The R3 Continuum Playbook: The Ripple Effect of Disruption
Marking twenty years since the tragic September 11th terrorist attacks, Jeff Gorder, Vice President of Clinical Crisis Response at R3 Continuum, discusses the ripple effects disruptive events have on individuals. Jeff recommends five essential elements as best practices to follow immediately following a disruptive or potentially traumatic event. The R3 Continuum Playbook is presented by R3 Continuum and is produced by the Minneapolis-St.Paul Studio of Business RadioX®. R3 Continuum is the underwriter of Workplace MVP, the show which celebrates heroes in the workplace.
Intro: [00:00:00] Broadcasting from the Business RadioX studios, here is your R3 Continuum Playbook. Brought to you by Workplace MVP sponsor, R3 Continuum, a global leader in workplace behavioral health, crisis and security solutions.
Jeff Gorter: [00:00:14] Hello, my name is Jeff Gorter, Vice President of Clinical Crisis Response at R3 Continuum. Today, I would like to discuss the ripple effect of disruption and how employers can support employees, both immediately following a disruptive or traumatic event, as well as during the anniversary of the event later on in time. This information is particularly pertinent in relation to the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which is upcoming this month in September 2021.
Jeff Gorter: [00:00:49] It’s common for employees to feel emotions such as grief, sadness, loneliness, fear and anger immediately following a disruptive event and, possibly, even for years to come. This can impact their ability to remain productive and thrive at work as there are certain triggers – some obvious, some unexpected – that may remind them of the trauma. The healing process for trauma is not necessarily linear, not a straight direct line. Meaning that the impact can be more of a ripple effect that comes in waves, a waxing-and-waning effect that can resurface in the future for some employees.
Jeff Gorter: [00:01:30] Let’s begin at the beginning. Immediately following an event, the trauma impact depends on the person’s proximity to the event itself. For example, did they see the event? Were they in direct danger themselves? Were they exposed to graphic visual scenes? Were they involved in efforts to take care of the victims perhaps? This kind of exposure is intuitively obvious, but it is only one determinant of their ultimate trajectory.
Jeff Gorter: [00:02:02] Something that’s interesting to note is that PTSD is not necessarily based on how powerful the event was, as if there’s an automatic threshold of trauma, and PTSD is somehow inevitable. This condition is often actually based more upon how well the person was doing emotionally before the event. So, if the impacted individual was not doing well prior to the event, if they were already stressed or wrestling with challenging dynamics unrelated to the event, they are more likely to develop PTSD or other related conditions.
Jeff Gorter: [00:02:40] It may also surprise some to discover, particularly when we’re thinking about the impact of 9/11, that PTSD was not the dominant trajectory for most New York residents following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. In a landmark study conducted by researchers at Columbia University specific to New York recipients, it was found that resilience was actually the dominant trajectory for the majority of people at six months and, again, at one year out, despite having experienced an unthinkable, horrible tragedy. Again, the vast majority did not meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis despite their exposure, contrary to what many people feared and even what some experts expected.
Jeff Gorter: [00:03:32] Now, to be clear, this is not to say that it was easy or that the journey wasn’t difficult; far from it, but it is worth noting that we are stronger than we give ourselves credit for. Now, while this is certainly encouraging, it’s still crucial that employees are adequately supported and supplied with targeted resources to process the difficult emotions following the disruption, particularly after a mass event like 9/11. Otherwise, the event can impact the employees’ behavioral health and impair their ability to do their job, or it may simply prolong the struggle needlessly.
Jeff Gorter: [00:04:15] So, let’s look at this a little more closely. International researchers and current best practice recommend focusing on five essential elements immediately following a disruptive or potentially traumatic event. These elements are critical to early intervention and to the overall resilience of the person as they cope with the event. First, the impacted individual needs to feel safe, both physically and emotionally. During a disruptive event, this feeling of safety was likely reduced or challenged in some way. So, in order to begin the recovery process, safety must be restored. Until safety has been assured and reasserted, it’s human nature to remain on high alert with a heightened sense of fear, anxiety and reactivity. Safety is job one from a physical and mental health perspective.
Jeff Gorter: [00:05:15] Once safety is being reasserted, the second element is that an individual must feel connected. It’s important to help an employee realize that they are part of a community, a group, a company of people who went through the same experience and are walking the same journey. Often, trauma can make someone feel isolated and that they are alone in the way they’re feeling as if they’re the only ones in the world who feel like this. It can help them to know even just the simple fact that they’re not alone, that their reactions are common and shared by other co-workers, and that they can draw and contribute to the strength of their collective work group. We are stronger together.
Jeff Gorter: [00:06:02] Third, an individual needs to feel a sense of calm, of being able to reassert control over their own body. With the adrenaline rush that usually comes with experiencing a survival threat or a disruptive event, it’s critical that the person is able to regain control over their body and be able to focus their thoughts, control their breathing again, to relax their muscles, and to come off the adrenaline-fueled high alert that I mentioned earlier. Regaining a sense of calm and control over their own body opens the door to making the next right decision, to taking the next right step, and the one after that, and the one after that and so on.
Jeff Gorter: [00:06:46] The fourth essential element is self-efficacy, a sense of confidence. It’s common to feel helpless or hopeless following a crisis event, a situation where I couldn’t control the outcome. It can help when the person is able to feel as if they can make good choices on their own behalf again or on behalf of their loved ones or their co-workers once again. If the person could not prevent the event, realizing where it goes from here is up to me is a powerful step forward. This taking back of control over their own power and their own decisions can help them to know they are not helpless in determining their future, and it restores their sense of personal agency following this event.
Jeff Gorter: [00:07:33] The fifth and final essential element that a person needs is hope. They need to feel hopeful for their future, able to envision this for themselves to know that this crisis is not how it’s always going to be, or that they’re not always going to feel like this and that a more positive future is possible. Without hope, there’s no moving forward. Workplaces have a tremendous power to help employees feel this kind of hope by providing predictability, purpose, stability, and by offering them skilled behavioral health support immediately following the event.
Jeff Gorter: [00:08:13] Now that we’ve covered some of the ways that employers can support employees immediately following disruption, it’s important to discuss how employees might feel on the anniversary of an event. Anniversaries can make employees feel anxious or jittery, in addition to making them feel less safe and less connected. And this makes sense as it’s part of our primitive built-in survival mechanism. See, that survival mechanism remembers the past threat, remembers this time, remembers the event, and it’s seeking to prepare you should a threat arise again. This may lead some employees to have an exaggerated response to certain triggers, certain memories, certain discussions around the event, and that can bring up complex emotions.
Jeff Gorter: [00:09:03] From an employer perspective, particularly one who has employees that may be struggling on an anniversary, it’s important to acknowledge the solemnity, the power of this day itself, and to recognize the difficult feelings employees may have on that day, letting them know that you get it, that you understand that this day is different from other days, and that it has significance to you helps them feel understood and validated.
Jeff Gorter: [00:09:33] It is also important to make sure employees know that they have access to a wide range of resources and behavioral health support should they choose it. In most cases, people want to be able to share their experiences about this anniversary because it helps them feel less alone, more connected, as we discussed earlier. They may or may not want to talk about it, but it’s important to give them the space to do so if they choose.
Jeff Gorter: [00:10:01] In the case of 9/11, many of us have constructed a narrative, a story of where we were, what happened next, where we are now. Many individuals have made some level of peace with their stories now that it’s 20 years following the event, but not all of us. It can be helpful for them to share their narratives, the ongoing story, because they’re able to see the event as an event that occurred in the past, as something in which they are able to exercise some control over. This helps the person to see themselves as a survivor, even perhaps a thriver, and no longer a victim, as if that tragedy is continuing to happen today in the present.
Jeff Gorter: [00:10:49] Being at work on the day of anniversaries can be beneficial to employees impacted by a disruptive event, as there is surprising power in the mundane and the ordinary, even some comfort in the normal, the predictable day-to-day that we look forward to and that structures our lives. Going about their everyday lives can provide them with a sense of control and helps them to get through the day, keeping a balanced perspective on the significance of the past, the reality of the present and the hope for the future.
Jeff Gorter: [00:11:26] Now, while the ripple effect of disruption can impact employees and their daily lives, employers have the power to support their employees through these feelings that may arise as impacted individuals continue their journey of healing from the trauma, both immediately after an event and in the years following. As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, R3 Continuum can help organizations to do this with consultation, educational resources, and with onsite and virtual behavioral health support. On our website at r3c.com, we provide resources under the Our Resources tab to learn more about how we can support your organization. Contact us today.
R3 Continuum (R3c) is a global leader in workplace behavioral health and security solutions. R3c helps ensure the psychological and physical safety of organizations and their people in today’s ever-changing and often unpredictable world. Through their continuum of tailored solutions, including evaluations, crisis response, executive optimization, protective services, and more, they help organizations maintain and cultivate a workplace of wellbeing so that their people can thrive. Learn more about R3c at www.r3c.com.
R3 Continuum is the underwriter of Workplace MVP, a show which celebrates the everyday heroes–Workplace Most Valuable Professionals–in human resources, risk management, security, business continuity, and the C-suite who resolutely labor for the well-being of employees in their care, readying the workplace for and planning responses to disruption.