Unfortunately, such events seem to be happening with greater frequency, or maybe it just feels that way. The events of the day might not affect you directly as an employee, but you might feel a need to talk about them, anyway.
If you're an ordinary human being type of person, however, then it can be hard to know what to do. How, when, and where should you bring it up at work? Should you say something, or should you hold back? And how much should you say? Here are a few quick do's and don'ts for talking about national tragedies at work:
DO acknowledge the tragedy. These events can feel like the elephant in the room when they happen. If it feels right privately among co-workers, it's okay to say, "Did you hear about what happened yesterday? That was so horrible." Acknowledging that something has happened alleviates the stress of feeling like we can't talk about it.
DON'T delve into conspiracy theories. Your co-worker thinks he knows exactly what happened even before the FBI does, and perhaps he lets offensive personal views slip out along the way. Don't let your workplace turn into a Yahoo! message board. Don't be afraid to shut it down. You might say, "Hold up, we don't know all of the facts yet. Plus, we're at work and this isn't the time or the place to get into it." Your other co-workers will quietly appreciate it.
DO formulate a company response. When employees suddenly feel very worried, then management should say something. Acknowledge the tragedy either verbally or in written form, and reiterate how the company is working to keep employees safe. You might rehash pertinent parts of your company's emergency plan while you're at it. Your company does have an emergency plan, right?
DON'T discuss it in front of customers. Particularly if you work in retail, do not start talking about a national tragedy while ringing up random customers or while standing around with your retail co-workers as customers shop. If a co-worker or customer brings up the topic on the retail floor, then simply say, "Yes, it's terrible, isn't it?" Then change the topic. If you're speaking one-on-one with a long-time customer or client you know on more than a "paper or plastic?" basis, however, then you might feel comfortable saying a little bit more. Management may want to issue a memo here.
DO send good thoughts to branch offices. If your company has operations in the affected area(s), then do not hesitate to contact employees there to say that you're thinking of them today. Maybe your office sends a note, maybe your office sends flowers. The point is that you've acknowledged their pain and concern. When you're shaken up, even kind words from co-workers you've never met in person can help tremendously. Make it a company-wide effort to send good thoughts their way. They need to hear it.
And to the people of Boston and to all of the marathon runners, we're thinking of you today. Hugs.
Click here to read my related post entitled How Should Employees Mourn In the Age of Social Media?