, and making it visible at all times.

On February 6 2023, two of the largest earthquakes ever recorded struck Türkiye and Syria—with magnitudes of 7.8 and 7.5. According to the United States Geological Survey's USGS calculator, an earthquake of this magnitude is comparable to the 360 atomic bombs that were unleashed on Hiroshima. The region has a population of almost 13 million residents and is about the size of Germany. The death toll has topped 55,000, yet this is likely to rise as many are still missing.

As a result of this terrible catastrophe, many individuals living across the world have lost their family members and loved ones. Many people are concerned about the security of their families and other loved ones. From the first day when theearthquake struck, Turkish and Syrians living abroad have been distraught with worry - contacting everyone back home to inquire about their safety. They have been speaking on the phone and responding to emails, texts, and texts from kind people who have been checking in with them and their families. They have established fundraising pages and organised social media groups to raise money. They have made generous donations. To be delivered to the embassies, they have packed necessities. They regularly monitor social media for news. They might not even be able to truly mourn if they lost a close relative.

Even though their lives seem to be the same on the surface, they are experiencing psychological trauma and they need support to deal with this. Shall we listen to them?

“Even though my family and close circle of friends were not physically impacted, I feel devastated as many others. I have a feeling that we are all experiencing some kind of PTSD, with a strong feeling of survival guilt. Our company offered us to take additional paid off days for our wellbeing and offered numerous employee assistant programs. The company donated a huge amount to funds for earthquake relief. They also matched and doubled our personal donations to several eligible funds. It's really important to feel that your sorrow and pain is recognized, and you're being cared for as an individual.” Ayşe
“I am very disappointed as an employee really. My manager/colleagues didn't bother to say any words of comfort.“ Sally
“I have lost my aunt in the earthquake. It was devastating. The day of the earthquake was a bank holiday in Ireland so I was not working. Then, I could not work the rest of the week either. I felt the full support from my manager. I was given the message: "Family is first, if you need any help from me, I am here, otherwise you have as much time as you need." I got encouraging messages from other teammates during the week too. This response has supported my loyalty to the company. I was interviewing for another company at that time, but not anymore.” Barış

Here are some doable actions employers and leaders may take to help employees who were affected by natural disasters either directly or indirectly, based on my experience working with clients.

Recognise the situation Is it business as usual? Believe it or not, business as usual isn’t possible when staff members are facing the worst crisis and challenges of their lives. Nobody at work benefits, if the feelings and experiences of staff are ignored. I would urge you to show your staff your sincere solidarity by acknowledging what happened and sympathising with them. There is also the risk that companies and brands who ignore the suffering of their staff and customers will experience a backlash. There are many examples in the last week of companies including a movie streaming service with over 3 million subscribers in Türkiye and a coffee chain with 326 shops in the country coming under fire due to their lack of response. Customers notice reluctance to express their sympathy and solidarity regarding the earthquake on their websites and social media accounts on their local pages. Even though the streaming service and the coffee chain both announced donations of one million Dollars and six million Turkish lira, respectively, on the fourth day after the earthquake, they couldn’t avoid the further criticism over the lack of humanity of their initial response.

Don't wait for your employees to ask for assistance. People appreciate their work team members and managers asking about how they are and about their family back in the affected areas. But the situation is still unclear. People may not be able to give an answer to "Is your family secure?" Don't expect them to express their emotions. The reality is they don’t even know how they are feeling in the current situation. The feelings go from one spectrum to another from “I am so grateful, my family is safe. I should be happy” to “This is a nightmare to see what my people are going through right now. I'm stuck. I can't do enough to help!” While their trauma is still very raw for them, you'll find that people react differently and some are reluctant to open up in the workplace while others appreciate the chance to talk.

A useful strategy is to communicate clearly what supports are available to staff and how they can access those supports. Working with various clients, we've found that if these supports are provided by third-party organisations, it's even better because employees feel more empowered to open up with someone they've never met before.

Remember this is not a once off, check box exercise, but rather a long journey. So, your support must be visible at all times.

Diversify your support There are numerous ways to assist your employees during a natural disaster. Here are a few of them for you to think about: Paid leaves, reduced daily hours, flexible working, deadline extensions, group sessions, one-on-one mentorship, personal therapy sessions, team wall with supportive messages from colleagues, paid communication bills (mobile, internet), external workshops and more.

Donate One of the best ways to assist your employees is to donate to areas hit by the natural disaster. It helps them feel valued, seen, and cared for. Some organisations also have matching donation schemes, when they promise to double employee giving totals.

Why not, then? Consider donating but only if you see, care and value, not for your company/personal branding! What we know for sure is that this is not the first natural disaster the world has been impacted by and it won’t be the last. Someone around you may be going through a very challenging time as a result of the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria. Let’s be open to learn from the current events, experiences and mistakes to keep our inclusive intelligence open.

* To preserve their privacy, we changed the names of individuals.

Furkan Karayel is multi award winning diversity and inclusion speaker and author of the best selling book: Inclusive Intelligence, How to be a Role Model for Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace. Founder of Furkan lectures at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology -says-seismologist/2817263 adilar/

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