Inside Disruption Blog

Atypical Events in the Workplace: Reactions and Recovery

Clare McCullough
February 17, 2017

When we think of an “atypical” event, it is not the norm. In a world where many of us prefer a plan, a sense of organization, and consistency – any disruption to the typical flow of our day, and what we plan for, can cause stress. If an unexpected event occurs at our place of employment, it is helpful to know there are usually normal physical, emotional, and mental reactions we have in response to that event; and understand we may require immediate support and ongoing coping skills to recover.


Imagine you come in to work on Monday morning and find out a fellow colleague died unexpectedly, over the weekend, in a car accident. When an unexpected tragedy impacts us, we can go through a range of emotions. We may feel initial shock and disbelief. We may feel saddened or angry. Some may feel guilty about last words spoken with that person. Physically, we may have no appetite, or difficulty sleeping, headaches, or muscle tension. We may have difficulty focusing on our work, or feel foggy. These reactions are normal, given the event. It is important to know that it can take several days for some of the more intense feelings and physical reactions to decrease. Also, in the weeks that follow, emotions can be triggered by a memory, a picture, or other things that remind you of the event, or the person.


The factors that influence recovery time can include: the closeness of the relationship a person had with the deceased, the other personal stressors a person is dealing with at that time, and can also be impacted by the person’s baseline level of resiliency. Each person grieves and heals in their own time.


When atypical events happen at the workplace, it is normal to have reactions and experience stress. It is during these times that we must allow ourselves patience in our healing process, and try our best to get adequate support. Coping skills that are helpful include: spending time with loved ones and those who care about us, keeping to our usual routines as best as possible, engaging in exercise or meditation, and engaging in positive, healthy coping mechanisms. As an employee, it is okay to check in with other employees to see how they are doing and handling the event, and finding support with others who have experienced the same tragedy. With initial support, positive coping methods, and time, healing begins. If things do not get easier, or start to get worse, seeking professional counseling through your Employee Assistance Program or insurance can be very helpful.

Clare McCullough