Employers ‘should help flood victims’

Disaster recovery

By Michael Lund    

Employers should be ready to deal with any ongoing problems with staff affected by the Queensland floods.
Although the clean-up is under way, it may take some time to repair or rebuild the thousands of homes and other properties damaged by the flood waters.
The Australian Human Resources Institute says employers have an obligation to look after the welfare of their staff during times of crisis.
That includes those who were involved in the front-line rescue and recovery work, such as emergency workers, as well as those who were involved in the many support roles.
Others who may be affected include those whose homes or family were hit by the flooding.
The institute’s national president, Peter Wilson, says the emotional impact on people after such natural disasters can be as significant as those who have returned from a war zone.
Wilson says most medium and large organisations should have a risk management plan that details what action needs to be taken.
Top priority is usually to identify if any staff have been affected by any incident. It is then up to employers to work out how to help such staff.
Wilson says staff may need time to deal with personal issues and it is up to employers to negotiate any paid or unpaid leave.
“If someone has lost their house or a member of their family, then you need to excuse them and give them time out,” he says.
“You need to give them time to deal with the personal side of the tragedy.”
Some workplaces are also doing what they can to provide further help to flood victims, such as allowing other staff to volunteer and any extra payments or fundraising within a workplace.
Access to counselling services for staff are another way employers can help out.
Wilson says the next risk an organisation needs to assess is the impact on its own business.
Those that have suffered damage need to work out what repairs are needed to keep the organisation functioning.
Those not directly affected may also suffer from a lack or reduction in essential supplies.
“Some companies will be restructuring their production procedures, moving to other states to maintain customer needs,” he says.
Once the immediate threat has been dealt with, he says it is the long-term welfare of any affected staff that needs monitoring, especially looking for signs of stress.
“These things can show up over time,” he says.
“Everybody bears a responsibility to monitor stress of their work colleagues and if someone is really suffering and that’s not monitored by the leadership, then they need to report that.”
Queensland Health has the following advice on how to help someone who has been through a traumatic experience.
1. Spend time with the stressed person, without judging or demanding – their recovery will occur in its own time.
2. Offer support and a listening ear. Talking is one of the best things they can do to work things out but they may need to go over things many more times than you expect. Try to be interested in what they want to say and avoid giving advice or trying to solve the problems.
3. Help with practical tasks and chores as this enables more of their energy and time to be given to the recovery process.
4. Give them time, space and patience. Don’t take it personally if at times they are irritable, bad tempered or want to be alone.
5. Don’t try to talk them out of reactions or minimise events. They need to concentrate on themselves at first.

Article from The Courier Mail, January 22, 2011.

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