Skip to main content

The Do's And Don'ts Of Discussing National Tragedies At Work

The tragic events in Boston raise an important work-related question: How, exactly, should we talk about national tragedies at work?

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?


Popular posts from this blog

Seven tips for dealing with a jealous coworker

Look at you, doing so well at work! We're so happy for you. Well, most of us are happy for you and refuse to spend the entire work day talking behind your back. Let's talk about how to handle our jealous co-workers!Like every other professional, you've no doubt experienced your share of failures and successes. Lately, however, things seem to be going your way at work. And how! Perhaps you've managed to ace an important project this quarter, been instrumental in landing a huge client, earned some well-deserved rewards for this and that, or -- egads! -- been given a slight promotion or additional work responsibilities (e.g., the work responsibilities you actually want).You're quietly chuffed, but somehow your co-workers seem none too pleased with this rapid turn of events. Oh no, what should you do now?It's a workplace tale older than the disjointed last season of Mad Men. The playing field in the department was even, cozy and overall very friendly -- until so-an…

Employees Blame Technology For Slowing Them Down At Work

Do you feel like you're always working, but never getting very much done? If so, you're not alone. Too much technology, and too much red tape, keep slowing us down at work. But technology, and more of it, is supposed to make our lives easier! Too much technology, however, does not compute for employees. A new SAP/Knowledge@Wharton survey of almost 700 corporate employees finds a full 60% of respondents blame technology "for inhibiting their ability to meet strategic goals." Gee, anyone who has ever used the self-checkout line at the grocery store can tell you that. However, 40% surveyed said that looking for ways to simplify the technology has been "a low priority" for their company. Too much paperwork is an on-going problem for the workplace, too. A new ServiceNow survey of nearly 1,000 managers finds that 90% are doing too much administrative work, no matter the size of the company. This paperwork includes filling out forms, writing status updates, …

Is Your Co-worker Always Late For Work?

You've started the workday, but where is your co-worker? Oh, she's running late again, just like yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Let's get an early start on solving her tardiness problem, shall we? Working with someone who is consistently late is one of the most annoying aspects of office life, and also one of the most common, unfortunately. It's a universal theme of the workplace that everyone will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes...) except for the employee who is egregiously late nearly every day. And the excuses can get pretty amazing. Employees became more punctual as the Great Recession lingered, at least according to surveys. Everyone, that is, except for your able-bodied but habitually-tardy co-worker. It's bad enough dealing with tardiness when you're a manager, but it can be even more frustrating when you're a rank-and-file peer without any magical "shape up or ship out" managerial powers. So you…