U.S. companies spend billions each year to provide wellness initiatives, employee assistance programs and flexible working arrangements for their employees. But according to the results of a new national poll measuring the impact of traumatic workplace events, most employers fall short of providing emotional support for their employees when it’s most needed most.

The poll found that 53 percent working Americans have experienced a traumatic event while on the job. But among those, less than half (46 percent) said their employer offered any type of support to help them grieve, cope or recover in the aftermath. At the same time, two-thirds of employees (67 percent) responded that counseling or emotional support from their employer following a traumatic or tragic workplace event is something they would consider a valuable benefit.

“Trauma can impact a person in a number of different ways, and it’s impossible to predict how a specific event will affect a given individual,” said Mary Ellen Gornick, executive vice president of global products for Workplace Options, the world’s leading provider of integrated employee well-being services. “But what we do know is that these events are often make-or-break moments. Times of uncertainty are when employers have the opportunity to make a bold statement and show that there is legitimate concern for their employees’ well-being.” 

When people need help and support the most, they remember if they get it, she explained, adding, “When they don’t, well, they remember that, too.”

The Most Traumatic Workplace Events

The poll asked respondents to rank the workplace events that caused the most trauma, stress and anxiety. The top four are as follows:

  1. Employer announcing layoffs/job losses (28 percent)
  2. Workplace violence/criminal activity in the community (25 percent)
  3. Death of a colleague/co-worker (19 percent)
  4. Natural disaster impacting the workplace (14 percent)

Women ranked workplace violence/criminal activity in the community in the top spot on this list (31 percent compared to 18 percent for men). Men ranked death of a colleague/co-worker second among these choices (24 percent compared to 15 percent for women). Millennials, defined here as employees age 18 to 29, reported that an employer announcing layoffs/job losses was far and away the most traumatic of these events – 51 percent ranked it in the top spot.

Other results from the poll include:

  • Overall, 46 percent of working Americans thought employers should provide counseling or emotional support for employees impacted by traumatic workplace events – 54 percent of women compared to 38 percent of men.
  • 67 percent said that counseling or emotional support following traumatic events is a valuable benefit – 73 percent of women and 61 percent of men.
  • Women (68 percent) overwhelmingly said that they would consider speaking with a confidential counselor or professional support service following traumatic workplace events. Just over half of men (51 percent) reported the same. 

“When companies deal with critical incidents and traumatic events the right way – when they provide the support that their employees need – they actually accomplish two things,” Gornick explained. “First and foremost, they help their workforce recover and bounce back quickly. Second, they make a clear statement that says ‘at this company, people come first.’ And the power of having a group of employees see that and experience it first-hand just can’t be overstated.”