Crisis HR: Manager Suicide Scenario

-Welcome to Crisis Protocol´s "Crisis HR" Quiz!
Welcome to Crisis Protocol´s "Crisis HR" Quiz! Apply and update your knowledge of how to manage the "people side" of crisis or critical incident situations. Test yourself and send this quiz to your colleagues and managers. Good luck!

Recently, a seasoned senior manager was put in charge of a failing division of a large financial services company and was charged with turning it around toward eventual profitability. Four months into his new position, this beloved and well liked manager took his life, committing suicide over the weekend at his home. Employees, especially those in his immediate work unit (25 employees), were stunned, shocked, and saddened. Grief quickly gave way to anger-rumors started circulating widely that the pressure of working in such a highly stressful and demanding business unit "drove him over the edge." There is now a lot of "finger pointing" at the management of the company for driving people so hard.

What would you do or recommend?

A.For the time being, do nothing. Rumors, and even (displaced) anger is part and parcel of the grieving process. By and large, time will take care of this situation. Bringing any attention to these emotional issues will only serve to prolong and "validate" them and may even run the risk of coming across as defensive on the part of management.

B.Call a "briefing meeting" with all those individuals affected (especially the immediate work unit) and follow a scripted agenda: validate the shock and sadness that all feel; outline efforts the company is engaging in to support the surviving family members; ask that everyone not rumor-monger so as to respect the family members and allow the ongoing police investigation to complete; acknowledge current rumors that stress at work is perceived as playing a part in this tragedy (without defending one way or another); ask for and respond to questions (as sensitively as possible); offer optional professional support to any individual who wants talk with someone about their reactions (e.g., EAP or crisis counselors).

C.Bring in a suicide expert and have him or her give a brief overview of the kinds of things that can lead a person to commit suicide. Have this person emphasize that suicidal tendencies have much more to do with personality characteristics and current mood states and less to do with the kinds of "environmental stressors" that impact individuals (such as work demands). This expert should not answer any specific questions about this particular manager, but talk about suicidal dynamics in general.

D.Bring in a crisis consultant to conduct a "group stress debriefing." Fully inform this professional of the current rumors, any factual information regarding the alleged suicide, and then let this individual defuse the situation (since they have the appropriate training). Make it mandatory that all employees in the deceased manager´s work unit attend this meeting (so as to assure that all affected get the same message and deal with this as a group). Then, have the crisis consultant provide feedback to management as to their findings, observations, and recommendations.

The correct answer is "B." Rumors and the expressed feelings of employees should not be ignored; while it is true that time does heal all wounds, the consequences of allowing false and negative information to circulate unaddressed only serves to prevent healing and recovery due to a lack of factual information. (thus, option "A" is not desirable). It is important that a credible, company manager respond to all affected employees in a timely, personal, and open manner after an incident such as this. Outsiders (options "C" and "D") should not be substitutes for management communication nor the only kind of communication. The employee briefing meeting, scheduled ASAP, should be scripted to cover a number of points that validates employee feelings, acknowledges the sad impact on all, and recognizes (in a non-defensive fashion) that rumors will and are circulating as a painful (but predictable) response to this incomprehensible tragedy. In this scenario in particular, the label "suicide" should not be used-there are legal, privacy, and ethical issues with divulging or assuming that a suicidal act has taken place (another eliminating factor for choice "C"). The loss of the employee should be the focus, not the alleged cause. Lastly, a debriefing should never be made mandatory, since that violates voluntary and informed consent considerations (eliminating option "D").

If you would like a (complimentary) booklet (pdf file) on conducting "Employee Briefing Meetings: Core Messages", please email the author, Daniel Paulk, at danielpaulk[at] .

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