Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR
Scenarios in which companies can get caught up in crises involve multiple deaths, a company one in which a disgruntled customer or estranged spouse of an employee enters the company and begins shooting or an employee who happens to be one of several victims in an incident outside the workplace.
The worst situation of the three is a mass shooting initiated by an employee at the workplace. What’s chances of that? Not likely, although there have been 38 recorded incidents of mass workplace shootings involving multiple deaths of four or more people between 1982 and August of this year. Much of the planning, from who handles the media to communicating with sympathy internally and externally still applies. However, there’s also a different twist to this kind of tragedy.
The twist is that both the suspect and victims happen to be employees of the same company. It’s still okay and fine to display sympathy to both, but one needs to be extra careful for several reasons.
Let’s say the suspect had mental issues and you were aware of it and tried to assist. If asked about this, it’s okay to acknowledge it unless your legal counsel says otherwise. That demonstrates that the company cared about the employee and attempted to assist. It would not be advisable to elaborate further on what the company did to assist nor would it be wise to volunteer that information, if not asked.
Right after such a tragedy, the news media will likely want to interview employees as well. The company should explain that employees are not prohibited from speaking to the news media, but are not authorized to do so on company time. Employees also need to be made aware of this beforehand. If the media wants to track down employees or wait for them to finish work, that’s something a company can’t and shouldn’t control.
Most employees will understandably be in a state of shock. Professional counseling should be made available at the company’s expense and operations suspended until there’s closure on the tragedy. The length of time will depend upon how long it takes for the families of victims to lay their loved ones to rest. This could be a week or longer.
Clear, open and frequent communication with employees is critical as ever. If operations are suspended, the best way would be via emails or texts. Even after operations resume, it is highly advisable to have a group meeting at which there can be open discussion about employee feelings as well as a company tribute to those who died. Having a psychologist on hand to address feelings and offer suggestions on how to move on would also be recommended.
Of course, a company’s other key publics also need to be kept informed and in the loop frequently in a timely manner. These include clients, vendors, shareholders and others you’ve identified as major stakeholders.
Keep in mind that in today’s world of communications, it’s simply not enough to put out a press release. Part of your public lives and breathes in the social media world so place your information and updates out there in Facebook,, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Tag the key people in these media to ensure they know about your messages. Utilize every tool at your disposal.
So while the likelihood of anything like this occurring is small, it’s still important to have a plan on hand should this occur. Not to have a strategy and a plan could likely make all the difference in the work for a company to successfully resume operations and regain its market share.